On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Accusation No. 99-11-00271.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Gilroy.
Defendant Ruben Molina appeals from the October 26, 2007 order denying his motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
In 1999, the Middlesex County Prosecutor charged defendant under Accusation No. 99-11-00271 with third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a. On November 19, 1999, defendant pled guilty to the Accusation in exchange for the State recommending a non-custodial sentence. In reviewing the penal consequences defendant would incur if the court accepted his guilty plea, the court informed defendant that he would be not only subject to the registration requirement of Megan's Law,*fn1 but also to community supervision for life. As to the latter, the court explained: "Which means that there is a special kind of parole that you're going to be subject to for at least fifteen years where you have to report, you have to keep employed, there's restrictions on travel, a lot of restrictions. Understand?" In response, the defendant answered: "Yeah."
On April 24, 2000, after finding aggravating sentencing factors N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1a(2) and (9), and mitigating sentencing factors N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1b(7) and (10), the court sentenced defendant to a two-year term of probation and to community supervision for life pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4. "So[,] a special condition of your probation is to comply with Megan's Law[,] including community supervision for life." The court also imposed all appropriate fines and penalties. Defendant did not appeal.
On February 26, 2007, defendant filed a pro se petition for PCR, arguing that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel. After the court appointed assigned counsel to represent defendant, defendant filed a supplemental certification dated August 3, 2007, stating that he had initially informed his trial counsel that he was innocent and wanted a trial, but was "told [by his attorney] to plead guilty to stay out of jail." Defendant asserted that his attorney never explained that if he pled guilty he would be subject to constant supervision for life; and when he entered the plea, although the court provided a Spanish interpreter, he did not fully understand "much of what was said" because the interpreter spoke a dialect of Spanish that was difficult for him to comprehend, and as such, he "did not understand that [he] would be on parole for life."
On October 26, 2007, the trial court denied defendant's petition. In so doing, the court reasoned:
In this case, the claim that the defendant did not put forth a factual basis for the plea, the [c]court, in terms of the plea form and the voir dire, does recognize from the application that the plea forms were in English and were not in Spanish. That issue was not raised during the plea proceedings. That issue is a claim that's made over seven years since the entry of the plea. The plea forms do indicate on their face that the term of community service was changed to community supervision, and that [defendant] did state at the time of the plea voir dire, he stated to the [c]court that his attorneys had gone over the forms with him in Spanish, and he stated that he understood what he signed. . . .
Mr. Molina maintains the ineffective assistance of counsel claim was based upon the failure of his attorney and the [c]court to clarify his confusion regarding the details of community supervision for life, but the [c]court finds that based upon what was reflected in the transcript, that this defendant was provided the opportunity, and if there was a question about that, the transcript certainly reflects an opening for him to indicate that, which did not happen. There was no request for any further clarification, and he did indicate that he knew and he understood the consequences of his plea. So, insofar as that concern is made a basis for this petition, I don't find that grounds exist to support the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel as it relates to the aspect of the knowledge of the community supervision consequences of the plea.
After reviewing the transcript of the plea colloquy among defendant, his counsel and the court, wherein defendant admitted that he had inappropriately touched the chest and buttock areas of his nine-year-old niece while lying in bed, the court continued:
From this colloquy, it does appear that the petitioner acknowledged that he engaged in the prohibitive behavior and that he acknowledged that he knew the behavior was inappropriate. The fact that the petitioner didn't characterize his acts as sexual did not prevent the [c]court ...