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State v. Battle

December 23, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JUAN BATTLE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 00-08-2201.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted: October 21, 2009

Before Judges Payne and C.L. Miniman.

Defendant Juan Battle appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) based on ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentencing. The PCR judge concluded that defendant had not demonstrated that his sentencing counsel was ineffective. We affirm.

Defendant's wife sought a divorce and on March 24, 2000, defendant went to the dental office where his wife worked and attacked her with a butcher's knife. State v. Battle, No. A-4782-01 (App. Div. Jan. 12, 2004) (slip op. at 2), certif. denied, 179 N.J. 373 (2004). Defendant stabbed her multiple times in the abdomen and arm, threw her against a filing cabinet, and slammed her head into another filing cabinet. Ibid. During the attack, defendant told her "if I can't have you, nobody can" and "you are going to die." Ibid. When the victim pretended to be dead while lying on the floor, defendant departed, locking the door behind him. Ibid.

The victim then called 9-1-1 and reported she had been stabbed multiple times by her husband. Ibid. She gave the dispatcher the license plate number of her car, which defendant was driving. After the police arrived and attended to the victim, they proceeded to the home of defendant's parents, where they found defendant. He had a bandage on his right hand and a plastic bag containing dirty, bloody clothes in his left hand. The police advised him of his Miranda*fn1 rights and placed him under arrest. Defendant waived his rights and gave a voluntary statement to the police.

In defendant's statement, he said he went to the dentist's office to talk with his wife about their marriage. The two began arguing and, when defendant was about to leave, he claimed she attempted to stab him with the knife. Defendant stated he cut his hand while taking the knife from her and then "snapped" and "started stabbing her all over." Defendant then dropped the knife, left the office, and drove to his parents' house. He did not call the police or an ambulance upon leaving.*fn2

The prosecutor secured an indictment on August 17, 2000, charging defendant with first-degree attempted murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1; second-degree aggravated assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1); third-degree terroristic threats, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3; fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d; and third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d.

Defendant was tried before a jury in August 2001. Defendant's statement was read into evidence. The jury found defendant guilty on all charges except third-degree terroristic threats. The jury also found that the convictions for attempted murder and aggravated assault were crimes of violence, triggering imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence under the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.

The judge sentenced defendant on November 2, 2001. Defendant's counsel noted that defendant had an "excellent work history" and was "supporting his family." Counsel also observed that defendant's "record has been a good record" and he had a "really very minor prior record." Counsel argued that defendant was not likely to commit other crimes, saying, "[h]e is not the kind of person we would be saying he is going to go out and commit a robbery." Counsel asked for a term of less than the twenty-year maximum, acknowledging nonetheless that the sentence would be lengthy. Finally, counsel said "[defendant] is going to spend a very very long time in prison. I have explained that to him many times. He understands that." Defendant also spoke on his own behalf, apologized to his family, and expressed remorse for what happened. He expressed the hope that he and his wife could raise their children together as respectful parents. The State argued for a maximum sentence.

The judge found aggravating factors*fn3 two, "the gravity and seriousness of harm inflicted on the victim," and nine, "the need for deterring the defendant and others from violating the law," and mitigating factor*fn4 eleven, "imprisonment of the defendant would entail excessive hardship to himself or his dependents." The judge determined that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and merged convictions of the aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes into the conviction for attempted murder. He sentenced defendant to a twenty-year term with an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier on the conviction for attempted murder, an eighteen-month concurrent term on the conviction for unlawful possession of a weapon, a five-year term of parole supervision upon release, and appropriate fines.

Defendant raised the following issues on direct appeal:

POINT I -- THE COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE AN AUDIOTAPE OF A 9-1-1 CALL MADE BY THE COMPLAINANT FOLLOWING THE STABBING, BECAUSE THE PREJUDICIAL EFFECT OF THE ...


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