On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Indictment No. 03-08-0752.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Baxter.
Defendant Sammie J. Sinclair appeals from a June 11, 2008 order that denied his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We reject defendant's argument that the PCR judge erred when he refused to conduct an evidentiary hearing on defendant's claim that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to make a meaningful argument at sentencing. We affirm.
On April 9, 2003, Greenwich Township police charged defendant with the axe murder of his mother and related weapons offenses. In a statement he provided to police shortly after his arrest, defendant reported hearing voices telling him his mother was "out to get him." He also told police his mother was not "clean in the head" and "[i]t was time to take her out." The next day, police transported defendant to the Ann Klein Forensic Center (AKFC) for psychiatric evaluation. Upon admission to AKFC, defendant was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and appeared to be responding to internal stimuli. When anti-psychotic medication stabilized defendant's psychiatric condition, he was discharged back to the Cumberland County jail.
Defendant was readmitted to AKFC on July 1, 2003, again suffering from acute paranoia. Shortly after admission, defendant stabbed himself in the eye with a pencil in response to auditory hallucinations.
Defendant retained a psychiatric expert, Robert T. Latimer, M.D., who opined on November 24, 2003 that at the time defendant murdered his mother, he was suffering from a mental illness of such severity as to prevent him from understanding the criminal nature of his acts. Latimer also opined that defendant was incompetent to stand trial. By February 2004, according to Latimer, defendant's mental status had improved considerably and he had regained competency.
On November 15, 2004, nine months after Dr. Latimer found defendant competent to proceed, defendant appeared before Judge Geiger and entered a negotiated plea of guilty to an amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a). In return for defendant's guilty plea, the State agreed to recommend a sentence of twenty-five years, subject to the eighty-five percent parole disqualification term required by N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
At the time of sentencing on December 16, 2004, trial counsel presented the following remarks:
Judge, I don't believe Mr. Sinclair wants to add to his remorse [expressed] at the time of his plea. It was a very tearful day for him. There are significant mental health issues in this case.
[Defendant] stands before the court not having been convicted of anything his entire life.
He worked hard for a living as a dishwasher across the street at a local diner. And they said really good things ...