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State v. Wright

April 29, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
OMAR WRIGHT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 03-01-0155.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 23, 2010

Before Judges Messano and LeWinn.

Defendant Omar Wright appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) without an evidentiary hearing. He raises the following point for our consideration:

POINT ONE THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION BY DENYING DEFENDANT AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING TO ESTABLISH THAT HE WAS DENIED THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED TO HIM AT TRIAL, BY THE U.S. CONST., AMENDS. VI, XIV, N.J. CONST. ART. I PAR. 10.

Defendant filed a pro se supplemental brief without any point headings. See Rule 2:6-2(a)(5) (requiring the appellant's legal argument to "be divided, under appropriate point headings . . . into as many parts as there are points to be argued"). We have considered the arguments raised in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.

A jury found defendant guilty of third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(7); fourth-degree possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d); and third-degree possession of a weapon with the intent to use it unlawfully, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d). On May 21, 2004, defendant was sentenced as a persistent offender, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3(a), to an extended term of eight years in prison with a four-year period of parole ineligibility. We affirmed defendant's conviction on appeal, State v. Omar Wright, No. A-6014-03 (App. Div. July 14, 2006), but remanded the matter to the trial court for re-sentencing based upon the holding in State v. Natale, 184 N.J. 458 (2005). State v. Wright, supra, (slip op. at 16).*fn1

On January 16, 2008, defendant filed a pro se PCR petition. Assigned PCR counsel subsequently submitted a legal brief and a supplemental petition in defendant's handwriting. In large part, defendant alleged that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. In particular, defendant claimed that trial counsel failed to subpoena alibi witnesses; told the jurors in his opening statement that alibi witnesses would exonerate defendant and none were presented; conducted the pre-trial evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion to suppress ineffectively; and failed to object to off-the-record sidebar conferences.

Additionally, defendant claimed appellate counsel was ineffective "in failing to brief the motion to suppress physical evidence issue."*fn2 Defendant also moved to recuse the trial judge from considering the PCR petition.

A hearing on the PCR petition was held on August 25, 2008 before the trial judge. After denying the motion for recusal, the judge considered the merits of defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Regarding the failure to subpoena alibi witnesses, the judge observed that defendant had not "submitted [anything] that would demonstrate that there was an alibi -- any witnesses, any certifications by affidavit or . . . otherwise . . . indicating that there was such a witness who was not . . . produced." The judge then noted that trial counsel made "no reference whatsoever to alibi in [his] opening statement."

The judge further concluded that defendant made no specific "suggestion of how defense counsel was inadequate in his performance" during the motion to suppress hearing. The judge did not recall the specific circumstances regarding the decision to hold off-the-record sidebars, but determined that defendant had failed to demonstrate with any specificity how counsel was ineffective or that anything "substantively worthy of being placed on the record . . . took place . . . ."

The judge next rejected the argument that appellate counsel was ineffective because he failed to raise any issue on direct appeal concerning the denial of defendant's motion to suppress. The judge concluded that there was no issue of any merit that could have been raised on appeal. He denied defendant's petition and this appeal followed.

Defendant's essential argument before us is that he established a prima facie case of ineffective assistance of counsel and that the judge mistakenly exercised his discretion by not ...


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