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State v. Louis

June 25, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES JEAN LOUIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 94-07-0789.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 26, 2010

Before Judges Stern and J. N. Harris.

Defendant James Jean Louis appeals from the denial of his application for (1) post-conviction relief (PCR)--filed ten years after his conviction--and (2) an evidentiary hearing. We affirm.

In 1996, defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b). On May 24, 1996, the Law Division imposed an aggregate sentence of sixty years incarceration with thirty-five years of parole ineligibility.

Along with his three co-defendants, Louis pursued an appeal to this court from that conviction. In a consolidated opinion we affirmed as to all defendants, and the Supreme Court thereafter denied certification. State v. Louis, No. A-1747-96T4; No. A-2717-95T4; No. A-6355-95T2; and A-6807-95T4 (App. Div. Aug. 19, 1999), certif. denied, State v. Louis, 162 N.J. 488 (1999).

On May 26, 2000, almost exactly four years after the entry of the judgment of conviction, defendant filed his first pro se PCR application. On March 19, 2002, after counsel was assigned to represent defendant, the Law Division entered an order dismissing defendant's PCR application without prejudice, upon defendant's request.

Thus, instead of pursuing the then-pending PCR application to its natural conclusion, defendant was advised by his appointed PCR counsel to move for a new trial in the Law Division on the ground of newly discovered evidence. In March 2002, PCR counsel wrote defendant advising him of the "withdraw[al]" of the PCR application, and explained that an attorney in the Union County Office of the Public Defender would contact defendant "within the next few weeks." The letter also expressly stated, "[p]lease contact me if you have further questions or concerns or if you do not hear from the Union [Region] Public Defender's Office after [three] weeks or so."

True to PCR counsel's letter, but several weeks beyond the promised three-week time frame, an Assistant Deputy Public Defender assigned to the Union Region contacted defendant on May 23, 2002, by mail. The public defender's letter of that date explicitly stated that after an investigation and consultation with defendant, "[defense counsel] cannot file a motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence" (emphasis in the original). The letter alluded to a communication between the letter writer and the former PCR attorney, stating "[PCR counsel] advised me that you must refile your post-conviction relief petition."

Another four years elapsed before a PCR application on defendant's behalf was actually filed in the Law Division. Although the record includes copies of correspondence that had been exchanged between defendant and the Office of the Public Defender, it was not until December 14, 2006, that defendant finally filed another pro se application for PCR. An attorney was again appointed to represent defendant in what his PCR brief referred to as "a second motion for [p]ost-conviction relief."*fn1

On July 17, 2007, and without an evidentiary hearing, Judge Stuart L. Peim entered an order denying defendant's application for PCR "on the grounds that all claims in this PCR are time-barred by Rule 3:22-12." This appeal ensued.

Defendant has presented to this court the following concise arguments as contained in his appellate brief:

POINT I

THE COURT MISAPPLIED THE APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS IN RULING THAT THE DEFENDANT WAS PROCEDURALLY BARRED FROM RAISING THE ISSUE OF INEFFECTIVE ...


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