On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 01-03-751.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Messano.
Defendant Angel G. Roman appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) without an evidentiary hearing. The single argument raised on appeal is:
THE LOWER COURT SHOULD HAVE ORDERED A FULL EVIDENTIARY HEARING IN CONNECTION WITH THE DEFENDANT'S POST[-]CONVICTION RELIEF PETITION BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT PRESENTED A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF THE INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL BASED ON THE DEFENDANT'S COUNSEL'S IMPROPER COERCION OF THE DEFENDANT TO ACCEPT THE STATE'S PLEA OFFER.
We have considered this argument in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.
Defendant was indicted along with five co-defendants for two counts of first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; two counts of second-degree kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1(b); second-degree armed burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; second-degree possession of a handgun with an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); third-degree illegal possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); fourth-degree possession of hollow-nose bullets, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f); and fourth-degree possession of a police radio while in the course of committing a crime, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-22. He entered pleas of guilty to both robbery charges in return for the State's agreement to dismiss the remaining counts of the indictment, and recommendation of a maximum sentence of twelve years in prison, subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
Prior to sentencing, defendant apparently sent a letter to the judge indicating that he wished to retract his plea. On the sentence date, defendant claimed his attorney never furnished him with discovery. Despite admitting under oath at the time he entered his guilty plea that he forced his way into the victims' home with three of his co-defendants, that one of them was armed with a handgun, and that they left with some of the victims' property, defendant told the judge prior to sentencing that "[t]here was no violence. I didn't go inside the house, I was outside the whole time, sat [sic] in the car." The judge denied defendant's motion to retract his guilty plea, and sentenced him in accordance with the plea agreement.
Defendant's appeal was limited to his sentence. We affirmed the sentence, modified the period of parole supervision imposed, and remanded the matter for the entry of a corrected judgment of conviction. State v. Roman, A-5603-04 (App. Div. February 7, 2006).*fn1
On February 2, 2006, defendant filed a pro se PCR petition alleging that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, specifically by pressuring him "into accepting the plea to 12 years with the 85% . . . ."*fn2 Defendant's appointed PCR counsel filed a supplementary brief alleging that trial counsel failed to "adequately explain the plea offer to [him]." She attached a December 2005 letter sent by defendant to the Public Defender's Office in which defendant claimed that trial counsel spoke to him on only one occasion before he entered his plea, that trial counsel "put the [plea forms] in front of [him] and told [him] [he] had to sign them," and that he did not comprehend that he "had taken a plea bargain" until he "was back on the cell block explaining to some of the people there what happened . . . in court . . . ." In his supplemental pro se brief, defendant reiterated the claim of trial counsel's ineffective assistance regarding the plea bargain.
After considering oral argument, the PCR judge, who was also the trial judge, noted that he had heard all the pre-trial motions in the case, as well as the co-defendants' cases, and that everyone involved alleged defendant "was the point man on the project." He noted further that with the exception of co-defendant James Hiciano, who testified as a State's witness at trial against two of defendant's co-defendants, defendant received "less time."*fn3 The judge concluded that defense counsel "did a very good job for [defendant]," and that had he gone to trial, given the strength of the State's case, defendant "would be found guilty of all the charges . . . ." He denied the petition and this appeal ensued.
Defendant contends that he demonstrated a prima facie case of trial counsel's ineffective assistance at the time of his guilty plea, and, therefore, the PCR judge should have ...