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State v. P.W.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 13, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
P.W., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 06-04-1495.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 5, 2010

Before Judges Stern and Graves.

Defendant P.W. appeals from an order dated December 12, 2008, denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR).

After reviewing the record and the applicable law in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

In 1991, P.W. was found not guilty of felony murder and aggravated arson by reason of insanity and was involuntarily committed to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital (Ancora). Pursuant to State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236, 246-47 (1975), periodic review hearings have been conducted to determine whether defendant remains a danger to himself or others. On January 22, 2006, while a patient at Ancora, defendant was charged with third- degree aggravated assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12- 1(b)(7). The victim was defendant's treating psychiatrist.

A staff member who witnessed the assault gave the following statement to the police:

[The treatment] team was meeting with [P.W.] at his request. He was demanding to be taken off of medication because he does not believe he is dangerous to himself or society. Dr. Elizabeth Burns was interviewing him and informed him that he would remain on his current medication regimen. When [P.W.] was not getting his way, he said, "Forget this. Fuck you bitch," and abruptly stood up from the table, grabbed a chair, and proceeded toward Dr. Burns. I attempted to grab the chair that he threw at Dr. Burns and was hit in the wrist causing a large bruise. I then attempted to stop him from proceeding toward Dr. Burns and grabbed his arm. He threw me off and began punching Dr. Burns repeatedly in the head. I grabbed him again and this time he moved away from her and walked out of the team room. Dr. Burns sustained a large contusion to her forehead with significant bleeding.

The victim, Dr. Elizabeth Burns, also provided the police with a written statement describing the assault and her injuries. In her statement, Dr. Burns explained that defendant "demanded to meet with the treatment team" on January 22, 2006, even though his social worker, who she described as "a large man," was not at work that day. Dr. Burns also stated her belief that defendant "took advantage of the fact that the male social worker was not there" to attack her because she had previously recommended "transferring him back to a more restrictive facility."

On February 23, 2007, pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, defendant and his attorney completed and signed a plea form. In the plea form, defendant stated he was satisfied with the advice he received from his attorney, and confirmed that he was voluntarily entering a guilty plea to third-degree aggravated assault. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State agreed to recommend a sentence of four years imprisonment.

At the plea hearing on March 5, 2007, defendant's attorney told the court that defendant had thought about the plea agreement since his last court appearance, and he was "going to take the plea." After defendant was sworn, he testified he understood he was giving up his right (1) to a trial by jury, (2) to remain silent, (3) to confront and cross-examine the State's witnesses, and (4) to present any defenses he may have had. When questioned by the court, defendant testified as follows:

Q: [P.W.], I understand that you are here in court today intending to plead guilty, is that true?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: All right. The charge is the offense of aggravated assault. Is that your understanding?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: You've been represented in this matter by Ms. Soast. Have you been fully satisfied with the legal advice and services that she has provided?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Are you pleading guilty today voluntarily and of your own free will?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Are you doing so because you are, in fact, guilty of this offense?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Has anyone threatened or forced you in any way to plead guilty?

A: No.

Q: All right. Sir, today I'm going to make a determination as to whether or not your guilty plea is voluntary. If I find today that your guilty plea is voluntary and then you come back on a future date in time and tell me that it is not voluntary, do you understand that I'm not likely to believe that?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Sir, today, are you under the influence of any drugs, alcohol, medication or anything else that would interfere with your judgment?

A: No.

Q: Sir, you were present in court when Ms. Sokol just read into the record the proposed plea agreement, were you not?

A: Yes, Sir. I am -- I'm familiar with that, Sir.

Q: All right. Did you hear and understand everything that was said about that?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Sir, did you understand the . . . questions and provide truthful answers to those questions on [the plea] form?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Did you supply the information that your attorney used to complete the form? . . .

A: Yes.

Q: -- the answers to the questions?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. And did your attorney answer all of your questions to your satisfaction?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: If I were to ask you the same questions now on that form, would you give me now the same answers?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Is everything on that form and in that agreement true and correct?

A: Yes, Sir.

Q: Now, Sir, after you completed that form but before deciding to plead guilty, did you review the form item by item carefully with your attorney?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Did you sign the third page and initial the other two pages of that form after the form was completed?

A: Yes, Sir.

Defendant also provided an adequate factual basis for his guilty plea. He admitted that on January 22, 2006, while he was a patient in Ancora, he hit his treating psychiatrist "a few times" with a chair. Defendant acknowledged that the victim had suffered a significant injury, including "a contusion on her forehead" and "bleeding," and he stated he was "sorry for hitting the doctor."

Defendant was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement to a four-year prison term. Nevertheless, he appealed his sentence. On September 17, 2007, following oral argument on the sentencing calendar, Rule 2:9-11, we affirmed.

On June 19, 2007, defendant filed a petition for PCR alleging, among other things, that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. In his petition, defendant admitted he "assaulted the psychiatrist" but claimed he was not responsible for the assault because he "was disturbed from being forced to take psychiatric drugs that caused [him] to become paranoid, angry and confused."

Following oral argument on December 12, 2008, the PCR court stated its reasons for denying defendant's petition in a comprehensive oral decision. The court found defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because he had not presented a prima facie case of ineffective assistance of counsel; there were no affidavits, certifications, expert reports, or other evidence to support defendant's claim that he was not guilty of the assault on January 22, 2006, by reason of insanity; and the record did not support defendant's claim "that the plea was not knowing and voluntary."

On appeal, defendant presents the following arguments:

POINT ONE

[P.W.'s] GUILTY PLEA RESULTED IN AN ILLEGAL SENTENCE BECAUSE IT WAS NOT KNOWING OR VOLUNTARY AS THERE WAS NO COMPETENCY HEARING BEFORE THE PLEA AND [P.W.] DID NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS PLEA.

A. NO COMPETENCY HEARING.

B. NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE GUILTY PLEA.

POINT TWO

[P.W.] RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL WHEN HIS ATTORNEY ALLOWED HIM TO ENTER INTO A PLEA WITHOUT A COMPETENCY HEARING AND WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT PLEA, AND ALSO FAILED TO CONSIDER, EXPLORE, OR PRESENT EVIDENCE OF THE DEFENSES OF INSANITY, DIMINISHED CAPACITY, INVOLUNTARY INTOXICATION, OR ENTRAPMENT.

A. NO COMPETENCY HEARING OR UNDERSTANDING OF CONSEQUENCES.

B. INSANITY, DIMINISHED CAPACITY, AND INVOLUNTARY INTOXICATION.

C. ENTRAPMENT.

POINT THREE

THE CLAIMS IN [P.W.'s] PETITIONS AND BRIEFS ARE INCORPORATED IN THIS APPEAL UNDER STATE V. WEBSTER, 187 N.J. 254 (2006).

Based on our independent review of the entire record, we conclude that all of defendant's arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant extended discussion. R. 2:11- 3(e)(2). We affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Solomon with only the following comments.

As the PCR court found: (1) defendant presented no evidence to establish that he suffered from a mental disease or defect that prevented him from knowing the nature and quality of his actions when he attacked Dr. Burns, N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1; and (2) defendant's behavior during the plea hearing clearly indicated he fully understood the proceedings against him and the other factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-4. Moreover, defendant failed to assert "a colorable claim of innocence" or strong reasons for withdrawal of his plea, State v. Slater, 198 N.J. 145, 157-58 (2009), and we agree he failed to establish a prima facie claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2068, 80 L.Ed. 2d 674, 698 (1984), and United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 104 S.Ct. 2039, 80 L.Ed. 2d 657 (1984), which the Supreme Court adopted in State v. Fritz, 105 N.J. 42, 58 (1987).

Affirmed.

20100713

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