On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 06-102 in A-6612-06T4; Middlesex County, Municipal Appeal No. 82-2006 in A-3051-07T4; Union County, Municipal Appeal No. 5827 in A-3899-07T4 and A-5789-07T4.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Gilroy and Simonelli.
Defendant Ramon Leon appeals from three Law Division orders that denied four petitions for post-conviction relief (PCR), seeking to vacate seven municipal court convictions of shoplifting, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11b. We affirm.*fn1
Defendant, a Cuban national, obtained his LPR status in May 1995. Between August 1998 and December 2002, defendant pled guilty to multiple disorderly persons offenses of shoplifting in four municipal courts. In each appearance, defendant waived his right to assigned counsel and represented himself pro se.*fn2
On August 14, 1998, defendant pled guilty to shoplifting in the Hazlet Township municipal court; the court sentenced defendant to thirty days in jail and imposed a monetary fine. On September 11, 1998, January 21, and August 24, 1999, defendant pled guilty to three charges of shoplifting in the Woodbridge Township municipal court; the court imposed monetary fines and sentenced defendant to three days in jail on one of the convictions. On July 9, 1998, defendant pled guilty in the Hillside Township municipal court to two charges of shoplifting; the court imposed monetary fines and sentenced defendant to sixteen days in jail. On June 6, 2002, defendant pled guilty to shoplifting in the Borough of Roselle municipal court; the court sentenced defendant to ninety days in jail with seventeen days jail credit. The court also imposed a two-year term of probation, monetary fines, and directed defendant to serve community service.
On July 18, 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), initiated removal proceedings against defendant because of his multiple convictions of shoplifting. Although a final order of removal has been issued, defendant has not been deported because of diplomatic issues between the United States and Cuba. Once those issues are resolved, defendant is subject to deportation. It is because of the removal order that defendant filed pro se petitions for post-conviction relief (PCR) seeking to vacate his guilty pleas in the four municipal courts, contending in each petition that: 1) the municipal court failed to inform him of possible federal deportation consequences associated with pleading guilty to shoplifting, and had he known of those consequences, he would not have pled guilty to the charges; 2) because of the possible deportation consequences, the court should have assigned him counsel before accepting his guilty pleas.
Defendant filed his petitions in the Roselle and Hillside municipal courts on August 5, 2006, and in the Hazlet and Woodbridge municipal courts on November 1, 2006. The municipal courts denied the petitions, and defendant appealed to the Law Division in the respective counties where the municipal courts are located.
On May 18, 2007, the Law Division, Monmouth County, entered an order denying defendant's petition filed in the Hazlet municipal court as time barred pursuant to Rule 7:10-2(b)(2), and because no obligation exists for a municipal court to inform a defendant of federal deportation consequences associated with a guilty plea. On January 22, 2008, the Law Division, Middlesex County, entered an order denying defendant's petition filed in the Woodbridge municipal court for the same reasons. On May 12, 2008, the Law Division, Union County, entered an order denying defendant's petitions filed in the Hillside and Roselle municipal courts. As to the petition filed in the Hillside municipal court, the Law Division determined that the petition was time barred. As to the petition filed in the Roselle municipal court, the Law Division denied the petition determining there was "nothing in the record to suggest that [d]efendant's guilty plea to the charge . . . was anything other than knowing and voluntary." It is from these orders that defendant appeals.
On appeal, defendant argues that where the Law Division denied his PCR petitions as time barred, the court erred in failing to find the delay in filing the petitions was due to excusable neglect. Defendant contends that the Law Division erred in finding that he had previously entered his guilty pleas knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently, because the municipal courts had failed to inform him of potential federal deportation consequences associated with pleading guilty to the charges. Defendant asserts that if he had received such advice from the municipal courts he would not have waived his right to assigned counsel nor have pled guilty to the charges.
The State counters that where the petitions were filed more than five years after the conviction, the Law Division properly denied the petitions as time barred. Alternatively, the State asserts that there is no obligation for a municipal court to inform a defendant of potential deportation consequences before ...