On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 96-10-1184.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Messano.
Defendant Juan Soto appeals from an order dated June 30, 2008, denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR).
Defendant contends he is entitled to a new trial because he "was denied his 6th Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel." Specifically, defendant claims his trial attorney failed "to properly communicate with [him] before and during trial." After reviewing the record in light of the applicable law, we conclude that defendant's arguments are without merit and affirm.
A jury convicted defendant of aggravated manslaughter, felony murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, kidnapping, burglary, and two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. At sentencing on April 24, 1998, the court merged defendant's convictions for aggravated manslaughter and burglary with his conviction for felony murder and imposed a life sentence with thirty years of parole ineligibility for felony murder. Defendant received concurrent sentences for the other offenses. On appeal, this court affirmed defendant's convictions and his sentence, except for the kidnapping conviction, which was reversed. State v. Soto, 340 N.J. Super. 47 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 170 N.J. 209 (2001).
Defendant then filed a petition for PCR that was denied by the trial court on August 29, 2006. Defendant appealed and we remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings regarding defendant's claim that he did not receive a fair trial because trial counsel failed to adequately communicate and confer with him. State v. Soto, No. A-1478-06 (App. Div. Jan. 15, 2008).
On June 19, 2008, the trial court conducted a hearing at which defendant's attorney and defendant both testified. When defendant's attorney was asked how many times he had met with defendant "either in court or . . . where he was being held," counsel testified: "Pretty regularly, but I don't recall."
Defendant's attorney indicated he utilized an investigator from the Public Defender's office, who spoke English and Spanish, as an interpreter whenever he met with defendant prior to trial. Defense counsel also testified as follows:
Q: Did you use anyone else to assist you in communicating with Mr. Soto besides the investigator from the public defender's office?
A: During the trial there were two interpreters at all times, so if he would ask a question and my investigator was not there, they would interpret for me.
Q: Is it fair to say that Mr. Soto had his own personal interpreter during trial and court appearances?
A: He did. There were two interpreters at all times.
Q: Now, did Mr. Soto have the assistance of a court-appointed interpreter prior to trial, at any ...