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State of New Jersey v. George Bratsenis

January 20, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
GEORGE BRATSENIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 79-01-1215.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 8, 2010

Before Judges Fuentes and Nugent.

Defendant George Bratsenis appeals from the March 13, 2009 order denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.

On July 31, 1980, a Monmouth County Grand Jury charged defendant in Indictment Number 79-01-1215 with unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count one); unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count two); possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 24:21-20a(1) (count three); unlawful possession of a weapon with a purpose to use it unlawfully, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count four); unlawful possession of a weapon with a purpose to use it unlawfully, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count five); and unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7 (count six). On January 30, 1981, defendant was sentenced to a five-year prison term after having pled guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon (count two) in exchange for the State dismissing the remaining counts of the indictment. According to the PCR court, defendant appealed his conviction on January 30, 1981. The appeal was denied and the conviction affirmed.*fn1 On May 12, 2008, defendant, representing himself, filed a PCR petition seeking to set aside his guilty plea.*fn2

In his PCR petition defendant claimed, "I was not advised of my right to trial either in my plea form, or voire dire as evidenced by my using a LR-27 plea form ...." Counsel was subsequently assigned and on February 27, 2009, defendant supplemented his petition and claimed he was innocent. He asserted that he pled guilty because his lawyer told him he had already "served the majority of the time in the county jail and would probably get time served." He also asserted that the refusal to permit him to withdraw his plea would be extremely prejudicial because "it is the second of three 'strikes' which made me persistent offender eligible and thus I am serving a twenty-five ... year sentence."*fn3

Defendant argued before the PCR court that his trial counsel was ineffective in not advising him of the constitutional rights he was waiving by pleading guilty; including his right to a trial, to confront witnesses, and to compulsory process. Defendant also argued he had been prejudiced by counsel's ineffective assistance because as a result of the plea, he is now serving an extended prison term on an unrelated offense in another county. Lastly, defendant argued that his petition is not time barred by the five-year time limitation of Rule 3:22-12 because he has asserted constitutional issues.

On March 13, 2009, the PCR court denied defendant's petition. The court determined that the PCR petition was untimely, having been filed long after the five-year deadline in Rule 3:22-12. The court found that the judgment of conviction was twenty-seven years old, defendant "offer[ed] no examples of excusable neglect or examples of why enforcement of that five year time bar would result in manifest injustice," "no records exist in the Prosecutor's Office, in the Public Defender's Office or even in the Attorney General's Office," and the State would be unable to prosecute the case.

The PCR court also determined that defendant had not demonstrated sufficient grounds to withdraw his guilty plea, finding "[h]e really has not asserted a colorable claim of innocence." The court explained, "[d]efendant's new claim that he is innocent of the charge to which he pled guilty is nothing more than ... a bare assertion and he has not attempted to give his assertion any support whatsoever."

On June 10, 2009, defendant filed a notice of appeal from the March 13, 2009 order. On appeal, defendant raises the following issues:

THE LOWER COURT SHOULD HAVE GRANTED THE DEFENDANT'S POST CONVICTION RELIEF PETITION, BASED ON INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL, BECAUSE 1.) THE DEFENDANT PRESENTED EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES TO PERMIT RELIEF FROM THE FIVE YEAR LIMITATION OF R. 3:22-12 AND 2.) THE DEFENDANT'S PLEA ATTORNEY COMMITTED A SERIOUS AND PREJUDICIAL ERROR BY FAILING TO INSURE THAT THE PLEA COURT ADDRESSED THE DEFENDANT ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS WAIVED WITH A GUILTY PLEA.

Defendant filed his PCR petition more than twenty-seven years after his conviction. When he filed his petition, Rule 3:22-12 provided:*fn4

A petition to correct an illegal sentence may be filed at any time. No other petition shall be filed pursuant to the Rule more than 5 years after rendition of the judgment or sentence sought to be attacked unless it alleges facts showing that the ...


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