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State of New Jersey v. Juan Carlos Salas

January 24, 2011


On appeal from the Superior County of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 03-06-2075.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 11, 2011

Before Judges Payne and Baxter.

Defendant Juan Salas appeals from a January 30, 2009 order that denied his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.


Following a trial by jury, defendant was convicted of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder and related weapons offenses. The proofs at trial established that defendant, then seventeen years of age, along with his companions, took offense at the intrusion of others into what they deemed their territory in Camden for the sale of narcotics. Their solution was to slay the intruders. Two people lost their lives and a third survived.

Several months after the shootings, defendant was taken into custody and, in the presence of his mother, provided a statement about his involvement in the incident, which was played for the jury. In his statement, defendant asserted that the shootings were planned by Angel Mendoza, who recruited defendant and his brother. According to defendant, Mendoza supplied the guns and instructed him and his brother to shoot at the victims so they would run toward Mendoza, who would then kill them. Defendant said in his statement that he went along with the plan only because he was afraid of what Mendoza would do to him if he refused.

Defendant moved to suppress the statement. At the conclusion of the Miranda*fn1 hearing, Judge Natal denied defendant's motion and ruled defendant's statement to the police would be admissible at trial.

At trial, defendant recanted his statement to police. He maintained he only provided the statement because police would not let his mother leave until he did so. His mother's testimony corroborated that claim. Defendant testified he had no involvement in the shootings.

In affirming defendant's conviction, we rejected his claims that the prosecutor's summation was inflammatory and denied him a fair trial and that his sentence was excessive. State v. Salas, No. A-5553-04 (App. Div. July 3, 2007) (slip op. at 5-7). In the course of our discussion of defendant's claims, we observed that "the evidence presented against defendant can fairly be described as overwhelming." Id. at 6. Defendant did not seek certification from the Supreme Court.

Defendant filed a timely PCR petition in which he asserted, without elaboration, that he received ineffective assistance from both trial and appellate counsel. He also contended, again without elaborating, that the trial prosecutor committed "multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct."

On January 30, 2009, Judge Natal conducted a hearing on defendant's PCR petition. In a comprehensive and well-reasoned oral decision that covers twenty-six transcript pages, Judge Natal denied the petition. After describing the general principles applicable to PCR proceedings, and reviewing our opinion on direct appeal, Judge Natal discussed each of the claims asserted. The judge began by addressing defendant's contention that appellate counsel was ineffective because he failed to seek certification from the Supreme Court even though defendant had asked him to do so. The judge denied that claim, reasoning that defendant's allegation was not supported by any affidavits demonstrating such a request had been made.

Second, the judge addressed defendant's claim that trial counsel was ineffective because he "inadequately investigated" defendant's case. Relying upon State v. Cummings, 321 N.J. Super. 154, 170 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 162 N.J. 199 (1999), Judge Natal observed that defendant had not met his burden of establishing a prima facie case of ineffective assistance of counsel because he had failed to submit any affidavits from witnesses that he claimed his attorney should have called, and whose testimony purportedly would have changed the outcome of the trial. The judge noted that Cummings requires a defendant to do more than make "bald assertions" that his attorney did not conduct a proper investigation. Because ...

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