On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 05-09-1360.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: February 9, 2011 - Decided:
Before Judges Axelrad and R. B. Coleman.
Following an indictment charging him with murder and four weapons offenses, defendant Leroy Munroe pled guilty to the amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1), pursuant to a negotiated plea. The plea further provided the State would seek a custodial sentence of no more than twenty years, subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, and the other charges would be dismissed.
Prior to sentencing, defendant retained new counsel and moved to withdraw his guilty plea. He argued he had a valid defense to the charge against him, namely, self-defense, and his former attorney misled him as to the maximum sentence he would receive, promising he would receive a term no greater than ten years.
The court denied the motion. In accordance with the negotiated plea, at sentencing the court heard argument regarding the term, then imposed a seventeen-year sentence subject to NERA and dismissed the remaining counts of the indictment.
Defendant appeals, challenging the trial court's denial of his motion and further challenging the sentence imposed as "improperly determined, excessive, [and] unduly punitive." We affirm.
Hudson County Indictment No. 05-09-1360, filed on September 27, 2005, charged defendant with one count of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2:11-3(a)(1) and (2) (count one); two counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon (handgun), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (counts two and four); and two counts of second-degree possession of the same weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (counts three and five).
On March 1, 2007, defendant initialed and signed a plea form, reflecting, in part, that he would be pleading guilty to the amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, which carried a thirty-year statutory maximum term, and under question five (b) he acknowledged he could be sentenced to serve the maximum time in confinement. Question thirteen further provided the prosecutor was "[f]ree to speak up to 20 yrs. NJSP w/85% parole ineligibility."
On the same date, he entered his plea on the record. The prosecutor first noted the amended charge and that the State would recommend the sentence set forth in the plea agreement, with which defense counsel concurred. Defendant, then twenty- one years of age, expressly acknowledged he heard and understood the plea agreement placed on the record, signed and understood the plea form, had sufficient time to review the questions and answers with his attorney, and was satisfied with the representation of his attorney. Defendant further acknowledged he was waiving identified rights by pleading guilty and was voluntarily doing so. In response to questions by defense counsel, the following factual basis was placed on the record by defendant:
Q [DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Leroy, on May
13th of 2005 in the City of Jersey City and particularly at Delaware and Duncan Avenue[s] did you have an altercation with a gentleman by the name of Christian Natal (phonetic)?
Q And as a result of that altercation -- and when I say altercation I mean a verbal dispute. Did you guys have a bit of a verbal discussion, a verbal disagreement --
Q -- on that day? And -- and at some point on this day following the verbal altercation did you fire a handgun?
Q And as a result of firing that handgun did you shoot Christian Natal?
Q And later on was Christian pronounced dead by the EMS people?
Q And you knew that he was pronounced dead. Is that correct?
Q And when you discharged the weapon were you in close proximity to Christian?
Q. And did you fire the weapon in his direction?
Q [PROSECUTOR]: I think that's -- you agree it's circumstances manifesting --
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Absolutely. Judge, I mean I would stipulate that it's circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life. It was close range. He did discharge --
[THE COURT]: Firing a handgun at someone. Okay.
[PROSECUTOR]: The State is satisfied.
The judge then asked defendant if he still wanted to plead guilty and whether he was actually guilty. Defendant responded in the affirmative to both questions. The judge accepted the plea, expressly finding he was satisfied defendant "pled guilty freely and voluntarily, understood what he was doing, waived his rights, ...