On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 96-10-1184.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 1, 2011
Before Judges Reisner and Simonelli.
Defendant Martin Robles appeals from the December 31, 2009 order, which denied his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1), (2); first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3); first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2; first-degree kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1b; second-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2a(1); second-degree possession of a weapon (shotgun) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; and third-degree possession of a weapon (crossbow) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d. On September 18, 1998, the trial judge sentenced defendant to an aggregate base term of life imprisonment plus twenty years, with an aggregate forty-year period of parole ineligibility.
Defendant appealed his conviction, alleging, in part, that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. He also challenged his sentence. We affirmed, and our Supreme Court denied certification. State v. Robles, No. A-2589-00 (App. Div. March 26, 2004), certif. denied, 180 N.J. 456 (2004).
Defendant filed a PCR petition on April 29, 2008, arguing that (1) his petition was not time barred under Rule 3:22 because he was asserting a constitutional issue based on ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support a conviction; (3) he was coerced into confessing by Detective Edgar Rios of the Trenton Police Department, whose credibility was in question due to disciplinary charges brought against him in 2008 in an unrelated matter; and (4) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Defendant also argued that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to retain a forensic pathologist to analyze the victim's autopsy report to determine the medical and legal cause of death, and to assist in preparing a defense, in cross-examining and challenging the credentials of the State's expert, and in reviewing the chain of custody of toxicology results to determine claims of tampering.
In an oral opinion, rendered on November 17, 2009, Judge Neafsey denied the petition without an evidentiary hearing. Procedurally, the judge ruled that the petition was untimely filed pursuant to Rule 3:22-12(a)(1), and defendant presented no facts establishing excusable neglect or exceptional circumstances.
Substantively, Judge Neafsey reviewed the trial transcript and found that trial counsel subjected the State's expert to a "rigorous" cross-examination and recross-examination and attacked the expert's credibility and opinions. The judge concluded that other than defendant's "bald assertion" and "pure speculation," defendant failed to present anything that a defense expert might say or do that would have changed anything.
Judge Neafsey also concluded that in defendant's direct appeal, we had rejected defendant's arguments that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support a conviction, and the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. See R. 3:22-5; State v. Preciose, 129 N.J. 451, 476 (1992) (holding that prior adjudication of an issue on the merits in a direct appeal ordinarily constitutes a procedural bar of that issue in a PCR petition).
As for defendant's alleged coerced confession, Judge Neafsey found that the trial judge held a Miranda*fn1 hearing and ruled that defendant's signed confession was admissible. Thus, defendant could have raised this issue on his direct appeal. See R. 3:22-4; State v. Afanador, 151 N.J. 41, 50 (1997) (holding that Rule 3:22-4 bars all grounds for PCR that could have been raised in a prior proceeding). The judge also found that Detective Rios's administrative charges, which were brought ten years after defendant's conviction about a matter unrelated to this case, had no impact on the detective's credibility and would have been inadmissible at trial. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant raises the following arguments:
POINT I THE ORDER DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S PETITION SHOULD BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE PCR COURT'S "RIGOROUS" ENFORCEMENT OF THE PROCEDURAL BARS OF RULE 3:22-4 AND RULE 3:22-12 WAS CONTRARY TO THE REMEDIAL PURPOSES OF POST-CONVICTION RELIEF AND INCONSISTENT WITH THE "OVERARCHING IMPORTANCE" OF POST-CONVICTION ...