On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 83-08-1689.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 15, 2011 -
Before Judges Baxter and Nugent.
Defendant James Hunt appeals from an October 23, 2009 Law Division order denying his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) on the grounds that the petition was filed well beyond the five-year time limit established by Rule 3:22-12(a)(1) and defendant failed to present any meritorious basis warranting the extension of the deadline established by that Rule.
After a capital murder trial, defendant was convicted on January 23, 1984 of capital murder, conspiracy, weapons offenses and burglary. The jury sentenced him to death. On March 28, 1994, the judge imposed sentence on the non-capital counts. On June 9, 1989, our Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction, but vacated the death sentence due to errors in the penalty phase jury instructions. State v. Hunt, 115 N.J. 330, 378-89 (1989). The Court remanded to the Law Division for the imposition of a non-capital sentence. Id. at 385. On June 30, 1989, the judge sentenced defendant to life imprisonment, subject to a thirty-year parole ineligibility term.
Defendant's appeal of his sentence was heard on an excessive sentence calendar (ESOA), R. 2:9-11, at which time we concluded that the consecutive sentences were not justified, and remanded for the imposition of concurrent sentences. State v. Hunt, No. A-2768-09 (App. Div. May 16, 1991). The Law Division issued an amended judgment of conviction bearing the date of May 14, 1991.*fn1
Having exhausted the appellate process in state court, defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court. That petition was denied on March 11, 1992. On April 16, 1993, the Third Circuit affirmed. Hunt v. Beyer, 993 F.2d 877 (3d Cir. 1993).
On June 10, 2002, more than nine years after the Third
Circuit judgment, and more than eighteen years after his conviction, defendant filed the PCR petition that is the subject of this appeal. In his petition, he asserted that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance because he did not meet with defendant frequently enough prior to trial. Defendant did not provide any affidavits or certifications demonstrating how the result of the trial would have been different had trial counsel met with him more frequently.
Without assigning counsel, a Law Division judge denied defendant's PCR petition based upon the five-year time bar contained in Rule 3:22-12(a). On appeal, we summarily reversed the denial of the PCR petition because the court had not assigned counsel to defendant in violation of Rule 3:22-6(a), which requires the assignment of counsel on a first petition for post-conviction relief. Counsel was thereafter assigned, and after the submission of briefs, on October 23, 2009, the Law Division conducted a hearing on defendant's PCR petition.
At the beginning of the proceeding, the judge offered PCR counsel the opportunity to present testimony on the time bar issue, but counsel declined the judge's offer stating, "you know, frankly, there isn't a lot more except what is on the papers before the court. Those are the reasons set forth[.]" After hearing argument from both sides, the judge rendered a comprehensive and well-reasoned oral opinion in which he denied defendant's petition. The judge's ruling began with a detailed recitation of the procedural history that we have already described. The judge observed that defendant was convicted in 1984 and ...