On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Indictment Nos. 96-01-0064 and 96-01-0079.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 17, 2012 -
Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.
Defendant Hugh Miller appeals from denial of his petition for post conviction relief (PCR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and other grounds for relief. We affirm.
On April 7, 1995, defendant choked his girlfriend to death. He then went to the home of a friend, and, after sitting with the friend and having some beer, defendant retrieved a gun from his car and shot his friend in the head. After killing his friend, defendant went to his mother's house and shot her dead. He was arrested and faced a capital murder charge. He decided to accept a plea agreement to avoid the potential imposition of the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to the three murders on April 23, 1998, before Judge Donald Gaydos. He was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement to three consecutive life terms, each with a minimum of thirty years to be served before eligibility for parole.
Defendant did not file a direct appeal from his convictions. Ten years later, on April 11, 2008, he filed a motion to vacate his guilty pleas. On September 26, 2008, he filed a PCR petition alleging that he entered the guilty pleas involuntarily and unknowingly because: (1) he was under medication when he pleaded guilty, (2) cameras had clicked in the courtroom distracting him from understanding the judge's questioning when he pleaded guilty, and (3) his lawyer suggested to him that he would probably not receive consecutive sentences because of his mental condition. Following briefing and oral argument, the Law Division denied defendant's PCR petition by written decision.
On appeal, defendant argues:
THE COURT MISAPPLIED THE PROCEDURAL BARS OF RULE 3:22-4 AND RULE 3:22-12 IN DENYING POST-CONVICTION RELIEF.
SINCE THE DEFENDANT MADE A PRIMA FACIE SHOWING OF INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL UNDER THE STRICKLAND/FRITZ TEST, THE PCR COURT ERRED IN DENYING POST-CONVICTION RELIEF WITHOUT CONDUCTING A FULL EVIDENTIARY HEARING.
THE PCR COURT'S RULING DENYING POST-CONVICTION RELIEF VIOLATED THE DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL AS GUARANTEED BY THE SIXTH ...