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State of New Jersey v. Habeeb Champion

February 23, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
HABEEB CHAMPION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 01-02-0480.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 9, 2011

Before Judges Payne and Simonelli.

Defendant, Habeeb Champion, was charged with murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2), and other crimes, but pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a, receiving an eighteen-year sentence subject to the eighty-five percent parole ineligibility provisions of the No Early Release Act (NERA),

N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. The sentence was to be served concurrently to his sentences on other crimes. Prior to sentencing, he expressed second thoughts regarding the plea, but he did not move for relief. At sentencing, the court would not permit his attorney's oral motion to retract the plea, but advised defendant to file a post-sentence motion seeking that relief. Defendant did not do so, but instead, raised the allegedly involuntary nature of his plea on direct appeal, arguing in that regard:

POINT I

THE DEFENDANT'S DUE PROCESS RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED BECAUSE HIS GUILTY PLEA WAS NOT KNOWING, UNDERSTANDING AND VOLUNTARY.

POINT II

IT WAS ERROR FOR THE COURT NOT TO ALLOW DEFENDANT TO WITHDRAW HIS PLEA PRIOR TO SENTENCING.

Defendant also argued on appeal that his sentence was excessive.

In rejecting defendant's arguments with respect to

withdrawal of his plea, we found:

[T]he plea agreement outlining the terms of defendant's proposed plea was signed by both defendant and his counsel and the terms thereof were placed on the record. Defendant was sworn and testified that he understood the terms of the agreement; that he had sufficient time to discuss the matter with his attorney; that he had no questions of the court or his attorney concerning the terms or conditions of the agreement; that he understood at sentencing the State would be free to recommend a term of eighteen years' imprisonment be imposed; that the sentence given would be subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier in accordance with NERA; that he understood the State's obligation to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and his right to a jury trial and was voluntarily waiving those rights; that no one had forced or coerced him to enter his plea of guilty; that he had signed the plea agreement and fully understood its contents and meaning; and that he made the decision to plead guilty; and he was satisfied with the services of his attorney.

[State v. Champion, No. A-4622-03 (App. Div. December 29, 2004) (slip op. at 5-6).]

We also considered the arguments for withdrawal of his plea raised by defendant at sentencing, including the argument that counsel failed to investigate the matter; he persuaded defendant's family that it was in defendant's best interest to plead guilty when defendant claimed he did not kill the victim; and, at the time of the plea, defendant was "on medication" and didn't feel he was "able to make the right decision." Id. at 8. Further, we considered letters sent by defendant to his trial attorney and to the court prior to sentencing. Id. at 9. We concluded that "defendant's contentions that his entry of the guilty plea was not knowing, understanding and voluntary, and that the trial court erred in refusing to permit him to withdraw his plea prior to sentencing, [were] without sufficient merit to warrant extensive discussion in a written opinion." Ibid. We then determined on the basis of our prior findings that the "record establishes that defendant was fully cognizant of the terms of the plea and its consequences, that he entered his guilty plea truthfully, voluntarily and understandingly, and provided an adequate factual basis to support the amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter." Id. at 9-10. We also held that, although defendant contended on appeal that he was taking medication and was not thinking clearly, "those contentions are not supported by the record of the plea hearing, nor has defendant proffered any factual basis or expert opinion to support that contention." Id. at 10. Certification was denied. State v. Champion, 183 N.J. 257 (2005).

Defendant then moved for post-conviction relief (PCR) and, in his pro se and counseled briefs, he again sought to vacate the plea through claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant argued through his attorney:

POINT I

THE DEFENDANT'S CLAIMS ARE NOT BARRED BY THE PROVISIONS OF R. 3:22 AS THEY ASSERT CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES ARISING UNDER THE ...


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