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State of New Jersey v. Leonard Stevens

April 3, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LEONARD STEVENS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 87-10-1150.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 20, 2012

Before Judges Fisher and Baxter.

Defendant Leonard Stevens appeals from a May 26, 2009 Law Division order denying his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). Defendant was charged in 1987, and convicted in 1988, of felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses and sentenced to a life prison term, subject to a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility. We affirmed his conviction in 1991, State v. Stevens, No. A-0310-88 (App. Div. April 25, 1991), and the Supreme Court denied certification, State v. Stevens, 127 N.J. 552 (1991).

This -- defendant's first PCR petition -- was filed in 2009, nearly twenty-one years after his conviction. Defendant maintains that the five-year time bar of Rule 3:22-12*fn1 should not apply to him because "applying the bar would work a fundamental injustice" and would "elevat[e] the [time] bar to an absolute prohibition [that] would virtually destroy the concept of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, a proposition firmly and securely fixed in case law." He argues the PCR judge wrongly rejected these arguments and improperly applied the Rule 3:22-12 time bar when he refused to consider on the merits defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

We affirm.

I.

Following his July 22, 1988 conviction, defendant filed a direct appeal raising the following claims:

I. The trial judge committed reversible error in ruling, over defendant's objection, that the victim's bloodstained clothes and photograph of the victim's body on the crosswalk could be admitted into evidence.

II. The trial judge committed reversible error in refusing to permit lay opinion testimony on two fact issues vital to the defense, in contravention of Evidence Rule 56(1).

III. The trial judge committed reversible error when he crossed the line from an impartial arbiter to advocate for the State by unduly limiting crucial cross-examination of State's witnesses and in making remarks in front of the jury which criticized defense counsel as well as the case for the defense.

IV. Defendant's conviction and sentence for possession of a weapon without a permit should be vacated (not raised below).

V. The trial court committed reversible error in its charge to the jury on murder, aggravated manslaughter and reckless ...


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