On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 95-03-1221.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Baxter and Nugent.
Defendant Alonzo Hill appeals from the March 30, 2009 order that denied his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) without a hearing. The judge who denied defendant's PCR petition gave no reasons for his decision; he made no findings of fact or conclusions of law. Consequently, we reverse and remand.
In 1996, a jury convicted defendant of fourteen offenses emanating from the carjacking and murder of Sandra McKnight, and the attempted murder of her husband. On appeal, we affirmed the conviction but remanded for resentencing. State v. Hill, No. A- 6583-95 (App. Div. March 23, 1999), certif. denied, 161 N.J. 147 (1999). On remand, defendant was sentenced to four consecutive sentences of life imprisonment for murder, two counts of attempted murder, and kidnapping; and to lesser, concurrent prison terms on other charges.
Defendant filed a PCR petition in July 1999. For reasons not relevant to this appeal, defense counsel did not pursue the petition.*fn1 Defendant re-filed the petition on April 1, 2008.
The court scheduled a hearing for August 7, 2008. At defendant's request, the court adjourned the hearing and permitted defendant to supplement his brief and appendix. On December 12, 2008, counsel, but not defendant, appeared for the PCR hearing. The court denied defense counsel's request for another adjournment to further supplement the record, but did not render a decision. Instead, the court stated that it would "provide a written decision in this case concerning the records that were made in court, as well as the submissions and the additional submissions that were provided to the Court. I anticipate you should have that by the beginning of the year." On March 30, 2009, the court issued an order denying defendant's PCR petition. The order was unaccompanied by any statement of reasons or explanation for the court's decision. According to his certification, defense counsel had, since "mid-January," periodically stopped by the court's chambers "to inquire about the status of the matter." He was told by the court's staff that the court would issue an opinion. Having received the March 2009 order, unaccompanied by such opinion, counsel continued to "inquire about a written opinion because . . . the order is devoid of any findings of fact." In September 2009, the judge who denied defendant's petition was reassigned.
Counsel contacted the judge's chambers and was told by his staff that the judge would not write an opinion.
In this appeal, defendant raises the following points:
POINT I THE LOWER COURT ORDER MUST BE REVERSED SINCE DEFENDANT RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL.
A. Trial counsel was ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress other crimes evidence.
B. Trial counsel was ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress prejudicial and inflammatory photographs of the decedent.
C. Trial counsel was ineffective since he failed to submit proposed jury instructions.
D. Trial counsel failed to conduct an adequate investigation and failed to ...