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State of New Jersey v. William Muhammad

May 21, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM MUHAMMAD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 04-10-0819.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 23, 2012

Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.

Defendant William Muhammad appeals from an order of the Law Division denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.

During a seven-week period from January 21, 2002 to March 16, 2002, defendant engaged in a crime spree in two neighboring counties involving two carjackings in Essex County on January 21 and 24, 2002, a carjacking in Union County on February 12, 2002, and an aggravated sexual assault, also in Union County, on March 16, 2002. Following his arrest in Union County, defendant was identified in the Essex County crimes via an automatic teller machine (ATM) photo and a photo array.

The Union County charges were resolved first. On March 28, 2003, defendant pled guilty to the February 12, 2002 carjacking and the related offense of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. He was sentenced, in accordance with the plea agreement, to a sixteen-year term subject to the 85% parole disqualifier of the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. On September 12, 2003, defendant pled guilty to the March 16, 2002 aggravated sexual assault, for which he was sentenced to a concurrent ten-year term, subject to NERA.

One year later, on October 4, 2004, the same day the Essex County Prosecutor's Office filed an accusation charging defendant with the January 21, 2002 carjacking, and nine months after an indictment was returned charging him with the January 24, 2002 carjacking, defendant pled guilty to both crimes and related weapons offenses. In exchange for the guilty plea, the State recommended an aggregate twenty-five year custodial term subject to NERA to run concurrently, but not coterminously, with the Union County sentence defendant was serving. At the guilty plea hearing, the court detailed to defendant the terms of the plea agreement:

At the time of your sentencing, the remaining counts of both the indictment and the accusation will be dismissed. The State is recommending that any sentence I impose not be greater than 25 years to be served concurrently with the sentence you're presently serving, but not coterminous with your present sentence.

That means this sentence obviously will extend beyond what would have been your parole ineligibility, 16 with 85. . . . [(emphasis added).]

On November 8, 2004, defendant was sentenced, in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, to concurrent twenty-five year terms on the two carjackings, subject to NERA, to run concurrent, but not coterminous, with his Union County sentence.*fn1

We affirmed defendant's sentence on our Excessive Sentence Oral Argument calendar.

On April 27, 2009, defendant filed the instant PCR petition stemming from his November 8, 2004 judgment of conviction. Therein, he raised the following issues: (1) his Essex County sentence should have been run coterminously with his Union County sentence and trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request coterminous sentences; (2) the gap time credit should have applied to the parole ineligibility term rather than against his aggregate term; and (3) trial counsel failed to prepare a trial strategy for the Essex County indictment and accusation, failed to file any motions and failed to meet with him prior to the time of the plea, effectively "constructively forcing" him to accept the plea terms offered by the State.

Following a hearing at which defendant testified, the PCR judge denied defendant's petition. In a written decision dated April 26, 2010, the judge found defendant's testimony "evasive, illogical and incredibly vague[,]" in that his allegation that he did not comprehend the differences between the words "concurrent" and "coterminous," was directly contradicted by his very own request at ...


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