On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Indictment No. 03-07-1043 and 03-04-0561.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti and Espinosa.
Defendant Jacquar Stokes appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
On January 12, 2003, a police officer asked defendant's permission to search him for weapons, after observing defendant react suspiciously upon seeing the officer. Defendant fled but the officer caught him. Defendant was searched and found with a semi-automatic handgun and four bags of crack cocaine.
On February 24, 2003, the Mount Holly police responded to a report of a stabbing at a residence on Grant Street. The officers found the victim, Ernest Greene (Greene), lying on the steps of the residence. Attempts to save Greene's life were unsuccessful. An eyewitnesses told the officers that he saw defendant stab Greene in the neck. Another eyewitness said that he saw defendant argue with Greene before the stabbing.
About fifteen minutes later, the police found defendant. They arrested him and returned him to the crime scene, where the two eyewitnesses identified him as the person who stabbed Greene. The officers transported defendant to the Mt. Holly Police Department. The officers continued their investigation. Four other persons identified defendant as the individual who stabbed Greene.
At the police station, the police informed defendant of his Miranda*fn1 rights. Defendant waived his rights and agreed to give the detectives a statement. He said that, several days before the stabbing, Greene robbed him of $200 and punched him in the face. According to defendant, on the date of the stabbing, he met Greene and Greene boasted about the robbery.
Defendant claimed that he found a knife in the street and picked it up because he had no other means to protect himself. When he walked towards Greene, Greene demanded that defendant hand him the bottle of brandy that defendant was carrying. Defendant said that when Greene approached him, he "shut [his] eyes and let [the knife] go." Defendant was then transported to the county jail where he was found in possession of thirty-five bags of crack cocaine.
Defendant was charged under Indictment No. 03-07-1043-I with murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and 3(a)(2) (count one); third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 5(b)(3) (count two); and third-degree possession of CDS, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (count three). Defendant also was charged under Indictment No. 03-04-561-I, with third-degree aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(5)(a) (count one); third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a)(3) (count two); third-degree possession of CDS, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (count three); fourth-degree hindering his apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(1) (count four); fourth-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a)(2) (count five); and fourth-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(e) (count six).
On January 11, 2005, defendant pled guilty to count one of Indictment No. 03-07-1043-I, which was amended to charge first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1); and count two of Indictment No. 03-04-561-I, charging third-degree resisting arrest. The State agreed to dismiss the other charges and recommend an eighteen-year term of incarceration, with a period of parole ineligibility as prescribed by the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, on the aggravated manslaughter charge, with a concurrent four-year, flat sentence on the resisting arrest charge. Defendant was sentenced on March 11, 2005, and the court imposed the sentence recommended by the State. Defendant did not file a direct appeal.
On September 12, 2008, defendant filed a PCR petition. He alleged that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Thereafter, defendant's PCR counsel filed a brief on his behalf.
Defendant asserted that, in the PCR proceeding, he made it clear to his attorney he would only agree to enter a guilty plea if the State were willing to recommend a fifteen-year sentence. He claimed that his attorney allowed his family to persuade him to take the State's offer, with a recommended sentence of eighteen years. He further alleged that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at sentencing because his attorney failed to bring to the court's attention information regarding his alcohol and drug use, as well as his "extensive" psychiatric history.
The PCR court heard oral argument on the petition on October 29, 2010, and issued a written opinion dated November 16, 2010, denying the application. The court concluded that: 1) defendant's claims are barred by Rule 3:22-4 because they could have been raised on direct appeal; and 2) defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because he failed to present a prima facie case of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court denied defendant's PCR petition. This appeal followed.
Defendant raises the following arguments for our consideration:
I. THE POST-CONVICTION RELIEF COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S PETITION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF.
A. THE DEFENDANT'S CLAIMS ARE NOT PROCEDURALLY BARRED BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN RAISED IN A PRIOR PROCEEDING OR ON DIRECT APPEAL.
B. THE DEFENDANT DEMONSTRATED A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF PLEA COUNSEL THAT ...