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State of New Jersey v. Giles Harris

June 27, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
GILES HARRIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 87-07-0867.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 9, 2012

Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.

Defendant Giles Harris appeals from the denial of his post-conviction relief (PCR) petition, seeking to set aside his guilty plea. We affirm.

On September 18, 1988, defendant pled guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(4). In accordance with his plea agreement, on January 17, 1989, defendant was sentenced to two concurrent eleven year sentences, requiring he serve four years prior to parole eligibility. The remaining thirteen counts in the indictment were dismissed. Defendant was paroled on March 3, 1993. While on parole, he was arrested on indictable drug offenses. Following his jury conviction, defendant was sentenced to a custodial term of five years, subject to a three-year period of parole ineligibility to be served concurrent to the sentence imposed for his parole violation. When paroled in August 2001, defendant was informed he was subject to the registration provisions imposed by Megan's Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -23. See also N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4 (imposing community supervision for life for designated offenders).

Defendant filed a pro se PCR petition, seeking to set aside his 1988 conviction, later supplemented by counsel's submission. Defendant maintained: (1) trial counsel was negligent in failing to fully investigate his case, locate and interview witnesses, and otherwise prepare his defense; (2) his plea was not made with a full understanding of the consequences; (3) imposition of Megan's Law was unconstitutional because his conduct pre-dated the statute; and (4) an evidentiary hearing was necessary to resolve these issues.

The PCR judge, in a written opinion, denied the request for an evidentiary hearing, concluding defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were time barred and otherwise lacked merit because counsel guided defendant based upon the existing law. Further, in applying the test articulated in State v. Slater, 198 N.J. 145, 157-58 (2009) (setting forth a four factor test for evaluating motions to withdraw guilty pleas), the judge upheld defendant's guilty plea, finding the plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered. However, despite the twenty year lapse since sentencing, the PCR judge concluded defendant's challenge to the imposition of Megan's Law raised reviewable sentencing issues. R. 3:21-10(b)(5) (stating a motion may be filed at any time to correct an illegal sentence).

In examining the applicability of Megan's Law to defendant's 1988 offenses, the PCR judge concluded the imposition of the notification provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(b)(2) was a legal issue that did not affect the validity of the defendant's original plea agreement or require his conviction be vacated. Consequently, if the provisions were inapplicable, defendant's sentence would be modified to eliminate the registration requirements.

The PCR judge focused on defendant's argument that the retroactive imposition of Megan's Law's violated the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution. See U.S. Const. art. I § 10. Relying on Doe v. Poritz, 142 N.J. 1, 16 (1995), the PCR judge rejected defendant's arguments, as the Supreme Court has concluded the registration provisions of Megan's Law are designed to serve remedial, and not as punitive, purposes, as are constitutional.

On appeal, appellant renews the arguments presented to the PCR court, stating:

POINT I

DEFENDANT WAS DENIED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL ENTITLING HIM TO ...


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