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State of New Jersey v. Jose Sanchez

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 6, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSE SANCHEZ, A/K/A FELIX SANTIAGO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment Nos. 01-04-0532 and 02-02-0278.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 11, 2012

Before Judges Graves and Harris.

Defendant Jose Sanchez, who is also known as FeliX Santiago, appeals from an order entered on March 26, 2010, denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). Defendant presents the following arguments on appeal:

POINT I

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY REFUSING TO AFFORD DEFENDANT AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING AND BY DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF.

POINT II

DEFENDANT'S TRIAL COUNSEL PROVIDED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE TO DEFENDANT.

We conclude from our review of the record and the applicable law that these arguments are clearly without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Robert J. Mega in his written decision on March 26, 2010, with only the following comments.

On July 15, 2002, defendant pled guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter (count one of Indictment No. 02-02-0278, as amended) and third-degree aggravated assault (count five of the same indictment). Defendant also pled guilty to third- degree theft (count four of Indictment No. 01-04-5321) and second-degree aggravated assault (count six of the same indictment). In exchange for the guilty pleas, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining counts in both indictments and to recommend an aggregate eighteen-year sentence subject to an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.

At his plea hearing, defendant confirmed he could read and write; he had enough time to discuss all of the issues with his attorney; he was satisfied with legal services provided by his attorney; and he entered into the plea agreement freely and voluntarily. Defendant also confirmed he read and understood the plea forms and answered all of the questions on the plea forms truthfully. On the plea forms, one of the questions asked if defendant was "satisfied with the advice [he] received from [his] lawyer," and defendant answered "Yes."

Defendant also provided a factual basis for his pleas and, when questioned by the court regarding his sentence for aggravated manslaughter, defendant testified as follows:

Q. In the murder case, or aggravated manslaughter case . . . the recommendation is 18 years but you must do 85 percent.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Q. Eighty-five percent of 18 for purpose of the approximate number is approximately 15 years and about four months.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Q. Now, of course, I don't control when you get out. The Parole Board must actually release you.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Q. They might even keep you longer. I don't control that.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

During his plea hearing, defendant also waived his right to a jury trial and his right to claim self-defense:

Q. By pleading guilty there will be no more trial.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Q. And self-defense, if it is accepted by the jury, can exonerate the person totally.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Q. If the jury determines it was done properly and reasonably.

Do you understand?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. By pleading guilty you are giving that up.

Do you understand?

A. Yes.

Prior to sentencing, defendant filed a motion to retract his aggravated manslaughter and aggravated assault pleas.

During a hearing on November 13, 2002, defendant testified he wanted to claim self-defense. He also said he never received discovery, and he "was coerced [by his] family" to enter the pleas. In addition, he claimed he had not been treated fairly because the State changed its initial conditional offer to recommend a fourteen-year sentence to eighteen years after speaking with the victim's family. The trial court determined that defendant had not presented an adequate basis for retracting his pleas, and defendant's motion was denied. On December 6, 2002, defendant was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement to an aggregate eighteen-year term of imprisonment with an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility under NERA. Nevertheless, defendant appealed his sentence. Following oral argument on the excessive sentencing calendar, Rule 2:9-11, we affirmed and defendant's petition for certification was denied on February 2, 2005. State v. Santiago, 182 N.J. 628 (2005).

Defendant filed a PCR petition on July 1, 2005. Defendant alleged his attorney was ineffective (1) for failing to "adequately explain the consequences of such a plea"; (2) for failing to "present an adversarial challenge to the State's case"; and (3) for failing to "present [pretrial] motions to suppress evidence which was tainted by the Union County Police Department." Following oral argument, the PCR court found that defendant failed to satisfy both prongs of the Strickland/Fritz test.*fn1

Judge Mega carefully considered each of defendant's claims, and we affirm substantially for the reasons stated in his seventeen-page written decision. As Judge Mega correctly concluded, defendant failed to establish that his attorney was deficient, and he failed to establish "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." State v. DiFrisco, 137 N.J. 434, 457 (1994) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59, 106 S. Ct. 366, 370, 88 L. Ed. 2d 203, 210 (1985)).

Affirmed.


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