On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 03-10-1131.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Reisner.
Defendant, Larry Leonard, appeals from the denial of his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
Defendant entered into an agreement with the State to plead guilty to first-degree carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining nine*fn1 counts of Indictment No. 03-10-01131 and to recommend a custodial term not to exceed fifteen years with a NERA*fn2 period of parole ineligibility.
At the plea hearing, defendant testified that on July 17, 2003, in Plainfield, "I jumped this car and I tried to take the car." The car was a 1990 Nissan. He admitted being armed with a knife that he used to threaten the woman who was driving the Nissan.
During the plea colloquy, defendant admitted that he faced a potential thirty-year term. Judge William L'E. Wertheimer accepted the plea and imposed a twelve-year term with a NERA parole disqualifier.
Defendant appealed his sentence only. At an excessive sentence oral argument calendar, pursuant to Rule 2:9-11, we affirmed the sentence. State v. Leonard No. A-0185-05 (App. Div. Jan. 11, 2007).
In April 2008, defendant filed pro se the PCR petition. The designated counsel filed a brief in support of the petition. Defendant alleged that he: (a) "was unable to make voluntary, knowing and willing waiver rights"; (b) received ineffective assistance from plea counsel; and (c) "was incompetent to stand trial." In addition, defendant alleged that an "expert in psychiatry should have been engaged because petitioner was on medication at the time of the crime," and the judge abused his discretion in fashioning a sentence.
Judge Wertheimer heard oral argument and issued a written opinion on July 17, 2009, denying the PCR petition. In pertinent part, the judge found:
Outside of defendant's assertion that he did not make the plea knowingly and voluntarily, there is no evidence to support same. In fact, during the plea colloquy, the trial court clearly articulated all the rights defendant was giving up by pleading guilty and defendant indicated he understood. Defendant further stated no one forced him to plead guilty, and that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol nor suffering from any physical or mental illnesses when the plea was taken. Therefore, the court is not persuaded by defendant's argument.
Defendant also argues he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney forced him to plead guilty and did not engage an expert psychiatrist, despite defendant's history of mental illness. .
Once again, outside of defendant's bald assertions that his lawyer forced him to accept a plea deal, there is no evidence to support same. Additionally, defendant's counsel lawyer did engage an expert psychiatrist, Dr. Kenneth J. Weiss. Dr. Weiss concluded that defendant was competent to stand trial. See Letter from Dr. Kenneth J. Weiss, M.D., to ...