October 16, 2012
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
ARIMIS M. STUCKMAN, A/K/A ARAMIS M.STOCKMAN, SCOO STUCKMAN AND ARAMIS M. STUCKMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 10-04-0982.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 20, 2012
Before Judges Simonelli and Lisa.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, defendant pled guilty to first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1. In the plea agreement, the State agreed to recommend that defendant be sentenced in the second-degree range to eight years imprisonment subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier and five years parole supervision pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. The plea agreement also contained a provision that defendant reserved the right to request release from custody to visit his son in the hospital prior to sentencing and to argue for a sentence of less than eight years at the time of sentencing. That provision unequivocally provided that the "State does not join in either request."
At the plea hearing, defendant acknowledged signing the plea form after reviewing it with his attorney, and he stated, under oath, that he fully understood the terms of his recommended sentence. He proceeded to enter his guilty plea and provide a thorough factual basis establishing his guilt.
Then, after accepting the plea as knowingly and voluntarily entered, the judge addressed defendant's request for presentence release to visit his son. The judge said, "Now, you're going to be released on a bracelet program; do you understand that?"*fn1 Defendant answered affirmatively, and the judge set the terms of the release and the specific dates, encompassing nine days. As it turned out, because of the nature of one of defendant's prior juvenile adjudications, he was not eligible for release under the GPS program, and the jail authorities refused to release him.
Two months later, when the case came before the court for sentencing, the judge was informed of these events. Defendant requested that, in lieu of the GPS program release, the court postpone his sentencing and release him on his own recognizance to visit his son, who had been discharged from the hospital by that time. The judge refused and made it clear that his willingness to authorize defendant's release was conditioned upon doing so under the GPS program, with its attendant safeguards. The judge did not consider defendant suitable for release on his own recognizance. Further, in the two months that had elapsed, defense counsel had not notified the court of any problem with the anticipated GPS release.
Defendant then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that he would have never accepted the plea bargain and pled guilty if he knew he would not be released prior to beginning his sentence. The judge found this an insufficient basis to allow withdrawal of the plea, and he proceeded to sentence defendant in accordance with the recommendation in the plea agreement.
Defendant now appeals and argues:
I. THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO WITHDRAW HIS GUILTY PLEA, CONTRARY TO PRINCIPLES OF FUNDAMENTAL FAIRNESS, BECAUSE DEFENDANT'S REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS PURSUANT TO THE GUILTY PLEA WERE NOT FULFILLED. (U.S. Const. amends. V, VI, VIII, AND XIV; N.J. Const. art. I, [paras.] 1, 10[)].
II. THE SENTENCE OF EIGHT YEARS WITH 85%
PAROLE INELIGIBILITY WAS IMPOSED WITHOUT CONSIDERATION OF A SUBSTANTIAL MITIGATING FACTOR, AND SHOULD BE REDUCED.
These arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). Accordingly, we affirm. We nevertheless add these brief comments.
The crime to which defendant pled guilty was an egregious event. Defendant, along with two other assailants, attacked a lone victim, beat him severely, and took his belongings. During the course of the episode, defendant was armed with a knife and he was an active participant in the robbery. Defendant was apprehended within minutes of the attack. He was found to be in possession of some of the victim's belongings, he had blood on his hand and jacket, and he possessed a knife. Within twenty to thirty minutes after the attack, the victim identified defendant as the assailant who brandished the knife and participated actively in beating and robbing him. Further, video security cameras captured defendant as one of the individuals leaving the casino men's room where the robbery had occurred. Therefore, evidence of defendant's guilt was overwhelming.
Nevertheless, through the plea bargaining process, the State agreed to recommend a very lenient sentence for this first-degree offense. Indeed, but for the plea bargain, defendant would not have satisfied the two-part criteria of N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1f(2) for sentencing to a term appropriate for a crime one-degree lower than of the crime for which he was convicted. See State v. Megargel, 143 N.J. 484, 504-05 (1996).
In support of his argument that the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to withdraw his plea, defendant relies on a series of cases in which a defendant's expectations regarding material terms, sentencing consequences, and penal consequences were not satisfied. That is not the case here.
Defendant has never claimed that he did not understand the consequences of pleading guilty, his sentencing exposure in the ordinary range of ten to twenty years, and the maximum eight-year sentence that he would receive under the plea agreement. Indeed, defendant acknowledged his full understanding of these matters and pled guilty, and the judge accepted the plea, before the judge went on to address with defendant the issue of the proposed GPS release.
Because the State expressly did not join in the request for such a release, it was not part of the plea agreement between defendant and the State. Even if it were, the fact that the judge ordered the GPS release, but it could not be accomplished because defendant's record made him ineligible for it, did not frustrate any reasonable expectation defendant had regarding the material terms of his plea agreement. His reasonable expectation could have been nothing more than that he would be released temporarily with all of the security safeguards built into the GPS program, if he was eligible for release under that program.
Our conclusion that the trial judge did not err is bolstered by reference to the factors our Supreme Court has prescribed for analyzing pre-sentence motions to withdraw a guilty plea:
(1) whether the defendant has asserted a colorable claim of innocence; (2) the nature and strength of defendant's reasons for withdrawal; (3) the existence of a plea bargain; and (4) whether withdrawal would result in unfair prejudice to the State or unfair advantage to the accused. [State v. Slater, 198 N.J. 145, 157-58 (2009).]
The first three factors weigh heavily against allowing withdrawal. Defendant made no claim whatsoever of innocence. His reason for withdrawal of the plea was unrelated to his understanding of the charge to which he pled guilty, the consequences of pleading guilty, or the length and characteristics of the sentence to be imposed. His reason related to an inconsequential collateral matter. The plea was entered in accordance with a plea bargain, in which the State expressly did not join in defendant's request for a GPS release. The fourth factor favors neither side because there is nothing in the record to suggest that either the State would be prejudiced or defendant would gain an unfair advantage if the plea were withdrawn.
With respect to his sentence, as we have already pointed out, it was very lenient. Having considered the record and defendant's arguments, it is abundantly clear that the sentence is not manifestly excessive or unduly punitive and does not constitute a mistaken exercise of discretion. State v. O'Donnell, 117 N.J. 210, 215-16 (1989); State v. Ghertler, 114 N.J. 383, 393 (1989); State v. Roth, 95 N.J. 334, 363-65 (1984).