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State v. Campanella

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 3, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,


Submitted April 17, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 05-03-0658.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Frank M. Gennaro, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

James P. McClain, Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Mario C. Formica, Special Deputy Attorney General/ Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Simonelli and Accurso.


Defendant Thomas Campanella appeals from the February 21, 2012 Law Division order, which denied his petition for post- conviction relief (PCR) grounded on ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

A grand jury indicted defendant for fourth-degree obstructing the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1 (count one); first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a (count two); second-degree vehicular homicide, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5 (count three); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (count four); and third-degree assault by auto, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1c (count five). Defendant was also charged with careless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-97; and driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. The charges against defendant stemmed from a fatal motor vehicle accident on November 4, 2004.

The record reveals that defendant struck two vehicles, fled at a very high rate of speed, and then struck a vehicle driven by Mai Nguyen (Nguyen), seriously injuring Nguyen and killing her front-seat passenger, Maianh Thi Nguyen (Maianh).[1] Shortly after the accident, defendant's blood was drawn and tested at the hospital and by the New Jersey State Police. The tests revealed that defendant's blood alcohol content (BAC) was .198 percent and he had Butalbital (a barbiturate), Meprobamate (a muscle relaxer) and marijuana in his system. At the time of the accident, defendant had three prior DWI convictions and was serving a ten year driver's license suspension.

On September 23, 2005, defendant pled guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter (count two), second-degree aggravated assault (count four), and the DWI charge in exchange for the State recommending a twelve-year term of imprisonment on count two subject to an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.[2] At the plea hearing, defendant testified, under oath, that he agreed to plead guilty; he understood the sentence would be subject to NERA and that he was eligible for consecutive sentencing; no one forced him to plead guilty; he initialed and voluntarily signed the plea forms and discussed the questions and answers with trial counsel; and he had no questions about the plea.

In establishing a factual basis, defendant admitted he had consumed alcohol, took a muscle relaxer and smoked marijuana on the day of the accident. Although he did not recall what had happened, he accepted the State's discovery, which revealed the following:

[The State's] investigation revealed that on November 4th, 2004 there were two vehicles that were stopped at a red light at the intersection of the Black Horse Pike and Weymouth Road. There's a double intersection at that light. One of the vehicles was driven by a woman from Vineland, [Arwen Ranieri]. As she waited for the light to change green, she was struck in the rear by the vehicle that was being operated by [defendant]. [Defendant's] vehicle bounced off the vehicle driven by [Arwen Ranieri] and struck an individual from Hammonton, [Kerman Perotti]. To [Perotti's] surprise the Defendant then fled the scene where he had struck the two vehicles. [Perotti] then gave chase and headed westbound on the Black Horse Pike. [Perotti] said it was raining at the time and he was doing about sixty or sixty-five miles an hour and in his words, the Defendant was literally disappearing from him. [Perotti] estimated . . . [that defendant's] speed was ninety to a hundred miles an hours. [Perotti] was reluctant to go any faster because of the conditions on the road at the time
The Defendant disappeared from [Perotti's] view for a very brief period as they approached the turn there at Malaga Road and also should add that during the time that [Perotti] was following [defendant], he said that [defendant's] vehicle was going literally from shoulder to shoulder, back and forth across all four lanes of travel. When [Perotti] came around the turn at Malaga Road, he observed the Defendant had struck a vehicle that was being driven by Mai Nguyen. The passenger [Maiahn] Thi Nguyen, was killed. [Mai Nguyen] suffered fractures to both the left tibia ...

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