NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 16, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 01-08-0936.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Steven M. Gilson, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Frederick M. Knapp, Acting Morris County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Erin Smith Wisloff, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Nugent.
Defendant, Sai Ramesh Maddi, appeals from the denial of his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). He alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The PCR judge denied the motion after conducting an evidentiary hearing. We affirm.
On July 25, 2001, defendant was charged with third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7) (Count One); third-degree terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3b (Counts Two and Four); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (Count Three); third-degree criminal restraint, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2a and 2b (Counts Five and Six); and first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1a(3) and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) (Count Seven). According to the evidence presented at trial, the charges stemmed from defendant's acts of threatening behavior towards and physical assaults upon his wife, who phoned police on June 4, 2001, reporting that defendant had assaulted her. The police responded and transported her to a hospital. The emergency room doctor who treated her opined that the force exerted upon her was sufficient to cause death. X-rays of the wife's back disclosed five broken vertebrae. At the time of her admission, she was also bleeding, and the doctor observed burn wounds which he could not definitively opine were self-inflicted or otherwise.
The jury convicted defendant of all counts except Count Two, terroristic threats. On that charge, the jury found defendant guilty of the lesser-included offense of harassment.
On July 12, 2005, the court imposed a fifteen-year term of imprisonment with a seven-and-one-half-year period of parole ineligibility on the attempted murder conviction, and concurrent custodial terms on all of the remaining offenses. On direct appeal, we affirmed defendant's convictions and the sentences imposed on each offense. State v. Maddi, No. A-0225-05T2 (App. Div. February 13, 2008). On May 2, 2008, the Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for certification. State v. Maddi, 195 N.J. 519 (2008).
Defendant filed his PCR petition on June 23, 2008. PCR counsel was assigned to represent him and counsel filed a brief on defendant's behalf. On April 16, 2009, Judge Thomas V. Manahan granted defendant an evidentiary hearing, after concluding that it was difficult to resolve defendant's claims given the "out-of-court communications" that formed the basis for defendant's petition. The court conducted an evidentiary hearing over a two-day period on November 12, 2009 and June 14, 2010. Defendant and trial counsel were the only two witnesses to participate in the hearing.
Defendant testified that trial counsel rarely met with him prior to trial and, when he did so, treated him in a disdainful manner. Defendant acknowledged there had been a number of plea offers extended to him but claimed that trial counsel's attitude towards accepting the plea offers or going to trial was either dismissive or conveyed in an angry manner, with the repeated question: "What's your defense?" Trial counsel testified that defendant was never receptive to the plea offers and that defendant's brother was always present during their meetings. He explained that the brother had significant influence over defendant and that the brother consistently rejected the plea offers. He acknowledged that his relationship with defendant became hostile and admitted that he pressed defendant about his defense by asking, "What's the defense?"
Judge Manahan issued a written opinion denying defendant's petition. The judge found that defendant was initially represented by private counsel for more than two years before his trial counsel was assigned to represent him. He noted that during the two-year period that defendant was being represented by private counsel, numerous plea offers, options and potential consequences were discussed with him, but defendant exhibited no inclination towards pleading guilty. The judge additionally found that defendant's inclination to proceed to trial carried over to trial counsel. He was also satisfied that the attorneys representing defendant before trial counsel took over the case kept defendant "well-informed" and that defendant had "full knowledge of the status and particulars of his case." Consequently, the judge concluded that by the time trial counsel commenced his representation, there was little left to discuss. Moreover, the judge was convinced that even if he were to find there had been "some lack of communication" between defendant and trial counsel, ...