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State v. Bilal

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 9, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
HASSAN BILAL, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 19, 2013.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 99-06-0015.

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

Carolyn A. Murray, Acting Essex County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Debra G. Simms, Special Deputy Attorney General/ Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Ostrer and Kennedy.

PER CURIAM.

Defendant appeals from the trial court's denial of his post-conviction relief (PCR) petition following an evidentiary hearing. Defendant argues that his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to conduct an adequate investigation and failed to call "exculpatory witnesses." Having considered this argument in light of the facts and applicable law, we affirm.

I.

On May 27, 1999, the State Grand Jury returned a sixteen-count indictment charging defendant with second-degree conspiracy to commit racketeering, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, 2C:17-1, 2C:20-4, 2C:41-1c, 2C:41-1d, 2C:41-2c, and 2C:41-2d (count one); first-degree racketeering, N.J.S.A. 2C:41-1c, 2C:41-1d, 2C:41-2c, 2C:17-1, and 2C:20-4 (count two); second-degree leader of organized crime, N.J.S.A. 2C:41-1 and 2C:5-2g (count three); first-degree arson, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 and 2C:17-1d (counts five, eight, eleven, fourteen); second-degree aggravated arson, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 and 2C:17-1d (counts five, eight, eleven, fourteen; second-degree aggravated arson, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 and 2C:17-1a3 (count six, nine, twelve); second-degree attempted theft by deception, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6, 2C:5-1 and 2C:20-4 (count seven, thirteen); second-degree theft by deception, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 and 2C:20-4 (count ten); third-degree tampering with a witness, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5a (count fifteen); and third-degree attempted hindering apprehension or prosecution, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b3 (count sixteen). Also charged in the indictment was Kristal Dargon (counts four, five, six and seven). The indictment alleged that these crimes occurred on various dates between 1992 and 1998.

With trial scheduled to commence on May 1, 2001, defendant's counsel sought an adjournment of trial on April 30, 2001, because defendant that day had first provided him with the names of potential witnesses. Apparently, defendant provided forty or fifty names, but no contact information and no indication of the substance of their proposed testimony. Counsel asked defendant to give him a written list of the names, together with contact information and a statement of what information they could be expected to provide. The trial judge denied the application, explaining that defendant had almost two years to present the names of potential witnesses to counsel[1] and had "no problems" with proceeding until the case was listed for trial.

A jury trial commenced on May 1, 2001, and concluded on June 4, 2001. The jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of second-degree conspiracy to commit racketeering, first-degree racketeering, second-degree leader of organized crime, three counts of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson, one count of second-degree aggravated arson, third-degree criminal attempt, and second-degree theft by deception. He was acquitted of one count of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson, second-degree criminal attempted theft by deception, third-degree witness tampering, and third-degree hindering prosecution.

Defendant was sentenced on July 23, 2001, to an aggregate term of seventy-two years in prison, with thirty-six years of parole ineligibility. Defendant appealed and we affirmed his conviction and sentence, although we remanded for a corrected judgment of conviction. State v. Bilal, No. A-406-01 (App. Div. April 19, 2004), certif. denied, 182 N.J. 629 (2005). Defendant had raised the following issues on direct appeal:

POINT I THE DEFENDANT WAS DENIED A FAIR TRIAL WHEN DEFENSE COUNSEL'S REQUEST FOR AN ADJOURMENT TO LOCATE AND INTERVIEW WITNESSES WAS DENIED[.]
POINT II THE COURT IMPROPERLY ALLOWED STATE'S ARSON EXPERT TO RENDER AN OPINION ON THE ELECTRICAL DEVICE FOUND AT THE DEFENDANT'S RESIDENCE AFTER EXPERT ADMITTED NO TRAINING OR SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE OF ELECTRICITY OR EXPLOSIONS[.]
POINT III THE COURT IMPROPERLY ADMITTED A VIDEOTAPE OF A BURNING HOUSE - IT DID NOT ESTABLISH THE DEFENDANT'S GUILT IN ANY WAY AND WAS ...

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