NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 12, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 10-08-0466.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Robert L. Sloan, Assistant Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
Geoffrey D. Soriano, Somerset County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (James L. McConnell, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Harris and Guadagno.
Defendant Gregory Smith appeals from an April 13, 2012 judgment of conviction for third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(7), and third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d). Smith argues that the trial court misled jurors with respect to the burden of proof related to self-defense, failed to merge Smith's possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose conviction with his aggravated assault conviction, and imposed an excessive three-year sentence. We affirm in part, and reverse and remand in part.
On June 16, 2010, a violent encounter occurred between Smith and victim Joseph Lassiter when Smith returned to the South Bound Brook apartment of Crystal Williams — Smith's former girlfriend — to retrieve some belongings that he had left behind following the dissolution of their relationship the week before. Upon entering the apartment, Smith viewed Lassiter asleep in Williams's bed. Believing Lassiter to be Williams, Smith demanded the return of $340, and proceeded to bludgeon Lassiter with a rubber mallet. Following this battering, Smith left the apartment and drove off.
The following day, Smith agreed to meet with Detective Justin Berger of the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, where Smith waived his Miranda rights, and confessed to the assault upon Lassiter, but asserted that Lassiter had first attacked him with the mallet when Smith walked into Williams's bedroom.
The jury rejected Smith's assertion of self-defense, and found him guilty of the aforesaid two third-degree crimes. Subsequently, the trial judge imposed an aggregate three-year sentence, and this appeal followed.
On appeal, Smith presents the following issues for ...