NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted on December 4, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 99-06-1867.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Abby P. Schwartz, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Warren W. Faulk, Camden County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Robin Ann Hamett, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Nugent & Accurso.
Defendant, Luchy M. Sanchez, appeals from the order that denied without an evidentiary hearing her petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
In March 1999 a Camden County Grand Jury charged defendant with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2) (count one), and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count two), for shooting and killing her boyfriend. On December 18, 2000, defendant pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in exchange for the State agreeing to recommend an eighteen-year custodial term subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
Defendant had explored a defense of battered woman syndrome before pleading guilty. In July 2000, five months before defendant's plea, a forensic psychologist retained by defendant's attorney wrote a report stating that defendant was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and "Battered Women's Syndrome" when she shot her boyfriend. In November 2000, however, a forensic psychiatrist retained by the State wrote a report stating that defendant was not suffering from "Battered Woman Syndrome" when she shot her boyfriend. During her guilty plea colloquy, defendant acknowledged that she was waiving the right to assert any defenses that might be available to her.
Following her guilty plea, defendant retained new counsel and filed a motion to withdraw her plea. On February 2, 2001, during a hearing on her motion, defendant testified that when she entered the plea she was confused. She also was afraid that she might get a greater sentence or possibly life imprisonment. She claimed that she had been coerced by her first lawyer, a public defender, into pleading guilty, and that she did not have the opportunity to present certain defenses, including battered woman syndrome. The trial judge denied defendant's motion to withdraw her plea, sentenced her in accordance with the plea agreement to an eighteen-year custodial term subject to NERA, and imposed appropriate penalties and assessments.
Defendant did not file a direct appeal. More than six years after the judge sentenced her, defendant filed a PCR petition. In the November 26, 2007 petition, defendant urged the court to relax the time restrictions on filing a PCR petition because two attorneys and a paralegal in the prison system had failed to diligently pursue an appeal on her behalf. She also claimed that she had attempted to file a PCR petition without the assistance of counsel but could not obtain her file from her former attorney.
As to the merits of her petition, defendant asserted that she was entitled to post-conviction relief for the following reasons: (1) due to a conflict of interest the Office of the Public Defender did not adequately represent her following her arrest; (2) trial counsel failed to interview witnesses and failed to develop a defense based on "Battered Spouse Syndrome"; (3) trial counsel failed to adequately explain the State's plea offer; (4) several attorneys failed to adequately represent her after she was sentenced and one attorney failed to properly advise her of a potential conflict of interest; and (5) cumulative errors by all of her attorneys amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.
For reasons not apparent from the record, defendant's PCR petition was not heard until April 23, 2010. By then defendant had retained yet another attorney, who had filed a supplemental brief. At oral argument, in addition to the issues she had raised in her PCR petition, brief, and supplemental brief, she asserted that when she pleaded guilty her mental condition was such that she was "not being of sound or rational thinking." Defendant based her argument, in part, on the report of her expert, which included diagnoses of ...