Submitted February 23, 2015.
Approved for Publication May 15, 2015.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 11-01-0028.
Benedict and Altman, attorneys for appellant ( Joseph J. Benedict and Philip Nettl, on the briefs).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent ( Daniel I. Bornstein, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).
Before LIHOTZ, ESPINOSA and ST. JOHN,
[440 N.J.Super. 540] LIHOTZ, P.J.A.D.
We again examine the tension between a trial court's discretionary " authority to control its own calendar" by denying an adjournment request and the need to safeguard " a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice." State v. Miller, 216 N.J. 40, 62, 65, 76 A.3d 1250 (2013) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1329, 188 L.Ed.2d 339 (2014). [440 N.J.Super. 541] Defendant Gregory A. Martinez appeals from an order denying a trial adjournment in light of private counsel's scheduling conflict. Defendant argues the denial of the reasonable adjournment request infringed upon his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choosing.
Following our review of the facts here presented, and guided by the framework for review set forth in State v. Hayes, 205 N.J. 522, 16 A.3d 1028 (2011), we conclude the denial of defendant's request to adjourn trial, without weighing the facts presented supporting the adjournment request, reflects an arbitrary exaltation of expedience in case processing at the expense of defendant's right to counsel. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of conviction and remand the matter for a new trial.
We recite limited facts regarding the circumstances of the alleged criminal offenses, concentrating instead on the facts surrounding defendant's adjournment request. Defendant and his codefendant were charged in a twelve-count indictment returned January 5, 2011, alleging they sold cocaine to an undercover police officer. The two were occupants in a car that was seized and impounded. A search of the car pursuant to a warrant, conducted approximately one week later, yielded in excess of five grams of cocaine. Codefendant admitted the cocaine was his. Defendant was charged with six drug offenses, including first-degree possession with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 2C:35-5(b)(1). He pled not guilty, asserting he had no knowledge the drugs were in the car. Ultimately, defendant hired private counsel (the partner) to represent him.
On February 4, 2013, the trial judge held a pretrial conference. An associate employed by the partner's firm attended the conference and expressed his understanding the conference was, in part, to schedule a new trial date because it was believed everyone agreed the February 13, 2013 trial date would be adjourned. The associate explained his position, stating:
[T]he last time that everybody was here, everybody, at least on the [d]efense side, and . . . I believe from the State side as well, thought that this . . . court date today [440 N.J.Super. 542] would be to schedule a new trial date. They believed that the trial date was off because of [the partner]'s trial schedule.
With that belief in mind, then when [the partner]'s other trial in front of Judge Nieves fell through, he scheduled something else for this week, ...