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State v. Belton

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 26, 2017

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ANWAR H. BELTON, a/k/a HASON BELTON, a/k/a HASON LYON, a/k/a ANWAR BELTON, a/k/a ANWAR BELTRON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted November 13, 2017

         On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 10-09-2272.

          Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Karen A. Lodeserto, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

          Damon G. Tyner, Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (John J. Santoliquido, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

          Before Judges Sabatino, Ostrer and Whipple.

          OPINION

          OSTRER, J.A.D.

         Defendant Anwar H. Belton appeals from a September 14, 2016 order denying, without an evidentiary hearing, his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). Defendant collaterally challenges his conviction, after a plea, of first-degree aggravated manslaughter.

         We reverse. We conclude that defendant, in the course of his plea allocution, suggested a defense of others that was inconsistent with guilt; his waiver of that defense was not knowingly made; therefore, he did not present a sufficient factual basis of guilt. In reaching this conclusion, we apply the principles set forth in State v. Urbina, 221 N.J. 509 (2015), although that case involved a claim of self-defense, rather than the defense of others, suggested in the course of a guilty plea. In view of defendant's contemporaneous claim of innocence, the failure to elicit a sufficient factual basis was of constitutional dimension and warrants PCR. See State v. D.D.M., 140 N.J. 83, 95 (1995); State v. Mitchell, 126 N.J. 565, 577-78 (1992).

         I.

         Defendant was indicted and charged, along with a woman named Erika Pugh, also known as "Sparkles, " with murder, theft from the victim, and endangering an injured victim. Pugh was also charged with prostitution. Defendant was offered an agreement to plead to an amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, in return for a recommended twelve-year prison term subject to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, and dismissal of the remaining charges.

         In his allocution, defendant contended that he was roused from his sleep in an Atlantic City motel by frantic requests for help by Pugh and another woman. Both women were involved in an altercation with a man. When the man began biting down on Pugh's hand, refusing to let go, defendant said he put the man in a headlock to get him to release Pugh's hand. The man relented only after he began "snoring." The man died soon thereafter.

         In the plea colloquy, defense counsel first established that Pugh woke defendant, who admitted he had only met Pugh that night. We quote the colloquy at length:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Okay. So she [Pugh] came knocking on your door sometime in the middle of the night, correct?
[DEFENDANT:] Yes.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] And Miss Pugh was actually not dressed at the time that she came knocking on your door.
[DEFENDANT:] Yes, Your Honor. I mean -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] That's okay. . . . And she indicated to you something about somebody took my money, come help me, somebody took my money; is that correct?
[DEFENDANT:] No, she didn't say that yet. She just came screaming help.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Help, okay. So you went outside and tell the judge primarily in your own words what happened after you went outside, and if there's some questions that I'll have to ask you, I'll ask you.
[DEFENDANT:] When I came to the door and I seen Miss Pugh, she was in the nude and she was screaming help, help, help! And I came to the door, first I was looking at her, then I looked down the hallway because there was some more noise coming, well not the hallway but down the corridor of the top floor. And I seen the girl, the young lady that I did come down with, Candy, and the victim. And he was like, he was a little, he had his shirt off, he was a little hysterical.
So I just went over there and told him to calm down and be quiet, to go back in and find out what was going on. And when we got on the inside, she's saying he took her money. He's saying they robbed him. Then he got real agitated and I told him relax, I didn't come for that. Then Sparkle[s] is screaming, beat him up, get my money. And I says to her shut up, because I didn't even know her.
And in the process of that Candy says, is there some more money around here? And she wants to touch the guy, and when she touches the guy, he gets real belligerent and starts assaulting her. And I tried to stop it and me and him got into an altercation.[1]

         Defendant then described his effort to defend Pugh, as the victim bit her hand:

[DEFENDANT:] [cont'd] And in between that altercation Sparkles got in, intervened, and he starts biting Sparkles, and when he's biting Sparkles, I'm trying to get him off of Sparkles, he's biting and she's screaming and doing whatever she can to get him off of her. And by the time I get ready to let go was when I heard like, I heard him snoring.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Okay. Now prior to you, when you say let go, you actually had your arm, or your had his head in a headlock, correct?
[DEFENDANT:] Yes.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Okay. And during that time period when you had [the victim's] head in a headlock, you held him for a period of time until he let her go.
[DEFENDANT:] Let go of her hand.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Okay.
[DEFENDANT:] I let go of him when he let go of her hand.

         Defense counsel then attempted to elicit defendant's admission that he acted with indifference to human life. Defendant insisted that he was "trying to stop [the victim] from hurting" Pugh.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] . . . What I'm asking you is, when the gentleman was down on the ground and he wasn't responding, you, Sparkle[s] and Candy left the room.
[DEFENDANT:] Yes.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL:] Okay. And would you agree that by leaving the room and not offering him any aid, that you actually, that action ...

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