Submitted February 12, 2019
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Somerset County, Indictment No. 16-06-0427.
Michael H. Robertson, Somerset County Prosecutor, attorney
for appellant (Annemarie L. Mueller, Assistant Prosecutor, of
counsel and on the brief).
E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent (Laura
B. Lasota, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and
on the brief).
Judges Fisher, Hoffman and Geiger.
State of New Jersey was granted leave to appeal from an
interlocutory Law Division order granting defendant Matthew
L. Williams's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas before
sentencing. In a case of first impression, we hold the trial
court abused its discretion in determining the unanticipated
accrual of an additional 366 days of jail credit after the
plea hearing provided sufficient reason to permit defendant
to withdraw his guilty plea. We reverse and remand for
11, 2016, Officer Anthony Pepe of the Green Brook Police
Department was flagged down by a woman in a motel parking
lot. The woman told Officer Pepe that her boyfriend,
defendant, would not return her car keys or cell phone.
Officer Pepe spoke with defendant, who identified himself. A
warrant check revealed defendant had two outstanding arrest
warrants relating to possession of marijuana and reckless
driving charges. Defendant was placed under arrest. A search
incident to arrest yielded a "fold" in his right
front pants pocket containing a substance which field tested
positive for heroin.
enroute to the county jail after processing at police
headquarters, Officer Pepe pulled over after seeing defendant
ingesting pills in the backseat of the patrol car. Defendant
was removed from the patrol car and the pills were recovered
after defendant spit them out. Seven pills later identified
as Alprazolam were recovered at that time. A subsequent
search of the backseat of the patrol car revealed a
prescription bottle secreted under the seat containing
thirty-nine of the same pills. The label on the pill bottle
was partially torn off but the remnants appeared to be in the
name of someone else. The label also stated the pill bottle
was originally filled for Oxycontin.
laboratory report confirmed the seized substances were heroin
and Alprazolam, defendant was charged and indicted with two
counts of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous
substance (CDS), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1), and one count of
fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, N.J.S.A.
2C:28-6(1). Defendant originally entered a not guilty plea
and elected to take the case to trial. However, he ultimately
agreed to plead guilty on the day jury selection was to begin
in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of a five-year
Drug Court probationary term; the plea agreement also
stipulated an aggregate alternative sentence of a four-year
prison term subject to an eighteen-month period of parole
ineligibility, if defendant was terminated from Drug Court
prior to completing the probationary term.
the plea hearing, defendant testified he initialed and signed
the standard plea form, and signed the supplemental plea
forms for drug offenses and mandatory sentence to special
probation. He acknowledged his attorney reviewed the plea
forms with him and answered his questions, and that his
answers to the questions on the forms were truthful.
Defendant further acknowledged he wished to plead guilty and
understood: the rights he would give up by pleading guilty;
the charges he was pleading guilty to; the maximum sentencing
exposure he faced; and the fines and penalties that would be
also acknowledged he understood the terms of the plea
agreement, he had enough time to review the agreement and its
consequences with his attorney, and was satisfied with his
attorney's services. When asked if he initialed and
signed the plea forms voluntarily without being forced or
threatened to do so, defendant answered in the affirmative.
He also indicated that no promises were made to him beyond
the terms of the plea agreement.
provided a detailed factual basis for his plea. He
acknowledged being in possession of heroin and Alprazolam,
that he did not have a prescription for the Alprazolam, that
he knew it was illegal to possess those drugs, and that he
attempted to swallow the Alprazolam pills so the officer
could not charge him with possession of the pills. The trial
court accepted the guilty plea and scheduled sentencing for
April 28, 2017.
March 28, 2017, defendant was charged with first-degree
robbery and related weapons offenses arising out of a
separate incident. Because the new charges made defendant
ineligible for participation in Drug Court, the sentencing on
the CDS and evidence tampering ...