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State v. Williams

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

March 1, 2019

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MATTHEW L. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Respondent.

          Submitted February 12, 2019

          On 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).

          Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent (Laura B. Lasota, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).

          Before Judges Fisher, Hoffman and Geiger.

          OPINION

          GEIGER, J.A.D.

         Appellant 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 sentencing.

         On June 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.

         While 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.

         After a 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.

         During 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 imposed.

         Defendant 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.

         Defendant 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.

         On 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 ...


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