Essex County sex offender entitled to withdraw guilty plea, court holds

An Essex County man who pled guilty to third degree child endangerment charges in 2005 was granted post-conviction relief by a New Jersey appeals court in December. The defendant, Carlton Green, filed for relief after he had completed his 3 year sentence and was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator, claiming that his plea counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him that he faced the possibility of lifetime commitment. The court agreed and held that the initial guilty plea had to be vacated. State v. Green, No. A-1826-11T4 (N.J. Super. Dec. 27, 2012).

 

The record in Green’s case showed that he had acknowledged the risk of being civilly committed during a brief interchange with the judge at his sentence hearing, but his plea counsel did not recollect whether he had actually explained to Green what this meant. Importantly, Green’s signature was also conspicuously absent from the plea form which detailed the possibility of lifetime civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Act and Green testified that he believed he was facing just 3 years in jail.

 

In State v. Bellamy, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed a claim of ineffective counsel in the context of the Sexually Violent Predator Act and held that “when the consequence of a plea may be so severe that a defendant may be confined for the remainder of his or her life, fundamental fairness demands that the trial court inform defendant of that possible consequence.” In such cases, the failure of either the court or defense counsel to sufficiently explain the consequences deprives the defendant of information which is needed to make a knowing and voluntary plea, and the appropriate remedy is to remand the case and allow the defendant to withdraw the plea.

 

The court found that the Bellamy standard was not met in this case, as the record was “completely barren of any written plea forms that mention” civil commitment and the only time that it was mentioned during Green’s hearing was a “stray comment of the judge who oversaw the plea allocution.” The court also emphasized that under Bellamy, Green did not need to show that the result of the case would have been different had he been aware of the consequence of possible lifetime commitment; rather, “no additional showing beyond a lack of knowledge is required, which was clearly provided through Green’s uncontradicted testimony on remand.”

 

If you’ve been charged with a sex offense in New Jersey, the last thing you need is a lawyer who doesn’t know how to defend you or who doesn’t care enough to help you understand your case. The results can be disastrous, as this case demonstrates, with wasted years of incarceration and appeals. The much better route is to consult with an experienced sex crime defense lawyer at the earliest possible date so that you can prevent major errors from occurring and make sure that you’ve chosen the best legal strategy to protect your rights and reduce your penalties.