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NJ Judges Must Question Pleading Defendant’s Individually

09
Jun
2010

by in Criminal Appeals, Criminal Defense

State v. Hoang Van Nguyen, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-0610-07T4 (May 14, 2010) – Conviction reversed, guilty plea vacated, case remanded for new trial. “Defendants and the State negotiated a plea agreement….

[W]ith the assistance of a Vietnamese interpreter, the trial judge advised defendants of their rights by questioning the three simultaneously regarding their understanding of those rights and the consequences of entering a guilty plea…. [W]e conclude the failure to make an individual inquiry of each defendant’s knowing and voluntary waiver of his rights upon entry of the guilty plea violates procedural due process….

[S]everal problems are presented by the court’s simultaneous inquiry of all defendants. Consequently, we conclude the plea procedure employed by the trial court did not ensure defendant made an informed and voluntary decision to plead guilty…. First, the court’s statements strongly suggested all three defendants must act in unison…. Second, the questioning procedure eliciting one group response, that is, one ‘yes’ was for all three defendants, makes it impossible to satisfactorily confirm defendant’s responses were independent of the responses of his co-defendants….

Finally, because defendant is foreign-born and not proficient in English, the court’s obligation to fully explore his understanding of his rights, the nature of the charges and consequences of entering a guilty plea, and to be certain defendant’s waiver was voluntary, is heightened…. Even when the court specifically addressed defendant, it neglected to explore the incongruity of his answers….

We reject the State’s argument suggesting the court’s individual examination of defendant when accepting the factual basis for his guilty plea sufficiently satisfied Rule 3:9-2. We conclude this examination did not save the otherwise defective procedure, which fell short of affording defendant adequate notice of his rights and discerning his voluntary waiver.”

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