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NJ Sex Offense Appeal Update (Megan’s Law Tier Classification / IAC)


by in Criminal Defense

In this case, the defendant won on appeal by arguing that his attorney misinformed him of the consequences of his guilty plea re: Megan’s Law tier classification.

State v. R.E., unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-4655-07T4 (December 4, 2009) – Denial of PCR reversed, case remanded for new hearing. “The paramount issues before us are whether defendant’s defense counsel not only provided defendant with constitutionally deficient advice concerning the direct or indirect Megan’s Law consequences that he faced if convicted pursuant to the plea bargain, but also whether he suffered prejudice even if he was misinformed.

It is the second prong of this framework that suffers from an unfinished analysis, and which impels our order of remand…. The issue here is not that defendant failed to understand that he was subject to Megan’s Law. Rather, it is defendant’s stance that he was misinformed as to the extent of his exposure to a tier reclassification by pleading guilty, which was unfortunately compounded by the court’s statement at sentencing that ‘I don’t think you’re subject to Megan’s Law anyhow, so that’s not a concern right now.’ This statement, albeit accurate insofar as the immediate criminal sexual contact charge was concerned, would lead a person in defendant’s circumstances to reasonably believe that the new conviction would have no impact whatsoever on his extant Megan’s Law status.

The absence of any comment by defendant’s defense counsel, either to clarify the sentencing judge’s statement on the record or to consult privately with defendant and advise him otherwise, reinforced the potential for misapprehension…. Given the significance to all concerned — the defendant, the State, and the community — of tier classifications, we cannot confidently say that defendant did or did not receive the effective assistance of counsel when he acceded to the plea agreement and fulfilled his part of the plea bargain.

That the effect of that event was not felt until several months later, when defendant’s tier classification was reviewed and increased, does not detract from our uneasiness with the truncated process that defendant received in January and February 2006. All we direct is that the PCR judge conduct a limited further hearing, with or without testimony in his discretion, to explore whether, in light of Slater and what we have determined regarding the performance of defendant’s former counsel, defendant should be entitled to withdraw his guilty plea.” (Richard Sparaco, Designated Counsel)

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