The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division has vacated a 2014 Hudson County Superior Court decision that saw a Jersey City drug ring dealer sentenced to 20 years in prison.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Back in March 2014, Dempsey Collins, now 39, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 12 years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to helping lead a heroin, PCP, and marijuana drug ring in the Greenville section of Jersey City.
In 2013, Collins pleaded guilty to leading a narcotics traffic network that included members of the “Sex Money Murder” set of the Bloods gang. In 2015, he pled guilty to an additional drug crime, which ultimately led to issues with counsel, the appellate court notes.
“The PCR [post-conviction relief] court had scheduled oral argument on defendant’s PCR petition for December 7, 2017. Defendant’s PCR counsel, however, did not appear for
the proceeding despite repeated calls to his office throughout the day,” Appellate Judges Francis Vernoia and Ronald Susswein wrote in yesterday’s decision.
“The PCR judge went on the record and held that counsel’s failure to appear would be
deemed to be a waiver of oral argument. The judge announced that the matter would be decided on the papers and that the court’s decision would be sent out to the attorneys the next day.”
However, given that Collins’ attorney was a no show and no one was able to get in contact with him before the hearing commenced, the defendant did not have legal representation necessary to waive an oral argument.
The judge also didn’t ask Collins if he was waiving his oral argument or would prefer to have the hearing rescheduled.
“If counsel’s failure to appear was unexcused, the trial court was free to impose an appropriate sanction upon the attorney. However, we do not view counsel’s unexplained failure to appear to constitute a valid waiver of oral argument,” the opinion states.
“It is more apt to characterize the PCR judge’s decision as holding that defendant forfeited, not impliedly waived, the opportunity to have oral argument by reason of his counsel’s unexplained absence. In any event, we do not agree that denying defendant the benefit of oral argument was an appropriate sanction in these circumstances.”
As a result, the appellate court has vacated the decision and remanded it to the lower court since case law indicates that “oral argument is not a perfunctory ritual to be dispensed with lightly.”
Collins was one of 13 men indicated at part of “Operation Wetlands,” an effort spearheaded by the state Attorney General’s Office – who partnered with many other law enforcement agencies – to disband the aforementioned drug operation.
According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Collins was admitted to the Hudson County Correctional Facility on January 24th, 2014 and his parole eligibility date wasn’t scheduled until November 23rd, 2023.