Newark, NJ-In the case, the State of New Jersey vs. Edwin Urbina, the New Jersey Supreme Court, reversed a teenager’s manslaughter conviction after determining a lower court shouldn’t have accepted his plea bargain since he maintained throughout the course of his case that he acted out of self-defense.
In 2007, 16-year-old Edwin Urbina was charged with the shooting death of 22-year-old Edwin Torres after the two had brief altercation. Urbina alleged that during the altercation Torres “smacked him” and reached for a gun tucked into his waist band. That’s when Urbina, fearing for his life, fatally shot Torres several times in the head and torso and fled the scene.
When he turned himself in, Urbina maintained that he shot Torres out of self-defense.
Police were unable to find the gun Torres allegedly reached for, a fact that Urbina acknowledged during his proceedings including at his plea hearing.
Urbina was originally facing a first-degree murder charge which carries a potential life sentence, but he was offered plea bargain for a manslaughter instead. Although Urbina maintained that he didn’t intend to kill Torres, he agreed to plead guilty to the manslaughter charge and waived his right to self-defense.
At his plea hearing, the judge affirmed he understood he was waiving his right to “any potential utilization of self-defense.” Urbina signed an official waiver of self-defense. However, in testimony before the court Urbina re-asserted he didn’t mean to shoot, though he admitted that crucial evidence to that fact–Torres’ gun–couldn’t be produced. He told the court he “just wanted to have [Torres] back off,” according to the transcript.
For pleading guilty to manslaughter, Urbina was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison. He later appealed the judgement asserting that his plea shouldn’t have been accepted because he originally asserted self-defense.
An appellate court affirmed his conviction, but on June 16, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court vacated his conviction, sending his case back the lower courts to be decided.
In their decision, the Supreme Court vacated Urbina’s manslaughter plea, ruling that his testimony to the facts in the case contradicted the basis of his plea bargain. Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina wrote, “The plea judge did not ensure that [the] defendant truly understood the law of self-defense, including the requirement of a reasonable and honest belief in the necessity of using force.” Adding, “It is unclear whether defendant’s plea was truly knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.”
One of the key things to take away from this case is the importance of thoroughly understanding the terms of a plea bargain. Many criminal cases in New Jersey are resolved out of court through plea bargains which gives defendants an opportunity to negotiate for lesser charges and reduced charges. In many cases, a plea bargain works in a defendant’s favor, but there are a variety of situations in which a plea bargain is not in a person’s best interest. An immigrant, for instance, may jeopardize their legal status by accepting a plea bargain, since such agreements require a person to plead guilty to a criminal charge.
I understand the risks and benefits of plea bargains. After evaluating your case, I will be candid with you about whether a plea bargain is the best way to resolve your case. A conviction for any crime can deprive you of your freedom. As a criminal defense attorney serving Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth and Hackensack and other areas throughout New Jersey, I will defend your rights and work to help you avoid conviction when possible.
For more information visit www.EricMarkLaw.com for the latest news and updates regarding Elizabeth New Jersey.