The Court concluded in relevant part with the following: The intricacies of distinguishing between stealing and receiving stolen goods and of the proper procedure for presenting these alternative views of the defendant’s involvement may also lead to needless reversals of convictions. A fair reading of this background material leads to one conclusion: the statute is applicable only to trials. The mention of “the proper procedure for presenting these alternative views of the defendant’s involvement” references trial procedures and has no application in a plea setting; so too, a defendant can “openly admit his guilt of an offense and then seek exoneration on the basis of some arcane notion of pleading” only at a trial.
During a plea, a defendant should not be permitted to manipulate the process by admitting one type of theft of which he is not accused and then defending against another type with which he is charged – the very danger N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2(a) was designed to guard against. That risk is present only in the “adversary system” – trials – of which the Talley Court spoke. If a defendant does not admit a basis for a charge to which he is pleading guilty, the judge should reject the plea and let the case proceed to trial or an alternate resolution. See R. 3:9-2. “The trial court must overcome ‘a defendant’s natural reluctance to elaborate on the details,’ and reject a guilty plea absent the defendant’s admission of ‘the distasteful reality that makes the charged conduct criminal.'”
The Court touches upon a common scenario in criminal superior courts, namely, defendants who take the witness stand at a plea hearing only to refuse to lay an adequate factual basis for the acceptance of a guilty plea. Due in large part to crowded dockets, it is a challenge to have sufficient time to speak with a prosecutor and hash out the details of a plea agreement. Then, there are multi-page, detailed plea forms for attorneys and defendants to review and execute. This is too often done in a rushed fashion in order to accomplish the plea before court goes into recess. Attorneys too often overlook defendants’ natural inclinations to deny in open court in front of an audience what they admitted to in private consultation with their attorney just a few minutes earlier.