TRENTON - Christopher M. Welch, who entered a guilty plea on several charges after a high-speed chase ended in Beesley’s Point May 17, 2015, will not see a sentence reduction.
He filed for post-conviction relief, alleging that his attorney was ineffective in representing him. A trial court said no Sept. 25, 2018. A three-judge Appellate Court panel Dec. 17 agreed with that decision.
The 13-page decision describes a defendant who was eager to accept the original plea agreement, who only later suggested he could fool a mental health professional “and create a fabricated record in order to avoid criminal liability.”
Judges Mary Gibbons Whipple, Lisa Rose, and Lisa Firko ruled that even if Welch’s attorney took the steps he suggests in his appeal, there is no reason to believe it would've changed the case’s outcome, which would be part of the standard to grant a change to the sentence.
“There was ample evidence in the record to support the (post-conviction relief) court's conclusion that defendant was ‘manipulative’ for arguing mitigating factors … and seeking to create an illegitimate defense to avoid accountability for his actions,” the decision reads.
According to the court records, after ignoring police signals to stop his vehicle, Welch fled on foot and was caught near the Great Egg Harbor Bay. Police found burglar’s tools in the car, court records state.
He faced charges of eluding police, attempted burglary, and conspiracy, along with tickets for reckless driving and other offenses.
In February 2016, he reached a deal to plead guilty to a reduced charge of eluding law enforcement in exchange for the other charges being dropped.
As outlined in the court documents, Welch had an extensive criminal history over multiple states and reported no history of psychological or emotional problems. The decision states that his defense attorney explained the deal to him in detail.
In March 2016, Welch was sentenced to five years, with a year of parole ineligibility. The court cited the risk that he would commit another crime, his record, and the seriousness of the offense as aggravating factors. No mitigating factors were considered, according to the decision. In September 2016, he was denied parole.
In December 2016, Welch filed a petition asserting that his guilty plea was improper because of his psychiatric disorders, suggesting that his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty.
The court filing argued that the attorney should have raised mitigating factors to reduce the sentence and should have sought to get him into drug court, which can lead to treatment rather than imprisonment.
A new attorney also argued that the former defense attorney should've had him undergo a mental health examination, “which ostensibly would have revealed he suffered mental health disorders precluding him from making a knowing and intelligent decision to enter a guilty plea,” reads the Appellate Court decision.
The appeal also contended that Welch believed his attorney was conspiring with the state to convict him.
According to the ruling, Welch was ineligible for drug court. It also indicates that during the hear, an attorney stated Welch was thrilled with the plea agreement.
Because of prior convictions and parole violations, the decision reads, Welch was not eligible for probation. Welch also argued that he cooperated with law enforcement in the past, including in Maryland.
The decision argues that his cooperation with police did not result in any arrests or convictions and that no reasonable attorney would have suggested parole would have an impact on him after a criminal history that dates from 1994, with 15 arrests, as a juvenile, and 21, as an adult.
“Having carefully reviewed the record, we reject defendant's argument that his sentencing counsel was ineffective for not arguing the mitigating factors discussed,” the decision reads.
No evidence was presented to show that raising potential mitigating factors would've changed the outcome of the sentencing, per the decision.
“Defendant's sentence was exactly what he bargained for in his plea agreement,” the decision continued.
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