Conviction by Plea Manifestly Just

Conviction by Plea Manifestly Just

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Defendant Carlo Amato appealed from a March 24, 2022 order denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. In State Of New Jersey v. Carlo Amato, No. A-2788-21, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (October 10, 2023) dealt with the intent to withdraw Amato’s guilty plea.


In October 2017, Amato was indicted by a Grand Jury for four counts of second-degree healthcare claim fraud; two counts of third-degree theft by deception; third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance; five counts of second-degree theft by deception; second-degree insurance fraud; and two counts of first-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity. Two months later, defendant was charged with second-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity; second-degree theft by deception; and fourth degree making a false written statement. These additional charges stemmed from defendant allegedly filing false disability claims.

Following issuance of an arrest warrant and execution of a search warrant at defendant’s residence in December 2017, he was charged with second-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity and fourth-degree possession of a fictitious driver’s license prompting the State to move for his pretrial detention.

After the state multiplied the charges against Amato for multiple crimes, knowing he was guilty and had no chance of a defense verdict, in April 2018, Amato accepted a plea offer from the State to plead guilty to one count of first-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity and one count of second-degree theft by deception under Accusation, a small part of the charges in the indictments.

Before he entered his guilty pleas, the State outlined the terms of the plea offer on the record, stating that in exchange for defendant’s guilty pleas, it would: dismiss all other pending charges; allow defendant to exculpate his wife; recommend a ten-year prison term with a five-year parole disqualifier on the first-degree offense, to run consecutive to a flat five-year term on the second-degree theft charge; recommend that defendant’s aggregate sentence run concurrent to a sentence due to be imposed on his pending federal charges; and consent to delay defendant’s sentencing on state charges until after his sentencing on federal charges.


In April 2020 Amato moved to withdraw his guilty pleas to the two state charges, contending his reasonable sentence credit. Defendant argued he was denied effective assistance of counsel because plea counsel failed to advise him duplicate jail credits could not be awarded on his consecutive state sentences. Defendant certified that if plea counsel had advised him that he was not entitled to a duplicate award of 511 credits, he would not have accepted the plea offer from the State and would have insisted on going to trial.


Additionally, the judge determined “[d]efendant received a host of benefits” when he accepted the State’s plea offer and none of those benefits “w[ere] affected by the number of jail credits awarded for his state sentences.” Therefore, he concluded there was no “reasonable likelihood [d]efendant would have insisted on going to trial, even if his claim that he was misadvised as to the award of jail credits had merit.”

When a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is filed after sentencing, a trial court may only vacate a guilty plea to correct a manifest injustice.

The judge properly denied defendant’s motion after finding the rules were followed at the time of defendant’s plea hearing. Here, the judge carefully considered the argument and not one of the proposed errors supported withdrawal of defendant’s pleas under the “manifest injustice” standard.

Under these circumstances, and aware the judge chose to – but was not obliged to – revisit defendant’s aggregate sentence before directing defendant’s state sentences to run concurrently, we perceive no reason to disturb the judge’s finding.


It is annoying to me, and to the trial and appellate court, when the state puts together a case to charge a person with fraud when the state provides an offer of a plea to lesser charges only to have the defendant, like Mr. Amato, to change his plea. If the judge agreed he could have forced Amato to trial and if convicted a much greater prison term or, what the court did here, was to deny the attempt to withdraw the appeal. People who commit insurance fraud and have no qualms, even after admitting to the crime, to try to get out of the jail sentence. Mr. Amato’s attempt failed.

(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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