On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
King and McElroy. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, J.A.D.
This case concerns the right of defendant to appeal from an unconditional plea of guilty where his appellate contention is limited to a technical violation of the "Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act," N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-1 et seq. Defendant was indicted with ten others in a 16-count bill which charged narcotics violations. Defendant was charged in the Sixteenth Count only with "conspiring to violate the Controlled Dangerous Substance Act of the State of New Jersey," N.J.S.A. 24:21-24(a).
Seven of the coindictees, including defendant, moved to suppress all evidence obtained through electronic surveillance by wiretap under three separate court orders. The first order, executed by Judge Trautwein on June 12, 1979, authorized a wiretap on the telephone of Wayne Downing of Oakland. Based on information obtained from this tap, additional orders were obtained to tap defendant Keegan's home and business telephones in Fort Lee. The wiretap on defendant's home telephones commenced, as authorized, on July 12; the wiretap on defendant's business telephone commenced on August 1.
In response to a suppression motion made under N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-21, Judge Huot found in October 1981 that the State had failed to satisfactorily explain the 11-day delay following termination in sealing the tapes resulting from the June 12 Downing tap. Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in State v. Cerbo, 78 N.J. 595 (1979), and N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-14 he concluded that "the evidence obtained from the Downing wiretap must be suppressed because of the 11-day delay without a
reasonable explanation." He held that presentation of the tapes for sealing to the then-Acting Assignment Judge Galda of Bergen County, who at that time had not been appointed by the Chief Justice to authorize electronic surveillances and interceptions, was further reason for suppression, citing N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-14.
After suppressing the Downing tapes because of the 11-day sealing violation, the judge considered the impact of his conclusion on the admissibility of the tapes from the taps on appellant Keegan's home and business telephones. The judge found that at least ten paragraphs of the wiretap application for the home tap and one paragraph of the application for the business tap were derived from the suppressed Downing tap and thus tainted by the sealing violation. Upon excising these tainted paragraphs from the applications, he concluded there was still sufficient reliable information to justify the issuance of the orders and denied Keegan's motion to suppress. The judge also found the Keegan tapes "sufficiently clear and sufficiently limited to withstand the attack made by the defense." Keegan then unconditionally pled guilty, a two-year custodial term and a $10,000 fine were imposed, and he brought this appeal.
Defendant contends that the trial court erred in not suppressing the tapes from the wiretaps of Keegan's home and business phones because under State v. Cerbo, 78 N.J. 595 (1979), and State v. Burstein, 85 N.J. 394 (1981), any derivative evidence obtained from the suppressed Downing tape must also be suppressed. We do not reach the substantive question; we first consider the State's contention that Keegan has no right to appeal from his unconditional plea of guilty. Keegan's attack on the admissibility of the tapes stems from a statutory sealing violation; it is not of constitutional dimension either under the Fourth Amendment or our analogue of the federal Search and Seizure Clause. N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, par. 7.
The relevant history of the right of a defendant who unconditionally pleads guilty to appeal from a judgment of conviction is
treated in Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Comments R. 3:5-7(d) and R. ...