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State v. Pierce

Decided: July 11, 1983.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County.

Fritz and Petrella. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D.


[190 NJSuper Page 409] This is an automobile search and seizure matter in which we granted the motion of the State for leave to appeal from a determination of the trial judge suppressing the search. We reverse.

The salient facts are not the subject of any real dispute. In any event, the findings of the trial judge in this respect might reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the whole record and therefore we accept them. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964). The trial judge set forth his findings of fact at length, completely and in an articulate fashion.*fn1 An iteration of these findings will be as useful and more efficient than our restating them:

". . . The Court finds the following: That on June 18, 1981 at approximately 1:15 P.M., Troopers William L. Carroll and William Delozier of the State Police, Metro Task Force were on routine patrol on Ferry Street in Trenton. They observed a 1973 Chevrolet automobile, which was double parked in the roadway obstructing traffic by forcing vehicles to proceed around it. This caused a traffic hazzard [ sic ], in that vehicles coming from the opposite direction were traveling in the same lane of traffic. As a result thereof, the Troopers turned on the overhead lights and had the vehicle pulled over to the side of Ferry Street just a short ways from the next intersection.

Trooper Carroll left his patrol vehicle and approached the driver's side, while his partner Trooper Delozier approached from the opposite side, that is on the passenger's side. At that time the only occupant of the car was the defendant Charlene Carroll. Trooper Carroll then asked the defendant Carroll to produce motor vehicle credentials. As defendant Carroll looked for the documents in her pocketbook, which was located on her lap, Trooper Carroll observed in the open pocketbook a small bulging manila envelope about two inches by three inches in size. Based on his training and experience, which included numerous arrests for Controlled Dangerous Substances, he recognized the package as one commonly used for packaging marijuana and occasionally for the . . . packaging of marijuana

mixed with PCP. He at that time reached into the purse, seized the envelope. He then smelled it and recognized the odor of marijuana. At that point he asked defendant Carroll what was in the envelope and received no response from the defendant Carroll. At that point he opened the package, examined its contents and found a brownish green vegetation therein, which he believed to be marijuana. The record should, also, note that I find that that package had a piece of tape over the top flap. Miss Carroll was ordered out of the vehicle and advised of her Miranda rights, and she was arrested, handcuffed, and then taken to the rear of that patrol vehicle.

At about this point an unknown male, later identified as the defendant Pierce who was the owner of the car, approached and stated to the troopers, "Hey, man, what are you doing to her? That's my girlfriend." At that point the troopers then began a further search of the front seat area of the car for any additional contraband that he felt may have been in reach of defendant Carroll, that would be the front seat, under the front seat, the glove compartment and, also, any areas in the backseat, which could be reached by him. He found under the passenger seat another small manila envelope, the same type that he had taken from defendant Carroll's handbag. Upon opening that package, the trooper discovered brown vegetation, at which he suspected to be marijuana. The search of the interior of the front part of the vehicle was observed by Pierce, and at the time Trooper Carroll located the envelope, which I just noted, defendant Pierce indicated that a friend of his had left it there. At that point Pierce was advised of his rights, and he was arrested and handcuffed.

While still at the scene, Pierce, after a request by the troopers, executed a written consent to search form, which has been marked S-1, a form which was for the search of his auto, and the results of that search were negative. I find that prior to the time that that S-1 was signed by the defendant Pierce, that he read it, understood it, and was aware of the fact that he did not have to sign it if he did not wish to. I further find that Miss

Carroll was transported to the Trenton Police Department. I should say the police station, and as she stepped out of a police vehicle, she was observed by the officer who was with her to have a bag, a brown candy-type bag, fall from beneath her dress and to the ground. This bag was picked up by the officer. Inspection of the bag revealed it contained 20 foil-type packages, which in turn contained a white powder substance, suspected to be Controlled Dangerous Substance.

At the Trenton Police Department a further search of Miss Carroll was conducted by the police matron, a Miss Brown, and as a result of that search a small paper bag was discovered in the area of her right armpit. Examination revealed the contents to be 57 foil packets containing a white ...

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