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State v. Lagares

Decided: April 19, 1991.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
REYNALDO LAGARES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



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

Michels, Brody and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.

Michels

[247 NJSuper Page 394] Tried to a jury, defendant Reynaldo Lagares was found guilty of (1) possession of a controlled dangerous substance, to wit cocaine, a third degree crime, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (Count One); (2) possession with intent to distribute cocaine, a third degree crime, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) (Count Two), and (3) distribution of cocaine, a third degree crime, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 (Count Three). The trial court denied defendant's motion for a judgment of

acquittal notwithstanding the verdict and his motion for a new trial and granted the State's motion for the imposition of an extended term on the ground that defendant was a persistent offender pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6f. The trial court then merged defendant's convictions for possession of cocaine under Count One and for possession with intent to distribute cocaine under Count Two into his conviction for distribution of cocaine under Count Three and committed defendant to the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections for seven years with a three year parole ineligibility period. In addition, the trial court assessed a $1,000 Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction (DEDR) penalty, a $50 forensic laboratory fee and a $30 Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalty and suspended defendant's New Jersey driver's license for six months. Defendant appeals.

Defendant seeks a reversal of his convictions or alternatively, a modification of his sentence on the following grounds set forth in his brief:

I. THE TRIAL JUDGE COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN RULING THAT DEFENDANT'S PRIOR DRUG CONVICTIONS COULD BE ADMITTED INTO EVIDENCE FOR IMPEACHMENT PURPOSES, THEREBY DEPRIVING DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL. (U.S. CONST., AMENDS. V, VI AND XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, PARS. 9 AND 10).

II. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6f, UNDER WHICH DEFENDANT WAS SENTENCED TO AN EXTENDED TERM OF IMPRISONMENT AS WELL AS A MANDATORY MINIMUM TERM, VIOLATES THE DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS AND DEFENDANT'S RIGHTS TO EQUAL PROTECTION AND DUE PROCESS OF LAW. (U.S. CONST., ART. III; AMEND. XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, PAR. 1; ART. III, PAR. 1).

III. THE EXTENDED TERM IMPOSED HEREIN IS MANIFESTLY EXCESSIVE.

IV. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15, WHICH PROVIDES FOR MANDATORY DRUG ENFORCEMENT AND DEMAND REDUCTION (DEDR) PENALTIES TO BE IMPOSED ON ALL PERSONS CONVICTED OF OFFENSES ENUMERATED IN THE COMPREHENSIVE DRUG REFORM ACT OF 1986 N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15 ET SEQ., VIOLATES THE DEFENDANT'S RIGHTS TO EQUAL PROTECTION AND DUE PROCESS AND IS CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. .

We have carefully considered these contentions and all the arguments advanced by defendant in support of them and find that they are clearly without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). However, further discussion will provide guidance with respect to some of these contentions.

I.

We are satisfied that the trial court did not err in admitting defendant's prior convictions for purposes of impeachment. Admission of prior convictions is governed by N.J.S.A. 2A:81-12, which provides:

Interest or conviction of crime as affecting credibility.

For the purpose of affecting the credibility of any witness, his interest in the result of the action, proceeding or matter or his conviction of any crime may be shown by examination or otherwise, and his answers may be contradicted by other evidence. . . .

The decision to admit a prior conviction under this statute against a criminal defendant "rests within the sound discretion of the trial judge." State v. Sands, 76 N.J. 127, 144, 386 A.2d 378 (1978). See State v. Whitehead, 104 N.J. 353, 358, 517 A.2d 373 (1986); State v. Hutson, 211 N.J. Super. 49, 53, 510 A.2d 706 (App.Div.1986), aff'd, 107 N.J. 222, 526 A.2d 687 (1987). The trial judge has wide latitude in this area. State v. Sands, 76 N.J. at 144, 386 A.2d 378. "Ordinarily evidence of prior convictions should be admitted and the burden of proof to ...


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