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State v. Jackson

Decided: July 8, 1993.


Wolfson, J.s.c.


I. Introduction

This is a motion to suppress drugs and certain other items seized pursuant to a search warrant issued for an attic storage closet at 42 Baldwin Street. The issues to be resolved are: (1)

whether there was probable cause to arrest defendants; and (2) whether the search warrant issued after defendants' arrest authorized the seizure and subsequent search of a locked safe found hidden in a large cardboard box located in that storage closet.

II. Factual Background

According to the Sergeant in charge of the New Brunswick Anti-Crime (Narcotics) Unit (ACU), Mr. Paul Schuster, information was received from a past reliable informant that Lavon (Chucky) D. Jackson and Michelle (RAH) Oquendo were in a specific location, the Pizza Mill bar, and were selling cocaine. As a result of that information, a "controlled buy" of cocaine was made by that informant.

Surveillance continued throughout the evening, during which time Oquendo and Jackson were repeatedly observed driving back and forth between the Pizza Mill and an apartment at 42 Baldwin Street. At approximately 2:00 A.M., they were followed from the Pizza Mill to the Baldwin Street premises, where they stayed for about twenty minutes, thereafter going to a motel where Oquendo had taken a room, and, where purportedly, she and Jackson were packaging their cocaine for sale.

A few days later, the same confidential informant told Schuster that Oquendo was again selling cocaine inside the Pizza Mill. A surveillance ensued in which police observed her leave the Pizza Mill, drive to 42 Baldwin Street, and enter the second floor where they lost sight of her. After a short period of time, she emerged, got back in her car and began driving toward the Pizza Mill bar. Members of the ACU followed her in an unmarked car. On the way, Oquendo failed to make a complete stop at a stop sign, resulting in a stop of her vehicle. At the time of the stop, Jackson was not in the car, but was close by, walking away from it. Both Oquendo and Jackson were detained and brought to the police station. After being advised of her Miranda*fn1 rights, Oquendo

was searched. A key to an Econo Lodge Motel room was found on her person. When asked if the room could be searched, Oquendo voluntarily agreed, signed a consent to search form to this effect, and asked only to be present during the search. Schuster agreed, and Oquendo accompanied other officers to her motel room. In the ceiling of her room, a small quantity of cocaine was discovered, along with empty glass vials used for packaging purposes.*fn2

After returning to the station, both Oquendo and Jackson were questioned. When asked about 42 Baldwin Street, they both appeared startled, their faces literally "dropping" according to Schuster's testimony, which is accepted as credible. Despite these reactions, Oquendo denied knowing anything about 42 Baldwin Street, and Jackson denied ever having been there.

Thereafter Jackson was observed removing two keys from his key ring, in an attempt to hide them in his pocket. When asked about the keys, Jackson said they were for his apartment. Based upon the original surveillance, the discovery of the cocaine and empty glass vials at the Econo Lodge Motel, the defendants' obviously false statements concerning 42 Baldwin Street, and Jackson's furtive movements in trying to secret the keys, the ACU went to 42 Baldwin Street to investigate further. While there, they talked to a tenant, Gail Stein, who informed them that Jackson's cousin rented the third floor attic of the building, but that Jackson possessed the only key to that area. The keys seized from Jackson were then tested against a locked door on the second floor, which leads to the attic. One of the keys opened that door. The third floor attic was comprised of two open rooms and a locked storage closet. Jackson's second key opened that closet. At that point, both doors were closed and locked. The decision was then made to seek a search warrant for the third floor, leaving two officers behind to secure the premises.

A warrant was thereafter issued, whereupon the attic storage room was searched, revealing a locked safe. The safe was seized, transported to the police station, and then opened, where approximately seven ounces of cocaine, a fully loaded .380 handgun, a ...

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