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State v. Hinton

July 13, 2000

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
STEPHEN R. HINTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Before Judges Brochin and Wecker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wecker, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 7, 2000

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

Defendant, Stephen R. Hinton, pled guilty to the third count of Indictment 99-02-0260, third degree distribution of CDS (cocaine), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and 2C:35-5b(3); and to the first count of Indictment 98-12-2978, terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3b. In accordance with a plea agreement encompassing both Indictments, defendant received concurrent four year state prison sentences for these offenses. Fines and penalties appropriate to each offense were also imposed.

The plea agreement reserved to defendant the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence with respect to the drug charge, and defendant now appeals from that denial. Defendant's contentions on appeal are as follows:

POINT I AS THE TROOPER HAD NEITHER AUTHORITY TO ENTER THE CAR TO CHECK FOR MR. HINTON'S CREDENTIALS, NOR ANY LEGAL BASIS FOR PLACING THE DEFENDANTS UNDER ARREST, THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING MR. HINTON'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE.

A. Introduction

B. There Was No Exception to the Warrant Requirement Justifying the Warrantless Search of the Car.

C. The Actions of Hinton and Streater Did Not Amount To A Violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:28- 4a, But Rather Fall Within The Rubric Of State v. Valentin.

D. The Seizure Of The Drugs Must Be Suppressed As "Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree."

POINT II THE SENTENCE IMPOSED IS MANIFESTLY EXCESSIVE.

We have carefully reviewed the record and the briefs in light of applicable law. The critical question on this appeal is whether a State Trooper's impermissible search for defendant's identification inside a motor vehicle, see State v. Lark, 319 N.J. Super. 618 (App. Div. 1999), aff'd o.b., 163 N.J. 294 (2000), taints evidence subsequently turned over to the trooper by defendant's passenger. As we shall explain, we are satisfied that it does not and that the Law Division Judge did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress the evidence central to his drug conviction.

Evidence adduced at the motion hearing consisted solely of the testimony of State Trooper Alan Johnson. On the afternoon of December 31, 1998, defendant was the driver of a car in which co-defendant Carla Streater was a front seat passenger when defendant was stopped on the Garden State Parkway by State Trooper Johnson for speeding. Johnson had clocked Hinton's car at 90 miles per hour. As the trooper pulled defendant over, he observed the driver mouthing some words to the passenger and the passenger nodding as if acknowledging that she understood. When asked for his credentials, defendant produced a registration and insurance card, but told the state trooper he did not have his license and never carried it. When Johnson asked him for his name, age and address, defendant gave the trooper the name "Craig R. Paynter," gave a street address in Atlantic City; and said that he was 29 years old and that his birth date was November ...


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