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State v. Slater

August 15, 2007

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
TONY L. SLATER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Indictment No. 02-07-678.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted August 7, 2007

Before Judges Sabatino and Baxter.

Defendant Tony L. Slater appeals from his conviction on a second degree charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(2). In accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, the court sentenced him to a five-year term of imprisonment and imposed appropriate fines and penalties. Despite the guilty plea, his right to challenge the denial of the suppression motion was preserved on appeal pursuant to Rule 3:5-7(d).

On appeal, defendant raises the following claims:

I. SINCE THE POLICE HAD NO LAWFUL AUTHORITY TO ENTER THE DEFENDANT'S MOTEL ROOM, THE OFFICERS WERE NOT IN A LAWFUL VANTAGE POINT WHEN THE NARCOTICS WERE SEEN IN PLAIN VIEW INSIDE THE DRESSER DRAWER, AND THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE SEIZURE OF THE CONTRABAND FOUND THEREIN. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. IV, XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, PAR. 7.

II. THE DENIAL OF DEFENDANT'S PRE-SENTENCE MOTION TO WITHDRAW HIS GUILTY PLEA WAS AN ABUSE OF THE TRIAL COURT'S DISCRETION. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. V, VI, VIII, AND XIV; N.J. CONST. ART. I, PAR. 1, 10.

Having reviewed the arguments of both parties in light of the record and applicable law, we conclude that defendant's arguments are without merit and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the trial judge.

I.

The evidence presented at the suppression hearing on September 3, 2004, consisted of the testimony of Millville Police Officers Terry Fawcett and David Kahn. Their testimony established that they were contacted by two officers from the Buena Vista Police Department, Sergeant Sherman and Patrolman Studoval, who asked for assistance in locating Timmy Haas, who was wanted for questioning in connection with a string of burglaries in Buena Vista.

Acting upon the request of the Buena Vista officers, Fawcett and Kahn went to 22 West Vine Street in Millville and spoke with a "Mr. Finger." Finger told the officers that they had just missed Haas because Haas had left in his car with Jeffrey Neider. Finger informed the officers that Haas and Neider could be found in room 261 of the nearby Millville Motor Inn (motel), and that they probably had a half-ounce of cocaine "with them. . . . [I]f they were there, there's probably a half-ounce of coke there as well."

Before proceeding to the motel, Fawcett and Kahn checked for outstanding warrants and learned that there were two such warrants for Neider's arrest. All four officers then traveled to room 261 of the motel seeking Haas and Neider, both of whom were thin white males that Sherman and Studoval knew. When Sherman and Studoval knocked on the door of room 261, a black male, later identified as defendant, answered it. From the doorway, Kahn identified them as police officers and explained that they were looking for Haas. The officers knew defendant was not one of the two men they were seeking and had no reason to believe he had committed any crime or was involved in any wrongdoing. When Kahn asked defendant if he minded if they came "in to talk . . . for a minute [because] [i]t's raining out here," and to see if Haas or Neider had been there, defendant invited the officers inside.

Only Kahn and Fawcett entered the motel room. Once inside, they asked defendant for permission to check the room to look for Haas and Neider, and defendant agreed. Fawcett looked into the bathroom, found no one there, and saw no one else in the room with defendant. Defendant was sitting on a bed when one of the officers asked him if he knew Haas or Neider and if they had been there. As defendant was in the process of explaining that he did not know Haas or Neider, Fawcett observed a bureau drawer that was opened about six inches. From his vantage point, Fawcett could see a one ...


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