On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, 04-02-0153.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 10, 2007
Before Judges Lisa, Lihotz and Simonelli.
Defendant, Rahjiv Smith, was charged in a two count indictment with (1) first-degree knowing or purposeful murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1)(2), and (2) second-degree possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. After conducting evidentiary hearings, Judge Mulvihill denied defendant's pretrial motions to suppress evidence of his statement to the police and to suppress physical evidence (the handgun) seized by the police after a warrantless search. The case went to trial, and the jury found defendant guilty of both counts. After merging count two with count one, the judge imposed a sentence of fifty years imprisonment, subject to an 85% parole disqualifier and five years parole supervision upon release, as required by the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. The judge also ordered the payment of restitution and imposed appropriate mandatory monetary sanctions.
On appeal, defendant argues:
POINT ONE THE DEFENDANT'S CUSTODIAL STATEMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SUPPRESSED BECAUSE THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE THAT DEFENDANT WAS COMPETENT TO WAIVE HIS MIRANDA RIGHTS.
POINT TWO THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE GUN RECOVERED FROM THE HOME OF DEFENDANT'S GRANDFATHER.
POINT THREE THE MEDICAL EXAMINER'S TESTIMONY THAT THE CAUSE OF DEATH WAS "HOMICIDE" EXCEEDED THE SCOPE OF PERMISSIBLE EXPERT TESTIMONY AND IMPROPERLY ADDRESSED THE ULTIMATE ISSUE BEFORE THE JURY, THEREBY DEPRIVING DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL AND REQUIRING THE REVERSAL OF HIS CONVICTIONS. (Not Raised Below).
POINT FOUR A FAR GREATER JUSTIFICATION FOR A PARTICULAR MURDER SENTENCE MUST BE GIVEN THAN WAS GIVEN HERE, WHEN THAT SENTENCE, UNDER THE NO EARLY RELEASE ACT (NERA), COULD POSSIBLY INVOLVE SUCH WIDELY VARYING AMOUNTS OF PAROLE INELIGIBILITY; TO REQUIRE LESS THWARTS THE GOALS OF THE CRIMINAL CODE WITH REGARD TO SENTENCING.
We reject these arguments and affirm.
At about 2:00 a.m. on December 17, 2003 in New Brunswick, defendant shot and killed Troy Brown. At trial, defendant did not dispute that he fired the fatal shot. His counsel argued that defendant's conduct was reckless and manifested extreme indifference to human life, and thus defendant was guilty of aggravated manslaughter, see N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a(1), but not murder. These are the relevant facts as gleaned from the record of the evidentiary hearings on the pretrial motions and the trial.
On the morning of December 16, 2003, defendant was in the presence of his friend, Jose Nunez. Defendant told Nunez he believed Brown was planning to rob him or Nunez. After parting company, defendant and Nunez, together with other individuals, met again at defendant's home on Remsen Avenue that evening. Brown joined the group at about 8:00 p.m. Brown and defendant had an altercation, during which Brown placed his fingers against defendant's face and pushed him, stating, "You're a bitch." The two engaged in a scuffle, after which Brown left the group.
According to Nunez, defendant was embarrassed and upset by this incident. Defendant reiterated to Nunez his belief that Brown intended "to get him." Defendant then said to Nunez, "[T]hese people think I am a bitch. . . . I'm going to show them. I'm going to lay a murder game down."
Defendant and Nunez purchased and consumed some beer. They were at defendant's home and, at about 11:00 p.m., Brown arrived there. Defendant, Nunez, Brown, and others stood outside. They smoked Phencyclidine (PCP). After a time, defendant, Nunez and Brown were walking along the street in the vicinity of defendant's home. Nunez and Brown walked side-by-side in front of defendant. Nunez lit a cigarette, and Brown asked him for a light. As Nunez reached over to light Brown's cigarette, he heard a single gunshot and saw Brown fall forward onto the sidewalk. Brown's lifeless body lay flat in that position in a pool of blood. Defendant said, "we got to get this out of here," and picked up Brown's ankles, dragging his body face down by the legs into the backyard of a nearby residence.
Defendant and Nunez then went to defendant's home. Defendant immediately went to the kitchen and washed his hands, telling Nunez he did so to get the gun powder off his hands. The two men walked outside, and Nunez left the area. Nunez later rejoined defendant and two other men, who were smoking PCP. Eventually, the four ...