On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 05-09-01921.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 5, 2009
Before Judges Yannotti and Chambers.
Defendant Bernard Valentin was tried before a jury and found guilty of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1); third-degree possession of a CDS with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3); and third-degree conspiracy to distribute a CDS, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3). He was sentenced to four years of incarceration. Defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction entered on January 29, 2007. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
We briefly summarize the evidence presented at defendant's trial, which took place in May of 2006. On June 17, 2005, Detective Lieutenant James Hunt (Hunt) of the Neptune Township Police Department was assigned with other officers to the "Quality of Life Unit," a group of plain-clothed officers that deals with street-level narcotics offenses and other criminal conduct that affects the quality of life in the Township. At approximately 5:45 p.m., Hunt arrested William Manzer (Manzer) for possession of heroin and marijuana. Manzer told Hunt that he had previously run afoul of the law and did not want to go back to jail.
Manzer agreed to work with the police and identify a drug dealer. Manzer said that he could order heroin from a person he knew by the name of "Knowledge." As he was speaking with Hunt, Manzer received a telephone call from "Knowledge." Manzer told "Knowledge" that he wanted to purchase heroin. Manzer agreed to meet "Knowledge" behind the credit union on Wayside Road in the western section of the Township.
Hunt, Patrolmen Kirschner (Kirschner) and Manzer drove in an unmarked vehicle to the pre-arranged location. They were sitting in the car in a parking lot at Wayside Road and Rhodes Terrace. Lieutenant Joseph Burst (Burst) set up surveillance of the area. Manzer called "Knowledge" and told him that he had arrived at the location. Manzer said that he wanted to purchase one brick*fn1 of heroin and they agreed upon a price of $350.
"Knowledge" told Manzer that he did not have the drugs but said that "they were coming." Officer Philip Seidle (Seidle) radioed Hunt and told him that he observed a black male, who he identified as Gary Spraulding (Spraulding), walking towards Rhodes Terrace. Seidle said that Spraulding was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. Manzer called "Knowledge" and "Knowledge" called back saying "come up, it's going to be here."
Hunt testified that he observed Spraulding come to the corner of Sherwood Avenue and Rhodes Terrace. In Hunt's presence, Manzer called "Knowledge." Hunt observed Spraulding pick up a cell phone, answer it and engage in a conversation with Manzer. Hunt heard Manzer ask Spraulding if he had the heroin. Spraulding said that he did not but he expected a delivery. Spraulding told Manzer that he should "come up" and they would meet at the end of Rhodes Terrace.
According to Hunt, a few minutes went by. He then observed Spraulding walk down the street to the end of Rhodes Terrace. Two minutes later, a blue Jeep came north on Wayside Road, turned left onto Rhodes Terrace, drove all the way to the end of Rhodes Terrace, and stopped next to Spraulding. Hunt said that it was about 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. He stated that the weather was clear and "[i]t was still light out."
Hunt testified that he observed Spraulding walk up to the driver's side window of the Jeep. Spraulding leaned into the window briefly, stepped off and the Jeep began to drive away. Hunt said that he believed he had observed a drug transaction and he directed Burst to stop the Jeep. Hunt also directed Seidle and Patrolman D'Amico (D'Amico) to stop Spraulding. Hunt exited the vehicle and Kirschner remained with Manzer.
Seidle and D'Amico followed Spraulding. They passed the Jeep. Seidle observed the driver. Seidle testified that he had the impression the driver recognized the police "because he had, you know, a wide-eyed look on his face, and he immediately went on down to his phone." Seidle and D'Amico stopped their vehicle. Seidle said that he observed Spraulding look over his shoulder. When Spraulding saw the officers, he began to jog. He threw an object over a fence into a lot. The officers stopped Spraulding and arrested him.
Seidle radioed Hunt and told him that he saw Spraulding discard an object into the lot. Hunt approached and observed two dogs blocking the area. Seidle pointed out the spot where Spraulding tossed the item. At Hunt's request, the owner removed the dogs so that the police could look inside the lot. Hunt located a block of suspected heroin on the grass inside the fence. Tests conducted by the State Police confirmed that the recovered object contained heroin.
Burst drove his marked police vehicle and followed the Jeep. The Jeep stopped in front of a residence and defendant got out. Burst exited his vehicle, questioned defendant and, when back-up officers arrived, arrested him. Defendant was found in possession of $1,499.
The police obtained records for Manzer's, Spraulding's and defendant's cell phones. Among other things, the records revealed that Spraulding had attempted to call defendant at 5:51 p.m., which was one minute after Manzer called Spraulding and said he wanted to purchase heroin. The records also revealed that Spraulding had called Manzer's phone at ...