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State v. Green

April 7, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 05-07-1583.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 4, 2007

Before Judges Coburn and Fuentes.

Defendant Christopher Green was tried before a jury and convicted of one count of third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1), one count of third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1), one count of third-degree distribution of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35- 5(a)(1), one count of third-degree distribution of cocaine within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, one count of second-degree distribution of cocaine with 500 feet of public property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1, and one count of third-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2.*fn1

After merging all the convictions with the second-degree conviction for distribution of cocaine within 500 feet of public property, the court sentenced defendant to an extended term of thirteen years, with a parole ineligibility period of six and one half years. The court also imposed the mandatory fines and penalties. Defendant now appeals. After reviewing the record, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we affirm.

The State's case included the testimony of two Atlantic City police officers who made two controlled purchases of cocaine directly from defendant while engaged in an undercover investigation. Officer Alexis Smith made the first "controlled buy." While driving in an unmarked car along South Ocean Avenue in Atlantic City, Smith approached a person subsequently identified as Lionel Laria. Smith was in an undercover capacity, wearing civilian clothes. When she asked Laria to sell her cocaine, he told her to drive around the block, because he needed to get the drugs from a friend.

After driving around as directed, Smith returned to where Laria was standing and upon seeing Smith, Laria called out to his friend "Chris" (a/k/a "C") to join them. Chris approached Smith's car and told her to drive further up Ocean Avenue. At this point, Chris and Laria entered Smith's car. Once inside, Smith purchased a quantity of cocaine directly from Chris for the sum of sixty-dollars. After completing the transaction, Chris gave Smith a telephone number for her to call if she wanted to purchase cocaine again. Smith also saw Chris give Laria "little rock crumbles" of cocaine as an apparent reward for the referral.

Smith was wearing an audio transmission device at the time the transaction took place. The entire exchange was thus monitored by fellow Atlantic City Police Officer Sean Sutley, who also testified at trial. Sutley stopped and questioned Chris when he and Laria left Smith's car. He decided not to arrest him at this time, however, explaining to the jury that he knew defendant Christopher Green "from prior experience."

Sutley conducted another undercover "controlled buy" operation the following week. This time, Atlantic City Police Officer James Scoopa acted as the customer. As Smith had done, Scoopa wore an audio transmission device which allowed Sutley to monitor the transaction. Scoopa testified that he drove to the corner of New York Avenue in an unmarked car, accompanied by an undercover informant.

At this location, Scoopa spoke to defendant and a woman identified as Debra Allen. He told defendant he wanted to buy $150 worth of cocaine. Defendant directed him to go to the area where the Ascot Motel was located. Scoopa agreed and gave defendant five dollars for taxi fare. Upon arriving, Allen walked over to Scoopa's car and began to talk to him while defendant went to retrieve the cocaine from another location.

Finally, defendant arrived; he handed Scoopa a ten dollar bill and told him to give him back the bill after Scoopa removed the cocaine contained folded therein. Scoopa complied. Thereafter, Scoopa paid defendant $150. Defendant and Allen then left the area.

The Smith "buy" took place on April 13, 2005; the Scoopa transaction occurred on April 20, 2005; defendant was not arrested and charged with these offenses, however, until October 2005.*fn2 Both Smith and Scoopa identified defendant from photographs shown to them shortly after their respective encounters with defendant.

The jury began deliberating at approximately 12:30 p.m. on May 16, 2006. Shortly thereafter, the court interrupted the deliberations to respond to an earlier jury question. The court then directed the jury to break until 2:00 p.m. Two hours later, the jury sent out a note containing the word "deadlocked." After ...

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