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State v. Baker

April 14, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
FORREST M. BAKER, SR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Indictment No. 03-06-0809.

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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 16, 2008

Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Messano.

Defendant Forrest M. Baker, Sr. was charged in Indictment 2003-06-809 with robbery in the first degree, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a), and using a juvenile to commit a crime in the first degree, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-9(a). The juvenile in question was his son, M.B., thirteen years old at the time.*fn1 Defendant was found guilty of both counts after a jury trial and the State moved for an extended term of imprisonment pursuant to the "Three Strikes Act," N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.1. After granting the State's motion, the trial judge imposed a mandatory life sentence without parole on the first-degree robbery, and a concurrent sentence of fifteen years, seven and one-half years without parole, on the second count. The judge ordered these sentences to run consecutively to a federal sentence defendant was already serving. All appropriate fines and penalties were also imposed.

On appeal, defendant raises the following issues for our consideration:

POINT I

THE TRIAL JUDGE ERRED IN DENYING [] DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE CHARGES, AS THE VIOLATION OF THE INTERSTATE ACT ON DETAINERS MANDATED DISMISSAL.

POINT II

THE TRIAL JUDGE ERRED IN ADMITTING EVIDENCE OF UNRELATED ROBBERIES. IN ADDITION, THE CURATIVE CHARGE TO THE JURY WAS INADEQUATE (Partially Raised Below).*fn2

POINT III

THE DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE IS EXCESSIVE.

We have considered these contentions in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.

I.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. on June 29, 2002, Matilda Dodson, the assistant manager of the Rite Aid store in Mount Laurel, was near the cash register when she was approached by a teenage boy who removed a gun from under a newspaper and announced a robbery. Dodson told him to take what he wanted from the register as she moved to the back of the store to tell the other employees what was occurring. The young man took approximately $200 from the register and left. Dodson called the police.

The robbery went unsolved for several months until M.B., in the company of his aunt and uncle, came to the Mount Laurel police station. M.B. was advised of his Miranda*fn3 rights and provided a detailed statement implicating himself and defendant in the robbery. M.B. claimed that defendant gave him the gun and threatened him with death unless he committed the robbery. He also implicated defendant in other unsolved bank robberies in the area.

A federal arrest warrant was issued for defendant, and a search warrant was also issued for his residence, his mother's residence, and his car. The search of the vehicle resulted in the seizure of a fake mustache, a bank card in defendant's name, and a .45 caliber pellet gun that was described at trial as "very realistic."

Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested defendant and questioned him at their Cherry Hill offices. After defendant was administered his Miranda rights, he admitted that on June 28, 2002, while his son was in the car, he robbed the Equity Bank in Cherry Hill. He further claimed that he returned to the car with a pillowcase full of money and gave it to M.B. to hold. However, a dye pack in the money exploded, and defendant told M.B. to throw the pillowcase and the proceeds of the robbery out of the vehicle, which he did.

Members of the Mount Laurel police department also questioned defendant about the robbery of the Rite Aid. Although he initially told the police he did not tell his son to rob the store, defendant later acknowledged that "he may have dared him to do it, but he d[id] not recall telling him, or . . . threatening him to go commit the robbery." Defendant also acknowledged knowing that M.B. had in fact committed the Rite Aid robbery.

At trial, M.B. testified that defendant told him as they drove to the Rite Aid that they "didn't have any money and [they] needed money." Defendant told M.B. that he should "go in and rob the Rite Aid," and told him where he would be waiting with the car. M.B. claimed defendant gave him the gun and the newspaper, that he felt threatened by defendant, was afraid of him, and believed he had to commit the robbery. After leaving the Rite Aid, M.B. testified that he returned to the waiting car and gave defendant the money.

Based upon the judge's earlier ruling that we discuss in greater detail below, M.B. was permitted to testify about his knowledge of defendant's robbery of the Equity Bank the day before the Rite Aid robbery. According to M.B., he drove to the bank with his father who was wearing some sort of disguise and was carrying the same gun M.B. was to use the following day. Defendant entered and robbed the bank, returned to the car and gave M.B. a pillowcase full of money. As they drove away, a red dye pack exploded, M.B. began to cough and sneeze, and defendant told him to throw the bag out of the car window. He did.

Defendant did not testify at trial, however, his mother was called as a defense witness. She testified that defendant's three children lived with her sporadically, described M.B.'s troubled relationship with his father and noted that on occasion M.B., who had impulse control problems, had taken his father's car without permission. Defendant's fifteen year-old daughter, B.B., and his fourteen year-old son, E.B., were also called as defense witnesses, though neither provided any relevant or exculpatory information. Both denied telling defendant's investigator that M.B. had admitted committing the Rite Aid robbery by himself. The defense rested after calling investigator Annie Prochorencko, who testified that she interviewed B.B. and the girl told her that M.B. 1) "had done [the robbery] himself"; 2) had taken defendant's car "while [he] was sleeping"; and 3) had "blamed defendant because he was afraid of the consequences to himself."

II.

Defendant first argues that the trial judge erred in denying his pre-trial motion to dismiss the indictment based upon the State's alleged violation of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (the IAD), codified in New Jersey at N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1 to -15. Alternatively, he argues we ...


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