On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 04-06-1264.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 9, 2008
Before Judges Skillman and Collester.
Defendant was indicted together with co-defendants Phillip Pauls and Stuart Burstein for possession of marijuana, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(3); first-degree possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(10)(a); second-degree conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(10)(a); and the first-degree offense of being a leader of a narcotics trafficking network, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-3.
Co-defendant Burstein filed a motion, in which defendant joined, to suppress the evidence against them. After a three-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion.
Defendant then entered into a plea agreement under which he agreed to plead guilty to the first-degree possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute charge, conditioned on his right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress, and the State agreed to dismiss the other charges and to waive the applicable mandatory extended term sentence and period of parole ineligibility. The trial court sentenced defendant in accordance with the plea agreement to a twenty-year term of imprisonment and dismissed the other charges.
Defendant appeals from the denial of the motion to suppress and his sentence.
The evidence upon which defendant's conviction rests emanates from a telephone call received by the Neptune Police Department on January 14, 2004 from Detective Joe Cargel of Chula Vista, California. Cargel informed Sergeant Burst of the Neptune Police Department that he had been told by Peggy Pauls, the wife of a burglary suspect, Phillip Pauls, that her husband had been paid $5,000 to drive cross-country in a white van, and that she believed "he may have been involved in illegal activity," specifically the transportation of drugs. Cargel also stated that Mrs. Pauls told him her husband was currently staying in room 202 in the Days Inn in Neptune.
Based on this information, Sergeant Burst sent two officers, Patrolman Brock and another officer, to the Days Inn to determine whether Pauls was in room 202 and whether there was a white van with California license plates in the parking lot. The officers confirmed by checking with the room clerk that Pauls was registered in room 202 and had indicated on his room card that he was driving a Dodge van with California license plates. The officers then located a van in the parking lot with California plates, although the van was silver rather than white.
After receiving this information, Sergeant Burst instructed Patrolman Brock to go with another officer, Scott Cox, to Pauls' room to speak with him concerning the information received from Detective Cargel. The officers knocked on the door, and when a man fitting Pauls' description opened the door, the officers informed him they were looking for a Phillip Pauls. The man responded that he was Phillip Pauls. The officers told Pauls they had received information "he was involved in possibly transporting a controlled dangerous substance from California to the east coast." Pauls then asked the officers to come into the room and talk to him. Pauls "sat on the bed, . . . kind of sighed a little bit, dropped his head," and asked whether he could smoke a cigarette. The officers responded affirmatively and then administered Miranda warnings.
Pauls agreed to talk to the officers and told them that he was in Neptune "to follow a subject by the name of Woody who would be transporting at least 50 pounds of marijuana to the Pennsylvania border." Pauls also told the officers that Woody and another person, who was identified to Pauls as "Stuart Whitman," had been in his room earlier that day in possession of two bags of marijuana. Pauls added that the person called "Woody" was driving a late model red vehicle with California license plates and was also staying at the Days Inn.
Officer Brock then returned to the motel office, where he located a registration card for defendant that indicated he was driving a red Ford Tempo with California license plates. After locating the red Ford in the motel parking lot, Brock reported this information to his supervisor, who dispatched additional officers to the motel. The officers maintained surveillance of defendant's room while other officers conducted criminal history checks on defendant and Pauls.
At this point, Pauls was transported to police headquarters, where he was questioned further. In a written statement given in the early morning hours of January 15, 2004, Pauls indicated that a person he knew as Stuart had asked him if he wanted to make some money by driving from California to New Jersey. Pauls agreed, and Stuart sent him a $800 money order "for travel expenses." On the way from California, Stuart instructed defendant to check into the Days Inn in Neptune. After he arrived there, Stuart and defendant came to his room with two ...