On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Indictment No. 03-04-0122, 04-09-0354 & 05-07-0240.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 17, 2008
Before Judges Rodríguez and Waugh.
Following the partial denial of defendant Ronald Telepo's motion to suppress evidence, he entered a negotiated plea of guilty. Defendant agreed to plead guilty to third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1); third-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b; fourth-degree throwing bodily fluids at a police officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-13; and third-degree terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3a. The State agreed to recommend concurrent sentences aggregating five years. The judge imposed four-year concurrent terms on each conviction. We affirm.
Defendant appeals only the conviction for possession of cocaine. According to defendant, the cocaine was a residue in drug paraphernalia seized during an inventory search. Specifically, he challenges the denial of his motion to suppress this evidence.
Following a hearing at which National Park Service Rangers Joe Hinkes, Michael Croll and Jeremy Murphy testified, Judge Pursel found the following facts:
On August 16, 2003 at approximately 9:16 p.m. while on routine patrol in Knowlton Township in a marked vehicle, National Park Rangers Joe Hinkes and Michael Croll observed a Black Nissan traveling south on Old Mine Hill Road. This area of the road was posted a 35 mile per hour zone, and the Ranger's radar detector indicated that the vehicle was traveling 48 miles per hour. The Rangers activated their overhead lights and sirens and chased the vehicle, at a high rate of speed, for approximately two miles before it pulled over.
Upon approaching the vehicle, Ranger Croll observed the driver, Ronald Telepo exit the vehicle and start yelling obscenities. Ranger Croll ordered the driver back into the vehicle, and also detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the driver and the driver's side of the vehicle. The Ranger observed that the driver's eyes were bloodshot and that his speech was slurred. Ranger Croll asked Mr. Telepo for his credentials, however he was only able to provide an insurance card. The passenger of the vehicle was identified as Jason Neace. Mr. Telepo and Mr. Neace were questioned separately and both gave contradictory statements. Neither individual could provide the Rangers with the name of the campsite they were staying at or whose name it was registered under.
Mr. Telepo continued to be belligerent towards the Rangers. Ranger Croll took a breath sample of Mr. Telepo and he registered at.164. A breath sample of Mr. Neace showed that he registered at.10. Mr. Telepo was placed under arrest for DUI, and placed in the rear of the police vehicle. The Rangers determined that Mr. Neace would not be allowed to drive the vehicle since his license was suspended and he had a breath test reading of.10. Mr. Neace was allowed to make several phone calls in order to get someone to pick up the black Nissan. Mr. Telepo even yelled names to Mr. Neace from inside the patrol vehicle. Mr. Neace was unsuccessful in reaching anyone that would be able to retrieve the vehicle, therefore the Rangers informed Mr. Telepo that the vehicle would be impounded because it could not stay parked where it was. With this information, Mr. Telepo became extremely agitated and started kicking the rear windows of the patrol car and yelling obscenities towards the Rangers. Mr. Neace was placed under arrest when he failed to turn over the keys to the Rangers and a struggle ensued.
Rangers Croll and Hinkes escorted Mr. Telepo and Mr. Neace to Pocono Medical Center for observations before bringing both men to the Pike County Jail in Pennsylvania. Ranger Murphy arrived on the scene to conduct an inventory search of the vehicle before it was impounded (Search #1). During his inventory search, the Ranger made some cursory notes of a safe, baseball cards, old blankets and quilts, clothing, a glass pipe,*fn1 and many papers. The Ranger removed the pipe, safe and baseball cards from the car, but was later told to return the safe and baseball cards back into the vehicle because they could only remove items that may be contraband and at this time they had no reason to believe the safe and baseball cards were contraband. Ranger Croll called around to the State Police to inquire about the possibility of a stolen safe, but received no report of a stolen safe. After waiting about a half hour, he notified dispatch to tell the impound yard that the vehicle was not to be released.
The next day, the Rangers were notified by employees of Millbrook Village about a possible break in. Upon arrival at Millbrook Village, the Rangers noticed that the doors to the Old Hotel and the General Store had been kicked in. The Rangers were notified by employees that a safe had been stolen from the second floor of the General Store. At this point, Ranger Murphy was sent back to the impound yard to retrieve the serial number off of the safe because he had failed to write it down during the inventory search (Search #2). Ranger Murphy observed the serial number from the outside of the vehicle.
At this point, the Rangers contacted the Warren County Prosecutor's Office, and they were instructed to seize the evidence that they believed to be stolen. The Rangers returned to the impound lot and seized all of the items from the vehicle that they believed to be evidence of a crime (Search #3). The Rangers also came to the Courthouse to obtain arrest warrants for Mr. Telepo and Mr. Neace.
From there facts, the judge concluded that the first search (the inventory search) was justified, although he found that the second and third searches were not. Therefore, the judge suppressed evidence seized after the second and third searches, while denying the motion with respect to the drug residue found ...