On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 05-05-0638.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 2, 2009
Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.
Following a jury trial, defendant Hamid A. Shabazz was convicted of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1); two counts of third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and b(3); and two counts of third-degree distribution of controlled dangerous substance within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a.*fn1 The trial judge sentenced defendant to two concurrent five-year terms in prison with a three-year parole disqualifier, as well as statutory penalties, fines and license suspension. Defendant appeals, and we now affirm.
These are the facts adduced at trial. On February 25, 2005, at 11:00 a.m., Sergeant Samuel Rivera, a thirteen-year veteran of the Passaic Police Department, was performing a narcotics surveillance operation in the area of 49 Pine Street, a location within 1,000 feet of Public School No. 7 in Passaic. The operation itself was divided into two teams, the surveillance officer and the backup team, which would stop and detain any suspects involved in a narcotics transaction observed by Sergeant Rivera. During the operation, Sergeant Rivera was performing the surveillance while Detectives Juan Clavijo, Tamika Santiago, Reynaldo Arroyo, Larson, LeConte and Cassiano*fn2 were acting as backup. Sergeant Rivera had been in that area since 6:00 a.m. and was situated twenty or twenty-five feet away from 49 Pine Street.
During his surveillance, Sergeant Rivera observed Anthony Haskins near the porch of 49 Pine Street and also observed defendant in the alley between 53 and 55 Pine Street. At approximately 11:00 a.m. a third individual, Michael Dennis, approached the area wearing a blue knit cap, a winter vest-type jacket and blue jeans. Dennis had a brief conversation with Haskins in front of 49 Pine Street. Haskins then proceeded to walk into the area between 53 and 55 Pine Street, while Dennis waited on the porch. As Haskins walked towards the alley, he yelled out to defendant, who was in the back of the alley, and "motioned as if making hand signals of 10." Defendant went behind 55 Pine Street for a few moments and then came back and met Haskins in the center of the alley. Defendant handed Haskins "an item," which, Sergeant Rivera observed, Haskins took in his right hand. Haskins then walked from the alley back to 49 Pine Street where he handed the item to Dennis. Dennis then handed Haskins what appeared to be United States currency, and Dennis left the area. Haskins went back to the alley and gave defendant the money. Defendant remained in the alley while Haskins returned to the porch at 49 Pine Street.
As Dennis left the area, Sergeant Rivera, based on eight years of experience and observing over 1,000 hand-to-hand street-level drug interactions, concluded that he had observed a drug transaction. He relayed a description of Dennis and Dennis' current route of travel over the police radio.
After Dennis left the area, another individual, Robert Ellis, emerged from a black Cadillac parked near the front of 49 Pine Street and began talking to Haskins who was sitting on the porch. Haskins returned to the alley and called defendant. They had a brief conversation resulting in Haskins bringing Ellis to defendant, and defendant and Ellis proceeding to the rear of 55 Pine Street. A moment later, Ellis returned "looking a[t] something in his hand"; he entered his vehicle and left the area. Sergeant Rivera then advised his backup team to detain the black Cadillac.
Once the backup team had detained both Dennis, Ellis and the black Cadillac, Sergeant Rivera advised the team to detain Haskins, who was still at 49 Pine Street, and defendant who was in front of 55 Pine Street. Haskins and defendant were then transported to police headquarters.
Detective Clavijo took part in Dennis's arrest based upon the information received from Sergeant Rivera. Detective Clavijo stated the information he and his partner, Detective Santiago, received from Sergeant Rivera was that "the black male wearing the blue knit cap, the blue vest and blue jean pants was heading south, actually running south, on Pine Street towards Autumn Street." Once Detective Clavijo saw the individual who met the description, he followed the individual down Pine Street and stopped him at 537 McKinley Street.
Upon arriving at the McKinley Street property, Detective Santiago, spoke to Dennis by talking to him from the window of their vehicle. Both detectives exited the vehicle in plain clothes, and Detective Clavijo, who was wearing his badge around his neck, stated in a loud voice, "[s]top, police." Dennis stopped and then stated he had crack cocaine in his right front pants pocket. Detective Clavijo retrieved the suspected crack cocaine, secured it and placed Dennis under arrest. Detective Clavijo and Detective Arroyo, who with Detective Larson, had stopped the Ellis vehicle, then went to Pine Street and based on Rivera's description, placed Haskins and defendant under arrest. No additional narcotics were recovered.
At headquarters, Dennis, Ellis, Haskins and defendant were searched. No drugs were found on Haskins and defendant, only money. Most notably, defendant was carrying $568.00, but no narcotics were found on him. No narcotics were found in the rear of 55 Pine Street either. At headquarters, members of the backup team gave Sergeant Rivera the substances that the buyers allegedly purchased from Haskins and defendant. Sergeant Rivera visually identified the substance as crack cocaine, which, upon subsequent testing, was confirmed as cocaine.
At trial, Ellis stated that he went to Pine Street, got out of his car, saw someone that he knew and asked him where he could buy "$20 worth of base." He identified Haskins as the "someone" who directed him to the seller and identified defendant as the seller. Ellis described that after he went to the back of the premises, he met defendant, gave him money, received the crack cocaine and then drove away only to be pulled over by the police. Ellis had some cocaine on his front seat and a dollar bill wrapped around cocaine in his sock along with a pipe as well as aluminum foil. The cocaine in the aluminum foil came from the Pine Street ...