On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 06-09-1945.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.
Following an unsuccessful motion to suppress, defendant Robert Taylor entered a plea of guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1); and obstructing the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1. Defendant was sentenced to a term of eight years in prison with a four-year period of parole ineligibility on the drug offense and a concurrent term of eighteen months on the obstructing charge together with applicable statutory fees and penalties. We affirm.
The facts are simply stated. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on July 8, 2006, Atlantic City Police Officers Daniel Corcoran and Peter Calabrese were on walking patrol in the Cedar Court housing project. This area was known by both officers to be a high-crime, high drug-trafficking area, and had experienced a recent increase in drug-related violence. A "walking patrol" officer focuses on drug activity.
While walking through a parking lot located at the rear of Cedar Court, Officer Corcoran observed defendant Robert Taylor meet and speak to an older woman, as both were visible under overhead lights. After speaking for a few seconds, the woman handed defendant money. Defendant, in turn, handed the woman a small object. Officer Corcoran believed this exchange to be a drug sale, and the officers continued walking towards the couple.
As the officers approached, defendant and the woman became aware of their presence and appeared startled. Defendant started walking away at a fast rate of speed. The officers believed defendant to be the seller, and, preferring to apprehend the seller rather than the buyer, pursued him. Officer Corcoran asked defendant to stop. Defendant turned his head towards Officer Corcoran, continued walking and placed an object in the front part of his pants.
Officer Corcoran ran up to defendant, and defendant stopped. Defendant appeared extremely nervous as Officer Calabrese stood in front of him to prevent him from running further. Officer Corcoran told defendant to place his hands on his head and defendant complied. Officer Corcoran knew that street drug dealers sometimes carry weapons, that many shootings occur in the area and that he had uncovered weapons from drug dealers in the area in the past. As a result, Officer Corcoran patted defendant down. He discovered a bag of marijuana in defendant's waistband. The officers then handcuffed defendant, continued the search and uncovered a bag of cocaine in defendant's sock.
In his decision, the motion judge concluded that the totality of the circumstances justified the stop and the search. He concluded that the "conduct of the officers was constitutionally reasonable, objectively appropriate and that the search of the Defendant and the items which were found are appropriately utilizable as evidence and should not be suppressed."
On appeal, defendant raises the following issues:
POINT I THE WARRANTLESS SEARCH WAS NOT JUSTIFIABLE AS A SEARCH INCIDENT TO ARREST, AND THUS THE FRUITS OF THAT UNCONSTITUTIONAL SEARCH SHOULD HAVE BEEN SUPPRESSED.
POINT II DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE OF EIGHT YEARS WITH FOUR YEARS OF PAROLE INELIGIBILITY IS EXCESSIVE AND MUST BE REMANDED; THE JUDGE MISTAKENLY BELIEVED THAT A PAROLE INELIGIBILITY ...