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State v. Spero

July 16, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Indictment No. 04-07-781.

Per curiam.



Argued April 27, 2009

Before Judges Carchman and Sabatino.

Defendant Michael G. Spero appeals the Law Division's order of January 29, 2008, denying his petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR"). We affirm.

The record contains the following facts pertinent to our analysis of the issues raised on appeal.

On February 3, 2003, Deana Boswell of Upper Deerfield Township telephoned the New Jersey State Police to report a suspicious vehicle she had seen at an intersection*fn1 in her neighborhood. Boswell described the vehicle as a blue Acura Integra, with a Massachusetts license plate number. Boswell stated that a white male, who was dressed in all black clothing and carrying a backpack, exited the Acura and walked past her house.

Responding to Boswell's report, State Trooper Christopher MacNeil arrived on the location at 4:44 p.m. He observed the Acura parked on a corner of the intersection described by Boswell. Another neighbor advised MacNeil that a man wearing black clothing had been walking northbound on one of the intersecting streets. While speaking with this neighbor, MacNeil observed defendant walking through the rear portion of the yard at one of the nearby residences.

Trooper MacNeil asked defendant why he was walking through the yard. Defendant replied that he was looking for a friend who lived in the neighborhood; however, he could not provide the trooper with a name or address for the supposed friend. Defendant further claimed that he was an amateur photographer, and that he was in the neighborhood photographing the scenery.

Trooper MacNeil noticed that defendant seemed very nervous, taking note that defendant stuttered, folded his arms, had rapid eye movement, and would take several seconds to answer simple questions. When MacNeil requested identification, defendant was hesitant, and he asked the trooper why he was being questioned. At this point, Trooper Rodney Yamasaki arrived. Trooper MacNeil and Trooper Yamasaki then escorted defendant back to his car, which turned out to be the Acura.

Upon arriving at defendant's car, Troopers MacNeil and Yamasaki noticed a yellow notepad on the front passenger's seat. The notepad had what appeared to be a telephone number and driving directions written on it. MacNeil and Yamasaki were unable to read the specific contents of the writing from outside the car. The troopers asked defendant about the notepad, and he became aggressive. He picked the notepad up off of the seat and refused to allow the troopers to see it. At that point, Trooper MacNeil arrested defendant.

The troopers searched defendant incident to his arrest, and retrieved the pad from his person. They discovered that the pad contained driving directions to the residence in question, a male first name,*fn2 and a telephone number. The pad was then temporarily placed on a rear seat of the Acura. A search of defendant's backpack uncovered petroleum jelly, a disposable camera and chocolate syrup. Following the search, Trooper MacNeil returned the pad to the front passenger seat location where it had been initially spotted.

At approximately 5:35 p.m., Trooper Ronald Roberts arrived and aided in the investigation. While defendant sat in the rear of Trooper McNeil's patrol car, Trooper Roberts questioned him. Roberts asked defendant why he had parked his car at this intersection and why he was in the yard of the subject residence. Defendant responded that he was supposed to meet a woman named "Betty Scott," who he claimed to have met on the Internet, for a sexual encounter, but he could not find her house. After speaking further with defendant, Roberts went to the Acura and noticed the notepad, which at that point was temporarily on the rear seat on the driver's side. Roberts was able to read the information on the pad from his position outside of the car.

Trooper Yamasaki then proceeded to the subject residence and spoke with a fifteen-year-old minor, S.B., who resided there. S.B. was alone at the time. He initially stated that he did not ...

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