On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 07-05-1156.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 2, 2009
Before Judges Payne and Waugh.
Defendant Christopher Jackson appeals his conviction, following a guilty plea, for third-degree possession of heroin, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1). He argues that the motion judge should have granted his motion to suppress evidence resulting from a warrantless search and seizure. We affirm.
The following facts, based upon the hearing on Jackson's motion to suppress, inform our decision on this appeal.
On February 18, 2006, Detective James Hunt of the Neptune Police Department was in plain clothes and working in an unmarked van parked on West Lake Avenue, across the street from the Alpha Liquor Store. Hunt described the area surrounding the Alpha Liquor Store as "a high-crime drug distribution area, a known drug distribution area."
At approximately 6:00 p.m., Hunt observed Myron Sanders, whom he had arrested in the past for purchasing and possessing narcotics, meet with Jackson, a black male whom Hunt did not know, in front of the liquor store. According to Hunt, the liquor store was open for business at the time and there were other people on the street, creating "an active environment" at the time of his observations regarding Sanders and Jackson.
From his position in the back of the surveillance van, Hunt observed Jackson and Sanders talking. They then crossed the street and walked down West Lake Avenue, past the van, to the corner directly behind the van. According to Hunt:
They stopped at the corner of... West Lake and Fisher. They talked briefly, and then I observed Myron Sanders hand something to Mr. Jackson, and then in turn, he handed something back. It was quick. I didn't see what it was, but it appeared to be a narcotic transaction.
After the "transaction," the two separated. According to Hunt, Sanders went down Fisher Avenue and Jackson turned around and went back down West Lake Avenue, past Hunt's van. Believing he had just "witnessed a hand-to-hand drug transaction," Hunt radioed his backup team and "pointed out that Mr. Jackson was walking back toward the Alpha Liquor Store." Hunt admitted that he took no steps to pursue Sanders, even though he knew he lived down the block, because he viewed Sanders as solely "a heroin user." Hunt testified that he had never arrested Sanders for selling drugs.
Officer Jose Arce testified that he was a member of the backup team and was instructed by Hunt to "conduct a narcotic interdiction with said subject Christopher Jackson." Although Arce testified that Hunt described Jackson as a "black male and whatever he was wearing," he admitted that his report did not contain any description of Jackson, and that he did not recall what Jackson was wearing at the time. Arce heard Hunt say over the police radio: "he's directly right in front of you." According to Arce, Jackson was "the only person in that area at that given time."
Arce, who was in plainclothes but wearing a shirt with the insignia "Police" marked on it in gold print and a badge hanging around his neck, approached Jackson and identified himself as a police ...