On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 07-01-0127.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman and Graves.
On January 5, 2002, defendant Jerome Roberts was arrested and charged with the murder of Robert Priester, who was shot and killed at approximately 5:30 p.m. on December 31, 2001, at the intersection of Calhoun Street and Ingham Avenue in Trenton. Defendant and co-defendant Stanley Smith were subsequently indicted for first-degree murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 and N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6; second-degree possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4 and N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6; and third-degree possession of a handgun without a permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 and N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6. The indictment also charged defendant with third-degree possession of a handgun without a permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, and fourth-degree possession of a defaced firearm, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3.
On March 19, 2004, after hearing testimony and argument, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence, including defendant's cellular telephone toll billing records. The court found that the communications data warrant (CDW) authorizing the seizure of defendant's telephone records was defective, and it rejected the State's argument that the records were admissible under the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. The court's ruling was memorialized in an order dated April 7, 2004.
This court granted the State's motion for leave to appeal and found that the State had demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that it "actually had substantial evidence upon which a judge would have found probable cause to issue a CDW for the [defendant's] phone records before the warrant was issued and before the records were obtained." State v. Roberts, No. A-5209-03 (App. Div. July 22, 2005) (slip op. at 42). This court also found that the State "would have obtained a valid warrant for Roberts's toll billing records through normal investigatory procedures, independent of the improper warrant application." Id. at 2. Accordingly, we determined that defendant's cellular telephone records were admissible under the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule and reversed the part of the order that suppressed those records.
Defendant filed a motion for leave to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. That application was denied. State v. Roberts, Docket No. 58,444 (November 17, 2005).
On January 26, 2007, pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, defendant pled guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a), for causing the death of Robert Priester on December 31, 2001. In return for defendant's guilty plea, the State agreed to recommend a ten-year sentence under the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, and also agreed to the dismissal of the indictment, which charged defendant with murder and other related offenses. During the plea hearing, defendant explained his participation in the killing of Robert Priester as follows:
Q: Did you, in fact, on December 31st, 2001, meet with Andre Bellinger?
Q: Where did that take place?
A: 931 Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Q: Okay, and during that meeting, what happened that involves your participation in the ...