On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 99-04-0663.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 15, 2009
Before Judges Parrillo and Ashrafi.
Defendant Charles Stafford appeals from an order of the Law Division denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) under Rule 3:22. Having reviewed the record of proceedings in the PCR court, relevant parts of the trial transcripts, and the briefs filed for this appeal and before the PCR court, we now affirm denial of the petition.
In January 2000, defendant was convicted by a jury of second-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, third-degree possession of cocaine, third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in a school zone, and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a paging device.
At a pretrial hearing and at trial, the State presented evidence to establish that on March 29, 1999, Atlantic City police received a tip from a confidential informant that a person carrying drugs would be arriving on a casino bus. A police sergeant and a narcotics detective set up surveillance near the area of the bus stop and observed defendant, who fit the description provided by the informant, walking and flipping up in the air and catching a box of baking soda. The police approached defendant and spoke to him about the tip they had received.
Defendant immediately said that he only had bags in his possession. Understanding the reference to mean plastic baggies for packaging of illegal drugs, the police detective held out his palm, indicating that he wanted defendant to hand over the baggies. Defendant reached into the back of his pants and pulled out and gave the detective a zip-lock plastic baggie with numerous empty smaller baggies inside. The police then questioned defendant further, and he gave evasive answers about his residence.
The police sergeant patted down defendant's clothing and felt something hard in the middle of his buttocks. He reached into defendant's pants and pulled out a folded paper towel containing what appeared to be an illegal drug. Defendant was then arrested for possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute. A field test of the substance confirmed that it was cocaine.
At trial, the State presented evidence that the cocaine seized from defendant weighed 15.2 grams, which is slightly more than one-half ounce, the quantity that makes the offense a crime of the second degree. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and -5b(2). The State also presented the testimony of a police witness who was qualified as an expert in the field of narcotics investigations. The expert testified that the quantity of cocaine, together with possession of baggies for packaging and baking soda as a cutting agent, and also defendant's arrival on a bus from New York City where cocaine could be purchased at a lower price, all indicated that defendant intended to cut, package, and distribute the cocaine.
Defendant testified in his own defense that he was addicted to crack cocaine and that the entire quantity of cocaine found on his person was intended for his personal consumption. The jury convicted defendant on all four charges against him.
Because of two prior convictions for possession of drugs with intent to distribute in a school zone, defendant was sentenced under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6f to an extended term. On the second-degree charge, he was sentenced to sixteen years' imprisonment with seven years to be served before eligibility for parole. The other drug counts either merged into the second-degree count or defendant received a concurrent sentence. However, a sentence of one year in prison to run consecutively was added for defendant's conviction for unlawful possession of a paging device.
On direct appeal, we affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. State v. Stafford, No. A-4182-99T4 (App. Div. Dec. 10, 2001). The Supreme Court denied his petition for certification. 172 N.J. 356 (2002).
Defendant filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in July 2002. After counsel was assigned to represent defendant, an amended petition for post-conviction relief and briefs were filed. The judge who presided at defendant's trial heard argument on the petition on December 2, 2005. He denied the petition the same day without an evidentiary hearing, putting an oral decision on the record. An order denying defendant's petition was ...