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State v. Beltran

January 7, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 07-03-00146-I.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 2, 2009

Before Judges J.N. Harris and Newman.

Defendant Gary A. Beltran was convicted by a jury of third-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine and/or possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2; N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1). Judge Julie M. Marino granted the State's application for an extended term pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7 and N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3, and imposed a five-year sentence with two years of parole ineligibility.*fn1 Defendant appeals the conviction, arguing that several harmful errors were committed at trial for which he is now entitled to a new trial. We affirm.

With intelligence obtained from a practiced and reliable informant, then-Detective Thomas Fisher of the Raritan Police Department contacted Somerset County Prosecutor's Office Detective Christopher Shearer about allegedly impending criminal conduct. Fisher informed Shearer that an individual named Kareem Archer would be going to a rooming house in Raritan to repackage crack cocaine in room two with another individual named Robert Wechsler, and that Archer would enter the structure through a door located near an adjacent parking lot.

Shearer proceeded to establish surveillance near the address on December 12, 2006. State Police Officer David Penna positioned himself directly in front of the building, and had a view of the rear door that Archer was expected to use.

Later that evening, Archer arrived in a red pickup truck driven by defendant. Penna witnessed Archer and defendant enter the building, and when they finally exited after some twenty minutes, other officers proceeded to apprehend Archer and defendant at the scene.

Shearer and Fisher went to room two, and Robert Wechsler answered the door. Shearer advised Wechsler that a narcotics investigation was underway. Wechsler told Shearer that "he had a quantity of loose crack cocaine, some crack pipes, and some empty plastic sandwich bags on his dresser." With Wechsler's permission, Shearer seized the items as evidence.

Archer was arrested and taken to the Raritan police headquarters. There, he produced "a bag from his buttocks" containing twenty-four individual "baggie tied end knots of cocaine."

Meanwhile, when Shearer returned to the parking lot, defendant whispered to him, "I want to cooperate, and I want to speak with you but I want to do it away from 43 - away from this residence." Shearer and Fisher thereupon drove defendant to local police headquarters for an interview.

Upon arrival at the police station, Shearer placed defendant in an interview room, and after obtaining personal history information, read defendant his rights from "a standard Miranda warning form." After defendant signed the form waiving his Miranda*fn2 rights, defendant gave a taped statement of what had occurred that day. The State played the nine-minute recording during the trial, and provided transcripts to the jury.

According to defendant's statement, defendant often drove Archer, known on the streets as "Sal," to various locations to sell drugs in exchange for cocaine. In order to obtain cocaine for himself on December 12, 2006, defendant called Archer "to see if he needed a ride."

Before going to the rooming house in Raritan, defendant drove Archer to Somerville and watched as Archer sold crack shavings from one large piece of cocaine. At the rooming house defendant accompanied Archer into the building, and saw Archer give "Bob" pieces of crack in exchange for thirty dollars. Another man entered the room and defendant observed Archer "front[] the other man twenty dollars worth of cocaine," meaning Archer turned over the cocaine for no immediate payment. Archer then broke up a large piece of cocaine, and placed approximately twenty pieces of crack into fifteen individual bags, using only the corners of the bags. Archer transferred the baggies to one large bag, and "put it somewhere on him." In exchange for driving Archer, defendant expected to receive one of the individual bags of cocaine, which he estimated to be worth approximately twenty dollars, for his personal use.

Defendant elected not to testify at trial. No money, drugs, or drug paraphernalia were found on defendant's person or in his ...

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