On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment Nos. 01-04-0737, 01-09-1804 and 06-10-2221.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 13, 2010
Before Judges Axelrad and Fisher.
In this appeal, we consider, among other things, whether the trial judge erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained as the result of a warrantless search of defendant's motor vehicle. The record demonstrates there was:
(a) sufficient cause to stop defendant's vehicle; (b) consent to the officer's entry into the vehicle to retrieve defendant's credentials; (c) contraband in the officer's plain view as he retrieved the credentials; and (d) an exigency sufficient to permit a further warrantless search of the vehicle. As a result, we conclude the search was lawful and affirm.
Defendant was charged in Indictment No. 06-10-2221 with: third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); first-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(2); second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute within 500 feet of a public housing facility, a public park or a public building, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1; and third-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute within a school zone, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. Following an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence, defendant pled guilty to second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute and was sentenced to a prison term of eight-and-one-half years with a four-year-and-three-month period of parole ineligibility; the other counts in that indictment were dismissed. This conviction generated violations of probationary terms previously imposed in Indictment Nos. 01-09-1804 and 01-04-0737, resulting in the trial court's imposition of three-year prison terms in those matters to run concurrently with the prison term imposed in Indictment No. 06-10-2221.
Defendant appealed, raising the following arguments for our consideration:
I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENSE COUNSEL'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF THE DEFENDANT'S VEHICLE WHICH LED TO THE SEIZURE OF CONTRABAND WHICH FORMED THE BASIS FOR THE CHARGES CONTAINED IN THE INDICTMENT.
B. SINCE THE POLICE WERE AWARE THE DEFENDANT HAD OBTAINED A DRIVER'S LICENSE UNDER AN ALIAS WHICH WAS SUSPENDED, NO JUSTIFICATION EXISTED FOR THE POLICE TO REQUEST THE DEFENDANT'S DRIVING CREDENTIALS, WHICH LED TO THEIR ENTRY INTO THE DEFENDANT'S VEHICLE TO OBTAIN HIS LICENSE.
C. ASSUMING THE POLICE COULD PROPERLY HAVE REQUESTED THE DEFENDANT'S DRIVING CREDENTIALS, THE DEFENDANT DID NOT PROVIDE VALID CONSENT TO THE POLICE TO ENTER HIS VEHICLE TO OBTAIN SUCH DOCUMENTS FROM HIS WALLET.
D. ASSUMING THE POLICE PROPERLY ENTERED THE DEFENDANT'S VEHICLE TO OBTAIN HIS DRIVING CREDENTIALS FROM HIS WALLET, OBSERVING A BRICK OF HEROIN IN PLAIN VIEW IN THE PROCESS NEXT TO THE WALLET, EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES DID NOT EXIST TO JUSTIFY THE ENSUING SEARCH OF THE ...