On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 04-09-2947.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 26, 2010
Before Judges Carchman and Ashrafi.
Following a jury trial, defendant Hakim Rouse was found guilty of first-degree carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2a(1); first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; two counts of second- degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(6); third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7); second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b; second-degree possession of a firearm for unlawful purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; two counts of third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(5)(a); third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2; and fourth-degree possession of a defaced firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3d. After appropriate mergers, the trial judge sentenced defendant to an term of twenty-six years in prison, subject to the 85% provisions of the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, on the carjacking offense. The sentences imposed on the remaining convictions were made concurrent subject to mandated parole disqualifiers*fn1. Defendant appeals, and subject to the remand for resentencing, we affirm.
These are the relevant facts adduced from the trial record. At approximately 7:00 p.m. on July 6, 2004, Andrew Stefanyshyn was sitting in his limousine at a McDonald's near the Newark Airport waiting for a fare. He sat in the back of his vehicle with the window open, reading a book when a car carrying three men pulled in beside the limousine. A male, later identified as defendant, with dreadlocks and his face partially covered with a black bandana, wearing a dark sleeveless shirt and jeans, stepped out brandishing a semi-automatic handgun, pointed it through the open window into the victim's face and demanded money. The victim gave defendant a $10 bill, and defendant grabbed the victim's laptop computer from between the two front seats, handing it to one of his cohorts. Defendant then smashed his handgun into the victim's face, and "[b]lood came bursting [out]." Defendant ordered the victim out of the limousine, got in and sped away. The incident lasted about two to three minutes.
Within seconds, another limousine driver pulled into the McDonald's. The victim used the driver's cell phone and called the police, telling them that he had been robbed and carjacked. He also described his car and gave its license plate number. The police arrived minutes later and transported the victim to the hospital, where he received seven stitches to close a gash above his right eyebrow.
Meanwhile, other officers were searching for the victim's stolen limousine. Officer Matthew Ruane of the Newark Police Department and his partner were on patrol in their marked police car when they received the dispatch at about 7:15 p.m. that the stolen limousine was headed in their direction. Traveling west on 15th Avenue, the officers observed the vehicle traveling at approximately fifty miles per hour heading north on Littleton Avenue. Officer Ruane pulled behind the vehicle and followed it at forty-five to fifty miles per hour with his lights and sirens on. Defendant sped up, heading north on Littleton Avenue and into South Orange in late rush-hour traffic.
After making several turns while being chased, defendant sped onto Central Avenue. While traveling thirty-five to forty-five miles per hour, he crashed head-on into the stopped patrol car of Officers Victor Gomes and Adolfo Furtado. Both officers were injured even though their airbags deployed; Officer Gomes was able to exit, draw his gun and assist other officers in trying to remove defendant from the crashed vehicle. Officer Furtado was initially trapped inside but was able to kick open his door. The crash caused an injury to his knee, which rendered him unable to assist in subduing defendant.
Defendant continued to resist and refused to exit the stolen limousine, holding on to the steering wheel instead. Because a police car blocked the Lincoln's driver's door, Officer Ruane and another office pulled defendant through the open driver's door window. Defendant, who had dreadlocks, wore a black tank top and had a black bandana around his neck, continued to resist arrest even outside the vehicle. Eventually, officers were able to subdue and handcuff him.
Defendant was uninjured and possessed a $10 bill as well as a Rolex watch. On the limousine's front passenger seat was an operable, dark gray semi-automatic Hi-Point.380 caliber handgun with a defaced serial number. Defendant did not have a gun permit.
After being treated at the hospital, the victim proceeded to the station house where he gave Detective John LaBella a statement describing the incident. He identified both the handgun recovered from his wrecked limousine and the black bandana as the ones the carjacker had used. In another room, other officers interviewed defendant, who asked to use the bathroom. While being escorted without handcuffs to the bathroom, defendant and the accompanying officer passed the victim who was giving a statement. The victim commented that defendant "looked like the person that robbed me."
The victim described the incident at trial:
Q: At the police station, Mr. Stefanyshyn, did anything else occur?
A: I saw the person who looked like who robbed me.
Q: Can you tell the jury what happened at that point in time?
A: I was giving the... statement to the police officer and the police, other police officer just walk him. He was walking with, the police officer was ...