On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 06-02-0197.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 1, 2009
Before Judges Fuentes and Simonelli.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress, a jury convicted defendant Terrance Williams of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) (heroin), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (count one); third-degree possession of a handgun without first obtaining a permit to carry it, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-59b (count six); and fourth-degree resisting arrest by flight, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a (count ten). The jury acquitted defendant of possession of a certain weapon (handgun) with purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of another, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (count five); and second-degree eluding police, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b (count eleven).*fn1 Defendant subsequently entered an unconditional guilty plea to count nine in exchange for the State's agreement to a ten-year term of imprisonment with a five-year period of parole ineligibility concurrent to any sentence imposed on his conviction on the other counts, and to waive extended terms on both sentences.
The trial judge sentenced defendant on count nine to a seven-year term of imprisonment with a five-year period of parole ineligibility; to a concurrent five-year term of imprisonment on counts one and six; and to a concurrent eighteen-month term of imprisonment on count ten. The judge also imposed the appropriate assessments, penalties, and fee, and suspended defendant's driver's license for six months.
We gather the facts from the record developed before the trial court.
At approximately 3:00 a.m. on August 24, 2005, Officers Christopher Monahan and Patrick Sullivan of the Jersey City Police Department, who were in uniform driving in a marked patrol car, saw the driver of a white four-door Buick Regal fail to stop at a stop sign, make a right turn, and almost strike their car. The officers followed the Buick and entered its license plate number into the mobile data terminal. Upon discovering that the Buick was unregistered, Monahan radioed headquarters that he and Sullivan were following it and would attempt to effectuate a stop. The officers requested backup and continued following the Buick with their patrol car's siren and lights activated.
The Buick's driver eventually pulled over. However, as other officers who had arrived at the scene approached it, the driver sped away. Monahan and Sullivan followed the fleeing Buick, which reached speeds of fifty to sixty miles per hour in a residential twenty-five mile per hour zone, failed to stop at several stop signs, and almost strike several parked vehicles. The Buick continued to an intersection, where it failed to negotiate a left turn and stopped after hitting a sewer grate at the corner.
The officers stopped behind the Buick and saw the driver and the back seat passenger exit from the driver's side and the other passenger exit from the front passenger side. The individuals ran, leaving the Buick in the intersection with its engine running, doors open and lights on. Monahan assumed that defendant was the driver because defendant was the first individual he saw exit the driver's side. Monahan chased defendant and apprehended him approximately thirty feet from the Buick. Sullivan apprehended the front seat passenger, later identified as co-defendant Kearney Powell, a few feet from the Buick. The officers read both men their Miranda*fn2 rights and placed them in a patrol car. The third individual was never apprehended.
Monahan and Sullivan then went back to the Buick, which was still in the intersection with its engine running, doors open, and lights on, to secure it. Upon approaching the vehicle, they saw a .38 caliber handgun on the front seat and glycine packages rubber-banded together on the passenger-side floor, which had spilled from a McDonald's bag. Based on his training and experience, Monahan recognized the substance inside the glycine bags as heroin. He also discovered that the handgun was fully loaded. The Buick was impounded because it lacked registration and had been used in the commission of a crime, namely, eluding the police.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the items found in the Buick, contending that the search was unreasonable because the police failed to follow the Attorney General's pursuit guidelines. Except to argue that the officer did not advise a supervisor of the pursuit, defendant did not identify the specific guidelines they allegedly violated. Defendant also contended that the Buick was not abandoned property, and that the handgun and drugs were not in plain view.
Finding the officers' testimony credible, the trial judge denied the motion. The judge found that the Attorney General's pursuit guidelines did not apply, as they "are not for the purpose of protecting defendants' rights, but to protect the citizens of the [S]tate from ...