On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 07-03-0411.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Sabatino.
Defendant Orlando Hare appeals his conviction, after a jury trial, of second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b. In particular, defendant appeals the trial judge's denial of a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's proofs. He also appeals his imposed sentence of ten years with four years of parole ineligibility. We affirm.
The State's evidence at trial showed the following. Shortly before 1:00 a.m. on February 1, 2007, Detectives Frederick Bender and Ryan Woodhead of the Trenton Police Department were in an unmarked police car on Greenwood Avenue when their attention was drawn to a silver Nissan Xterra, driven by the defendant. When defendant made a right turn onto Chestnut Avenue without signaling, the detectives turned on their lights and sirens to attempt to effectuate a traffic stop.
Defendant failed to stop. Instead, he continued driving and led the detectives on a chase through the Trenton city streets, out into Ewing Township, and back again into Trenton. The detectives issued a radio dispatch for additional units to help them pursue defendant. Consequently, two other Trenton police officers, Otis Wood and Porsche Ames*fn1 joined the chase in a marked police sedan. Two more officers on patrol, Brian Jones and Roberto Reyes, took the lead in the pursuit of defendant, after he had rapidly passed by their marked patrol car on Willow Street.
During the police chase, defendant drove his vehicle at varying speeds estimated to range between twenty to sixty miles per hour. At one point he drove at approximately fifty miles per hour through a residential neighborhood, exceeding the speed limit.
According to the testimony of Officer Wood, as defendant turned right onto Prospect Street, his Xterra "struck," or "sideswipe[d]," the front passenger side of another police vehicle. Officer Wood stated on cross-examination that he was "not aware of the extent of the damage" to the sideswiped vehicle. In his own testimony, Officer Jones stated that Xterra "almost struck" a police vehicle as it turned onto Prospect.*fn2
There was no evidence that any occupant of a police car was injured.
Defendant also drove through multiple stop signs without stopping. However, at other intermittent times during the pursuit, he obeyed traffic lights and signs, and used his turn signals.
The pursuit of defendant lasted for more than twenty minutes. It concluded when defendant drove into a baseball field. He ran out of his car and fled from the police officers on foot, until he was captured by Officer Reyes and handcuffed.
During the State's case in chief, it presented testimony from Officers Bender, Wood, Jones, and Reyes. Following that testimony and the admission of exhibits consisting of various street maps, the trial judge considered whether defendant would be entitled to a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 3:18-1. He argued that the State's proofs did not suffice to establish the elements of second-degree eluding under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b, particularly the element of "a risk of death or injury to any person," which elevates the eluding offense from third degree to second degree. Defendant asserted that there was no proof that any person was actually injured by his driving, and that the roads were practically empty at the time of the pursuit.
The trial judge, Charles A. Delehey, denied a judgment of acquittal. In his oral ruling, Judge Delehey noted that "if the testimony of any of these [police] officers is believed, there is more than sufficient evidence for this matter to go to the jury based on State v. Reyes, [50 N.J. 454 (1967)]," and that "[r]easonable ...