On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment Nos. 07-08-1256 and 07-08-1258.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Messano and LeWinn.
Defendant was indicted for third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) and 2C:58-4; receiving stolen property, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7; and, in a separate indictment, with second- degree possession of a weapon by a person not permitted to possess one, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b). Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence which was heard by the trial judge on December 12, 2007; on January 2, 2008, the judge issued a decision from the bench denying the motion.
Defendant then pled guilty to the charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b); all other charges were dismissed pursuant to the plea negotiations. On May 2, 2008, defendant was sentenced to a term of five years subject to a five-year parole ineligibility period as mandated by the statute.
Defendant now appeals from the denial of his motion to suppress; he also contends that his sentence is manifestly excessive. We affirm.
Detective Rodney Blount, a sixteen-year veteran of the New Brunswick Police Department, testified that on June 21, 2007, he, along with Police Officer Yurkovic and Sheriff's Officer Powers, was at a multi-building complex at 17 Hampton Road, an area which he described as "[w]ell-known by the Police Department as a very busy area for high crimes and drug raids." The officers were there "on an ongoing investigation" regarding the April 7 homicide of Jahwan Barnes. This was their "second or third time" going to that location "to look for suspects."
As of June 21, Blount testified, defendant was a suspect in the Barnes homicide. The detective had encountered defendant approximately one month earlier when defendant was "lodged in the New Brunswick Police Department" having been arrested on "a probationary warrant . . . ." Blount spoke to him at that time and defendant admitted that he was a member of the Neighborhood Bloods gang and that he had prior weapons offenses. Blount observed a tattoo, "N.B.," in "script writing" under defendant's eye which indicated membership in the Neighborhood Bloods. Blount was familiar with that gang from "approximately six years of investigation and intelligence gathering of gangs[.]" He described its "primary thrust . . . [as] gang-related activity, as well as homicides, drug transactions, . . . violent crimes, street robberies, as well as robberies of stores, bodegas, just violent crime natures [sic]."
The homicide that the officers were investigating had occurred "in front of 17 Hampton Road, Building E, the front door." The officers drove to that location in an unmarked vehicle. Blount was not in uniform but wore his police detective shield on a chain hanging from his shirt.
As the officers' vehicle approached Building E, Blount "observed [defendant] standing on the sidewalk approximately two to three feet from the parking lot." Defendant "made eye contact with" Blount, who was driving. Blount stated that, "at this point, [defendant] placed his right hand in his pocket, and he turned and he walked away. Walked towards the building."
When Blount observed defendant put his hand in his pocket, the officer opened the car door, stepped out of the vehicle, called defendant by his known nickname of "Bully[,]" and told him to stop. Defendant "continued to walk[,]" and Blount said, "Rahameen stop." Defendant walked "straight to the front door of 17 Hampton Road, Building E[,]" with his hand "[s]till in his front pocket." Blount described defendant's pace as a "swift walk."
Blount testified that he was concerned about defendant's hand being in his pocket because he "didn't know what he had in his pocket. If he had [drugs] in his pocket. If he had a knife or any type of weapon in his pocket at this point." Blount stated that the "mere fact" that defendant did not stop when asked and "never" took his hand out of the pocket, made him feel "that [he] needed to stop [defendant] at that point."
Blount stopped defendant "[a]t the front door of Building E. [Defendant] grabbed the . . . handle of the door in an attempt to pull it open . . . to go in the door." Defendant pulled the door "open slightly." Blount stated: "[A]t this ...