On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment Nos. 08-03-0331 and 05-09-1202.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 12, 2010
Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez.
After the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence, defendant Luray W. Maples pled guilty to conspiring to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1). On February 27, 2009, the court sentenced him to eight years in prison. Defendant now appeals from the denial of his suppression motion. We affirm.
Based on a tip from a confidential informant, investigators from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office began an extended surveillance of drug dealing activities conducted by defendant and his girlfriend, Angeliki Skaris. After the informant purchased drugs from defendant and Skaris several times, under law enforcement surveillance, the investigators applied for and obtained no-knock warrants for both defendant's house and Skaris' townhouse. Because defendant's appeal is limited to the no-knock component of the warrants, we focus on the facts relevant to that claim.
In his affidavit in support of the warrant application, Investigator Anthony Sgro, Jr. set forth his general experience concerning the ease with which drug dealers can destroy evidence. He also relied on defendant's criminal record, including defendant's prior convictions for CDS offenses and resisting arrest, as well as offenses for which defendant had been arrested but not convicted. The affidavit clearly disclosed to the court which arrests had resulted in convictions and which had not.
Sgro also attested that defendant appeared to have free access to Skaris' home. According to Sgro, he observed defendant drive up to Skaris' residence "at which time [defendant] opened the garage door utilizing a remote and entered closing the garage door behind him." He also explained that the investigators did not know the layout of either suspect's home:
This affiant further requests the court to issue a "No-Knock" search warrant for the aforementioned residence because the layout and floor plan of the residence is unknown to Law Enforcement Officers [and] would allow the occupant additional time to destroy CDS. In addition, Luray Maples' prior arrests and convictions  indicate to this affiant based on my training and experience that he may be more willing to destroy evidence and use force and resist law enforcement. More specifically, Luray Maples' resisting arrest conviction, in addition to the CDS convictions[,] indicate[s] a willingness to use force to thwart apprehension by police. . . . More specifically, Luray Maples' two prior CDS felony convictions make him extended term eligible and would vastly increase his sentencing exposure. Therefore, based on this affiant's training and experience and the criminal record of Luray Maples lead this affiant to believe that there would be a risk of harm to those officers executing the warrant without the element of surprise afforded by a "No Knock" warrant.
Based on this information, Judge Villano issued the no-knock warrants.
Defendant's suppression motion was heard by Judge Den Uyl, who concluded that, under all the circumstances, the inclusion of a no-knock provision in the warrants was appropriate to prevent defendant from destroying evidence and to ensure the safety of the investigators. Judge Den Uyl stated in his oral opinion:
Giving the granting judge deference and analyzing the facts above, this information establishes reasonable suspicion or a minimal level of objective justification for police action because of Maples' past criminal history, the floor plan unknown to the officers, putting them at a disadvantage in a physical altercation and also that Maples may have been present in the residence when they searched that residence.
So, the affiant, in conclusion, established reasonable articulable suspicion that a no-knock entry was required to prevent the destruction of evidence and protect officer safety. The suspicion was articulated in the affidavit for the search warrant dated September 18, 2008, and the officer's assessment of the circumstances was admittedly based upon his own experience and ...