On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 08-03-0971.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 27, 2010
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and J. N. Harris.
Defendant Tracey Richardson appeals the denial of her motion to suppress physical evidence. After that motion was denied, Richardson entered guilty pleas to two counts of third- degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute while within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. The sentencing judge imposed an aggregate term of three years incarceration, with eighteen months of parole ineligibility. Defendant presents the following point for our consideration:
POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE VIALS AND BAGS OF CONTROLLED DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES SEIZED IN CONNECTION WITH HER ARREST.
We disagree, and accordingly affirm the conviction and sentence.
The State presented the testimony of one witness at the motion to suppress: Sergeant Johnnie Whitaker of the Newark Police Department. He testified that on December 13, 2007, he and Lieutenant Broner*fn1 -- while assigned to that city's Central Narcotics Division -- were engaged in an investigation of alleged illicit drug transactions in the vicinity of Stratford Place. The focus of their interest was a "huge apartment building" in a neighborhood noted for being "heavy on narcotic activity in that area." The particular locale where they were advised drug sales were being conducted was on a second floor landing inside the apartment building. The motion record is silent regarding the particular source of the police officers' information concerning the drug dealings.
After making their way to the landing, the plain-clothes police officers encountered an individual who, in response to Whitaker's street-talk inquiry about whether anyone was selling drugs, indicated in the affirmative. The individual left, but almost immediately another individual, co-defendant Lisa Verpent, walked from the rear of the second floor hallway and approached the undercover officers carrying a "clear plastic bag containing numerous vials of C.D.S. cocaine." After fielding an inquiry as to their needs, Whitaker and Broner told Verpent that they wanted a total of six bags of "diesel," which Whitaker testified "is a street term for C.D.S. heroin."
Verpent instructed her faux customers to wait, presumably while she left to retrieve the requested "diesel." Whitaker elected to disregard her command and "tried to secretly sneak behind her at which time [he] observed her speak to a third female who was later identified as [defendant] Tracey Richardson [w]ho was standing directly in front of apartment 2B" in the hallway. When Verpent detected Whitaker's presence and demanded an explanation, the police officer verbally identified himself as a police officer and displayed his official badge. Defendant, who was holding an opaque container described as a "Duncan Hines" frosting can, dropped the object to the floor, "with numerous vials of C.D.S. [cocaine] spilling out as well as . . . [glassine] envelopes of [C.D.S.] heroin."
The two women were placed under arrest. Whitaker seized the bag that Verpent was carrying, which contained "[fifty-two] glass vials of C.D.S. cocaine, with red tops," together with a small amount of cash from Verpent's person. Additionally, defendant's objects were collected, which included "[fifty-two glass vials with yellow tops . . . along with [thirty-six] envelopes of C.D.S. heroin." An additional small cache of cash was retrieved from ...