On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment Nos. 06-07-0707 and 06-07-0710.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and J.N. Harris.
Yvonne Smith Segars, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Frank J. Pugliese, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief). Theodore J. Romankow, Union County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Meredith L. Balo, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
In a four-count indictment (No. 06-07-0707), defendant Antuan J. Daniels was charged with third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (cocaine), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (count one); second-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and (b)(2) (count two); third-degree possession of a handgun without a permit, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count three); and second-degree possession of a firearm in the course of committing a controlled dangerous substance offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1(a) (count four).*fn1 A separate indictment (No. 06-07-0710) charged defendant with second-degree possession of weapons (two handguns) by a prohibited person, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress, defendant entered a guilty plea to second-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. In return for the guilty plea, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining three counts and the separate indictment. Consistent with the State's recommendation, the court imposed a custodial term of five years, with two-and-one-half years of parole ineligibility, concurrent with a sentence defendant was then serving. Defendant appeals from the order denying his motion to suppress the cocaine seized from the trunk of his vehicle. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.
At approximately 2:00 a.m. on April 30, 2006, Officer Robert Henderson (Henderson) of the Plainfield Police Department responded to a report of a shooting at a club in a high-crime area on Saint Mary's Avenue in Plainfield, New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, he received a radio transmission "that a silver or gray Dodge Charger was leaving the area at a high rate of speed." While on his way to the crime scene, Henderson observed a vehicle matching this description being driven by defendant. Marcellous Goines (Goines) was a passenger in the vehicle.
Henderson "turned on [his] overheads," and defendant's vehicle stopped in a "really well lit" municipal parking lot. Two more policemen, Officers Collina and Lordi, "pulled in right behind [Henderson]." A fourth, Officer Edwin Maldonado (Maldonado), arrived "a couple seconds" to "a minute" later. When questioned by Henderson, defendant stated that he and Goines were coming from Saint Mary's Avenue and indicated that they "heard the shots and got out of there."
Defendant and Goines were then asked to step out of the vehicle and were "patted . . . down for weapons." At that point, Maldonado "illuminated the inside [of the car] and saw two guns on the rear passenger floor." Both men were placed under arrest and handcuffed. Henderson notified central communications and called for a tow truck. The police then searched the rest of the vehicle and discovered "a quantity of drugs" in the trunk. At the time of the search, one suspect had been taken to police headquarters, and the other was secured in Henderson's squad car.
Henderson and Maldonado were the only witnesses to testify at the suppression hearing held on April 13, 2007. Henderson explained that the radio advisory was the "sole reason" he stopped the vehicle and that neither defendant nor Goines did anything to "arouse additional suspicions." With regard to the search of the trunk, Henderson explained:
Q. And is it your typical routine to, after you placed defendants under arrest, to check the trunk of the vehicle?