On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 06-12-1194.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 27, 2010
Before Judges Ashrafi and Nugent.
Defendant Alvin McConneyhead appeals from an order denying his motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.
In December 2006, a Union County grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging defendant with possession and distribution of cocaine, including within 1,000 feet of a school, and obstruction of justice. After his motion to suppress evidence was denied, defendant entered a conditional plea of guilty to third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). In accordance with his plea agreement with the State, defendant was sentenced to four years' imprisonment and money penalties as required by statute. The other counts of the indictment were dismissed.
On defendant's motion to suppress evidence, the trial court conducted a hearing in which two police witnesses and defendant testified. Patrolman Franklin Idrovo testified that he and Patrolman Raul Delaprida were on duty in the early morning hours of October 5, 2006. They were in plain clothes, driving an unmarked car, and assigned to patrol for street crimes in an area of Elizabeth known for drug transactions, prostitution, and robberies. At 1:25 a.m., they passed a rooming house on Morris Avenue where people often congregated outside. The officers saw that the front door of the rooming house was open. In the past, the door had been closed and locked.
The officers entered the hallway and saw two men a few feet from the door. As soon as they announced they were police officers, the two men fled up the stairway. The officers gave chase. One of the men, identified as defendant, threw an object to the floor as he was fleeing. After defendant was captured, Officer Delaprida retrieved the thrown object, a plastic bag inside which were nineteen smaller plastic bags containing suspected cocaine. Defendant was then arrested. Officer Idrovo arrested the other man and found a single small bag of cocaine on his person. That man later made a statement that he had purchased cocaine from defendant.
The defense presented the testimony of Lieutenant John Deresz, who had detailed knowledge of the record-keeping practices of the Elizabeth Police Department through a computer aided dispatch, or CAD, system. Relying on the data in the CAD record, defendant argued that the police had designated the location of the police entry and arrests as a "home" rather than an apartment building, and they had unlawfully entered the home without a warrant or other exigent circumstances and chased defendant up the stairs.
Finding the testimony of the arresting officer credible, the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence. The court concluded that the police entry into the hallway was reasonable because the door was left open in the middle of the night and that, upon the two men taking flight, the police had reasonable suspicion to chase and detain them to investigate their presence in the building at that hour.
In reviewing a motion to suppress evidence, an appellate court must defer to the trial court's fact findings and "feel" of the case and may not substitute its own conclusions regarding the evidence. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999) (quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161-62 (1964)); State v. Robinson, 200 N.J. 1, 15 (2009). In particular, the appellate court must defer to the credibility determinations of the trial court between competing factual testimony. Locurto, supra, 157 N.J. at 474; State v. Hodgson, 44 N.J. 151, 163 (1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 1021, 86 S. Ct. 1929, 16 L. Ed. 2d 1022 (1966).
On appeal, defendant has not challenged the trial court's factual findings or credibility determinations.*fn1 Instead, he challenges the court's legal conclusions, arguing that:
THE DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES AS GUARANTEED BY THE FOURTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED ...