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State of New Jersey v. Jose A. Kovacs

February 16, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSE A. KOVACS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 08-08-0624.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 3, 2011 - Decided Before Judges R. B. Coleman and J. N. Harris.

Defendant Jose Kovacs appeals from his conviction and sentence for a single count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1). We affirm.

During the course of a plain clothes surveillance assignment relating to a juvenile who was wanted on an arrest warrant, Franklin Township Detective Sergeant Darrin Russo was stationed to watch as Kovacs and the juvenile approached a parked Acura motor vehicle. Detective Sergeant Russo continued to observe Kovacs as he scanned the neighborhood, opened the trunk, and placed a white and green cigarette box in that compartment. When defendant and the juvenile drove away, their vehicle was pulled over and the juvenile was placed under arrest based upon the arrest warrant. After Kovacs refused to permit the police to search the trunk of his vehicle, it was impounded and towed to a garage under the control of the police. Defendant was not placed under arrest at that time and he was allowed to leave the scene.

At the garage, a trained narcotics canine was brought to the Acura. Based upon the dog's reactions, which indicated contraband was located inside, an application for a search warrant was prepared, seeking permission for the police to enter the vehicle and conduct a search. After the warrant was obtained and the car searched, approximately two grams of cocaine was discovered inside the cigarette box that Detective Sergeant Russo had observed Kovacs place inside the trunk.

Kovacs was arrested several days later, and ultimately indicted by a Somerset County grand jury for possession of the cocaine.

The matter was tried before Judge Robert B. Reed and a jury. After the jury convicted Kovacs, and upon the State's motion, Judge Reed imposed an extended term sentence of five years imprisonment with two years and six months of parole ineligibility. This appeal followed.

Kovacs presents the following two arguments for our consideration:

POINT I: THE TRIAL JUDGE ERRED IN PERMITTING A POLICE OFFICER TO OFFER EXPERT TESTIMONY WITHOUT FIRST BEING PROPERLY QUALIFIED AS AN EXPERT IN DRUG DISTRIBUTION. POINT II: THE DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE IS EXCESSIVE.

We are satisfied that Kovacs's arguments are sufficiently without merit that they do not warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add the following brief comments.

Detective Sergeant Russo, a twenty-four-year veteran of the Franklin Township Police Department, testified about his suspicions concerning the cigarette box as follows:

Q. Based on your training and experience, observing the conduct by Mr. Kovacs, did that cause ...


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