On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 08-10-1661.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 4, 2011 - Decided Before Judges Carchman and Graves.
Following a jury trial, defendant Jevon Green was convicted of two counts of third-degree aggravated assault on a police officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(5)(a); and third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a)(3)(a). The trial judge sentenced defendant to time already served, which was 213 days, and one year probation to run concurrently on each count. Defendant was also required to attend psychological counseling and drug and alcohol testing.
Defendant appeals and raises one issue*fn1 - that his motion for judgment of acquittal after submission of the State's case should have been granted. We conclude that the trial judge, relying on well-established principles enunciated in State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454, 459 (1967), that the State is entitled to the benefit of all favorable testimony as well all favorable inferences that can be drawn from such testimony, and a reasonable jury could find defendant guilty of the charged offenses, did not err in denying the motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we affirm.
These are the relevant facts adduced during the State's case. On July 21, 2008, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Maywood police officer Kevin Madden, while on patrol in his marked police cruiser, approached a stop sign on the northbound side of Poplar Avenue near West Passaic Street when he observed a Ford Explorer, driven by a man later identified as defendant. According to Madden, what drew his attention was an "obstruction of view" in defendant's car. According to the officer, this violation included anything "hanging . . . from the rearview mirror of [a] vehicle" that might cause the driver to "not be able to actually see" "a pedestrian who may be crossing." The hanging objects were later described as "three Christmas tree style air fresheners."
Before he made a right-hand turn at the stop sign, Madden, believing that he had observed a motor-vehicle violation, followed standard protocol and entered the vehicle's registration into the on-board computer system. Calling this procedure a "short," Madden described that this method only displays basic information about the vehicle if it recovers "a hit" on whether the vehicle is involved in suspicious or criminal activity. The system immediately displayed a "hit" indicating that defendant's vehicle was listed in connection with a "wanted person," who was "wanted for contempt of court out of the Bergen County sheriff's department," which had active warrants out on this individual. Madden subsequently completed the right turn and was now "behind the gold Explorer" on Passaic Street at a red light.
After he received the "hit" on defendant's vehicle but still standing at the light, Madden determined that the warrants were outstanding for a man named Jason Green, who was not the registered owner of the vehicle. At that moment, Officer Matthew Parodi had pulled up alongside Madden as Parodi was on his way to attend to a disabled vehicle. He had also run defendant's license plate number. Madden quickly informed Parodi that "this wasn't the party" they were investigating and, consequently, Parodi drove off to his assignment. Within seconds, however, Madden realized he had not scrolled to the bottom of the screen on his vehicle's computer. Upon doing so, he learned that although the "wanted person . . . was Jason Green," he also used the "alias [of] Jevon D. Green" and apparently used the same date of birth and social security number. Jason Green was later identified as defendant's brother.
Madden pursued defendant's vehicle while it traveled down Passaic Street. As the cars approached the border between Hackensack and Maywood, Madden turned on his emergency lights and siren to alert defendant that he wanted to stop the vehicle. At first, defendant ignored Madden's request and continued about 600 feet and past several parking lots before making an abrupt stop on the side of the street. After calling in the stop to police headquarters, Madden exited his police vehicle and walked over to the vehicle.
As Madden approached defendant's vehicle, defendant rolled down his window and "began screaming" that Madden "was violating his constitutional rights . . . at the top of his lungs." Madden indicated that he was concerned that defendant was "acting irate prior to even knowing why [Madden] stopped his vehicle." Trying to ignore defendant's erratic behavior, Madden twice asked defendant for his license, registration and insurance and waited as defendant searched for the documents. Concerned about his own safety and defendant's "uncooperative" attitude, Madden went to his car and called for backup; Officer Parodi returned to the scene within minutes of the call.
Madden then returned to defendant's car, approaching the driver's side while Parodi made his way to the vehicle's passenger side. This time, Madden noticed that defendant had started to "profusely sweat" and exhibited "extreme sign[s] of nervousness." With these observations, Madden asked defendant to exit the vehicle. The officer did not elaborate on the nature of his investigation because defendant was "still behind the driver's wheel" and could "take of[f] in a high-speed pursuit . . . causing an accident." Defendant refused to leave his car, professing to Madden that he was "taking law classes and . . . kn[ew] he d[id]n't have to." Madden repeated his request numerous times and even explained that defendant was mistaken because police could make this demand and had the right to arrest him for obstructing the administration of law if he refused.
Defendant again refused to exit from his car and instead demanded that Madden bring additional officers on the scene because he believed Madden to be "corrupt." Responding to defendant's request, Madden told defendant to "look out his passenger window" where Parodi stood. Despite the presence of another officer, defendant continued to shout and yell "to the point that several residents who lived in [nearby] apartments actually came outside" to witness the commotion. Defendant's resistance and protests left Madden with no other choice but to state that he was arresting him. Madden then reached for the door handle but experienced a tug-of-war with defendant who "grabbed the interior handle of the vehicle, . . . pulling on the car door and leaning over the center console." After a few moments of resistance, Madden eventually pried the door opened, at which point defendant relented and obeyed Madden's order to exit the vehicle, even though he appeared "extremely tense" with "his fists clenched."
Madden and Parodi then escorted defendant to the sidewalk so they could question him about the investigation. But defendant continued to be difficult and began making accusations, which compelled the officers to conduct a frisk for weapons to rule out any safety concerns before proceeding further. Madden also sought to discern whether defendant, who was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, had a panther tattoo on his right forearm, which was part of the description provided in the warrant on Jason Green. Before Madden began the frisk, he explained to defendant that he "was possibly . . . [a] wanted person" and that Madden wanted to pat his waist area. Defendant immediately backed away from Madden, indicating that he had no desire to make contact with the officer. Madden then attempted to check defendant's waist area again, at which point defendant "took his hand and slammed . . . it against [Madden's] arm, moving [Madden's] arm out of the way, [and] then took both his hands and shoved [Madden] backwards."
As soon as defendant pushed him, Madden determined that he would charge defendant with "aggravated assault on a police officer[.]" Madden then reached for defendant's arm and chest whereupon defendant "began physically grabbing [Madden] and [tried] to throw [him] out of the way." As defendant accosted Madden, he began screaming "'police brutality'" even though both Parodi, who was standing nearby, and Madden told defendant to stop ...