On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 07-10-0708.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 15, 2010 -- Decided
Before Judges Rodriguez and Miniman.
Following the denial of defendant Damir Wilson's motion to suppress, he entered a plea of guilty to the disorderly persons offense of hindering prosecution. N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss the related charges of fourth-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; third-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute while within a school zone; fourth-degree hindering; and the disorderly persons offense of possession of drug paraphernalia. The State also agreed to recommend a probationary sentence with 364 days in the county jail as a special condition. Judge Edward M. Coleman imposed a three-year probationary term with 364 days in the Somerset County jail and other conditions.
Defendant appeals pursuant to R. 3:5-7(d). He raises the following argument:
BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES, THE INITIAL WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF THE VEHICLE WAS UNLAWFUL AND THE ILLEGALITY TAINTED THE CONSENT SEARCH OF THE TRUNK. U.S. CONST. AMEND. IV; N.J. CONST. (1947) ART. I, PAR. 7.
Franklin Township Police Corporal Michael Price, Detective Ordel Taylor, and Detective Sergeant Darren Russo, the head of the Franklin Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit (CSU), testified at a hearing before Judge Coleman on the motion to suppress. Russo testified that he and detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office Narcotics Task Force and other CSU officers conducted a walk-through of Somerset Estates at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, 2007. Somerset Estates consists of forty, two-story garden apartment buildings surrounding two large parking lots. According to Franklin Township police, narcotics transactions were common in these parking lots.
Russo saw a black Acura hatchback with both doors open parked very close to one of the apartment buildings. Ronnie Guerrero was talking on a cell phone while standing near the Acura's driver's side. Defendant sat in the front passenger seat. Guerrero walked to the passenger side, received a black bag from defendant and walked to the rear of the Acura. There, he put the bag into the Acura through the hatchback door. Because Guerrero was on his phone, Russo became concerned because he knew from experience that drug dealers will call their friends to assist in disrupting police activity.
Russo told Taylor and a detective to move towards the Acura. According to Taylor, he was only interested in the reason why defendant and Guerrero were there.
After the officers identified themselves, Taylor asked Guerrero if he lived at Somerset Estates. Still on his cell phone, Guerrero replied that he did not, but was there visiting a friend. Upon Taylor's request, Guerrero ended his phone call and produced a valid driver's license and registration. Taylor confirmed Guerrero's identity through a dispatcher.
Because Guerrero identified defendant as the friend he was there to visit, Taylor asked defendant whether he lived at Somerset Estates. Defendant gave short answers with "an attitude" and uncooperative tone. Defendant said that his name was "Troy," that he was twenty-five years old and that he lived in the complex. He also provided a birth date. Taylor radioed this information to a dispatcher to confirm. The dispatcher could not find anyone matching the details defendant provided. When confronted with ...