On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 00-02-00174.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 15, 2011
Before Judges Parrillo, Yannotti and Espinosa.
Tried by a jury, defendant Bulent Ceylan was convicted on November 3, 2000 of second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b. Following his conviction, defendant fled the jurisdiction and therefore was not sentenced until August 24, 2006, having been extradited from Sweden in connection with an unrelated aggravated manslaughter charge, at which time he received a nine-year term of imprisonment. Defendant appeals and we affirm.
According to the State's proofs, around 1:00 a.m. on August 28, 1999, defendant fled the scene of an automobile accident that he was involved in while driving his Jeep Cherokee in Woodbridge. After several lane changes, defendant had struck the driver's side of a vehicle driven by John Muller, causing Muller's vehicle to careen to the right and defendant's vehicle to move far left where his Jeep struck the concrete center median. The accident caused extensive front-end damage to defendant's Jeep, including to one of his headlights. After defendant regained control of his Jeep, he immediately drove away. Meanwhile, Muller pulled his vehicle off of the road and called Woodbridge Police, informing them that he was hit by a white Jeep Cherokee that left the scene without stopping. Woodbridge Police Officer Richard Culton arrived at the scene, interviewed both Muller and another witness, and provided Woodbridge police dispatch with a description of the vehicle that left the scene.
After leaving the scene of the accident, defendant drove to a restaurant in Woodbridge to drop off a go-go dancer, whom he had met for dinner the evening before and who was with him during the accident. After returning her to her car, defendant headed northbound on the Garden State Parkway towards his home in Norwood, where he lived with his wife. Along the way, defendant was pulled over by the State Police, who allowed defendant to continue on his way after defendant explained that another vehicle had hit his car. Defendant then exited the Parkway at Exit 165, en route home.
Only a few miles from defendant's Norwood home, Haworth Police Officer Kevin Kiel observed defendant traveling towards him on Sunset Avenue with a broken headlight and extensive front-end damage. When Kiel attempted to stop defendant's vehicle, defendant accelerated to nearly sixty-five miles per hour, crossing onto the wrong side of Sunset Avenue and passing a vehicle in a no-passing zone with a speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour. Officer Kiel, who had activated all of his patrol car's sirens and emergency lights, including the roof lights, blinking lights, strobe lights and flashing lights, and had accelerated to seventy miles per hour, pursued defendant for about a mile, observing smoke, fluids and particles coming from the Jeep, until defendant made a sudden stop.
Kiel drew his firearm, approached the Jeep and ordered the driver to turn off the engine and throw the keys out of the window. Defendant complied and exited the vehicle, at which time he was frisked, handcuffed, advised of his Miranda*fn1 rights and placed in the rear of Kiel's patrol car. Kiel observed significant damage to the Jeep Cherokee's front-end, including the passenger-side headlight, side-view mirror, and fender, which were all missing. When Kiel questioned defendant why he did not stop, defendant claimed that he had not noticed Kiel pursuing him because he was arguing with his wife on his cell phone. Kiel neither checked defendant or the Jeep for a cell phone nor attempted to obtain defendant's phone records. Defendant also explained that his Jeep was struck by another vehicle while parked in a lot a couple of days ago.
At police headquarters, when asked how the damage occurred to his Jeep, defendant gave a different account, stating that he had fallen asleep on the Parkway and hit a barrier. Suspicious of defendant's explanation, Kiel transmitted local alarms to county and State police. Upon learning that defendant worked in Woodbridge, Kiel also contacted Woodbridge Police and eventually spoke with Officer Culton, who confirmed that a hit and run involving a white Jeep Cherokee occurred earlier that evening in Woodbridge. The damage to defendant's Jeep matched Culton's description of the Woodbridge accident. When Kiel confronted defendant with this information, defendant began to cry, explaining that he had fled the scene of the accident because a female was with him in the vehicle and he did not want her name mentioned in the police report for fear that his wife would learn of her presence.
At trial, defendant denied traveling over sixty miles per hour on Sunset Avenue and insisted that he had passed the slow moving pick-up truck legally. He claimed that he neither heard nor saw Kiel pursuing him because he was talking on his cell phone to his wife, from whom he was separated at the time. Defendant also denied that Kiel activated his patrol car's lights and sirens until just before defendant stopped his Jeep. He reiterated that he had earlier fled the scene of the Woodbridge accident because of the presence of the female in his car. He admitted, however, lying to Kiel when he claimed his Jeep was struck while parked in a lot and later that he had fallen asleep on the Parkway and hit a barrier.
Crediting the State's version, the jury convicted defendant of second-degree eluding. This appeal follows in which defendant raises the following issues:
I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING A PLETHORA OF IRRELEVANT AND HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL EVIDENCE OF OTHER BAD ACTS COMMITTED BY THE DEFENDANT, THE PREJUDICIAL VALUE OF WHICH OUTWEIGHED ITS PROBATIVE VALUE, AND DEPRIVED THE DEFENDANT OF HIS FEDERAL AND STATE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND A FAIR TRIAL. (U.S. CONST. AMENDS. V, VI AND XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, ¶¶ 1, 9 AND 10.
A. The Trial Court Erred In Admitting Irrelevant Evidence In Violation Of N.J.R.E. 403.
B. The Trial Court Erred In Admitting Highly Prejudicial Other-Crimes Evidence In Violation Of N.J.R.E. 404(b).
C. Even If Evidence Of The Woodbridge Accident Were Not Admissible In Its Entirety, It Should Have Been Sanitized.
II. BECAUSE THE PROSECUTOR COMMITTED MISCONDUCT IN SHIFTING THE BURDEN OF PROOF AND LYING TO THE JURY, THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A MISTRIAL WAS IMPROPERLY DENIED. MOREOVER, THE COURT'S CURATIVE INSTRUCTION WAS TOO DEFICIENT TO NEGATE THE DAMAGE OF THE PROSECUTOR'S IMPLICATION AND FALSE STATEMENT. THEREFORE, THESE ERRORS, INDIVIDUALLY AND CUMULATIVELY, POTENTIALLY LED THE JURY TO DRAW IMPROPER INFERENCES AGAINST THE DEFENDANT, AND VIOLATED DEFENDANT'S RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. V, VI AND XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, ¶¶ 1, 9 AND 10.
A. The Prosecutor Improperly Shifted The Burden Of Proof.
B. The Prosecutor Blatantly Misrepresented a Fact That Went to the Heart of the Case.
C. Defendant's Motion For A Mistrial Should Have Been Granted, And The Court's Curative Instruction Was Woefully Inadequate.
III. THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE TRIAL COURT'S ERRORS DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL AND WARRANTS REVERSAL OF HIS CONVICTION. U.S. CONST. AMEND. VI, ...