On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Indictment No. 07-05-0184.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Hayden.
Following a negotiated guilty plea, defendant Dwight Ricardo Titus appeals from his conviction of first degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, marijuana, in excess of twenty-five pounds, with intent to distribute, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(10)(a); third degree exhibiting a false government document, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:21-2.1c; and third degree hindering apprehension, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4).
Prior to entering the plea, defendant had filed a motion to suppress the evidence that served as the basis for the charges, which the trial judge denied. The negotiated plea agreement provided that defendant would serve fourteen years in prison on the possession with intent charge and two concurrent five-year prison terms on the other two charges. Defendant reserved the right to argue for a lighter sentence. On August 15, 2008, the judge imposed the fourteen-year sentence with two concurrent five-year sentences, plus fines and costs. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant argues that the trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence and that the sentence imposed on him was excessive. We reject both arguments and affirm.
The search leading to the evidence upon which the convictions were based occurred as follows. On December 22, 2006, at about 9:00 a.m., Trooper Michael Cregan of the New Jersey State Police was conducting a routine patrol on Interstate 78. He observed a tan car with Pennsylvania license plates traveling approximately seventy miles per hour in a construction zone with a speed limit of fifty miles per hour. After pacing the car for about a mile, Cregan pulled the vehicle over. The driver, later identified as defendant, provided a Pennsylvania car rental agreement, a South Carolina identification card and a South Carolina driver's license for "Tyrelle Tellis." The rental agreement, however, listed the rental vehicle as a tan 2007 Ford Crown Victoria, which was not the model car defendant was driving. In addition, the vehicle was overdue for return to the rental agency by two days. Cregan noted that defendant's hands were shaking when he provided the paperwork.
The trooper explained to defendant the reason for the stop and questioned him about his itinerary. The trooper noted that, while talking about his itinerary, defendant looked down and avoided eye contact. Defendant also stuttered before responding, and repeated part of the questions. The trooper considered this nervousness out of the "norm" for a motor vehicle stop. He also noticed that the interior of the rental car was clean and relatively free of any personal effects. When Cregan asked defendant if he had any luggage in the trunk, he replied, "Not that I know of."
After returning to his patrol vehicle, the trooper ran a credential check and received a report that the driver's license might be fraudulent. Cregan then contacted his dispatcher to confirm the status of the license. While awaiting verification, Cregan, who was sitting in his patrol vehicle, noticed defendant staring "intently" at him from his car. As Cregan moved about inside the cabin, defendant changed his vantage point by using his rearview and side-view mirrors to keep his eye on the trooper.
The trooper soon received confirmation from the dispatcher that the driver's license was not only fraudulent but also suspended. Cregan then exited his vehicle and approached the rental car where he requested defendant's keys. Cregan did not know "where the stop was going" and did not want defendant to drive off. Defendant responded by handing the trooper the keys.
During the investigation Cregan also asked defendant questions about the rental agreement and his rental history. According to defendant, he rented a car about three times a year when he came up north. He stated that he had taken a bus from South Carolina to Reading, Pennsylvania, then rented a car to drive to New York to see his family. He was on his way to return the car to Reading and then take a bus back to South Carolina. Defendant claimed that he was born in Brooklyn and had previously resided there. During this questioning, defendant remained nervous, stuttered as he spoke, and looked down and away from the trooper.
Cregan returned to his patrol vehicle and called the rental agency in Pennsylvania. The rental agency owner informed the trooper that defendant had rented a car from his agency about eighteen times in the past year. Following that conversation, the trooper arrested defendant for providing a fraudulent license. Cregan then read defendant his Miranda warnings. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 ...