On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 07-09-3317.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued March 2, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges R. B. Coleman, Lihotz and J. N. Harris.
Defendant Ricky Williams appeals from his jury conviction for drug offenses and the sentence imposed by the court. On appeal, defendant presents these arguments for our consideration:
THE TESTIMONY OF LIEUTENANT MINOVICH DENIED DEFENDANT A FAIR TRIAL AND THE TRIAL COURT'S DENIAL OF DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A MISTRIAL REGARDING SAID TESTIMONY WAS ERROR.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING DEFENDANT'S JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND NEW TRIAL MOTIONS. POINT THREE
OFFICER MATTHEW IMPROPERLY BOLSTERED THE CREDIBILITY OF LIEUTENANT MINOVICH.
DETECTIVE HOLLOWAY'S EXPERT OPINION USURPED THE ROLE OF THE JURY.
THE TESTIMONY OF DETECTIVE HOLLOWAY IMPROPERLY BOLSTERED THE FACT WITNESSES. POINT SIX
OFFICER DUMANGYNE'S TESTIMONY DENIED DEFENDANT A FAIR TRIAL.
THE TRIAL ERRORS, IN THEIR AGGREGATE, DENIED DEFENDANT A FAIR TRIAL.
DEFENDANT RECEIVED AN EXCESSIVE SENTENCE. POINT NINE
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY REFUSING TO REVIEW THE INTERNAL AFFAIRS RECORDS OF LIEUTENANT MINOVICH AND SERGEANT COSTA.
We have considered each of these contentions in light of the record and the applicable legal standards. We affirm.
I. On June 14, 2007, defendant and co-defendant Ismael Binbow were arrested by Lieutenant Neal Minovich, the commander of the Newark Police Department Narcotic Enforcement Team (the team), and Sergeant Costa, another member of the team, who observed the two participate in what they believed was a narcotics transaction. At the time of their observation, Lieutenant Minovich and Sergeant Costa were on routine patrol, wearing plain clothes and driving an unmarked white Ford Explorer. They were followed by two plain clothes team members, officers Kevin Matthew and Jobani Dumangyne,*fn1 who were driving an unmarked blue Ford Crown Victoria. As the officers turned onto West Alpine Street where it intersects with Milford Avenue in Newark, driving the wrong way up a one-way street, they saw a man, later identified as defendant, standing at the driver's side door of a green Chevy Lumina. Co-defendant Binbow was observed sitting in the driver's seat of the Lumina. Binbow handed defendant a package, which the officers believed was a block of heroin. As defendant accepted the package, he turned and spotted the officers approaching. Defendant handed the package back through the driver's side window to Binbow and began walking away from the Lumina.
The officers stopped their vehicles; however, before they exited, Binbow put his car in gear and traveled the wrong way down Milford Avenue "at a high rate of speed in reverse[.]" Sergeant Costa ordered Officer Matthew to arrest defendant while the other officers chased after Binbow in their two vehicles. Officer Matthew remained at the scene with defendant until two marked units arrived to provide assistance.
After a chase, Binbow was captured and the police recovered the package he had thrown into a vacant lot. The police confirmed the package contained 751 glassine envelopes of heroin, including one "sampler pack," which was taped to the outside of the block. The individual envelopes were bundled in packs of ten, known as a "deck," which were then packed into bricks of five decks. Each deck was stamped in red ink with the words "Bad Apple." In total, the block contained fifteen bricks.*fn2 At the time of arrest, Binbow possessed $928: one $100 bill, three $50 bills, five $20 bills, thirty-one $10 bills, forty-three $5 bills, one $2 bill, and fifty-one $1 bills. Defendant possessed $618: one $20 bill, twenty-six $10 bills, sixty-seven $5 bills, and three $1 bills.
During the joint nine-day trial, the State presented testimony from Lieutenant Minovich, Officers Matthew and Dumangyne, and narcotics expert Detective Reginald Leon Holloway. In his case, defendant presented the testimony of his wife, Pamela Williams, his daughter, Relieka Williams, and his neighbors, Donald Franklin and Cliff Lewis, who each provided their eyewitness accounts of defendant's arrest and their interaction with the police officers at the scene. Binbow did not present any witnesses.
The jury found defendant guilty of third-degree possession of heroin, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (count one)*fn3 ; second-degree possession of more than one-half ounce and less than five ounces of heroin with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(2) (count two); third-degree possession of heroin with the intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 (count three); second-degree possession of heroin with the intent to distribute within 500 feet of a public park, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1 (count four).
Defendant filed a pro se motion for a new trial, arguing the State ignored his discovery requests. Prior to trial, defendant's counsel requested "[a]ny and all internal affairs complaints/investigations involving any of the law enforcement officers involved in this matter." Lieutenant Minovich and Sergeant Costa had been the subjects of an investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office as reported in a newspaper article detailing a civil suit brought by the family of a man who died during an unrelated drug arrest. On August 3, 2009, the trial court denied defendant's motion.
After merging counts one, three, and four into count two, the court sentenced defendant to sixteen years imprisonment on count two, with an eight-year parole ineligibility period. The required fines and penalties were also imposed. This appeal ensued.
II. We will review each of the issues raised by defendant. When appropriate, we have combined certain ...