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State of New Jersey v. Suzette Coleman

June 24, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
SUZETTE COLEMAN, A/K/A SUZETTE SHABAZZ, A/K/A SUZETTE ALLEN, A/K/A SUZETTE ALLEN SHABAZZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 07-07-00622.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 15, 2011

Before Judges Reisner and LeWinn.

Defendant Suzette Coleman appeals from her conviction for third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1), for which she was sentenced to two years of probation, forfeiture of her public office, a six-month suspension of her driving privileges, and required fees and fines. We affirm.

I

These are the most pertinent facts. While conducting an undercover surveillance for drug activity, Elizabeth Police Officer Helder Deabeau observed what he believed to be a drug transaction between two men and two women pedestrians who approached them. Deabeau saw one of the women give a small object to one of the men, who directed the women to walk across the intersection at the corner of Anna and Jefferson Streets. One of the men then reached inside his waistband and removed two small objects, and the other man gestured to the women to return. When the women rejoined them, one of the men gave them each a small object. Deabeau alerted his backup team to arrest the women, and gave a description of the clothing they were wearing. The backup officers arrested the women and quickly searched them for weapons and contraband, but they did not find anything. Nonetheless, they initially charged them with loitering in search of narcotics. The officers then transported the women, later identified as defendant and Cynthia Ann Thomas, to police headquarters.*fn1

At headquarters, the women were placed in a holding cell with a one-way mirror that allowed the police to observe them. According to Officer Bryan Clancy, while the women were in the cell, he saw that they were "fidgeting" with their clothing and he believed they might be trying to further conceal contraband. Therefore, he and Officer Kevin Marr searched the women again. Officer Clancy discovered a small bag of rock cocaine clenched in defendant's hand. Officer Marr found a similar bag and a crack pipe in Thomas's hand.

The defense theory was that the drugs the police claimed to have found in defendant's and Thomas's hands actually came from the floor of the cell. They presented testimony from Cristhian Alarcon, who was arrested shortly after defendant and Thomas were detained. Alarcon admitted that he was a drug dealer, and that he was selling cocaine on the corner of Anna and Jefferson Streets. However, he insisted that he never sold any drugs to defendant or Thomas. Alarcon testified that he was acquainted with the women, and would never have sold them drugs because they were in their fifties, and he only sold to younger buyers.

He insisted that it would be improper to sell drugs to "older" women. Alarcon testified that after he was brought to headquarters, he was placed in the same holding cell with defendant and Thomas. He recounted that the police missed a cache of drugs while searching him and, while in the cell, he threw the drugs on the floor to avoid being caught with them.

In their testimony, both women denied buying or possessing any drugs. They testified that they had gone for a short walk to buy loose cigarettes from a local bodega. On the way back to Thomas's house, they stopped to ask Alarcon to light their cigarettes, and he obliged. A block or so later, they were stopped by the police and arrested, although they had no drugs in their possession. They testified that Alarcon was in the cell with them when the police claimed to have found the cocaine in their hands. Officer Clancy testified that defendant and Thomas "were the only two in the holding cell at the time."

II

On this appeal, defendant raises the following points for our consideration:

POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO STRIKE HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL TESTIMONY OF A STATE'S WITNESS THAT MS. COLEMAN WAS GUILTY OF "DRUG LOITERING" AND FAILING TO PROVIDE A ...


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