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State of New Jersey v. William Johnson

July 21, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 06-08-2617.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 8, 2011

Before Judges Cuff and Sapp-Peterson.

In this appeal, defendant, William Johnson, seeks reversal of the trial court order denying his motion to suppress a handgun seized from his girlfriend's bedroom closet. After the court denied his motion, defendant pled guilty to two counts of second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1), for which he received a seven-year custodial term with an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. We affirm.

Defendant's arrest, indictment, and ultimate guilty pleas stemmed from events that occurred during the early morning hours of March 12, 2006, in Camden, in the area of Sewell and Berwick Streets, where police witnessed a black male, wearing a black hoodie, and brown boots shoot two men in a vehicle. A broadcast reported that the suspect was in the area of Sewell and Berwick Streets, heading toward Watson Street.

Officer Michael Hendricks, who was on patrol at the time, headed toward Watson Street in search of the suspect. He saw an individual, later identified as defendant, who was wearing black clothing and "breathing heavily[.]" He asked defendant from where he was coming. Defendant responded by giving Officer Hendricks the address of a house he had just exited and said he had just finished engaging in sexual activity. Defendant stated further that his cousin was waiting for him in a Jeep parked nearby. Officer Hendricks allowed defendant to enter the Jeep, and the vehicle then sped off, disregarding traffic signs.

This action led Hendricks to suspect that "maybe they were trying to get away from something."

Officer Hendricks decided to pursue the vehicle and stopped it on Baird Boulevard. After directing defendant to exit the vehicle and engaging in a brief exchange with the driver, Hendricks told the driver he could leave. Officer Hendricks placed defendant in the rear of his patrol vehicle. He could not recall whether he handcuffed defendant at that point. He drove back to the area where he first encountered defendant and went up to the house defendant indicated he had just left. He yelled out "Camden Police[,]" and a woman appeared at the top of the stairs. He inquired whether a "gentleman [had] just come out of [the woman's] home" and he believed that he also provided the name Willie or William to her. The woman indicated that she did not know anyone by that name. He returned to his patrol car and believed it was at that time that he handcuffed defendant.

Officer Hendricks then returned to the area where officers reported that they had witnessed the shooting and waited for other officers to arrive. While waiting and without having asked defendant any questions, defendant told the officer that his friends had been shot. Officer Hendricks asked defendant how he would know about a shooting when he had been in the house having sex. Defendant did not respond to the question. When Officer Kemp, who did not testify during the suppression hearing, arrived at Officer Hendricks's location, Officer Hendricks believed that Officer Kemp identified defendant as one of the suspects, but could not definitively recall whether Officer Kemp had identified defendant.

Detective William Armstrong also arrived at the scene around the same time. Officer Hendricks, as well as another officer, Detective Sergeant Edwin Ramos, recalled hearing Detective Armstrong administer Miranda*fn1 warnings to defendant. Officer Hendricks could not recall word-for-word what Detective Armstrong said, and Detective Sergeant Ramos testified that he walked away so as not to interfere with Detective Armstrong administering the warnings.

According to Detective Armstrong, he and Detective Sergeant Ramos questioned defendant while defendant was in the rear of Officer Hendricks's vehicle, and in response to their question as to where he had been, defendant told them that he had been at his girlfriend's house and left there around 11:00 p.m. At that point, Detective Sergeant Ramos instructed Detective Maurise Gibson to go to the girlfriend's house to check out defendant's alibi. Detective Gibson spoke to defendant's girlfriend, Georgette Johnson, who reported that a friend of hers "she only knows . . . as 'B-Man'[,]" left her home between 11:00 p.m. and midnight. Detective Gibson conveyed this information to Detective Sergeant Ramos, who remained suspicious and decided that defendant should be transported to the police station.

Detective Armstrong testified that before defendant was transported to the Police Administration Building and placed in a cell, he advised defendant of his Miranda warnings. However, because they were "out on the street[,]" he did not have defendant sign an acknowledgement. Once at the Police Administration Building, Detective Armstrong again administered Miranda warnings to defendant.

Meanwhile, Ms. Johnson signed a Consent to Search Form around 3:13 a.m. that morning, and Detective Gibson found a plastic bag in a closet that contained a black hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. Ms. Johnson told the detective that she did not believe the clothing belonged to defendant but instead belonged to a relative, who often dropped off laundry. Detective Gibson next proceeded to the police station where he spoke with defendant. He did not administer Miranda warnings because he believed that Detective Armstrong had already ...

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