On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 09-04-0464.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Following an unsuccessful motion to suppress, defendant Angel Arroyo entered a plea of guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); and second-degree certain persons not to possess a firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b).
At sentencing, fifteen additional charges were dismissed, and defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of eight years imprisonment with a five-year period of parole ineligibility together with mandated fines and penalties.
Defendant appeals and challenges the denial of his motion to suppress as well as his sentence.*fn1 We affirm.
These are the facts adduced at the motion to suppress. On September 21, 2008, a confidential informant (CI) notified the Wharton Police Department that defendant was using his residence at 188 Princeton Avenue in Wharton as a base for the sale of narcotics and that he possessed semi-automatic firearms there as well. On October 17, 2008, pursuant to a search warrant, the police searched Ruben's Auto Repair in Denville. The search revealed a box containing an assault rifle, handgun, and large capacity magazines; the box bore defendant's shipping address and alias, Ramfis Ramirez Lugo. After determining that no one by that name held valid permits for the firearms and that possession of the guns in question was per se illegal, a search warrant was issued for Mr. Ramirez Lugo's residence.
Relying on information provided by the CI, the warrant specified that 188 Princeton Avenue had "blue vinyl siding, and dark blue shutters. The residence has a grey roof and an attached one car garage. When facing the residence the numbers 188 appear above the mailbox to the right side of the front door." According to the CI, to reach defendant's personal residence, one "enters the front door, turns right (toward the garage side of the house) and enters the last door on the left." The police followed the CI's directions, and upon executing the warrant, police seized rifles, handguns and other items related to firearms including magazines, ammunition, silencers and carry cases as well as drug paraphernalia and assorted identifications. A concurrent motor vehicle stop of defendant for a cracked windshield revealed a handgun in plain view of the officer as well as several rounds of ammunition, and two driver's licenses - one valid and one falsified. The valid license revealed that defendant's real name is Angel Arroyo.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the motion judge denied the motion to suppress, concluding that the warrant was not defective and provided sufficient particularity to identify defendant's place of residence.
We will uphold the findings of the trial court as long as the record contains "sufficient credible evidence" to support such findings. State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 243 (2007) (citing State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 474 (1999)). We will not overturn the motion judge's decision merely because we would have reached a different conclusion. We will do so when the conclusions are so clearly improper that justice demands they be corrected. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964).
Defendant contends that the warrant to search his residence was invalid because it did not identify the room to be searched by number. The State responds that the warrant is valid because it specifically described the house to be searched and included detailed directions for finding defendant's residence within that house.
A valid search warrant must be issued "upon probable cause and particularly describing the place to be searched and the papers and things to be seized." N.J. Const., art. I, ¶ 7. A warrant must be clear enough that the executing officer can reasonably determine the place intended to be searched. State v. Marshall, 199 N.J. 602, 611 (2009) (quoting Steele v. United States, 267 U.S. 498, 503, 45 S. Ct. 414, 416, 69 L. Ed. 757, 760 (1925)) (holding that a warrant for only one apartment in a two-apartment house was invalid when it did not specify and police could not determine which apartment belonged to the suspect); see also State v. Wright, 61 N.J. 146, 149 (1972). However, the warrant must be specific enough that it excludes areas that are not subject to the investigation at hand.
Marshall, supra, 199 N.J. at 615. When a multiple-unit dwelling is the subject of the warrant, the warrant will only be valid if investigators know or can determine the ...