On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 08-08-1166.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Defendant Joseph D. Powers pleaded guilty to second degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1), and was sentenced to a term of five years and ordered to pay the mandatory fines and penalties. Defendant appeals from the order of the trial court denying his motion to suppress evidence seized by the police from a vehicle he was driving at the time of his arrest. We affirm.
We derive the following facts from the evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing conducted to adjudicate defendant's motion to suppress.
On January 21, 2008, at approximately 9:30 p.m., South Toms River Police Officer Michael Schneidt was parked on the corner of Route 166 and Crabbe Road in South Toms River, when he decided "to run the plates"*fn1 on a brown Cadillac STS. The computer search revealed that the car's registered owner (not defendant) had an active outstanding warrant for a traffic summons. Schneidt pursued the Cadillac, eventually stopping the vehicle in the parking lot of the Music Academy on the corner of Route 166 and Water Street, just west of a 7-Eleven in Toms River. Of particular significance here, Schneidt testified that he had decided to stop the Cadillac on his own initiative.
When Schneidt approached the driver's side of the vehicle, he noticed there were two men in the car, a driver and a passenger, both of whom were unfamiliar to him. The driver produced a driver's license identifying himself as defendant Joseph Powers. Although defendant was not the registered owner of the car, he provided the vehicle's registration card and insurance information. The passenger did not have identification, but provided Schneidt his name and date of birth.
Shortly before Schneidt stopped defendant's car, Investigator Anthony Sgro and Sergeant Michael Cecchini of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Special Operations Group, Narcotics Traffic Force, had been traveling east on Water Street in a black Crown Victoria, unmarked but equipped with lights and sirens. They were roaming in areas known to be centers of street-level narcotic activities. At this point, they noticed the brown Cadillac stopped at a traffic light heading northbound on Route 166.
Although he could not tell who was driving, Sgro recognized the Cadillac as one driven by defendant. Sgro knew defendant as a distributor of narcotics. He had arrested defendant "and his associates on several occasions over the past four years for CDS related offenses." According to Sgro, about a week before he had received information from a reliable informant that defendant was dealing a hundred grams of cocaine per week out of a brown Cadillac.
Because he did not want to lose sight of the Cadillac, but without intending to conduct a stop, Sgro continued on Water Street for a few hundred feet and made a U-turn. After completing the U-turn, Sgro saw that Schneidt had independently stopped the Cadillac. Sgro pulled into the parking lot and up to the back passenger-side door of Schneidt's patrol car. This area was a known location for narcotic activities. Sgro came out of his car and waited for Schneidt to finish speaking with defendant. Two other Ocean County Prosecutor's Office's investigators arrived a few minutes later.
Schneidt informed Sgro that defendant was the driver of the car; for his part, Sgro told Schneidt that defendant was a known distributor of narcotics. Schneidt told Sgro that he was going to check both occupants through his mobile data terminal for warrants and check the validity of defendant's driver's license and the vehicle's credentials.
While this was taking place, Investigator John Adams, a canine officer who had also arrived at the scene, ran a dog around the Cadillac to sniff for drugs. Adams had attended basic Canine Detection School for Narcotics, and received specific narcotics training. "Belle," the dog used in the "run around," had been traveling in the car with Adams. Belle was trained to detect drug odors. By the time of this ...