On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 09-01-0171.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 6, 2011
Before Judges Reisner and Hayden.
Following the trial court's denial of his suppression motion, defendant Alden Hinnant pled guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. Consistent with the terms of the plea agreement, he was sentenced to an aggregate term of five years in prison, with three years of parole ineligibility. He appeals from his conviction, raising the following point for our consideration:
THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING HINNANT'S SUPPRESSION MOTION BECAUSE THE SEARCH PERFORMED BY THE POLICE EXCEEDED THE SCOPE OF THE CONSENT GIVEN BY DEFENDANT'S MOTHER.
Finding no merit in defendant's appellate arguments, we affirm the December 11, 2009 judgment of conviction (JOC).*fn1
This was the most pertinent evidence presented at the suppression hearing. On the morning of October 18, 2008, Jersey City police officer Anthony Goodman was conducting a drug surveillance operation on Bergen Avenue, which he described as "a high drug area." He observed defendant, Anthony Williams, and a third man known as "Fatty" playing dice on the corner of "Dwight and Bergen." He also observed Latrenda Thomas coming in and out of a house on Bergen Avenue. At some point, Goodman heard Thomas tell defendant that they were "almost out" and ask "if he had anything." Goodman believed Thomas meant that they were almost out of heroin and was asking defendant to obtain more. Defendant made a cell phone call and then told Thomas that "it'll be here in ten minutes."
Defendant and Anthony Williams walked away and came back after about ten minutes. Goodman then saw defendant enter and leave two different houses on Bergen Avenue. Goodman later learned that defendant's mother lived in an apartment in one of those houses.
Goodman watched defendant engage in several hand to hand drug sales. At one point during his surveillance, Goodman heard defendant tell a passing man, identified as William Young, that he had "bone deep," which was slang for heroin. Goodman saw defendant hand Young a bag of heroin and saw Young hand defendant money. At this point Goodman alerted the officers in his "perimeter units," who stopped Young and found heroin on his person. They also arrested Thomas, Williams and defendant. They recovered ten bags of heroin from defendant and one bag from Thomas.
Once defendant and the co-defendants were under arrest, Goodman noticed Officer Burgess and two other officers speaking with defendant's mother. After Goodman joined the group, the police asked the mother for consent to search her apartment. She signed a consent to search form, which by its terms permitted the police "to conduct a complete search" of the apartment. However, the police only searched the two unlocked back bedrooms, because the mother told them that defendant occupied both of those rooms. In the left bedroom, they found ammunition and a handgun. In the right bedroom, they found "brick paper," which is commonly used to package heroin.
According to Officer Goodman, defendant's mother was extremely cooperative with the police. In fact, she invited them into her apartment and told them that if there was "anything illegal," she wanted them to remove it. She specifically said that "[i]f there were drugs in her apartment she wanted them out."
Officer Michael Burgess, who was working on the perimeter unit, corroborated Goodman's testimony. He testified that after defendant was arrested on the street, his mother came out of her home and asked Burgess if her son was under arrest. Burgess and Goodman explained that defendant was arrested because they believed he was selling drugs. At that point, the mother appeared "annoyed" and "disgusted" at the possibility of drug dealing going on in her neighborhood. She said that she was the building superintendent and was not going to "put up . . . with the drug activity in the area." ...