On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 09-02-0512.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 21, 2011
Before Judges Graves and Koblitz.
After his motion to suppress evidence without a warrant was denied, defendant Keith Williams pled guilty to third-degree receiving stolen property (a Jeep Grand Cherokee) in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7. Defendant was sentenced in accordance with the negotiated plea to four years in prison to be served concurrently with any violation of probation sentences that he received. On appeal, defendant argues the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The only witness to testify at the suppression hearing was Sergeant Anthony Venancio (Venancio) of the Newark Police Department. Venancio testified that at approximately 11:00 p.m. on November 2, 2008, he and three other officers were investigating "some individuals" seated on the porch of a boarded-up house on 19th Street when an individual, later identified as defendant, "pulled up" in a Jeep. Defendant exited the vehicle while it was still running and walked toward the officers. When asked to explain what happened next, Venancio testified as follows:
A. . . . I walked over to the vehicle on the passenger's side and illuminated the inside with my flashlight and observed ignition damage.
Q. And what did you do after you observed that ignition damage?
A. I had one of the officers detain the individual and then I ran the license plate, New Jersey license plate, which came back to be a stolen auto.
Defendant was then arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. On cross-examination, Venancio testified that he had not received any information regarding a stolen vehicle prior to his arrival at the location.
The trial court's findings and conclusions included the following:
Sergeant Venancio was in the area of South 19th Street responding to what is commonly referred to as issues concerning quality of life. There were several individuals sitting on the steps or stoop of a boarded up house and while the officers were investigating the quality of life issues, a Jeep pulls up in the area. An individual gets out of the Jeep, later identified as Mr. Keith Williams, with the engine running and he walks towards the police.
The Sergeant leaves his position and walks towards the motor vehicle and, as he testified to, shines his flashlight into the car, he notices the ignition damage. They further investigate and ultimately, based upon information received, discover that the car is stolen. The fact that the defendant got out of the vehicle and walked towards the police, as far as I'm concerned, is really of no moment. And is really - his motive for walking towards the police, or lack of motive, is clear speculation.
Perhaps he walked towards the officers to divert their attention away from the Jeep but again, I'm not focusing on that; that's clearly speculative. He has not testified. We don't know his mind set. You know, clearly, the officers were legally where they were required to be pursuant to law. They made the observation, or the Sergeant did; he made the observation of the ...