On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 06-07-01042.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman, Baxter and Nugent.
Following a jury trial, defendant Charles Davis was convicted of second-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; two counts of third-degree theft from the person, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2b(2)(d)*fn1 ;
third-degree receiving a stolen automobile, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7; second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b); and fourth-degree hindering investigation, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(4). The judge sentenced defendant to an aggregate extended term of twenty-six years' imprisonment with a fourteen-year period of parole ineligibility.
Prior to the commencement of the trial, the judge denied defendant's motions to suppress evidence as well as his motion to sever the various robbery and theft offenses. In addition, since another individual, Bilam Muslim, had previously entered a plea of guilty to the eluding offense, defendant asserted that defendant could not be found guilty of the same offense. The judge rejected that argument.
Defendant appeals from his judgment of conviction. We affirm.
These are the facts adduced at trial. On March 21, 2006, at approximately 1:45 p.m., Evelyn Schwartz was shopping at the Macy's department store in Menlo Park in Edison. Schwartz left Macy's and walked to her car, which was parked about 100 yards from the entrance. She unlocked and opened the driver's side door and placed her handbag on the front passenger's seat. Before she could close the door, defendant ran to the car, reached across Schwartz, and grabbed the handbag. Schwartz's hand became entangled in the strap of the bag, and she was pulled from the car, lacerating her wrists.
A Macy's employee, Thomas Thomas, drove into the parking lot and parked nearby just as Schwartz's purse was taken. He observed a young, black male in his 20's, approximately 5'11" with a thin build, pull Schwartz out of the car and drag her as she struggled. Thomas exited his car and stood next to his vehicle. Defendant walked past, entered a Honda Accord, and drove away. Thomas wrote down the license plate number, then assisted Schwartz.
The police responded, gathering matching descriptions of defendant from Schwartz and Thomas. The police investigated the license plate number and learned that the plate had been stolen.
Two days later, Evelyn Kentos was shopping at Shop-Rite in Edison. She exited the Shop-Rite and walked to her car, unlocked the driver's side door and walked around her minivan to open the passenger-side sliding door. Her purse was in the child's seat section of her shopping cart as she was unloading her groceries. Defendant drove his car in front of Kentos' car, blocking her exit. He ran from the car, grabbed Kentos' purse, ran to his vehicle and drove away.
The police were contacted, and upon arrival asked Kentos for a quick description of the suspect. She described the suspect as a "[b]lack male, approximately six foot, wearing a green sweat shirt, gold sweat shirt, green sweat pants and wool knit, like a knit cap." Kentos also told the police that the purse and its contents were worth approximately $260.
On April 11, 2006, at 4:15 p.m., a security officer at the Menlo Park Mall told a patrolling police officer that he had seen a person who matched the composite picture police had produced in the Schwartz robbery driving a red Honda Accord with an identified license plate number outside the Macy's parking lot. The police responded, but the Honda was gone when they arrived. The police ran a vehicle check and learned that the car had been reported as stolen from Piscataway the previous day.
Later that day, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Janet Tadduni was at the Shop-Rite in Edison. Tadduni exited the store and began unloading her groceries when she observed a red car with a spoiler. She then saw defendant exit the car and walk into the Shop-Rite. As she unloaded her groceries, she placed her purse in the child's seat section of her shopping cart. Defendant exited the Shop-Rite, dashed towards Tadduni, grabbed her purse, and ran away. Defendant entered the red car, but before he could drive away, Tadduni reached the vehicle and observed defendant. She banged on the window and roof and yelled at defendant to return her purse. Defendant grinned and drove away. Tadduni calculated the replacement cost of her purse and its contents at $1085.
Two days later, Edison Police Officer Alan Varady was on patrol on his motorcycle when he saw a red Honda Accord driving towards him. Varady read the license plate and identified the Honda as the stolen car seen two days earlier at the Menlo Park Mall. He also noted that defendant was driving the car. As he attempted to approach the car, defendant suddenly drove away towards an adjoining parking lot. Varady turned on his lights and siren and followed.
Finding no exit from the parking lot, defendant turned the car around and exited onto Route 1. As defendant pulled onto Route 1, he approached a red light and, as he attempted to squeeze between cars, side-swiped a car and continued on Route
1. Varady pursued defendant for approximately two miles at 50 m.p.h., when defendant increased his speed to 70 m.p.h. At Avenel Avenue, with at least three police officers in pursuit, including Detective Rigby, defendant encountered a red light, hopped onto the grass median, and struck a car.
As defendant continued north on Route 1, Rigby pulled next to the driver's side and could see defendant driving with a heavier black male in the passenger seat, later identified as Muslim. Defendant swerved into Rigby, forcing him to back off. After an overpass, a red light had caused a traffic backup, and defendant diverted into a Wal-Mart shopping center. Defendant drove into a field behind the store, through a fence, but became stuck attempting to cross some railroad tracks. Defendant and Muslim got out of the car and ran in opposite directions. Linden police, K-9 units and a state police helicopter joined the chase. Muslim was immediately apprehended, but defendant was discovered forty minutes later, hiding inside an abandoned refrigerator. Rigby estimated that he had pursued the Honda for 15 or 20 miles, reaching a high speed of 80 to 90 m.p.h.
Defendant was arrested, charged, tried and convicted of the previously mentioned offenses. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant raises the following issues:
THE TRIAL COURT'S REFUSAL TO SEVER THE COUNTS OF THE INDICTMENT DENIED DEFENDANT HIS STATE AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND A FAIR TRIAL. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. V, VI AND XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, ¶¶ 1, 9 AND 10. (NOT RAISED BELOW)
THE EVIDENCE THAT MR. MUSLIM HAD BEEN CONVICTED OF THE ELUDING CHARGE IN THIS CASE PRECLUDED THE STATE FROM PROVING BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT MR. ...