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State of New Jersey v. John Kunwai Cunningham

April 10, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN KUNWAI CUNNINGHAM, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 08-09-2145.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 13, 2011 -

Before Judges Messano and Kennedy

Following a jury trial, defendant John Kunwai Cunningham was convicted of possession of heroin in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). He was also convicted, following a bench trial, of the disorderly persons offenses of possession of drug paraphernalia, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2, and possession of a hypodermic needle, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:36-6. Defendant now appeals and raises the following arguments:

POINT ONE

THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE EVIDENCE DERIVED FROM A WARRANTLESS SEARCH AND SEIZURE IN VIOLATION OF U.S. CONST. AMEND. IV; N.J CONST. ART. 1, ¶7.

POINT TWO

THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE INDICTMENT.

For the reasons set forth hereinafter, we affirm.

The sole charge in the indictment alleged that on June 27, 2008, in Marlboro Township, defendant possessed heroin, a controlled dangerous substance contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). Defendant filed separate motions to suppress evidence and to dismiss the indictment. After holding an evidentiary hearing on February 26, 2009, Judge Francis P. DeStefano denied both motions, for reasons set forth in his written opinions. We turn first to the motion to suppress evidence.

I

In reviewing a motion to suppress evidence, an appellate court must defer to the trial court's findings of fact and "feel" of the case and may not substitute its own conclusions regarding the evidence. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999) (quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161 (1964)); accord State v. Robinson, 200 N.J. 1, 15 (2009); State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 243-44 (2007). In particular, the appellate court must defer to the credibility determinations of the trial court. Locurto, supra, 157 N.J. at 474; State v. Hodgson, 44 N.J. 151, 163 (1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 1021, 86 S. Ct. 1929, 16 L. Ed. 2d 1022 (1966).

For purposes of our review, we accept the trial court's findings of fact, but we need not defer to its legal conclusions reached from the established facts. State v. Brown, 118 N.J. 595, 604 (1990). "If the trial court acts under a misconception of the applicable law," we need not defer to its ruling. Ibid. ...


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