May 21, 2012
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
EVERTON WILLIAMS, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 09-08-0871.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 5, 2012
Before Judges Alvarez and Skillman.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress, defendant Everton Williams, Jr., entered a guilty plea to second-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a). Pursuant to the plea agreement, defendant was sentenced to five years imprisonment subject to three years of parole ineligibility. The judge also imposed appropriate fines and penalties. Defendant appeals the denial of his motion to suppress and we affirm.
The following facts are taken from the record of the suppression hearing. On May 26, 2009, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Officer Scott Tobin of the Denville Township Police Department, while on routine patrol, observed a Honda Accord he believed was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit. He initially made the determination based on his own rate of travel. The officer then turned on his radar device, which indicated defendant was driving at fifty-eight miles per hour in a fifty mile per hour zone. When the officer stopped the car, he detected the odor of alcoholic beverages emanating from defendant. Tobin administered field sobriety tests, but after defendant passed two of them, went no further in his investigation of whether defendant was driving while under the influence.
When the officer called in defendant's identifiers, however, he learned defendant had an arrest warrant outstanding from the City of Newark. While taking him into custody, a handgun was discovered in his boot.
During the hearing, the officer testified that although he had tested the radar device in his vehicle at the beginning of his shift through the use of tuning forks, he could not locate the corresponding log sheets. The radar device's certification was valid on the date of the stop.
The trial judge denied the motion to suppress because he concluded the excessive rate of speed gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation had occurred. Since the stop was permissible, the arrest upon discovery of the warrant was also lawful. Accordingly, he denied defendant's motion to suppress the gun.
On appeal, defendant raises the following point for our consideration:
THE TRIAL JUDGE ERRED IN DENYING MR. WILLIAMS'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE EVIDENCE BECAUSE THE STOP OF MR. WILLIAMS'S VEHICLE WAS NOT BASED ON A REASONABLE SUSPICION THAT A VIOLATION OF THE TRAFFIC LAWS HAD OCCURRED It is defendant's contention that the missing log sheets called into question the validity of the radar reading, and that in the absence of evidence that defendant was actually speeding, the stop was unlawful. We disagree.
It is undisputed that law enforcement officers "may stop motor vehicles where they have a reasonable or articulable suspicion that a motor vehicle violation has occurred." State v. Murphy, 238 N.J. Super. 546, 553 (App. Div. 1990). "Reasonable suspicion" means that "the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant th[e] intrusion." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 906 (1968). So long as the officer's conduct, viewed objectively, supports the stop, it is lawful. State v. Kennedy, 247 N.J. Super. 21, 28 (App. Div. 1991) (citing State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 220 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984)). This principle applies to stops even for minor traffic infractions. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470 (1999).
In reviewing a motion to suppress, we uphold the trial judge's factual findings so long as they are supported by "sufficient credible evidence present in the record." Id. at 471 (quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964)). We reverse only if convinced that the trial judge's factual findings are "so clearly mistaken 'that the interests of justice demand intervention and correction.'" State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 244 (2007) (quoting Johnson, supra, 42 N.J. at 162).
Applying these standards, we conclude the trial judge's factual finding that the officer's testimony was credible and therefore reliable was supported by the record. See Locurto, supra, 157 N.J. at 470-71; Johnson, supra, 42 N.J. at 161. The precise accuracy of the radar device was not relevant to whether the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion since his observation of the vehicle speeding in front of him was initially based on his own rate of travel. Clearly, even if the radar equipment was operating in a defective manner, the officer had an objective basis for his belief that a traffic violation was occurring. As the officer said, he believed "that this person was obviously traveling over the speed limit. To confirm that I used my radar . . . ." Because Tobin had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a motor vehicle offense was occurring, the State established a lawful basis for the stop. If the stop was lawful, execution of the arrest warrant was also proper.
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