On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 07-05-1681.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 25, 2012 -
Before Judges Fuentes, J. N. Harris and Koblitz.
Defendant Ryan Griggs appeals from his January 19, 2010 judgment of conviction and subsequent sentence for receiving a stolen car, unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest by flight. He asserts that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal on the receiving a stolen car allegation. He further argues that the judge incorrectly charged the jury and imposed an excessive sentence. We find merit in defendant's arguments and therefore dismiss the receiving a stolen car conviction, and reverse and remand the resisting arrest conviction for a new trial. We affirm the conviction and sentence on the remaining charge of possession of a handgun.
On February 26, 2007, an Essex County Grand Jury returned Indictment No. 07-02-00620 charging Brian Williams, Nelson Martinez, and defendant with second-degree conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b) and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count one); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b) (count two); third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count three); and second-degree possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count four).
On May 14, 2007, an Essex County Grand Jury returned Indictment No. 07-05-1681 charging defendant, Williams, Martinez and Nathaniel Plummer with third-degree theft by receiving a stolen car, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7 (count one); third-degree possession of a handgun without a permit, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count seven); and fourth-degree resisting arrest,*fn1 N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a) (count two). Defendant was not charged in the remaining seven counts of the ten-count indictment.
The indictments were consolidated for trial. Defendant and Williams were tried together. Defendant was found guilty only of receiving a stolen car, unlawful possession of a handgun and resisting arrest by flight, counts one, two and seven of Indictment No. 07-05-1681.
The trial evidence revealed the following facts. On the afternoon of April 16, 2006, Marie Jaward's 1996*fn2 gold Nissan Maxima with Pennsylvania license plates was stolen.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. on April 19, 2006, two ambulance company employees heard gunshots in the area of the Baxter Terrace housing complex in Newark. They stopped their vehicle and saw three individuals with their backs turned to them, wearing jeans and black hooded sweatshirts, "backing out" of the Baxter Terrace complex while shooting into the courtyard. The three men jumped into a gold Nissan Maxima with Pennsylvania license plates and drove off.
Shortly thereafter, a Newark Police Department detective arrived at the scene of the shooting, where he observed spent casings and cartridges on the ground, including .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun casings. A shooting victim was discovered at the scene, but was unable to identify the shooters. The police distributed a bulletin describing the Maxima and the three male suspects.
Approximately four hours later, an East Orange police officer spotted the vehicle and activated his overhead lights. The Maxima did not pull over. The pursuit lasted about ten minutes, during which the Maxima ran traffic lights and stop signs. The officer eventually lost sight of the car.
Shortly thereafter, a Newark police officer located the vehicle and, with his lights and siren activated, began to pursue the Maxima. The pursuit lasted until the Maxima crashed into another car.
Four men were in the car. Williams was the driver. All four ran from the scene after the crash. Defendant was the first person to exit the car. He left from the rear driver's side and ran through the parking lot of a nearby Comfort Inn. As he ran, defendant threw a white "balled up" t-shirt over a fence and into the Passaic River.*fn3 After being chased for another forty or fifty feet, an East Orange police officer apprehended defendant. A .40 caliber revolver was recovered from the driver's side of the Maxima's back seat where defendant had been seated. One round was left in the chamber. The gun was sent to the police ballistics lab for testing, where it was ...