On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 09-05-0412.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Reisner.
Following the denial of defendant Haneef J. Wofford's motion to suppress evidence, he pled guilty to unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; criminal attempt, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1; and obtaining a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) by fraud, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13. He was sentenced on May 7, 2010 to an aggregate term of three years in prison, one year to be served without parole. He now appeals from the January 26, 2010 order denying his suppression motion, raising the following points for our consideration:
POINT I: THE WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF WOFFORD'S VEHICLE WAS NOT JUSTIFIED UNDER THE AUTOMOBILE EXCEPTION TO THE WARRANT REQUIREMENT.
A. Consideration of the "totality of the circumstances" surrounding the stop shows that there were no exigent circumstances that would have made it impracticable for the officers to obtain a search warrant of the vehicle.
B. Officer Trejo's testimony that "[w]e could have" obtained a vehicle search warrant and the officers' actions at the time of the stop, show that it was not impracticable for them to obtain a search warrant of Wofford's car.
Having reviewed the record, we find no merit in these contentions, and we affirm.
We begin by reviewing the record of the suppression motion. Defendant was arrested after the police stopped his car and arrested him on an outstanding warrant. They searched his person incident to the arrest and found CDS. They also searched the car and found a handgun. Defendant conceded that the police had lawful grounds to stop the car, to arrest him on the outstanding warrant, and to search his person incident to that arrest. He only sought to suppress evidence of the handgun.
The State presented testimony from Officer Fernando Trejo of the Union Police Department. On December 19, 2009 at about 10:15 p.m., he was patrolling Route 22 alone in his marked police vehicle. He noticed a Dodge Charger with a broken left tail light. He ran a "plate check" on the car and discovered that it had a "suspended registration." He activated his siren and attempted to pull the vehicle over. The driver exited Route 22 onto Sayre Road, which was an on-off ramp for the highway, and stopped. The officer recalled that it was snowing at the time and "had been snowing for most of the evening."
Officer Trejo approached the vehicle and observed a male driver and a female passenger. The driver provided his license but was unable to provide the registration or insurance card. Trejo returned to his vehicle and called for a warrant check which revealed that defendant had an outstanding criminal warrant. He requested a back-up unit, and two officers arrived promptly. Trejo then asked defendant and the passenger to exit their car, and he handcuffed and arrested defendant, searched him, and found drugs in his pocket. Officer Trejo put defendant in the rear seat of the back-up patrol car and called for a tow truck to remove defendant's car from the scene. He recalled that traffic was heavy at the time.
He told the female passenger that the vehicle would be towed and offered her a ride to the police station in his car. However, they needed to wait for the tow truck, which still had not arrived fifteen minutes after his call. While the woman was sitting in the rear of Trejo's police car, she knocked on the plastic divider between the back seat and front seat and stated "you should look in the passenger door, ...