On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 09-04-0813.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
Defendant was indicted for possession of cocaine, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); possession of a handgun without a permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); and possession of a prohibited weapon or device, to wit, dum dum bullets, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence against him, which the trial court denied.
Defendant then pled guilty to the charges. The trial court sentenced defendant to a five-year term of imprisonment, with three years of parole ineligibility, for possession of a handgun without a permit, and a concurrent three-year term for possession of cocaine. The court merged defendant's conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon or device into his conviction for possession of a handgun without a permit.
Defendant appeals from the denial of his motion to suppress. At the evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion, the following evidence was presented.
Around 2:41 a.m. on October 30, 2008, Officer Michael Lahey observed defendant driving the wrong way on a one-way street directly towards him. Lahey pulled his police car to the side of the street to avoid a head-on collision, did a U-turn, activated his emergency lights, and started to follow defendant. Lahey next observed defendant make an abrupt left turn without putting on his directional signal.
A short while later, defendant stopped his car and turned off his engine. Officer Lahey parked behind him and got out of his car. Lahey had difficulty seeing into defendant's car because the rear window and two back seat windows were tinted.
As Lahey approached defendant's vehicle, defendant disappeared from his view in the direction of the glove compartment. Defendant then turned the engine of his car back on. Lahey quickly returned to his car and threw it into reverse so that defendant could not back his car into the police car or driveway.
Defendant stopped his car again, and Lahey got out of the police car a second time, with his gun drawn and held behind his back. When Lahey reached defendant's car, defendant handed him his driving credentials through the open driver's side window. At this time, Lahey smelled a strong odor of burnt marijuana emanating from defendant's car and also observed what appeared to be marijuana seeds and vegetation spread around the interior of the car. Lahey handcuffed defendant and patted him down in the area of a large bulge in his pants pocket. This bulge turned out to be a large bundle of paper currency, consisting of more than 100 bills with a total value of $3367.
After removing the bundle of currency from defendant's pocket, Lahey determined that defendant had closed and re-locked the glove compartment after taking out his driving credentials. Concerned that defendant may have hidden a gun in the glove compartment of the car, which Lahey planned to impound, Lahey took the key out of the ignition, unlocked the glove compartment, and discovered that it contained cocaine. Lahey then told defendant he was under arrest.
A canine officer was called to the scene, and the canine responded positively to the presence of drugs in other locations in the car. The police then impounded the car and towed it to a municipal parking facility.
The police subsequently obtained a warrant authorizing a search of defendant's car. This search revealed a revolver hidden in the car, for which defendant did not have a permit. The revolver was loaded with ...