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State of New Jersey v. Darnell W. Scott

October 23, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
DARNELL W. SCOTT, A/K/A DARRELL SCOTT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 08-02-0150.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued March 20, 2012

Before Judges Reisner and Hayden.

Defendant Darnell Scott appeals from his conviction, following a jury trial, of two counts of first-degree carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2; first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A.

2C:15-1; fourth-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a); and second-degree conspiracy to commit carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2. Thereafter, the trial judge, after merging the conspiracy conviction with one carjacking conviction, sentenced defendant to three concurrent prison terms of fifteen years, each subject to a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of eighty-five percent, to be served concurrent with a nine-month sentence on the resisting arrest conviction.

On appeal, defendant raises the following contentions.

POINT I: THE COURT'S FAILURE TO PROVIDE THE JURY WITH A CHARGE EXPLAINING HOW MR. SCOTT COULD BE FOUND GUILTY OF A LESSER-INCLUDED OFFENSE AS AN ACCOMPLICE TO THE CO-DEFENDANTS IF HE DID NOT SHARE THEIR INTENT TO COMMIT THE SPECIFIC GREATER OFFENSES DEPRIVED MR. SCOTT OF DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL. (RAISED BELOW BY PROSECUTOR).

POINT II: THE COURT'S INSTRUCTION THAT THE JURY COULD CONSIDER THE FACT THAT TWO OF THE WITNESSES HAD PREVIOUSLY ENTERED GUILTY PLEAS IN JUVENILE COURT TO DETERMINE THEIR CREDIBILITY WAS INCORRECT AND DEPRIVED MR. SCOTT OF DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL. (NOT RAISED BELOW).

POINT III: THE INTRODUCTION OF TESTIMONY THAT A RELUCTANT STATE'S WITNESS PREVIOUSLY STATED THAT HE COULD NOT GO HOME IF HE TESTIFIED, ABSENT A LIMITING INSTRUCTION, WAS HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL AND LEFT THE JURY TO ATTRIBUTE UNCHARGED CRIMES, WRONGS, OR ACTS TO THE DEFENDANT, IN CONTRAVENTION OF THE PRINCIPLES ENUNCIATED IN N.J.R.E. 403 AND N.J.R.E. 404(b) AND DENIED THE DEFENDANT HIS RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL. (NOT RAISED BELOW).

For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I.

We discern the following facts from the record. Defendant and three friends, Rajah Harris, Christopher Morales, and Daquan Ragland, were driving in a stolen jeep in Rahway. Their vehicle pulled up next to Jovan Martinez, who was walking on the sidewalk heading to a party. Defendant left the vehicle to approach Martinez on the sidewalk while his three friends remained in the jeep. Martinez heard someone call out from the vehicle ordering him to surrender his car keys. Then, someone on foot from behind repeated the demand. Martinez turned around and saw defendant aiming a gun at him. Martinez struck defendant in the face, knocking him to the ground. Defendant got up and ran back to the jeep, which then drove away.

Later that night, in Elizabeth, Daniel Vasquez was sitting in his car with a friend when four males wearing white tee shirts approached them. Vasqeuz was not able to recall their appearances in detail, but reported they were young African Americans about his height. One of the men pointed a gun at Vasquez and another made a show of reaching for a gun in his waistband. The first man demanded that Vasquez turn over his car keys, threatening to kill him if he did not comply. Vasquez acquiesced. He then observed the men enter his car and drive away.

The next morning, the men drove Vasquez's car back to Elizabeth where they picked up a friend, Aaron Williams. That afternoon, they stopped at a food mart. Only two of them entered the store. A shopper named Maria Romero noticed them standing in line behind her at the cash register. She had a large amount of cash in her wallet. The two left the store while Romero remained inside speaking with the owner. Shortly thereafter, Williams returned to the store alone and pointed a gun at Romero, demanding that she give him her wallet. When she refused, he knocked her over, grabbed the wallet, and fled. The group drove away, but crashed into another car a few blocks away. All five men were arrested later that day.

Defendant made a statement to the police maintaining that, although he was present during all three incidents, he did not intend to commit any of the crimes. He added that when he approached Martinez, he was not trying to steal his car, but only wanted to defend one of his friends. He further reported that he only witnessed the Elizabeth carjacking and had nothing to do with the food mart robbery.

On February 21, 2008, defendant was charged with several criminal counts, including first-degree carjacking, fourth- degree aggravated assault, third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, first-degree robbery, second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, fourth-degree resisting arrest and first-degree conspiracy to commit carjacking. Harris and Ragland were prosecuted as juveniles and, having both pled guilty to charges stemming from these incidents, were adjudicated as juvenile delinquents.

Prior to the trial, defendant moved to suppress his statement to police on the grounds that it resulted from a Miranda*fn1 violation. After a hearing the judge denied the motion. At the beginning of trial, on the State's motion to dismiss, the trial judge dismissed the charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful ...

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