On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 09-02-0326.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves, and Koblitz.
Following a jury trial, defendant Yusef Steele was found guilty of fourth-degree criminal contempt, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, for violating a restraining order issued pursuant to the Drug Offender Restraining Order Act of 1999, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5.4 to -5.10. On January 14, 2011, the trial court sentenced defendant to eighteen-months imprisonment to be served consecutively to a sentence he was then serving. The court also imposed appropriate monetary penalties. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The relevant facts are not complicated. Officers Michael Yurkovic (Yurkovic) and Gregory Liszczak (Liszczak) of the New Brunswick Police Department were the only witnesses to testify for the State. The defense did not present any witnesses.
On August 15, 2008, Yurkovic was part of a back-up unit for fellow officers who were conducting a surveillance investigation for possible narcotics activity. Yurkovic testified he was wearing plain clothes with his badge hanging around his neck. As a result of the investigation, Yurkovic and another officer approached defendant at the intersection of George and Hassart Streets. When defendant saw the police officers, "he took off running down the street." Yurkovic testified that defendant "tossed" something during the foot chase, and the police subsequently discovered he had thrown twelve packets of heroin on the ground. Yurkovic eventually tackled defendant and placed him under arrest.
That same day, Yurkovic submitted an application to a municipal court judge for a drug offender restraining order. In a supporting certification, Yurkovic stated that defendant was charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute and that the offense occurred at George and Hassart Streets. Yurkovic explained that he sought the restraining order for that location because the drugs would have been discovered incident to defendant's arrest if he had not fled and discarded the drugs.
The restraining order issued by the municipal court judge on August 15, 2008, prohibited defendant from being within 500 feet of the intersection of George Street and Hassart Street in New Brunswick. According to Yurkovic, he did not immediately serve defendant with the restraining order because defendant was taken to the Middlesex County jail after he was processed. Therefore, there was "no urgency to get [the order] to him."
Yurkovic testified he personally served defendant with the restraining order on December 17, 2008. At that time, Yurkovic explained to defendant the order prohibited him from being within 500 feet of the corner of George and Hassart Streets. At Yurkovic's request, defendant signed and dated the order, and defendant was given a copy of the order. The order that defendant signed clearly states:
Notice to Defendant: Violation of the provisions of this order constitutes criminal contempt pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 and will result in your arrest and criminal prosecution and can also result in a revocation of bail. This may result in a jail sentence. ONLY A COURT CAN MODIFY ANY OF THE TERMS OR CONDITIONS OF THIS COURT ORDER.
Five days later, on December 22, 2008, Liszczak was on patrol when he observed defendant standing on the corner of George Street and Hassart Street. Liszczak was aware of defendant's restraining order and, after checking to confirm that the order was still active, he arrested defendant for violating the order.
During his summation, defendant's attorney told the jury that the issue was whether the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant "was properly served with the order" and whether he "definitively [knew] the boundaries of where he [could] go and where he [couldn't] go." On the other hand, the prosecutor argued there was no question that defendant knew about the restraining order "because he signed for it," and the ...