On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Indictment No. 11-11-1173.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 11, 2012
Before Judges Yannotti and Harris.
By leave granted, the State appeals from an order entered by the Law Division on May 2, 2012, granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained in a search of a motor vehicle. We reverse.
On November 30, 2011, defendant was charged with two counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a), and unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b). Thereafter, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence. The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion.
At the hearing, Officer Michael DeNick (DeNick) of the Westville Police Department testified that on August 20, 2011, he was working the night shift, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. He was in the area of Broadway and Delsea Drive. He observed a car coming up Delsea Drive. The driver and the passenger were not wearing seat belts. DeNick pulled out and started to follow the car.
He turned to his mobile data terminal, and entered the vehicle's license plate number. The car entered a gas station, and DeNick put on his lights, indicating that the car should pull over. DeNick observed that there were at least four persons in the car, two in the front and two in the rear.
After the car pulled into the gas station, DeNick exited his patrol car and approached the car from the driver's side. He asked for the operator's credentials - his driver's license, registration and insurance card. DeNick said that the driver was nervous, and his hands were shaking "a little bit." He stuttered and did not give DeNick a quick response to the officer's request.
Jerry Costello (Jerry) was identified as the driver. His mother, Patricia Costello (Patricia), was seated in the back seat, with Jerry's sister, Julie Costello (Julie), and a baby. Defendant was seated in the front passenger seat. Patricia was the owner of the car and she handed DeNick the registration and insurance card for the vehicle.
DeNick asked Jerry if he had his driver's license with him. Jerry said, "No, I left it at home." DeNick asked Jerry, "where's home?" Jerry said it was Brooklawn. He told DeNick that he was coming from Deptford, where he had picked up a friend. DeNick said "a couple of little red flags" went up and he had Jerry exit the car.
DeNick asked Jerry to stand in the rear of the vehicle, and he conducted "a little interview with him." Jerry told DeNick that he had forgotten his license. DeNick asked him if his license was suspended, and Jerry said that it was. DeNick also asked Jerry if there were warrants outstanding for his arrest. Jerry said he did not know. Sergeant Grady (Grady) arrived on the scene, as DeNick's backup.
DeNick asked Jerry for the name of his passenger, and he said his name was "Steve." Jerry told him that the female in the back was his sister, and the baby was her child. DeNick returned to his patrol car, and he contacted County Dispatch, which ran a check for warrants and license suspensions.
DeNick said that Grady covered the car "to make sure nothing was going awry." County Dispatch informed DeNick that Jerry's driver's license was suspended, and he had two outstanding warrants. DeNick placed Jerry under arrest. He handcuffed him behind his back, and placed him in the patrol car.
DeNick went back to the car, and spoke with defendant. Defendant gave DeNick his name but he did not have any identification with him. DeNick gave defendant's name to County Dispatch. Grady was standing by the passenger side of the vehicle, observing the occupants "just for safety reasons." DeNick learned that defendant also had outstanding warrants.
DeNick approached the passenger side of the car. Grady opened the passenger side door, and DeNick asked defendant to exit the car. He told defendant about the warrants. Defendant complied. DeNick had him turn around. He ...