NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 19, 2012
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 10-12-3310.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Jacqueline E. Turner, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Sarah Lichter, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Nugent and Haas.
Defendant Steven Carr appeals the denial of his motion to suppress five bags of marijuana that police seized from beneath the passenger seat of the car he had occupied. He contends the police unreasonably detained him during a traffic stop. Having considered his arguments in light of the record and controlling law, we affirm.
The only witness to testify at the suppression hearing was Gloucester City Police Lieutenant Brian Morrell, an eleven-year police officer who had spent the previous six years supervising all other detectives. His "main focus investigation-wise [was] on narcotics complaints." He and his partner, Detective Carlos Depoder, were dressed in plain clothes and in an unmarked car when they encountered defendant at approximately 6:41 p.m. on the evening of March 24, 2010.
The officers saw two cars stopped side-by-side on Orlando Avenue, a two-lane street in a residential neighborhood where street parking was available and most residences had driveways. The cars' engines were running, their brake lights were on, and the cars were blocking traffic. Due to this motor vehicle violation, the officers activated the strobe lights on their car, parked it, and walked toward the other cars.
As Lieutenant Morrell approached the cars he observed other motor vehicle violations. The car to his right, occupied by three women, had objects hanging from the rearview mirror that obstructed the driver's view. The other car, occupied by defendant and another man, had no front license plate and defendant, seated in the passenger seat, was not wearing his seatbelt.
Lieutenant Morrell recognized both men. He had previously stopped the driver for motor vehicle violations, and the driver had been the subject of complaints from a school resource officer earlier that week. The previous day, the Lieutenant's department had had received a complaint that defendant "was believed to be selling narcotics from his residence and from vehicles that would come to that residence."
Lieutenant Morrell asked the driver of the car occupied by the women why she was blocking the street. She replied that defendant had stolen money from her friend and she and the other women were there to retrieve it. At about the same time, defendant told Detective Depoder, who had walked to the car occupied by the two men, that he, defendant, "had borrowed money from one of the girls and was there to return it."
Suspecting that a narcotics transaction was taking place, the officers requested a K-9 officer to respond to their location so that a drug-sniffing dog could "conduct an open-air sniff of the exterior of the vehicle." It took approximately two minutes for the K-9 officer and dog to arrive on the scene. The dog reacted positively to the car defendant had occupied, but negatively to the car occupied by the women. When ...