NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 16, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 10-05-0237.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Kevin G. Byrnes, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Geoffrey D. Soriano, Somerset County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (James L. McConnell, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner and Hoffman.
Defendant George Menon appeals from his conviction for fourth-degree possession of over fifty grams of marijuana, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(3). Defendant pled guilty after the court denied his motion to suppress evidence. He was sentenced to a one-year term of probation. For the reasons that follow, we uphold the denial of the suppression motion, and we affirm defendant's conviction.
The following evidence was introduced at the suppression hearing. On April 2, 2010, Corporals Daniel McNamara and Michael Price of the Franklin Township Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit (Unit) were on patrol in the area of Millstone Road and Hamilton Street. Just before 9:00 p.m., the officers were heading westbound on Hamilton Street in an unmarked car driven by Corporal McNamara. Since the weather was nice, they both had their car windows down. As the officers passed a Toyota Camry operated by defendant, they immediately detected a strong odor of raw marijuana.
Upon smelling the marijuana, Corporal McNamara turned the patrol vehicle around and began to follow defendant's car. When the two corporals pulled up behind defendant they both noted that the odor of raw marijuana remained consistent. As a result, Corporal McNamara activated the patrol car's emergency lights and pulled defendant over. They continued to smell a strong odor of raw marijuana, which grew stronger as they approached defendant's car, confirming their suspicion that the smell was coming from inside it.
Corporal McNamara proceeded to ask defendant for his credentials. Almost immediately, defendant became agitated, asking why he had been stopped and saying, "this is bullshit! This is harassment!"
Although defendant continued to argue with the officers, he did produce his driving credentials. At this point, Corporal McNamara asked defendant to exit his vehicle. As defendant started to comply by opening his door, Corporal McNamara, with the aid of his flashlight, immediately observed a small piece of marijuana in the map pocket of the driver's side door. Upon making this observation, the officers placed defendant under arrest for the possession of marijuana.
At this point, two other members of the Unit, Officers Michael Opaleski and Sammy Hernandez, arrived at the scene as backup. Right before he exited his patrol car, Officer Hernandez, whose window was down, smelled a strong odor of marijuana. The two officers then exited their vehicle and approached defendant's car. When he was approximately five to six feet from defendant's vehicle, Officer Opaleski, whose nose was congested due to allergies, smelled "the extremely pungent odor of raw ...