NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 5, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 11-03-0434.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Jay L. Wilensky, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the briefs).
Bruce J. Kaplan, Middlesex County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Brian D. Gillet, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher and St. John.
Following denial of defendant Robert Walker's motion to suppress evidence, he entered a guilty plea to second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b), and third-degree witness tampering, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5(a)(1). He was sentenced to an eight-year term subject to four-years parole ineligibility on the eluding conviction, and a five-year term subject to two-years parole ineligibility on the witness tampering conviction, to run concurrently. Defendant appeals from the denial of his motion to suppress and the sentence imposed by the November 7, 2011 judgment of conviction. We affirm.
We briefly summarize the relevant procedural history and the facts based on the record before us. Evidentiary hearings were held on May 18, 2010 and July 15, 2010. Officers Monaghan, Epstein, Ward, and Livingston testified at the hearings.
On July 12, 2009, Officers Monaghan and Epstein of the New Brunswick Police Department were on patrol in a marked car at approximately 11:30 p.m., when they observed a speeding green Ford Expedition run over the sidewalk and enter a parking lot. The officers followed the car into the parking lot, activating their lights and siren in an attempt to stop the car. The car did not come to a stop, instead it circled the parking lot three times. The officers ran the license plate and determined that it belonged to Route One Auto Rental in North Brunswick. The officers could not tell from this inquiry who the lessee or renter was. Using a spotlight, the officers were able to see that the driver of the car was a black male with dreadlocks. The car then sped away towards Franklin Township and after engaging in a high-speed chase, the officers lost sight of it and terminated their pursuit. Additional police units responded to the search for the car.
Officer Livingston of the Franklin Police Department located the car unoccupied and parked along the curb in Franklin Township. He opened the passenger side door just to check the interior of the vehicle to see if it was occupied. Officer Ward of the New Brunswick Police Department arrived shortly thereafter and testified that "the door was open unlocked and ajar. And the hood was actually still warm because I remember checking the hood." Approximately three to five minutes after losing sight of the car, Officers Monaghan and Epstein arrived at the location of the parked car.
Officer Monaghan testified that when he approached the vehicle, "[t]he driver's side door was open. We went to see who the vehicle was registered to. Try to find out information from the glove box, — console to see if there was a registration card, see who the vehicle belonged to." Officer Monaghan found a court notice on the passenger's seat belonging to Naticka Brown. In a cup holder in the center console, Officer Epstein found a wallet containing a New Jersey identification card belonging to defendant. The search of the car was limited to the center console, the glove box, the cup holder area, and the visors.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence on March 23, 2010. Judge Stolte denied defendant's motion to suppress in an oral decision on August 26, 2010. On November 8, 2010, defendant filed a motion ...