NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Indictment Nos. 10-05-0187 and 10-05-0188.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Alicia J. Hubbard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
Anthony P. Kearns, III, Hunterdon County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Jeffrey L. Weinstein, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Yannotti and Ashrafi.
Defendant Stephen Ianieri appeals from the judgments of conviction entered by the trial court on July 29, 2011, after a jury found him guilty of unlawful possession of rifles and hollow-point bullets and he subsequently pleaded guilty to another weapons charge. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Defendant was charged under Hunterdon County Indictment No. 10-05-0187 with third-degree unlawful possession of rifles, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(c), and fourth-degree unlawful possession of hollow-point bullets, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f). Defendant was also charged under Hunterdon County Indictment No. 10-05-0188 with second-degree certain persons not to have weapons, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements made to the officer at the scene of the traffic stop, during which the rifles and ammunition were seized. The trial court denied the motion. Thereafter, the court conducted a jury trial on the charges in Indictment No. 10-05-0187.
At the trial, Delaware Township police officer Jason Marrero testified that on October 28, 2009, at 7:09 p.m., he stopped a blue Ford F-150 pick-up truck that was traveling northbound on Route 29. Marrero stopped the vehicle because it did not have a license plate light. Marrero spoke with the driver, whom he later identified as defendant, and asked for his driving credentials. As Marrero spoke with defendant, he observed two rifles in plain view. One was a .22 caliber weapon, which was wedged in the back seat. The other was an SKS 7.62 rifle, which was in a case lying on the floor of the truck.
Marrero asked defendant about the rifles. Defendant initially said they were pellet guns, but he corrected himself and stated that there was a .22 caliber rifle in the rear seat. Marrero asked defendant if he had a firearms purchaser identification card. Defendant said he was not aware he required the card.
Marrero returned to his vehicle to check defendant's driving credentials. As he was doing so, Marrero noticed that defendant had stepped out of his vehicle. Marrero thereupon placed defendant under arrest for unlawful possession of weapons.
Marrero searched defendant's vehicle. He found a spent .22 caliber casing on the driver's side floor, and another casing on the ground beside the truck. Marrero also found other rounds of .22 bullets in the vehicle, along with hollow-point rounds for the 7.62 rifle. Marrero said both rifles were loaded with ammunition. Defendant told Marrero he was coming from work and was on his way to the residence of a friend, Christopher Beebe.
State Trooper James Joyce testified as an expert in ballistics. Joyce said that the .22 caliber rifle had a red substance and debris in the breach, but could be easily restored to operability. The SKS 7.62 rifle was operable, and four of the bullets in the rifle's "stripper clip" were hollow-point bullets. Joyce checked the records of the State Police's firearms unit and determined that defendant had never applied for a New Jersey firearms purchaser identification card and such a card had never been issued to him.
After the State rested its case, defendant made a motion for a judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Rule 3:18-1. The judge denied the motion. The judge determined that the State had presented sufficient evidence to support the charges.
Beebe then testified for the defense. Beebe said he had been living in Pennsylvania at the time defendant was arrested on these charges. He recognized the rifles found in defendant's truck. According to Beebe, both belonged to his son. His son's grandfather had purchased the .22 caliber rifle in Virginia. Beebe had purchased the SKS rifle at a gun shop in Pennsylvania. Beebe and his son used the rifles for target shooting.
Beebe further testified that defendant was a general contractor. Defendant had done some work on Beebe's residences, and Beebe established a personal relationship with him. Beebe said he took the rifles to a site in Pennsylvania where defendant was working.
Beebe could not recall with whom he left the rifles, but he did not believe he left them with defendant. Beebe thought this may have occurred toward the end of 2008. Beebe said it was his understanding that whoever obtained the rifles would use them only in target practice and return the weapons to him at some point.
Alex Lukynyuk also testified for the defense. He testified that he had worked on certain tiling projects for defendant. He was familiar with a property in Stockton, New Jersey, where defendant stored his tools and left his vehicles from time-to-time. Before defendant's arrest, Lukynyuk and a few other persons would use the Stockton property for practice ...