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State v. Witt

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

May 21, 2014

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM L. WITT, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT

Argued May 6, 2014.

Approved for Publication May 21, 2014.

On appeal of an interlocutory order of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County, Indictment No. 13-04-0215.

Ronald Susswein, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for appellant ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Mr. Susswein, of counsel and on the brief).

Stephen W. Kirsch, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Mr. Kirsch, of counsel and on the brief).

Before FISHER, KOBLITZ and O'CONNOR Judges.

OPINION

Page 665

[435 N.J.Super. 610] FISHER, P.J.A.D.

By way of this appeal of an interlocutory order, which granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized during a warrantless search of his motor vehicle, the Attorney General seeks to have " overturn[ed] the rule of law announced in State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6, 965 A.2d 114 (2009)." The Attorney General, however, candidly acknowledges what is undeniably true--this court " does not have the authority to overturn" Pena-Flores . Consequently, the Attorney General seems to simply seek our predictable disposition on the merits so he may take his fight to the Supreme Court. We granted leave to appeal not because we believed there is merit in this appeal but because it is our general practice to grant the State's motions for leave to appeal the suppression of evidence. See State v. Reldan, 100 N.J. 187, 204-05,

Page 666

495 A.2d 76 (1985); State v. Ruffin, 371 N.J.Super. 371, 389, 853 A.2d 311 (App.Div.2004); State v. Alfano, 305 N.J.Super. 178, 190, 701 A.2d 1296 (App.Div.1997). We now affirm because we are bound by Pena-Flores, because of the utter absence of any [435 N.J.Super. 611] exigency to support the warrantless vehicle search that occurred, and because there was no justification for this motor vehicle stop.

Following defendant's arrest at a motor vehicle stop, which we will describe momentarily, a warrantless search led to the discovery and seizure of a handgun from the center console of defendant's vehicle. After being indicted and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b), and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b), defendant moved for the suppression of the evidence seized during the warrantless vehicle search.

The suppression hearing was stunningly brief. Only the arresting officer testified, and his testimony consumes a mere eight transcript pages. During the course of that testimony the prosecutor made little attempt to elicit evidence--to the extent any existed--of exigent circumstances necessitating the warrantless search.

The arresting officer testified that he was on patrol on December 19, 2012. He had just concluded his involvement with another motor vehicle stop when, at approximately 2:00 a.m., a vehicle drove by with his " high beams on" that the driver " failed to dim" as he drove by. The officer pursued and stopped defendant's vehicle on Route 48 in Carneys Point. As he questioned ...


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