Argued January 6, 2015.
Approved for Publication May 12, 2015.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 12-09-1420.
Alyssa Aiello, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant ( Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Ms. Aiello, of counsel and on the brief).
Steven A. Yomtov, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Mr. Yomtov, of counsel and on the brief).
Before FISHER, ACCURSO and MANAHAN,
[440 N.J.Super. 518] MANAHAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned)
Defendant, Dqwan A. Taylor, appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized by police officers after a warrantless search of a stolen motor vehicle in which he was a passenger. Because the issue presented relative to defendant's knowledge of the motor vehicle's status was unanswered by the record, we are constrained to remand for further proceedings.
On April 18, 2012, at approximately 1:28 a.m., New Jersey State Troopers Goncalves and Brown were on routine patrol on the New Jersey Turnpike when they observed a white Lexus ES 350 bearing New York license plates weaving in the left lane and traveling at a high rate of speed.
The troopers activated the overhead lights of the patrol vehicle to initiate a motor vehicle stop. The motor vehicle pulled over to the shoulder of the highway
and came to a complete stop. Three individuals were inside the motor vehicle; Lastacia Harmon, the driver, Louis Bailey, the front seat passenger, and defendant, the rear seat passenger.
Trooper Goncalves approached the motor vehicle from the passenger side, identified himself, and requested from Harmon her driver's license and registration. Harmon provided a driver's license but was unable to produce the registration. Harmon informed the trooper that the car did not belong to her and that [440 N.J.Super. 519] she did not know the whereabouts of the paperwork for the motor vehicle.
The trooper inquired about the motor vehicle's ownership and the whereabouts of the occupants. Bailey responded the car belonged to " a friend" and was borrowed for the day. No other details were provided regarding the " friend." Harmon informed the trooper they had been in New York visiting friends and were on their way back to Atlantic City. While Trooper Goncalves spoke with Harmon and Bailey, defendant appeared to be asleep in the rear seat.
Trooper Goncalves returned to his patrol vehicle and contacted dispatch. The troopers were informed that the license plate on the Lexus was registered to a black 2011 Kia Optima. While Goncalves returned to the motor vehicle to speak with the occupants, Trooper Brown checked the motor vehicle identification number (VIN) on the Lexus and contacted dispatch for ...