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Lakehurst, NJ man charged with posssession of marijuana

Lakehurst, NJ  man charged with marijuana and other drug related charges

Terrell Reaves, 22, of Manchester and Willingboro was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, obstruction of justice, possession of a controlled dangerouse substance in a motor vehicle, driving while suspended, careless driving and having illegal tinted windows.

Read more here:

Morris County Divorce Attorney

Over 20 people charged in connection with Monmouth County heroin ring

With these multi-defendant cases, there are two types of defendants: those with the good lawyers and those with something else.   Speed is a big factor.  As a good lawyer, you have to jump on this case to try to work out the best deal for your client.  Your job is to put the best deal on the table right away.  If the client doesn’t want it, its time to prepare for trial.

On November 16 and 17, 2009, Detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Old Bridge Police Department, the Sayreville Police Department, the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Dectric Rawls, a/k/a “Low,” 29, of Matawan, NJ, and twenty of his associates, on criminal complaints charging them with numerous crimes relating to heroin distribution activities. Members of the Aberdeen Township, Atlantic Highlands, Hazlet Township, Highlands, Holmdel Township, Keansburg, Keyport, Matawan, Middletown Township and Union Beach Police Departments provided officers who worked as members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office which specifically targeted narcotics activity in those towns which are collectively known as the Bayshore area of Monmouth County. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and Lakewood Police Department assisted with the arrests.

The arrests followed a comprehensive investigation which was commenced by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office after law enforcement authorities received information indicating that Dectric Rawls was responsible for distributing significant amounts of heroin in the Bayshore area of Monmouth County. During the investigation, Dectric Rawls used his associates, including Jessica Henderson and Jacquelin Wiedemeyer, to sell heroin to undercover detectives on various dates. The investigation revealed that Dectric Rawls sold approximately 100 bricks of heroin, with a street value of approximately $25,000, each week. A “brick” of heroin typically contains 50 glassine bags of heroin.

On November 16, 2009, law enforcement officers executed a search of Dectric Rawls’ residence on Fredwood Place in Matawan. The search resulted in the seizure of approximately 63 bricks of heroin, a Lorcin .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun and $28,766. The “bricks” of heroin have a weight of approximately three ounces and a street value of approximately $15,000. A 2001 GMC Yukon belonging to Dectric Rawls, which he utilized during his drug distribution activities, was also seized.

The search of Dectric Rawls’ residence led detectives to a storage facility in Morganville, New Jersey. Later the same day, detectives conducted a search of a storage unit at that facility 2

which was rented by Dectric Rawls. A safe located inside the storage unit contained an additional $258,491.

Rawls was arrested and charged with the first degree crime of being a Leader of a Narcotics Trafficking Network, and the third degree crimes of Distribution of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Financial Facilitation of Criminal Activity and Conspiracy to Commit the foregoing Offenses. As a result of the search of his residence, additional second degree charges of Certain Persons not to Possess Weapons, Possession of a Weapon During the Course of a Controlled Dangerous Substance Offense and Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute were filed against Rawls. The Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C., set bail on the charges at $1,250,000 cash only. Additionally, a bail source hearing is required prior to the posting of any bail. Rawls is being held in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in lieu of bail.

Amanda Strohkirch was inside Rawls’ residence when officers conducted the search of that location. Strohkirch was taken into custody on third degree charges of Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute and Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance. The Honorable Thomas F. Scully, P.J.S.C., set bail for these offenses at $50,000 with no ten percent option. As a result of the searches, Strohkirch was additionally charged with the second degree offenses of Possession of a Weapon During the Course of a Controlled Dangerous Substance Offense and Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance With Intent to Distribute. The Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C., set bail on the additional charges at $150,000 cash only. Additionally, a bail source hearing is required prior to the posting of any bail. Stohkirch is being held in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in lieu of bail. A 2001 Chrysler 300 belonging to Amanda Strohkirch, which she utilized during her drug distribution activities on behalf of Rawls, was also seized.

In furtherance of the investigation, a search was conducted of Daryel Rawls’ residence on Albert Avenue in Lakewood, New Jersey. Daryel Rawls is Dectric Rawls’ brother. As a result of that search, 37 bricks of heroin and $5,300 in cash were recovered. Daryel Rawls was charged with the second degree crime of Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute and the third degree crime of Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance. Bail for Daryel Rawls was set at $25,000 with no ten percent option by Municipal Court Judge Scott J. Basen. Daryel Rawls remains in the Ocean County Jail in lieu of bail.

On November 16 and 17, 2009, law enforcement officers affected arrests of 17 additional members of Dectric Rawls’ heroin distribution network. The following individuals were arrested and charged with the third degree crimes of Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance and Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance and had their bail set at $25,000 with no 10 percent option by the Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C., or the Honorable Thomas F. Scully, P.J.S.C., as indicated:

Brandon Vashey, 20, of Krueger Place, Middletown, NJ (Hon. Thomas F. Scully)

Jessica Henderson, 19, of Oregon Avenue, Middletown, NJ (Hon. Thomas F. Scully)

Joseph Plaia, 52, of Willow Street, Highlands, NJ (Hon. Thomas F. Scully) 3

Joseph Dube, 25, of Brookside Avenue, Cliffwood Beach, NJ (Hon. Thomas F. Scully)

John Puglisi, Jr., 31, of Forest Avenue, Keansburg, NJ (Hon. Thomas F. Scully)

Kevin Craven, 24, of Sealey Avenue, Keansburg, NJ (Hon. Lawrence M. Lawson)

Russell K. Dunn, 22, of Highland Avenue, Leonardo, NJ (Hon. Lawrence M. Lawson)

The following individuals were arrested and charged with Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance and Conspiracy to Possess a Controlled Dangerous Substance and had their bail set at $25,000 with no 10 percent option by the Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C.:

Dawn M. Pastor, 37, of Beachway Avenue, Keansburg, NJ

Shara Coppola, 22, of Forest Avenue, Keansburg, NJ

Peter J. Slover, 27, of 6th Street, Union Beach, NJ

Christine Jenkins, 24, of Highland Avenue, Hazlet, NJ

John W. Maynard, 28, of Oceanport Avenue, Little Silver, NJ

Andrea J. Ray, 24, of Bristel Road, Holmdel, NJ

Anthony Galluccio, 19, of Clark Place, Middletown, NJ

Casey Vota, 22, of Olivia Place, Matawan, NJ

Robin Ruff, 24, of Fleetwood Drive, Hazlet, NJ

Jacquelin Wiedemeyer, 19, of Leonardville Road, Belford, NJ, was charged with two counts each of the third degree crimes Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute and Distribution of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, for selling heroin to an undercover detective on behalf of Dectric Rawls on two separate occasions. The Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C., set her bail at $100,000 with no ten percent option.

While the investigation was still in progress on October 8, 2009, Joel Benitez, 25 of Freehold, purchased three bricks of heroin from Rawls. Police immediately arrested him and after a brief struggle he was placed in custody. The heroin was recovered, and Benitez was charged with the second degree crimes of Attempting to Disarm a Law Enforcement Officer and Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer. Benitez was also charged with the third degree crimes of Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute and Resisting Arrest. Benitez remains incarcerated at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in lieu of $220,000 bail with no ten percent option set by Municipal Court Judge Scott J. Basen.

Retired NYPD cop and two sons charged in Barnegat with drug possession

Barnegat Police raided the house of retired New York City police officer Salvatore Costa.  Costa, and his sons Guiseppe and Salvatore were all arrested.  Inside, police allegedly found unknown quantities of steroids,  cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone and other drug paraphernalia.  An undisclosed amount of cash and two handguns that were properly registered were also seized. 

Salvatore Costa Sr is charged with two third-degree counts of drug possession, as well as possession of paraphernalia and a hypodermic syringe.  I’d like to know why he is not charged with intent to distribute.  It could really impact the case moving forward.

Salvatore Costa Jr is charged with two counts of third-degree drug possession, third-degree drug possession with the intent to distribute, third-degree drug distribution and fourth-degree evidence tampering as well as possession of drug paraphernalia. 

 Guiseppe Costa is charged with third-degree drug possession, third-degree drug possession with the intent to distribute, possession of paraphernalia and possession of under 50 grams of marijuana.

Family co-defendant cases are always interesting since you know that no one is going to flip on the others.  Thus, everyone usually moves together.  I know it looks bad for this family, but if they get good attorneys, it should turn out good for them.  I’ve done much better with worse.  Story is here.

Steroids, guns and cash allegedly found at the home of Salvatore Costa, 48, when police raided his home on Sterling Lane in Barnegat on Wednesday.

Operation Bloodette busts alleged drug ring run by female gang members

You don’t see this every day huh?  Females being arrested for major drug crimes.  This case will be very interesting for a number of different reasons. 

First off, the attorneys for the adults will have to hook up with the attorneys for the juveniles.  The State will try to waive the juveniles up to adult court and this will be done before the adult cases go anywhere.  The attorneys are going to get a free crack at some of the detectives that testify at the waiver hearing.  It will help everyone if they all work together.  The best part is, assuming all juveniles can be waived, there will be 12 waiver hearings so each hearing should build on the last one.  Rarely do attorneys get such an opportunity to  create so much discovery so early.

Second, as an attorney for the big fish, you just have to know that some of the little fish will flip at some point, especially if they have bad attorneys.  However, the charges are so serious that a few small fish testifying against your client may not be the end of the world.

Third, the discovery in this case is going to be massive.  Making sure that you have everything is going to take quite a while.  The more cooks in the kitchen, the messier things can get. 

In other words, sounds like a fun case.  Some attorneys hate a lot of work, but this is what I live for. The plea offer will probably be pretty high so why not take the next two or three years and fight the case? 
 For Immediate Release
 Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 Drug Ring Directed by Female Gang Leaders Dismantled

  Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, Special Agent in Charge of the  Drug Enforcement Administration/New Jersey Division Gerard McAleer, Statewide Director of Gangs, Guns and  Violent Crime Control Strategies Jose Cordero, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, East Orange Police Chief  Ron Borgo, and Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy today announced the arrest of 43 gang members and their  associates, in connection with the dismantling of a female-led gang that was trafficking narcotics in Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Montclair.

  The investigation was part of the statewide anti-gang initiative coordinated by the Attorney General’s Office in  connection with the Governor’s Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods.

  Initiated in January 2009, the joint investigation dubbed “Operation Bloodette” traced an elaborate PCP, cocaine,  crack cocaine, and marijuana distribution ring that sold significant quantities of drugs to gang members and their  associates of the 464 PIRU and Sex Money Murder sets of the Bloods. Undercover detectives from the Essex  County Prosecutor’s Gang and Narcotics VIPER Unit, East Orange, Newark, Montclair and Orange police  departments, along with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recovered narcotics including: 62 ounces of PCP, 13.3 grams of heroin (266 decks), 54 grams of cocaine, and 36 grams of  marijuana, with a total estimated street value of $133,000. In addition, four fully-loaded handguns, 138 rounds of  ammunition, and more than $21,000 in cash were seized. It is alleged that the operation was distributing more than  $50,000 worth of narcotics per week or more than $2.6 million per year. 

  The alleged ring leaders, Iyesha Harrison, 25, of East Orange, and Tyesha Stephens, 30, of Newark, were  orchestrating the operation primarily from two locations: the South Orange Ave. vicinity bordering East Orange  and Newark, and Stephens’ apartment on Elizabeth Ave. in Newark. On July 13, defendant Harrison was arrested  and charged with leader of a narcotics trafficking network (first degree), distribution of CDS (third degree),  distribution of CDS within 1,000 ft of a school (third degree), conspiracy to distribute CDS (second degree), and  employing a juvenile to distribute CDS (second degree). On June 15, defendant Stephens was arrested and charged  with possession of CDS (third degree), possession of CDS with intent to distribute (first degree), possession of  CDS with intent to distribute within 1,000 ft of a school (third degree), possession of CDS with intent to  distribute within 500 ft. of public housing (second degree), and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child  (second degree). Both women are being held in the Essex County Jail. Bail for both was set at $300,000.

  Of the 43 defendants arrested, 12 are juveniles and 31 are alleged to be gang members and/or associates.

  “With these arrests, we have dismantled a drug ring led by two female members of the Bloods that was dealing more than $50,000 a week in PCP, cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana,” said Attorney General Anne Milgram. “While  the threat posed to our communities by these criminal enterprises is the same whether they are led by men or women, it is disturbing that gangs have evolved to exert the same destructive control over the lives of young women that  they have over young men, enlisting them in deadly violence.”

  These criminal charges are mere accusations. Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven  guilty in a court of law.

670 pot plants seized from alleged pot farm

Eric Defelice was arrested and charged with first-degree maintaining and operating a controlled dangerous production facility.  The farm allegedly  used hydroponics techniques and was located inside a single-family dwelling at 110 N. 10th St.

Police allege that he operation seems to have been running fora few years because of the equipment that was found at the home. That consisted of hydroponics equipment, transformers, high-voltage lights, a self-contained exhaust ventilation system and an air purification unit and fan.

This is a tough case as it would be tough to take this case to trial. It is hard to argue that you didn’t notice 670 marijuana plants in your house and that someone else must have put them there.  You also can’t say that these are for your own use.  I’m sure the police had a search warrant and those are rarely easy to attack. 

I would want to know more about his life and whether he was a big pot guy or whether he was living an expensive lifestyle.  I’ve had cases like this before and have had great success at focusing more on the character of the client than the facts of the case. 

Story is here.

8 men arrested in 1,000 pill a week prescription drug ring bust

Frank J. Stillo Jr. of Pohatcong Township, was charged with being the leader of a narcotics trafficking ring and conspiracy to distribute Oxycontin and other controlled dangerous substances. His bail is set at $200,000 bail.

His two sons and five others were charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substances.  Those arrested are Jonathan W. Stillo,   Brandon M. Stillo,  Anthony Giammona, Ronald P. Richie, Richard Faranda,  Alexander E. Johnson  and Daniel Moore.

Authorities said that Frank Stillo would obtain Oxycontin and other prescription drugs in Essex County and distribute them in Warren County to people who would in turn distribute the drugs to others.  They allege that about 1,000 pills a week were being purchased and distributed, ranging in size from 10 to 80 milligram pills and in price from $10 to $65 a pill.  The arrests capped a more than three-month undercover drug operation.

Story is here.

20-year-old from Marlboro charged with 15 drug-related crimes for allegedly using teenage girls to sell marijuana

Michael Lobianco, of Marlboro, is being held in lieu of $320,000 bail after his arrest on Saturday. Police allege that two girls, 15 and 16, conducted a series of transactions in Keansburg involving marijuana purchased by Lobianco for distribution. 

He is charged with two counts of using a juvenile to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, two counts of conspiracy, two counts of possession with the intent to distribute and seven counts of possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a public building, park or school.  In other words, he is facing a ton of problems.

There are no other details of the incident, but I would like to know more about this case.  How did the police link these girls to him?  Do these girls have any credibility?  There are a number of defenses here depending on the evidence.  Either the State has some good evidence or they have a few hunches. 

Story is here.

Cocaine and marijuana seized during traffic stop in Warren Township

Darnell Williams and Eric Villalona both of York, Pa., have been charged with first-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, third-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia after a traffic stop in Warren township led to the alleged discovery of about $24,000 in cocaine and marijuana in the car.

Police pulled over the men for tailgating and when they approached the vehicle, police allegedly observed marijuana on the lap of Villalona.  Ok great, you can arrest Villalona for that and if everything else checks out, Williams is free to leave.  Here’s the odd thing about this.  Police call for a K-9 and the dog alerts to more drugs.  But how do they know that the dog is not smelling the same drugs that they already found on Villalona.  The dog apparently hit on the trunk and so they searched it and found the rest.

This is an interesting case  and at least one of these guys has a good defense.  If the car belongs to neither man, then they both have a great defense.  We have a case along these lines in the office right now; actually a few of them.  While not a slam dunk case, there is a good shot to win them as there is for this case. 

Story is here.

5 arrested in Green Brook drug bust

Five people have been arrested after an investigation by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force and Green Brook township police.  Raphael Salermo, 21, of Warren; Alfred Stephens, 21, of Plainfield; Nyesha Mills, 20, of Plainfield; Carl Mattos, 21, of Green Brook; and Jonathan Alvarez, 22, of Green Brook have beenn charged with various drug offenses.

The first arrest started with a stop of Mattos’ car even though there is no indication as to why he was stopped.  After a search of his car allegeldy revealed drugs in the car, the police obtained a warrant and searched two rooms at the Ivory Motel in addition to a car that pulled up to the Motel room while the search was underway. 

This will be tough for all of the defendants because Somerset County is a tough place to practice.  Many of our cases wind up going to trial.  Story is here.

Court holds that drugs were in plain view














Before Judges Payne and Waugh.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division Cumberland County, Indictment No. 06-10-996.


Yvonne Smith Segars, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Abby P. Schwartz, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).


Anne Milgram, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Michael J. Williams, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).



Defendant Louis Stewart appeals his conviction, following a guilty plea, for second-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1), -5(b)(2). Prior to entering the plea, Stewart moved unsuccessfully to suppress evidence seized as the result of a warrantless search at 105 Bank Street in Bridgeton. On appeal, Stewart contends that the motion should have been granted and the evidence suppressed. We disagree and affirm.


We discern the following facts from the record made during the evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress, which was held on August 10 and 16, 2007.1 Detective Louis Santiago of the Bridgeton Police Department was on duty on June 10, 2006. At that time, Santiago was with the Anti-Crime Team (ACT), which is a “plain clothes assignment dealing with street level narcotics and quality of life issues.” Santiago was working the night shift. His assigned area was the 100 block of Bank Street. Santiago testified that in June 2006, the 100 block of Bank Street was “laced with illicit narcotic activity, prostitution, [and] robberies.”

Santiago and other members of the unit walked through an alleyway towards 110 and 112 Bank Street. Once they arrived at that point, they began to watch 105 Bank Street, which they knew to be the residence of Gloria Hicks. Santiago was familiar with Hicks from previous calls to her residence. Three weeks prior to the night in question, Hicks had come to the police station and reported that she had been assaulted by James McNair at her home. She told the officers that she had a bad drug habit and that “things were getting out of control in her residence.” Santiago told Hicks that he would from time to time check up on her to make sure that everything was alright at her home.

Santiago positioned himself across the street from 105 Bank Street and observed it for fifteen to twenty minutes. He saw people going into 105 Bank Street through the front door and, on occasion, the back door. After a very brief time, the individuals would leave Hicks’s residence and go across the street to 108 Bank Street. They would remain at 108 Bank Street for a few moments and then return to 105 Bank Street. They would knock and, when the door opened, enter 105 Bank Street.

After watching the activity described above, Santiago and other members of the team crossed the street to observe 108 Bank Street. After making further observations, they went to the back of the house directly across from 110-112 Bank Street – one house north of 105 Bank Street. From that location Santiago watched the back of 105 Bank Street and observed “a continuation of the pedestrian traffic in and out of the residence.”

According to Santiago, the activities he observed were consistent with drug dealing. Santiago decided to go to the back door, knock, and attempt to speak with Hicks. However, as Santiago and Detective Kirsten Loew got to the landing of the back door, Bobby Taylor and McNair approached the back door from the front of the house. As Taylor stepped onto the landing, he looked over and saw Santiago, who was himself approaching the landing. Santiago described Taylor’s reaction as follows:

He looked at us, his eyes opened up and he stepped back, and he began to mumble under his voice. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Bobby Taylor looked at us, and again, he had an expression of shock on his face.


Without knocking, Taylor opened the back door and walked into the house. The door stayed open, but McNair stood on the landing without entering the house. Santiago walked up to the door, stood at the doorway, and looked into the house, but did not cross through the doorway at that point.

As Santiago was approaching the doorway, he had observed people sitting in the living room. Once the back door was opened, he was able to see the range, the kitchen sink, and a counter. Santiago saw a plastic bag and a scale on the counter. He saw green vegetation, which appeared to be marijuana, inside the bag.

There were eight people in the living room, with Stewart and Howard Russell sitting near the scale and the marijuana. Russell was closest to the marijuana, and Stewart was to his right. At that point, Santiago was less than ten feet from the counter top and two or three feet from Stewart and Russell.

Loew asked Santiago: “[W]hat are they doing over there?” When Santiago looked over toward Stewart and Russell, the two men were fumbling with a clear plastic bag. Santiago likened their motions to a game of hot potato – neither man wanted to hold the bag. Stewart eventually ended up with the bag, which he then threw behind the seats.

Santiago was familiar with both Stewart and Russell. Santiago also knew Taylor from a prior, drug-related offense. Based upon what Santiago saw Stewart and Russell doing with the plastic bag and his knowledge about the neighborhood and the house, Santiago believed that they were trying to get rid of drugs. Santiago made these observations within seconds of being at the door of the house.

After making his observations, Santiago and other members of his team entered the house and handcuffed both Stewart and Russell. The plastic bag handled by Stewart and Russell was found to contain crack cocaine.

On August 16, 2007, Judge Timothy G. Farrell denied the motion to suppress. After finding Santiago’s testimony credible and reciting the facts adduced at the hearing, Judge Farrell gave the following reasons for denying the motion.

When law enforcement officers execute a valid search or seizure of an individual, any contraband located in plain view may be seized. Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321, [107 S. Ct. 1149, 94 L. Ed. 2d 347 (1987)]; Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, [100 S. Ct. 1371, 63 L. Ed. 2d 639 (1980)]. The initial intrusion by the police must be lawful. In other words, it must be justified by a warrant or recognized exception to the warrant requirement. The observation of the item must be made from a permissible vantage point; that is the officers involved must have a right to be where they are when they perceive the existence of the evidence.


There are two additional requirements that have to be satisfied for the plain view exception to apply. First, the officer [] has to discover the evidence inadvertently, meaning that he did not know in advance where the evidence was located, or intend beforehand to seize it. Next, it has to have been immediately apparent to the police that the items in plain view were evidence of a crime or contraband, otherwise, subject to seizure. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, [91 S. Ct. 2022, 29 L. Ed. 2d 564] (1971); State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 236-37 (1983)[, cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984)]; State v. Padilla, 321 N.J. Super. 96, 109 (App. Div.), [certif. denied, 162 N.J. 198 (1999)].


The immediately apparent language should not be construed to mean that the officer knew that certain items were contraband, or evidence of a crime. It is sufficient that the police officer, from a permissible vantage point, has probable cause to believe that the item observed was contraband, or evidence. Bruzzese, [supra, 94 N.J.] at 236-37.


Here the State suggests that the officers had the right to be where they were, because it was an area known as the curtilage part of the property where members of the public were permitted to be. Curtilage is land adjacent to a home and may include walkways, driveways, and porches. State v. Johnson, 171 N.J. 192, 208-09 (2002). Whether the fourth amendment safeguards an area of curtilage depends on a consideration of various factors, including whether the area is included within an enclos[ure] surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by. Again, that would be Johnson, [supra, 171 N.J. at 208-09,] as well as United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 301, [107 S. Ct. 1134, 1139, 94 L. Ed. 2d 326, 334-35] (1987).


An area within the curtilage to which the public is welcome, such as a walkway leading to an entrance to a home, is not afforded fourth amendment protection, because the resident has given . . . implicit consent to visitors to approach the home from that area. Again, that would be Johnson, [supra, 171 N.J.] at 209.


In other words, when a law enforcement officer walks to a front or back door for the purpose of making contact with a resident, and reasonably believes that the door is used by visitors, he is not unconstitutionally trespassing on that property. Again, Johnson, [supra, 171 N.J.] at 209.


Here, I find that the officers suspected something was afoot in the area of Ms. Hicks’s home, for two reasons, she told them, not on that particular night, but that it was an ongoing problem, and from their experience in the area. I believe Officer Santiago testified today that as part of the ACT he had gone to this home several times, although they had not found any drug transactions at that point, he had been involved in investigations . . . which dealt with drug usage.


. . . [A]nd I agree with [defense counsel], and I don’t think the State disputes it, there was no probable cause to get a search warrant at the time the officers went to the 105 Bank Street. I would suggest there wasn’t sufficient evidence to establish probable cause by seeing people come and go, even with the experience of the officers as to what was going on by the length of time it was taking each person to be in the home, how they were acting, as well as their experience that this was a high drug, or high crime area.


But, I would suggest that it was certainly sufficient evidence which would permit them to investigate further. When you add to that the request of Ms. Hicks for them to keep an eye on her home, I would suggest that the officers — based on that request — had every right to go knock on her door. But, even if we take that out of the equation, I find that [] their observations establish that the rear doorway of 105 certainly fit within the public use exception to the protections of the fourth amendment, particularly the night in question. They observed numerous folks coming in and out of 105 Bank Street on the first floor through the doorway, which was eventually approached by Officer Santiago. So, I find that he had a legal right to approach the house and step up onto the porch.


[Defense counsel] suggests that there was a major discrepancy between the police report and Officer Santiago’s testimony, because in the report the officer testified that he was “in the doorway,” when he saw the suspected marijuana. I don’t find any such inconsistency. To me, common usage of the phrase, “in the doorway,” basically means in the area of the doorway. It could be on either side of it. It could be in it. And, I don’t find any inconsistency to suggest that the officer meant, when he wrote the report, that he [had] actually stepped up and [was] standing in the threshold.


I find the officer’s testimony as to where he was located to be credible, and I find that what he observed through the doorway meets the plain view exception. I find that the law enforcement officer had a right to be where he was. I find that what he saw was inadvertent. I acknowledge that the officers had a hunch that there was something going on and that this was an area where drug transactions occurred on a regular basis. But, I find nothing in the record to suggest that they knew what they were going to find when they knocked on the door, which is what Officer Santiago indicated that he intended to do.


Likewise, I find that what he saw was [] immediately apparent as being contraband, [] or evidence, with regards of the sale of a controlled dangerous substance, and that he had probable cause to believe that the marijuana and the scale were evidence of a crime. Thus, I find that the officers had the right to then enter the structure once they saw the evidence in plain view.


Now, [defense counsel] argues that this was a police-created exigency, as prohibited in State v Hutchins, 116 N.J. 457, 460 (1989). . . . I find that [] the fact pattern in this case is markedly different than the fact pattern in Hutchins. Our Supreme Court and other appellate courts have recognized that the mere fact that police announce their presence or show themselves does not create an exigency. That’s not a police-created exigency, because if it was, every time the police were present some place they would be creating the exigency and therefore there would be no exception.


What happened in Hutchins is, the police had a tip that somebody was going to be selling drugs in the house, and they went and knocked on the door, and someone, the occupant, came to the doorway, and he had something in his hand, but they couldn’t see what it was, they just had a hunch that it was CDS. And, when they wanted him to show them, or to answer questions, he proceeded to go back into the home, which he had every right to do.


The police then followed him into the home and basically forced him to produce what he had [in] his hand. That’s not at all what we had here. I find that the fact that the police were surveilling the location because they suspected something, is not a police-created exigency, and when they get to the doorway, they didn’t have to do anything except look. And, when they look in the doorway, where []I believe it was Taylor had entered[,] what they saw at that point was in plain view. So, I find that the prohibition announced by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Hutchins does not apply here.


The State argues that once the officers saw what they saw, there were exigent circumstances for them to enter the home and secure the evidence. And, I agree. This is not the kind of case where they could have secured the house, waited for a warrant, because at that point that would suggest that they did have probable cause. The house was filled with people. Entering the house to secure the people would have created the same problem as entering the house to secure the evidence.


And, I find, as is often the case in drug related cases, that this is a case where destruction of evidence was an issue. . . . I don’t find that Mr. Stewart, or Mr. Russell, had attempted to throw [] what they had in[] their hands into a toilet and flush it, or to throw it out the window, or to pass it to someone who was running out the door. But, what we have here is an apartment, or a house, that’s got at least eight people [in] it when the police arrive.


They have plain view evidence of suspected marijuana and scales. I would suggest that [] what they see Mr. Stewart and Mr. Russell doing would cause a reasonable officer to believe that what they were passing back and forth, and trying to hide, was contraband, and there was a need to secure it.


On that same date, August 16, 2007, Stewart accepted a plea offer from the State. In exchange for entering a plea of guilty to count two, second-degree possession with intent to distribute cocaine, the State agreed to recommend that he receive a sentence of five years, with a two-and-one-half year period of parole ineligibility. Judge Farrell accepted Stewart’s conditional guilty plea, R. 3:9-3(f), finding that there was a sufficient factual basis to do so.

On October 19, 2007, Judge Richard Geiger imposed the recommended sentence, together with all mandatory fines and penalties. Stewart does not challenge the sentence on appeal.

This appeal followed.


Stewart raises the following issue on this appeal:



Having reviewed the record, Judge Farrell’s thoughtful opinion denying the motion to suppress, and the arguments raised in the briefs, we find Stewart’s appellate arguments to be without merit and not warranting extended discussion in a written opinion on appeal, R. 2:11-3(e)(2), and affirm essentially for the reasons set forth by Judge Farrell in his oral opinion. We add only the following.

Judge Farrell’s findings of fact, as to which our scope of review is “extremely narrow,” were fully supported by the evidence adduced at the hearing. State v. De La Paz, 337 N.J. Super. 181, 190 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 168 N.J. 295 (2001). Although a trial judge’s interpretation of the law is not entitled to such deference, ibid., we find that Judge Farrell correctly applied the law with respect to “curtilage,” as outlined in State v. Johnson, 171 N.J. 192, 208-09 (2002), in determining that Santiago did not require a warrant to go onto the back porch of 105 Bank Street.

Santiago had been asked by Hicks to assist her with respect to problems at her home; and had promised to check on her on occasion. He had observed several people go up onto the porch and enter the house through the back door. It was reasonable for Santiago to decide to attempt to speak with Hicks. Once lawfully on the porch, he observed contraband in plain view, after Taylor opened the door, entered, and failed to close it. A warrant is not required when a police officer is: (1) lawfully present in the viewing area; (2) the officer inadvertently discovers the evidence in plain view; and (3) it is “immediately apparent” to the police officer that the “items in plain view were evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure.” Johnson, supra, 171 N.J. at 207; see also State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 238 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984).

It was also reasonable for Santiago to seize the drugs at the time because it was extremely unlikely that they would still be there when he returned with a warrant, had he sought one, inasmuch as he observed Stewart and Russell attempting to hide the plastic bag. See State v. Stott, 171 N.J. 343, 358 (2002).






1 At the same time, there was a motion to suppress a statement given by Stewart. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). The Miranda issue was not preserved for appeal.