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State v. Willhite

Decided: June 5, 1956.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES C. WILLHITE, DEFENDANT



Halpern, J.c.c.

Halpern

[40 NJSuper Page 407] As the result of an offense that occurred on December 31, 1955, the defendant on February 1, 1956 was charged with and convicted of speeding under N.J.S.A. 39:4-98 and of reckless driving under N.J.S.A. 39:4-96, by the municipal magistrate of the Borough of Bernardsville, Somerset County, New Jersey. On February 7, 1956 he was charged with and convicted of reckless driving under N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 by the municipal magistrate of the Township of Harding, in Morris County. On February 27, 1956, he was charged with and convicted of reckless driving under N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 by the municipal magistrate of the Township of Bernards, in Somerset County. The defendant was fined $35 plus $4 costs for speeding, and $40 plus $4 costs for reckless driving, in the Borough of Bernardsville. He was fined $100 plus $5 costs, his driver's license revoked for one year and given a ten-day jail sentence for reckless driving in Harding Township. He was fined $50 plus $5 costs for reckless driving in Bernards Township, and his license was revoked for one year, the revocation to run concurrently with the revocation imposed by the sentence in Harding Township.

The defendant, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5-11 and R.R. 3:10-2, appealed the aforesaid convictions to the Somerset and Morris County Courts and all the charges were tried de novo. By order of the Chief Justice dated April 30, 1956, I was assigned to the Morris County Court to determine the appeal there pending so that all the appeals could be disposed of by one judge.

After hearing and considering the testimony in connection with all of the charges, I have arrived at the following factual conclusions: In the early morning hours of December 31, 1955 the defendant, accompanied by a young lady, was driving his automobile in a northeasterly direction along State Highway Route No. 202 through the Borough of Bernardsville. State Highway Route No. 202 is the main street of said borough, and after leaving Bernardsville it runs through Bernards Township, in Somerset County, and Harding Township, in Morris County, and ultimately to Morristown. Defendant drove his car through Bernardsville at a speed between 55 and 65 miles per hour, and at one point near the center of the borough where a traffic circle is located he crossed over the dividing line in attempting to negotiate the circle. Officers Maddaluna and Lucas of the Bernardsville Police Department were in pursuit of the defendant through the borough but were unable to apprehend him until he had driven through Bernards Township and a portion of Harding Township. The entire chase was over a distance of approximately five or six miles and occurred within a matter of a few minutes. The speed of the defendant's car during the course of the chase got up as high as 65 miles per hour in the Borough of Bernardsville and 90 miles per hour through Bernards and Harding Townships, although the speed zones through which he passed were 30 and 40 miles per hour in Bernardsville, and 50 miles per hour in portions of Bernards and Harding Townships. The only other incident worthy of mention that occurred during the course of this chase occurred somewhere in Bernards Township when the defendant pulled his car from one side of the road to the other because he felt the car behind him

was too close and he tried to warn it to stay further back. He did not know that the car behind him was a police car despite the fact that the rotating red light and the siren on the police car were in operation.

The first question to be decided is whether under the existing facts the defendant can be convicted in the Borough of Bernardsville for speeding and reckless driving. N.J.S.A. 39:4-98 specifically sets forth the lawful rates of speed that a car can be driven in certain designated areas. This statute is expressly made subject to the provision of section 39:4-96 which deals with reckless driving and section 39:4-97 which deals with careless driving. N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 while it appears under Article 12 entitled "SPEED," provides inter alia:

"A person who drives a vehicle on a highway heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving * * *."

It is quite obvious that mere excessive speed is sufficient for a conviction under N.J.S.A. 39:4-98, while under N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 one can be guilty of reckless driving even though he does not exceed the speed limits. However, I am of the opinion that one who drives his car at a high rate of speed, through the main business area of a community, as was done in the instant case, is guilty of reckless driving. I am of the further opinion that the defendant's speeding was such an integral part of the reckless driving charge that it merged in the greater charge of reckless driving, with the result that he can only be convicted and sentenced for reckless driving. State v. Cooper , 13 N.J.L. 361 (Sup. Ct. 1833); State v. Mowser , 92 N.J.L. 474 (E. & A. 1919); State v. Cosgrove , 103 N.J.L. 412 (E. & A. 1926); State v. Greely , 30 N.J. Super. 180 (Law Div. 1954), affirmed 31 N.J. Super. 542 (App. Div. 1954).

The manner in which the defendant raced through the main street of Bernardsville and swerved his car at the circle makes him guilty of reckless driving within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 39:4-96.

The next question to be determined is whether the defendant, under the existing facts, can be charged with and convicted of reckless driving in the Townships of Bernards and Harding. I point out in the beginning that the defendant is charged by said townships with violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-96, a state statute. R.R. 8:6 provides that:

"Except as otherwise provided by law, the prosecution for an offense shall be had in the jurisdiction in ...


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