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State v. Siegmeister

Decided: July 10, 1969.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY (SOUTH ORANGE), PLAINTIFF,
v.
CURT SIEGMEISTER, DEFENDANT



Yancey, J.c.c.

Yancey

This is an appeal, pursuant to R.R. 3:10-1 et seq. , from a decision of the South Orange Municipal Court, adjudging defendant guilty of having violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 provides the following:

"A person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic or habit producing drug * * * shall be subject, for a first offense, to a fine of not less than two hundred nor more than five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for a term of not less than thirty days nor more than three months, or both, in the discretion of the magistrate, and shall forthwith forfeit his right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of two years from the date of his conviction. * * *"

The facts of this case arise out of an incident which occurred on October 10, 1968. At the hearing Officer James Russell of the South Orange Police Department testified that

on the evening of October 10 he observed defendant's car parked at a right angle to the curb, with part of the car protruding into traffic. Upon further investigation Officer Russell observed that defendant's pupils were dilated and that he staggered as he walked. At police headquarters Officer Russell further noted that defendant's speech was slurred and that he exhibited a general lack of physical coordination. However, the officer failed to detect any odor of alcohol emanating from defendant.

Next to testify was Dr. Rupert S. Hughes, who was summoned to police headquarters that same evening. Dr. Hughes testified that he performed a physical and neurological examination of defendant. Among the observations of Dr. Hughes were the following: defendant was noisy and confused, his clothing disheveled, his pupils dilated, he staggered when walking, he was slow to respond to directions, and his face and skin were pale. Based upon this examination Dr. Hughes concluded that the defendant was under the influence of an "intoxicating substance" and "not fit to operate an automobile." Asked to define the term intoxicating substance, Dr. Hughes stated that this would include drugs as well as alcohol. However, Dr. Hughes did not indicate the substance which had produced defendant's condition, other than to say that he detected no odor of alcohol on defendant.

Defendant testified that he had consumed no alcohol during the course of the evening. As for drugs, he said that he regularly took a drug known as meprobamate, which his physician prescribed. Defendant stated that he took approximately 600 milligrams of this drug every four hours, and that it had been prescribed as a result of his recent contraction of hepatitis.

Dr. Hughes explained that meprobamate is the chemical name for "Miltown" and "Equanil," which are tranquilizers. When questioned about the nature of this drug, Dr. Hughes indicated that it was not a narcotic, and that in his experience it could not be considered as a habit-forming drug,

although some medical literature referred to such drugs as potentially habit forming.

The burden of proof required to establish the guilt of a defendant in a prosecution under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 was concisely stated in State v. Ingram , 67 N.J. Super. 21 (App. Div. 1961):

"A prosecution under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 is a quasi -criminal proceeding. * * * Therefore the State has the burden of establishing the guilt of the ...


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