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State v. Horn

Decided: October 29, 1971.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN J. HORN, SR., DEFENDANT



Gelman, J.J. & D.r. Ct. (temporarily assigned).

Gelman

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction entered in the Bergen County District Court for violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-75. The court ordered a plenary trial de novo pursuant to R. 3:23-8(a) so that both parties would have an opportunity to present a complete record in view of the importance of the issues raised on this appeal.

The essential facts are these: On April 8, 1971 Officer Saccenti of the Bergen County Police Department was detailed with one other county police officer to enforce the gross weight limitation on the Ferry Street bridge in the Borough of East Rutherford. The bridge is maintained by Bergen County and is posted for a maximum load of 15 tons. A permanent sign stating the gross load limit is posted on Paterson Plank Road 500 feet from the bridge entrance and another such sign is located on the bridge itself. The weight limit was fixed by resolution of the Bergen County Board of Freeholders adopted May 6, 1959 pursuant to the authority vested in the board by N.J.S.A. 27:19-13. The resolution provided, among other things, that the county police department would be charged with the enforcement of the regulations set forth in the resolution, and that persons violating the weight limitation would be "subject to the punishment prescribed by the provisions of section 39:4-75 of the revised statutes, as amended and supplemented."

On the day in question the weighing team was stationed at the East Rutherford side of the bridge, and they observed defendant driving a tractor-trailer containing a liquid cargo off the bridge. He was directed by the officers to stop, and the tractor and trailer were weighed on a pair of portable scales known as loadometers. The weighing proceedure was as follows: first, the scales were balanced and the driver directed to approach the scales by proceeding up ramps located at each side of the vehicle. The vehicle was then moved forward so that the right and left front wheels of the tractor passed over the runners and came to rest directly on the scales. An officer was stationed at each scale and operated the loadometer to determine the weight registered on his side. Officer Saccenti then checked the weights registered on each of the scales and recorded them on his report, the total of the two readings constituting the axle weight. The vehicle was then moved forward and each axle weight was recorded in turn, except for one axle which could not be weighed because an outside wheel on one side was missing. The total of all the recorded axle weights was found to be 56,220 pounds, or 26,220 pounds in excess of the posted limit.

A summons was issued to defendant by Officer Saccenti, who testified to the facts set forth above. This officer was trained in the use of loadometers between October 1970 and February 16, 1971, when he was certified as a weighmaster by the State Division of Weights and Measures. He further testified that the scales used in the weighing of the vehicle in question were calibrated on March 19, 1971 by the Division of Weights and Measures, and the certificate evidencing the calibration of the scales was introduced in evidence.

The officer described, in explicit detail, the weighing procedure which was followed in this case, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that the procedure was incorrect. While counsel urged that such an inference can be drawn because the total axle weight of one side of the

vehicle was 2,000 pounds in excess of the other side, the side-to-side weight differential is readily attributable to the liquid cargo shifting because of a slight beveling of the road surface where the weighing took place. Certainly the differential obtained does not give rise to a reasonable inference that the scales were incorrect or that the weighing procedure was improper. Loadometers are in widespread use by law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and they are a relatively simple but accurate means of determining vehicle or axle weights without seriously delaying commercial traffic. Loadometer readings have been accepted as satisfactory evidence in other jurisdictions to support convictions for vehicle weight violations (see, e.g., People v. Vinciguerra , 24 Misc. 2d 63, 203 N.Y.S. 2d 953 (Sup. Ct. 1960)), and even assuming that loadometers are "scientific instruments" equivalent to drunkometer devices, the criteria set forth in State v. Johnson , 42 N.J. 146, 171 (1964), were sufficiently met in this case so as to warrant the acceptance of the results obtained.

Defendant's principal contention on this appeal is an asserted lack of authority on the part of county police officers to stop and weigh vehicles or to issue a summons for any weight violation of the Motor Vehicle Act.

N.J.S.A. 39:4-75, the Motor Vehicle Act section involved here, does not contain any language limiting its enforcement to a specific class of law enforcement officer. The section states:

No commercial motor vehicles shall be driven over a bridge in this state upon which is posted in a conspicuous place a sign stating the gross weight the bridge will carry, if the gross weight of the commercial vehicle and load is greater than the gross weight stated on the sign.

A person violating this section shall be subject to a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars. In default of the payment thereof imprisonment in the county jail for a ...


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