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State v. Bartek

Decided: July 3, 1974.


Handler, Meanor and Kole.

Per Curiam

[129 NJSuper Page 213] Defendant was convicted in the Mine Hill Municipal Court of two charges of parking a vehicle within an intersection, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-138(a), and one charge of obstructing traffic, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-67. The total of the fines imposed for the three offenses was $15. On a de novo appeal on the record to the Morris County Court he was again found guilty of these offenses

and the same penalties were imposed. The latter judgment is the subject of this appeal.

The police had charged defendant with nine summonses for violation of a local ordinance involving parking, as well as 34 summonses for violations of the two traffic statute provisions hereinbefore referred to. Since the municipal court judge deemed it unnecessary to issue that number of charges, he only found guilt with respect to the three issued on the first date and dismissed those remaining.

Defendant owns a store on the corner of Route 46 and Randall Avenue in the Township of Mine Hill. The lot is triangular in shape, with the intersection of Route 46 and Randall Avenue forming an acute angle rather than a right angle. The defendant has a store on this property from which he apparently sells appliances. He parks cars and small panel trucks in the area adjacent to the store on this triangular piece of property.

The basic issue before the courts below was whether such parking was lawful. This, in turn, as presented by the parties below, required a determination of whether the municipality had a prescriptive easement for a highway or street over the part of defendant's property on which the vehicles were parked. If that easement were found to exist, the question of whether the statutory provisions had been violated had to be resolved. On both issues, of course, the courts had to find that the State proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146 (1964); State v. Brown, 22 N.J. 405 (1956); Kearney v. Modern Transportation Co., 116 N.J. Super. 526, 529-530 (App. Div. 1971).

The county court, on its de novo review, found, as did the municipal court, against defendant on both issues. It is in this setting that we have the case for review.

Both statutes appear to require proof that the owner permitted his vehicle to occupy what is in fact a street or highway. See definitions of "street" and "intersection" in N.J.S.A. 39:1-1. The latter section also defines "highway" as

"the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel." The evidence in the record amply supports the following findings, which the County Court expressly or by inference made (see State v. Johnson, supra at 42 N.J. 157, 171): (1) the area involved was paved and maintained by the municipality; (2) vehicles, in turning from Route 46 into Randall Avenue, in fact crossed over that area; (3) this was a hazardous turn if the area were not so used, and (4) a public danger was created by defendant's parking of cars therein. We pass the question of whether such evidence and findings may not suffice to predicate violations of the statutes involved, without the necessity of determining the prescriptive easement issue. The latter matter, as hereinafter discussed, might well have awaited a more appropriate proceeding. Cf. State v. Sisti, 62 N.J. Super. 84 (App. Div. 1960); State v. Gillespie, 100 N.J. Super. 71 (App. Div. 1967), certif. den. 51 N.J. 274 (1968); City of Seattle v. Wright, 72 Wash. 2d 556, 433 P. 2d 906, 908 (Sup. Ct. Wash. 1967); State v. O'Connor, 76 N.J. Super. 246 (Cty. Ct. 1962); State v. Valeriani, 101 N.J. Super. 396 (App. Div. 1968). See Annotation, "Application of regulations or rules governing vehicular traffic to driveways or other places not legal highways," 80 A.L.R. 469, 470 (1932); Annotation, "Applicability of criminal 'hit-and run' statute to accidents occurring on private property," 77 A.L.R. 2d 1171 (1961). See also, Tubular Service Corp. v. State Highway Dept. Comm'r, 77 N.J. Super. 556, 564 (App. Div. 1963), aff'd 40 N.J. 331 (1963). Cf. State v. Young, 95 N.J. Super. 535 (Cty. Ct. 1967).

We thus approach the issues as they were presented below.

The County Court, using the appropriate standard of de novo review on the record (State v. Johnson, supra at 157) found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that at least since January 1936 the area on which the vehicles were parked ...

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