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State v. Tamburro

Decided: October 21, 1975.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RUSSELL J. TAMBURRO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J.

Sullivan

[68 NJ Page 416] Defendant Russell J. Tamburro was found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a narcotic, a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a). He was enrolled in a methadone maintenance program at the time and admitted to having ingested a prescribed dose of

methadone the morning of his arrest.*fn1 The arrest took place on July 31, 1972 at approximately 10:00 P.M.

Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and, if valid, adversely affects all methadone programs by subjecting participants therein to charges of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. We find no merit or validity in any of defendant's contentions and affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division which upheld the finding of guilt.

On the evening in question a Clifton police officer in an unmarked patrol car observed defendant who was operating a motor vehicle and was attempting to pull out onto Route 46, a four-lane highway. Despite wide gaps in traffic defendant did not readily avail himself of opportunities to enter upon the highway, and when he did so, made an extremely wide right-hand turn causing part of his car to cross over into the fast lane of eastbound traffic. Defendant proceeded easterly along Route 46 and then made another extremely wide right-hand turn into a side street, coming "to the extreme left hand side of the street." At this point the officer overtook defendant's vehicle and stopped it.

When defendant was asked for his license and registration he fumbled excessively with his wallet. Defendant was asked to get out of the car and, when he did so, the officer noticed that defendant's eyes were bloodshot and glazed with pinpointed pupils. As defendant stood there, he swayed slightly, appeared uncoordinated and his speech periodically became slurred. He appeared tired, sluggish and drowsy. He denied that he had been drinking. There was no odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, nor any indication of physical injury.

The officer, who had undergone special training and education in the drug detection and drug abuse field and who

was then assigned to the Clifton Drug and Abuse Squad, said to defendant that he appeared to be under the influence of drugs, whereupon defendant stated that he had taken 120 milligrams of methadone in a methadone maintenance program earlier that day.

The officer was of the opinion that defendant could not operate a motor vehicle competently and had not been operating one competently. He placed defendant under arrest and charged him with a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.

Defendant was taken to police headquarters in Clifton where an eye test and walking test were administered. The arrest report noted defendant's pale face, bloodshot eyes with pinpointed pupils, changing moods from hostility to passiveness, drowsiness and a scabbed needle mark on his right arm not of recent origin. No blood or urine tests were given.

Defendant was tried in the Clifton Municipal Court on a charge of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a narcotic. At the trial, the arresting officer testified to the foregoing matters and expressed an opinion based on his expertise in the drug field that at the time he arrested defendant, defendant's faculties were impaired, that defendant could not operate a motor vehicle properly and that he was under the influence of narcotics.

The State also presented testimony from Dr. Robert W. Baird, a medical doctor, who had an extensive background in narcotics and drug control. The trial court found ...


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