[150 NJSuper Page 415] Defendant was tried and found guilty in the Hillside municipal court of leaving the scene of an accident contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:4-129(b). Following a trial de novo on the record, defendant was found guilty by the Union County Court and fined $25 plus $15 costs.
On appeal defendant contends that (1) he is not in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129(b) since this statute should be construed to require knowledge that there was an accident; (2) it would be an unconstitutional violation of due process to construe N.J.S.A. 39:4-129(b) as a strict liability statute; (3) defendant's motion for acquittal made at the close of the State's case should have been granted since the State failed to prove defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and (4) the Appellate Division should, in considering its scope of review, reverse the judgment of the County Court.
The record reveals that on September 13, 1976, at about 4:10 P.M., complainant Joyce Zagieboylo was driving her small foreign car in the center westbound lane of Route 22 in Hillside. Traffic was rather heavy. She testified that traffic in her lane slowed down. Traffic in the left lane had stopped. Defendant, who had been driving his Lincoln Continental in that lane, "skidded to a halt and when he did so his car swerved a little bit as he screeched to a halt and touched the rear fender" of her car.
Complainant then testified:
I proceeded to pull over into the parking lot of the supermarket and traffic was stop and go, I honked my horn and sort of waved my arms and Mr. Feintuch continued driving down 22.
She stated that defendant never stopped, he did not exhibit his license or registration, nor did he ever get out of his car. Complainant knew it was the vehicle driven by defendant which had struck her vehicle because she had seen it in her rear view mirror, she turned around and saw his car, and it was the only car next to her when she felt the impact. She copied down the license plate number.
The left rear fender of complainant's vehicle was damaged. There was a dent about a foot long in the fender right behind the wheel. She received an estimate of $157 from an auto body repair shop to repair the damage.
On questioning by the municipal court judge complainant explained that the rear bumper was not on her car at the time since she had had the rear fender repainted shortly prior to this incident, so that when defendant's bumper hit her car, it hit the fender.
A motion for judgment of acquittal was denied.
Defendant recalled that he had made a rather sudden stop and that his car had swerved to the right. He stated that the lane to his right was open when he did so swerve into it. Defendant further testified that there was no impact, he felt no impact, heard no one's horn honking, and did not see anyone trying to attract his attention. He first learned of the incident when he was served with a summons by mail. Subsequent examination of his car revealed there was not a thing on it.
Defendant first contends that a conviction for leaving the scene of an accident requires proof that defendant knew he was involved in an accident.
Prior to 1967 the relevant statute provided in pertinent part:
The driver of any vehicle knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to a person or damage to property shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident, give his name and address and exhibit his operator's license and registration certificate of his vehicle to the person injured or struck and to any police officer or witness of the accident, and to the driver or occupants of the vehicle collided with and render to a person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying of that person to a hospital or a physician for medical or surgical treatment, if it is apparent that the treatment is necessary or is requested by the injured person.
In State v. Gill , 47 N.J. 441, 445 (1966), the court emphasized that the hit and run statute needed revision and that the Uniform Vehicle Code, § ...