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State v. Coccomo

Decided: September 26, 1980.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL A. COCCOMO, DEFENDANT



MacKenzie, J.s.c.

Mackenzie

This is a motion to suppress evidence. R. 3:5-7.

The police practice of stopping a motor vehicle for a routine document check has been barred in New Jersey since March 27, 1979. State v. Carpentieri , 82 N.J. 546, 548 (1980),

gives prospective application only to the deterrent principles underlying Delaware v. Prouse , 440 U.S. 648, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1979). Since Prouse the police may not make a totally random or discretionary stop of an automobile, nor may the State use at trial any evidence seized while the driver was so detained. The officer must have an articulable and reasonable belief that the driver is unlicensed, or the car unregistered or uninsured, or the motorist or occupant is otherwise subject to seizure.

The written policy of the Roxbury Township police department is to stop every fifth vehicle during certain light traffic hours.*fn1 The purpose of these road stops was to check the driver for his license, registration and insurance card, under the authority of N.J.S.A. 39:3-29,*fn2 as well as for any apparent outward indication of intoxication. Is this system of nonselective and nondiscretionary spot-checking constitutionally permissible? This question is raised directly by defendant's motion.

The facts are not in issue. Sometime around 1:30 a.m. on April 5, 1980 a detail of Roxbury Police put a roadstop procedure into operation on southbound Main Road in the Landing section of the township. Every fifth vehicle going past the

checkpoint was stopped and the driver of each stopped vehicle was asked for his license, his registration and his insurance card. At about 2:55 a.m., while traffic was light, defendant's car was in fact the fifth vehicle to approach the check point since the last previous vehicle had been stopped.*fn3 Defendant was directed by a police captain to pull off the roadway and into a parking lot where all diverted vehicles were checked by other policemen on the detail.*fn4

Defendant was unable to produce his insurance identification card after having been asked to produce his driving credentials by one of the policemen. The officer then noticed that the defendant's eyes were bloodshot and that he had an odor of alcohol on his breath. While stepping out of the car at the officer's direction, defendant fell backwards against his car and then steadied himself by grasping the car roof. The policeman asked if he had been drinking; defendant admitted that he had drunk a number of alcoholic beverages at a local bar. Defendant was asked to recite the alphabet but was unable to do so. Defendant was unable to walk heel to toe. He was then arrested on a charge of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a).*fn5

Enroute to the police station defendant fell asleep in the rear of the patrol car. Once at the station defendant was read his rights concerning operating a motor vehicle in violation of

the New Jersey Drinking-Driving Law. He then agreed to take ...


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