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State v. Potts

Decided: October 25, 1982.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARK H. POTTS, DEFENDANT



Haines, A.j.s.c.

Haines

[186 NJSuper Page 618] Defendant Mark Potts was arrested by a State Trooper in Wrightstown Borough and charged with violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 (drunk driving). He was driven to the State Police Barracks in North Hanover Township and requested to take a breathalyzer test. He refused and was charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4 (refusal to take a breathalyzer test). The complaints covering both charges were filed in the Wrightstown Borough Municipal Court. At the time of the hearing defendant moved for dismissal of the breathalyzer charge; he argued that the Wrightstown court had no jurisdiction because the refusal had occurred in North Hanover Township.*fn1 Judge McInerney,

of the Wrightstown Municipal Court, denied the motion, holding that there was sufficient contact with Wrightstown Borough to provide jurisdiction and, further, that it was the intent of the Legislature that drunk driving and breathalyzer refusal charges arising from the same incident should be tried together. The issue is now raised on appeal. I agree with the ruling and the reasoning below.

Jurisdiction has been defined in State v. Osborn, 32 N.J. 117 (1960):

Jurisdiction over subject matter is the power of a court to hear and determine cases of the class to which the proceeding in question belongs. It rests solely upon the court's having been granted such power by the Constitution or by valid legislation, and cannot be vested by agreement of the parties. [at 122]

The Legislature gave municipal courts jurisdiction over violations of motor vehicle laws by N.J.S.A. 2A:8-21(a); in N.J.S.A. 2A:8-20 it provided that: "[t]he territorial jurisdiction of a municipal court of a single municipality shall be the territory embraced within such municipality . . . ." The Wrightstown Borough Municipal Court therefore had no jurisdiction over any such offense occurring in New Hanover Township.

Defendant was charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, which provides:

The municipal court shall revoke the right to operate a motor vehicle of any operator who, after being arrested for a violation of R.S. 39:4-50 shall refuse to submit to the chemical test provided for in section 2 of PL 1966 c. 142 (C. 39:4-50.2) when requested to do so, for 6 months unless the refusal was in connection with a subsequent offense under this section, in which case the revocation period shall be for 2 years.

The municipal court shall determine by a preponderance of the evidence whether the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the person had been driving or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on the public highways or quasi-public areas of this State while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug or marihuana, whether the person was placed under arrest and whether he refused to submit to the test upon request of the officer, and if these elements of the violation are not established, no conviction shall issue. In addition to any other requirements provided by law, a person whose operator's license is revoked for refusing to submit to a chemical test shall satisfy the requirements of a program of alcohol education or rehabilitation pursuant to the provisions of R.S. 39:4-50. The revocation shall be independent of any revocation imposed by virtue of a conviction under the provisions of R.S. 39:4-50.

neither the breathalyzer statute nor the statute conferring municipal court jurisdiction over traffic offenses provides any guidance for determining the place at which a violation of the breathalyzer statute is deemed to have occurred. Under such circumstances, "the place where the offense was committed -- the locus delecti -- must be determined from the nature of the offense charged and the location of the act or acts constituting it." State v. Halleran, 181 N.J. Super. 542, 547 (App.Div.1981). See, also, Travis v. United States, 364 U.S. 631, 81 S. Ct. 358, 5 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1961), and U.S. v. Tedesco, 635 F.2d 902, 905 (1 Cir.1980).

Under the statute a defendant may be convicted of a refusal to take the test only after a finding by the municipal court judge, by a ...


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