On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Michels, Pressler and Trautwein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
Defendant Paul Hochman was convicted in the Municipal Court of the Town of Montclair of operating his motor vehicle in violation of the compulsory insurance provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2. His driver's license was suspended for six months, and he was fined $50. Defendant appealed to the Law Division where, after a trial de novo on the record below, he was again found guilty and the same sentence imposed. The judgment was stayed pending the outcome of an appeal to this court.
The trial in this case was a procedural anomaly. The municipal court judge permitted the case to be submitted on the exculpatory statement of facts recited in defendant's trial brief, which facts defendant allegedly was prepared to prove. The
State concurred in the procedure, apparently because it was unable to refute the statement of facts. Cf. State v. Wolden, 153 N.J. Super. 57, 58 (App.Div.1977). According to this stipulation, on July 15, 1980, while operating a motor vehicle owned by him, defendant was stopped by a Montclair police officer because the New Jersey inspection sticker on that vehicle had expired. The officer asked defendant to produce his license, vehicle registration and insurance identification card. Defendant produced the first two documents but was unable to locate his insurance card. The officer then inquired through the Montclair Police Department whether the vehicle was insured and was informed that the insurance on the vehicle had been cancelled. The officer thereupon issued summonses to defendant charging him with (1) failing to have a motor vehicle inspected, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:8-9, and (2) operating a vehicle without an insurance identification card in his possession, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-29. This latter summons was subsequently amended to charge defendant with operating an uninsured vehicle in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2.
The stipulation further recites that because of the long hours that he worked, defendant asked his wife to look after household matters, including insurance matters, and gave her several thousand dollars each month to pay for them. Defendant's wife arranged through First City Insurance (First City), an insurance broker, to have Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) insure the vehicle involved. First City arranged to finance the premiums through Lee Finance Services (Lee Finance), and defendant's wife tendered $168 to First City and agreed to pay the balance to Lee Finance in monthly installments of $48.10. First City, as an agent of Allstate, issued an insurance identification card to defendant's wife for the vehicle. The card stated that the insurance on the vehicle was to remain in effect for the period from August 28, 1979 to August 28, 1980.
Thereafter, defendant's wife made payments to Lee Finance, the last payment being made on October 13, 1979. On October 15, 1979, Allstate informed defendant's wife by letter that there
was due and owing a premium of $331 and that payment should be made immediately. Defendant's wife notified First City that she had received the letter from Allstate and reminded First City that the insurance premiums were being financed through Lee Finance pursuant to the financing agreement arranged by it and therefore she should not have to pay the balance of the account. First City informed defendant's wife that it would investigate the problem and contact her.
In December 1979 defendant and his wife moved from their residence at 314 Park Street, Montclair, and left a forwarding address. In January 1980, because defendant's wife had not heard from First City, she again contacted First City and informed it that she had received no further correspondence from Allstate. She inquired into the status of the insurance on the vehicle. First City informed defendant's wife that they were still investigating the problem and would contact her when it had been resolved. It was further stipulated that defendant was never told by his wife of the financing agreement or of the difficulties that she had encountered with the insurance.
Sometime in April or early May 1980 defendant was transferred from the New York office to the Newark, New Jersey, office of his employer and needed to use the vehicle to get to work. According to the stipulated facts, defendant's wife told defendant that the vehicle could be driven. Defendant, relying on what his wife had told him and believing that the vehicle was insured, drove the vehicle until July 15, 1980, when he was charged with violating the compulsory insurance provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2.
It was further stipulated that in the preparation of the defense of this matter, defendant learned that sometime in October or November 1979 Lee Finance liquidated without informing its clients, including defendant's wife. Moreover, although Allstate claimed that it sent a notice of cancellation of the policy to defendant's wife, she ...