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State v. Johnson

Decided: April 25, 1985.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID JOHNSON, DEFENDANT



Serata, J.s.c.

Serata

[203 NJSuper Page 437] This is an appeal of a conviction under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 in the Deerfield Township Municipal Court. The defendant was convicted of operating a pedal bicycle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor. The defendant does not deny his intoxication, rather he questions whether the operation of a pedal bicycle falls within the purview of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.

On October 18, 1984, the defendant, David Johnson, was stopped by a New Jersey State Trooper and issued a summons for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. At the time of the stop, Johnson was operating a non-motorized Huffy pedal-type bicycle. On January 14, 1985, in Deerfield Township Municipal Court, the defendant was found guilty and fined $1,000. In addition, the defendant was required to serve 90 days in the county jail and perform 90 days of community service. The defendant has appealed his conviction to this Court.

The State cites State v. Tehan, 190 N.J. Super. 348 (1982), wherein a trial court determined that bicycle operators may be charged with violations of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. This Court is not bound by the Tehan decision for it is settled law in New Jersey that absent an appellate decision, trial court precedent is not obliged to be followed. Lackovic v. New England Paper Tube Co. Inc., 127 N.J. Super. 394 (L.1974). In addition, this Court believes that Tehan is not a decision upon which reliance and the ordering of affairs can be based. Smith v. Brennan, 31 N.J. 353 (1968). Alternative pre-existing legislation exists to adequately deal with the hazards posed by drunken pedal-cyclists and therefore any extension of the statute is unnecessary.

The statute under which the defendant was charged, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, states in pertinent part:

A person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit forming drugs or operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .10% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant's blood or permits another who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit forming drug to operate a motor vehicle owed by him or in his custody or control or permits another to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .10% or more by weight in the defendant's blood shall be subject . . . . to penalty.

As the defendant has admitted his intoxication at the time of operation, the focus of this review centers on the term, "motor vehicle". The term "motor vehicle" as used in the

drunken driving legislation is defined precisely and unambiguously in N.J.S.A. 39:1-1:

Motor vehicle includes all vehicles propelled otherwise than by muscular power, excepting such vehicles as run only upon rails or tracks and motorized bicycles. [emphasis supplied].

As this definition specifically excludes from the term "motor vehicle" any vehicle operated by muscular power, the statute does not directly deal with bicycles moved by human power. This Court must then read the remaining applicable definitions and statutes in sui generis or in pari materia to determine if there is any evidence of a plan or scheme by the Legislature, to include bicycles powered by muscular power, within the parameters of the statute. After an exhaustive review of over 10 pages of definitions applicable to motor vehicle laws, this Court decides that there is no scheme or plan which includes the bicycle as a motorized vehicle.

In the course of its review this Court has scrutinized the detailed and technical definitions applicable to vehicles of all classes and has found it to be clearly apparent from the plain language of the statute that the muscular powered bicycle is not to be included. A review of ...


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