On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Pressler and Scalera. The opinion of the court was delivered by Scalera, J.A.D.
The issue here is whether a police officer's failure to sign a summons issued to defendant for driving while intoxicated renders it fatally defective.
On April 25, 1987 at 12:54 a.m., defendant Charles N. Latorre was arrested in the Borough of Glen Rock. Two summonses were issued to him by a Borough police officer at the time of his arrest. Summons No. A131135 cited him for a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, driving while intoxicated (DWI). Summons
No. A131136 charged him with violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129, leaving the scene of an accident. Both were filled out by the same police officer; both indicated a court return date of April 28, 1987. On No. A131135 (DWI) however, the officer did not append his signature but he did write in all of the other pertinent information including his "Officer's I.D. No." which he indicated to be "64." On A131136, he affixed his signature, (which was hardly legible), and again indicated his identification number.
A few hours later, at 3:50 a.m., Latorre was again arrested by another Glen Rock police officer, who issued two summonses properly charging him with another DWI offense and speeding.
Latorre's attorney entered an appearance for him on April 24, 1987 and requested an adjournment of the scheduled court date in order to "receive discovery, [and] investigate the matter." Thereafter he entered pleas of not guilty on defendant's behalf by mail and acknowledged a new trial date of June 9, 1987. In a letter brief filed on June 12, 1987 he confirmed that he had appeared in court on June 9, 1987 and had the opportunity at that time to talk to both of the complainant officers who had issued the four summonses. In that letter he also briefed the legal issue concerning the lack of a signature on the DWI summons. On June 23, 1987 defendant's motion to dismiss the one DWI summons due to the lack of the officer's signature was considered by the municipal court judge. After hearing oral arguments, the court reserved decision. On July 17, 1987 it notified defendant's attorney that the motion had been denied. The matter was scheduled for trial on August 4, 1987, at which time defendant was allowed to enter a plea of guilty to the other three charges and a "conditional "plea of guilty" to the first DWI charge, reserving the right to appeal from the
denial of his motion to dismiss.*fn1
The defendant appealed the denial to the Law Division of the Superior Court which upheld the municipal court judge's decision, reasoning that the issuing police officer had "appropriately issued a summons by physically writing out, stamping his badge number if you will . . . and handing it to a defendant as they tuck him in the police car, to drive him home."
On this appeal defendant urges that we find that the DWI summons was so defective because of the officer's failure to sign it that it deprived the court of both "personal and subject matter jurisdiction." The State contends that such an omission "is merely a technical insufficiency that does not affect jurisdiction."
Jurisdiction to try motor vehicle violations (including DWI) is conferred upon the municipal courts pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:8-21a and their decisions are reviewable by de novo review in the Superior Court. N.J.S.A. 2A:3-6; R. 3:23-1 et seq. When a police officer observes a violation of any motor vehicle law he may issue and serve a summons upon the alleged violator instead of physically arresting him. N.J.S.A. 39:5-25. The form of the summons to be so issued has been made uniform by the Administrative Director of the Courts ...