On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County
Pressler, Brochin and Kleiner. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.
After the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, defendant Charles H. Williamson pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(2). He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. He appeals to this court solely on the ground that the warrantless search of his vehicle was illegal because the State Trooper who stopped him did not have a sufficient basis for doing so.
According to the Trooper, he was authorized to make the stop because he observed a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-126. That statute provides:
No person shall . . . turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway . . . unless and until such movement can be made with safety. No person shall so turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal in the manner
hereinafter provided in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement.
A signal of intention to turn right or left when required shall be given continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning. . . . [Emphasis added.]
The State Trooper testified that at about 1:00 p.m., while he was driving a police vehicle in the left lane of Interstate 80, a divided highway which had three lanes of travel in each direction, he observed defendant's vehicle several car lengths ahead, in the center lane of the highway. According to the Trooper, defendant moved his vehicle into the right lane without signalling.*fn1 No testimony was offered that there were any motor vehicles anywhere in the vicinity other than the State Trooper's and the defendant's cars.
On the basis of this record, defendant argues that the State did not prove any justification for stopping him. He contends that since there was no showing that any other vehicle was "affected" by his moving into the right lane, the State failed to establish that the State Trooper had probable cause to believe that he had violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-126.
There are no pertinent reported New Jersey cases construing N.J.S.A. 39:4-126. However, decisions in other jurisdictions support
defendant's position. In both Hall v. Texas, 488 S.W. 2d 788 (Tex.Crim.App.1973) and Willett v. Texas, 454 S.W. 2d 398 (Tex.Crim.App.1970), the defendants were convicted for possession of contraband, a pistol in the Hall case and marijuana in the Willett case, after their vehicles had been stopped for turning without signalling first. In both cases the defendants appealed only on the ground that the searches which disclosed the contraband were invalid because the initial ...