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State v. Digiovanni


May 29, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hunterdon County, Criminal Part, Municipal Appeal No. 7-A-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted May 2, 2007

Before Judges C.S. Fisher and Messano.

Defendant Ronald DiGiovanni appeals from the Law Division's de novo review that affirmed his conviction in North Hunterdon Municipal Court of violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-66, failure to maintain his vehicle's headlamps. In the municipal court, he was fined $27 and court costs of $27 were imposed. The Law Division judge affirmed defendant's conviction, but reduced the fine to $25. N.J.S.A. 39:3-79.

The salient facts introduced at trial demonstrated that on January 7, 2006, at approximately 4:48 p.m., Police Officer John Oliveira observed defendant driving on Route 12 in Franklin Township approximately ten miles faster than the speed limit. Although it was still daylight, defendant's vehicle had its headlights on, however, the right lamp was not working. Oliveira stopped defendant and gave him a warning with respect to the speeding violation. He issued defendant a ticket for violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-66. With respect to the malfunctioning headlight, Oliveira testified defendant said, "He'll take care of it."

Defendant, who represented himself, questioned the officer extensively about the encounter. Oliveira acknowledged that he did not know whether defendant had his high beams or low beams on, and did not ask defendant to put his high beams on. The judge determined much of this to be irrelevant, noting I already made my decision on that sir that if one of the lamps is not working in one mode, high or low beam, typically low beam then that is a violation of the statute.

The State rested after Oliveira's testimony, defendant did not testify, and the judge found defendant guilty as charged.

Defendant raises the same issues before us that he raised in the Law Division. First, he contends that he could not be found guilty of violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-66 because he was not required by other sections of the Motor Vehicle Act to have his headlights on at the time. Second, he contends the municipal judge took improper judicial notice of certain facts, improperly limited his questioning of Oliveira, and denied him a fair trial. We have carefully considered these contentions in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.

Defendant was convicted of violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-66 which provides,

All lamps, reflectors and other illuminating devices required by this article shall be kept clean and in good working order and, as far as practicable, shall be mounted in such a manner as to reduce the likelihood of their being obscured by mud or dust thrown up by the wheels.

It is undisputed that defendant's right headlight was not functioning on the day in question.

Defendant contends, however, that the phrase "by this article" limits the statute's scope. He argues that headlights are only required to be used during certain hours and, therefore, unless the State proves the headlight was not "in good working order" during those hours there can be no violation of the statute.

In this regard, he relies upon N.J.S.A. 39:3-46 and 3-47(a) which provide,

No person shall drive, move, park or be in custody of any vehicle or combination of vehicles on any street or highway during the times when lighted lamps are required unless such vehicle or combination of vehicles displays lighted lamps and illuminating devices as hereinafter in this article required. [N.J.S.A. 39:3-47(a) (emphasis added).] "When lighted lamps are required" means at any time from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise; whenever rain, mist, snow or other precipitation or atmospheric moisture requires the use of windshield wipers by motorists; and during any time when, due to smoke, fog, unfavorable atmospheric conditions or for any other cause there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead.

[N.J.S.A. 39:3-46.]

It is undisputed that when Oliveira stopped defendant, he was not required to have his headlights on pursuant to the statute. Therefore, he contends, he did not violate N.J.S.A. 39:3-66.

We disagree. Article 3 of Chapter 3 of the Motor Vehicle Act, N.J.S.A. 39:3-43 through -79.24, is entitled "Equipment." It sets forth various requirements for vehicle lighting equipment that are mandatory on motor vehicles used in this state. See N.J.S.A. 39:3-49 (requiring headlamps); N.J.S.A. 39:3-57 (setting requirements for single-beam headlamps); N.J.S.A. 39:3-58 (setting requirements for multiple-beam headlamps); and N.J.S.A. 3-61(a) (requiring minimum number of front and rear lamps). It is clear, therefore, that the Legislature intended, through N.J.S.A. 39:3-66, to proscribe any failure to keep any of these lighting devices "clean and in good working order." N.J.S.A. 39:3-47 proscribes other conduct --the operation of a vehicle without the necessary lighting equipment when required -- for which the defendant was not charged. Both the municipal court judge and the Law Division judge appropriately applied the law to the specific charge for which defendant stood accused.

In his second point, defendant contends that the municipal court judge improperly took judicial notice of the fact that "the way [headlamps] are manufactured you cannot have a high beam that works where the low beam does not work." While we may agree that this was not a fact capable of being judicially noticed, N.J.R.E. 201(b), we are convinced it did not affect the outcome of the trial. As the judge properly noted, based upon Oliveira's testimony, one light was working and one was not. Defendant did not testify and rebut this fact. We agree with the judge under such circumstances, defendant's headlamps were not "in good working order" and he was, therefore, guilty of the offense charged.

The balance of defendant's argument is without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in this opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).



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