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State v. Digiovanni

May 29, 2007

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RONALD DIGIOVANNI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

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 ...


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