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State v. Hwang

November 5, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, 009-1106.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 23, 2007

Before Judges Winkelstein and Yannotti.

Defendant Robert Hwang appeals from a judgment entered by Judge Lois Lipton on October 16, 2006, affirming after a de novo appeal his conviction in the municipal court of harassment, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4b. We affirm.

On October 15, 2004, S.C. filed a complaint against defendant charging him with criminal sexual contact, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3b. The Bergen County Prosecutor amended the complaint to charge harassment, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4b, which is a petty disorderly persons offense. The matter was returned to the municipal court for trial. The trial took place on March 27, 2006.

We briefly summarize some of the evidence presented at trial. Defendant is a dentist and oral surgeon, who practices in Palisades Park, New Jersey. S.C. testified that on August 18, 2004, she went to defendant's office to have four wisdom teeth extracted. S.C. was nineteen years old at the time, and she wanted to have her wisdom teeth removed before she returned to college in Chicago. Defendant brought S.C. into the examining room, and placed her in the chair. She was wearing a low-cut short-sleeve shirt, a brassiere, and jeans. Defendant put an apron around S.C.'s neck. She said she was scared and cold. She started to shake and put her arms up across her chest.

According to S.C., defendant kept putting her arms down. S.C. said that defendant grabbed her right breast and started squeezing it. She thought this was a mistake because she was covered with the apron. S.C. said that she did not know what to do. Defendant grabbed both sides of her breasts and squeezed for several seconds. Defendant then gave S.C. an injection. S.C. said that she had no feeling around her teeth but she was alert. Defendant again touched her breasts and started to squeeze. S.C. was scared but remained still and had her wisdom teeth removed. After the procedure was concluded, S.C. paid the doctor with a check her mother had given to her and went to her car. She started crying.

The following day, S.C. went to an acupuncturist for treatment. She recounted what had happened at defendant's office. Later, S.C. told her parents. S.C. left to return to school in Chicago on August 26 or 27, 2004. When S.C. returned to New Jersey, she learned that her mother had stopped payment on the check that she had given to defendant for the treatment. S.C. decided to file the criminal complaint against defendant.

Defendant gave a different version of the incident. He said that when S.C. came to his office, he examined her and took x-rays. He determined that she had four impacted wisdom teeth and discussed the procedure with S.C. Defendant spoke with S.C.'s mother on the phone. He asked for $800 for the procedure but S.C.'s mother wanted a discount and he agreed to charge $700.

Defendant testified that he proceeded with the surgery. He placed S.C. in the "operating position" and put on a bib. Defendant injected a local anesthetic into S.C.'s gum. Defendant extracted two of the teeth and gave S.C. additional injections to numb the gums while doing so. Defendant noticed that S.C. was trembling and getting a bit disoriented. He stated that S.C. was bleeding. She was confused and uncooperative. S.C. covered her mouth and because he had blood on his hand, defendant used his elbow to move her hand so that he could stop the bleeding.

Defendant testified that S.C. started to "breath funny." She was still trembling. Defendant asked S.C. if she was cold and she did not respond. He said that she was almost fainting. Defendant answered that he looked for a blanket but did not have one in the office. He started manual cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Defendant said that S.C. was experiencing "respiratory arrest," meaning irregular breathing. He used his elbow to start normal breathing. S.C. was still holding her hands up. Defendant testified that S.C.'s breathing improved. She was "getting better." He then proceeded to remove the other two teeth. Afterwards, defendant gave S.C. post-operative instructions.

Before S.C. left the office, she spoke again with her mother on the telephone. S.C. filled out the check, signed it and gave the check to defendant's secretary. S.C. then left the office. The next day, defendant spoke with S.C.'s mother. She told him that she "had a financial problem" and asked him to hold the check. According to defendant, S.C.'s mother said that she was going to send her husband to the office the next day to pay half of the bill with a check and half with a credit card. S.C.'s mother did not say that she wanted to speak with him about something that happened to her daughter. S.C.'s father did not show up at defendant's office the following day.

Defendant subsequently deposited the check that had been given to him by S.C. but the check was returned because payment had been stopped. Defendant tried to contact S.C.'s mother but he was not able to do so. On September 21, 2004, defendant sent a collection letter to S.C.'s mother. On ...

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