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State v. Sankner

November 15, 2007

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT/CROSS-RESPONDENT,
v.
ANDREA SANKNER, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT/CROSS-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 06-10-2210.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 26, 2007

Before Judges Payne and Sapp-Peterson.

The State appeals from the trial court's order directing defendant Andrea Sankner's admission into the Monmouth County Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) over the State's objection. We reverse the judgment of the trial court admitting defendant into PTI and deny defendant's cross-appeal seeking pretrial discovery of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office consideration of PTI applications filed by defendants involved in drinking and driving-related offenses.

The evidence which forms the basis of the indictment arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on the evening of February 20, 2006, when defendant drove her 2001 Kia Wagon into the back of a 1993 Jeep that was stopped for a traffic light at the intersection of Routes 35 and 70 in Wall Township. The driver of the other vehicle sustained injuries and was transported from the scene via ambulance to a nearby hospital.*fn1

He suffered a herniated disc and a bulging disc as a result of the accident and apparently continues to suffer from neck and back pain. When police responded to the scene, they observed defendant seated in the driver's seat of her vehicle holding a small dog. When asked whether she was injured, defendant responded, "What[,] are you nuts?" She was then asked to produce her driving credentials and once again responded, "What[,] are you nuts?" The arresting officer described defendant's speech as slurred, reported that she stumbled as she exited her vehicle, leaned on her vehicle for balance, and was uncooperative. Defendant was arrested and transported to the local police station where she refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. She was issued summonses for reckless driving (N.J.S.A. 39:4-96), driving while intoxicated (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50), and refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a). She was subsequently indicted for third-degree assault by auto, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.1.

The Uniform Defendant Intake prepared as part of the PTI application process revealed that at the time of her arrest, defendant was in her late forties, self-employed in the jewelry business, and also worked weekends as a bartender. She had no prior criminal record, but between 2001 and 2003, committed three motor vehicle offenses: careless driving, speeding, and driving with an obstructed mirror. She reported that she was in good mental health but physically suffered from arthritis, hearing loss in her right ear, and was a breast cancer survivor. She denied having a drinking problem. As to the events on the evening of the accident, defendant acknowledged that she had consumed wine and a martini. She intended to go to her sister's house, which was across the street from the restaurant where she had dinner, but instead "blacked out" and started driving home.

In rejecting defendant's application, the Prosecutor considered the statutory factors that pertain to admission into PTI as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12e(1) to e(14), specifically: (1) the location of the accident was "a busy intersection of a major highway interchange where the potential for additional vehicles being involved was great" and plaintiff's actions resulted in "physical, financial, and emotional injury to the victim" (Factors e(1) and e(2)); (2) the victim was still being treated for his injuries (Factor e(4)); (3) assault by auto is "violent both in the act itself and in the possible consequences of driving under the influence" (Factor e(10)); and (4) driving under the influence causing injury to another requires strong public condemnation. The public must be assured that those who create grave and lethal danger to other motorists because of impaired driving will not be treated lightly" (Factor e(14)).

Defendant appealed the denial of her admission into PTI to the Law Division. The judge found that there was nothing about the facts surrounding the motor vehicle accident that was "so offensive or that should really strike the conscience as being so overbearing that defendant should be rejected [from PTI,]" (Factors e(1) and e(2)). The judge also did not find sufficient opposition to defendant's admission into the program from the victim, (Factor e(4)). In addition, the judge concluded that the defendant's crime "is not of such a nature that the value of supervisory treatment would be outweighed by the public need for prosecution[,]" (Factor e(14)). The judge concluded that the prosecutor's rejection of defendant for admission into PTI was a patent and gross abuse of discretion and ordered defendant admitted into the program. The State filed a timely appeal.

I.

The State raises the following point for our consideration:

POINT I

THE PROSECUTOR'S DECISION REJECTING THE DEFENDANT FROM PTI WAS NOT ARBITRARY OR CAPRICIOUS, AND THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY SUBSTITUTING ITS ...


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