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State v. Hunter


June 25, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 05-03-0166.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 24, 2008

Before Judges Axelrad, Payne and Sapp-Peterson.

In this pro se appeal, defendant, John Hunter, appeals his fourth-degree conviction, following a jury trial, of knowingly presenting a fraudulent Liberty Mutual insurance card to a law enforcement officer. N.J.S.A. 2C:21-2.3(b). The conviction rises out of a motor vehicle stop that occurred around 8:30 a.m. on January 26, 2005.

According to the proofs presented at trial, Keith W. Hermann, a Franklin Township traffic safety police officer with specialized training not only in traffic safety and investigations but also in recognizing simulated motor vehicle insurance cards, observed a green Toyota driven by an individual, later identified as defendant, make an illegal turn around the center median located at the intersection of Franklin Boulevard and Runyon Avenue in Franklin Township. Hermann was at that location as a result of dozens of complaints about the new traffic patterns in that area. Hermann pulled defendant's vehicle over and approached the lone occupant, defendant, and requested defendant's license, registration, and insurance card. When defendant presented his insurance card, Hermann noticed a number of irregularities, including that the paper appeared glossy as opposed to the heavyweight, stock paper with which he was familiar. He also noticed that the information on the card appeared typewritten rather than computer-generated. Additionally, he observed the letter "O," as opposed to a zero, in the VIN number, and a zip code for defendant's address that was different from the zip code on defendant's registration card.

Hermann returned to his vehicle, called Liberty Mutual, and spoke with a representative. Following that telephone call, Hermann returned to defendant's vehicle and proceeded to question defendant about the insurance card and, after a few questions, advised defendant "he had the right to remain silent and anything [defendant] said from that point forth -- I added to him that, basically, if he wanted to continue along these lines, he could or he could get out of a jam and hopefully be honest." At that point, defendant told him that the insurance car was "bad." Defendant was arrested and issued tickets for reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96; crossing a double yellow line, N.J.S.A. 39:4-85; exhibiting a forged insurance card to a law enforcement officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:21-23(b); and driving an uninsured vehicle, N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2. The subsequent one-count indictment charged defendant with the fourth-degree crime of exhibiting a forged insurance card to a law enforcement officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:21-2.3(b).

Defendant testified that Hermann told him the card was bad and he responded that he got "shafted." Defendant explained that he purchased the "insurance down in Trenton. Now I know at a shady place. It turns out it is not legit. So I got jobbed. Basically, I got stuck up for my money by these people." After he was released, defendant testified that he attempted to "find those people who took my money and I couldn't find them."

The jury found defendant guilty of the charge and defendant was sentenced to a two-year probationary term conditioned upon defendant performing fifty hours of community service, a one-year loss of his driving privileges, and a $400 fine. The ensuing appeal followed.

On appeal, defendant claims that his conviction was unfair because the trial court refused to grant the jury's request to view copies of the transcripts and, as a result, he was "denied the right to be judged by his peers." We reject this contention and find it without sufficient merit to warrant extensive discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add the following comments.

The transcript the jury requested during its deliberations was a transcript of the audio and videotape of Hermann's stop and subsequent arrest of defendant taken from Hermann's patrol vehicle, which was equipped with an audio and video recorder. As the trial judge noted, the transcript was never admitted into evidence. Rather, each juror was given a copy of the transcript for use while the videotape was presented to the jury. The videotape in its entirety was admitted into evidence by stipulation. While permitting the jury to review both a videotape that has been admitted into evidence and a transcript of its contents, which has not, is permissible, the decision to do so is within the sound discretion of the trial judge. See State v. DeBellis, 174 N.J. Super. 195, 199-200 (App. Div. 1980). In this case, the transcript was not marked into evidence because it was not complete. In addition, the trial judge found that the transcript was inaccurate because "[i]t doesn't completely capture what is on the video." We find no abuse of the court's discretion in denying the jurors' request for copies of the transcript. See State v. Wolf, 44 N.J. 176, 185-86 (1965).

Defendant's remaining claims that he was "convicted unfairly" because he was the victim of insurance fraud and that the sentence imposed was too severe are also without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).



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