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State v. Cummings

October 23, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
STEVEN CUMMINGS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Appeal No. 24-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 7, 2008

Before Judges Yannotti and LeWinn.

Defendant Steven Cummings appeals from a determination of the Law Division finding him guilty of driving while intoxicated, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, and failing to drive his vehicle within a single lane of travel, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-88b. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained when his vehicle was stopped by a police officer. For the reasons that follow, we disagree and affirm.

At the suppression hearing in the municipal court, New Jersey State Trooper Jonathan Frasca testified that, on January 30, 2007, he was on patrol in Maurice River Township, in the vicinity of State Highway 47. Frasca observed defendant's vehicle traveling southbound on the highway, near milepost 34 or 35. Frasca was stopped in a parking lot when defendant's car passed by. Frasca pulled out behind the vehicle.

Frasca said that he "observed the vehicle cross the center line" of the highway. He explained that the two left-side tires of the car crossed the center line into the northbound travel lanes of the highway. Frasca activated the lights on his police vehicle and stopped defendant's car.

Defendant argued that Frasca did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle. He asserted that N.J.S.A. 39:4-88b only requires that a vehicle be driven within a single lane "as nearly as practicable[.]" Defendant maintained that the statute recognizes that vehicles often cannot be driven "entirely within a single lane of traffic, considering the nature of automobile operation."

The municipal court judge rejected defendant's arguments, stating:

We're not talking about staying in one's lane. We're not even talking about straddling a white line or the shoulder line. We're talking about both tires going over the center line. That certainly gives rise to a possible motor vehicle violation and, as such, it is something that would, in my opinion, easily permit the officer to stop the vehicle to make an inquiry of what's going on.

The municipal court judge therefore denied defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant then entered a plea of guilty, reserving his right to appeal from the denial of his suppression motion.

The judge merged the offenses for sentencing purposes. Defendant conceded that he was eligible for sentencing as a third-time offender pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50a3. Defendant was sentenced to 180 days of incarceration, which could be lowered to 90 days if defendant participates in an approved rehabilitation program. The judge also imposed a $1,000 fine, a $200 surcharge, and $125 in penalties; mandated installation of an ignition interlock device on defendant's vehicles for one year; and ordered a ten-year suspension of defendant's driving privileges. The sentence was suspended pending defendant's appeal to the Law Division.

Judge Richard J. Geiger heard the appeal on January 23, 2008, and the judge rendered an oral decision on the record on that date. Judge Geiger found that the officer had a "sufficient, reasonable, and articulable basis for the motor vehicle stop[.]" The judge noted that the officer had observed the left-side tires on defendant's vehicle cross the center line of the highway. The judge stated, "That is a sufficient basis for a ...


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