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State v. Bates

December 30, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 07-045.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 15, 2008

Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez.

Defendant Elliott Bates appeals from his conviction for two traffic offenses, careless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-97, and delaying traffic, N.J.S.A. 39:4-56. We affirm.

According to State Trooper C. Menello, at about 3:25 p.m. on January 28, 2007, he was patrolling I-95 in Millstone Township, when he observed defendant's vehicle on the shoulder of the highway with the hazard lights on. When Trooper Menello pulled onto the shoulder to see if the motorist needed aid, defendant's vehicle signaled and moved into the right lane from the shoulder at about ten or fifteen miles per hour, in a manner that "seemed potentially, extremely hazardous to the other motorists." Defendant's vehicle continued at that very slow rate of speed for a tenth of a mile, weaving over lane markers. Trooper Menello observed other vehicles making "emergency maneuvers" to go around defendant's car. The Trooper activated his overhead lights and used the PA system in his car to urge defendant to "speed up, sir, speed up, sir" but defendant did not do so.

Finally defendant's car came to a stop "underneath the [Route 537] overpass, partially off the lane of travel and partially in the lane of travel." The trooper parked his vehicle behind defendant's car and approached to see if defendant needed medical assistance. Defendant indicated that "he was fine" and then began asking the trooper about "the 102 laws." After ascertaining that defendant was not having a medical emergency, Trooper Menello issued him tickets for delaying traffic and careless driving. He testified that the speed limit on I-95 was sixty-five miles an hour and defendant's extremely slow driving, as well as his weaving back and forth over the lane markers, endangered other motorists and "could have caused a major accident."

Albert F. Manetti, who had been a passenger in defendant's car at the time of the incident, confirmed that defendant was driving very slowly on Route I-95. He characterized defendant's driving as "a bit careless." He also testified that defendant stated to him that he wanted the trooper to stop him because he wanted to talk to the trooper. According to Manetti, defendant "has an issue with the State Police."

Defendant's wife testified that defendant was traveling about twenty miles an hour. She did not think his driving was unsafe or careless. She confirmed that her husband did state that he wanted to ask the trooper a question.

Defendant testified that he initially pulled off the highway onto the shoulder to discuss with his passengers which exit to take. He testified that when he pulled back onto the road at twenty miles an hour, he saw the trooper following him and pulled back off the road in what he believed was a safe stopping place. Defendant contended that after a brief discussion the trooper told him that he could go, until defendant started asking the trooper about "102." At that point, defendant testified, the trooper told him that he was "going to turn this into a motor vehicle stop." In response to the court's questions, defendant asserted that he never actually pulled back onto the roadway; rather he drove on the shoulder from his initial stopping point to the point under the overpass where he had the conversation with the trooper.

In an oral opinion placed on the record on May 15, 2007, Municipal Judge Gelson accepted Trooper Menello's version of events and concluded that defendant drove fifteen to twenty miles an hour on Route I-95, thus endangering other motorists and creating "close to a reckless situation." She found Trooper Menello credible and did not find defendant credible. She concluded that defendant drove carelessly and "without due caution and circumspection." She also found that defendant drove so as to delay traffic. She found no evidence that the traffic stop was the result of any conspiracy against defendant.

On defendant's appeal to the Law Division, Judge DeStefano issued a comprehensive oral opinion placed on the record on August 17, 2007. He rejected defendant's argument that all those connected with the case should be required to submit to "brain fingerprinting," a technique the judge found had not been accepted as scientifically reliable. He also concluded that defendants' subpoenas to four troopers other than Trooper Menello were properly quashed. Judge DeStefano accepted Trooper Menello's testimony and he concluded that defendant delayed traffic by driving at an unreasonably slow rate of speed on the highway, so as to endanger other motorists, and that defendant was guilty of careless driving.

On this appeal, defendant contends that his passenger, Manetti, did not tell the truth at the trial, and that all witnesses should have been subjected to brain fingerprinting. He also questions Trooper Menello's credibility and contends that he should have been permitted to subpoena four other troopers who had "wrongfully accused" defendant in other cases.

Having reviewed the entire record, we conclude that Judge DeStefano's decision is supported by sufficient, credible evidence. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-74 (1999). Defendant's appellate contentions are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We affirm ...

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