August 21, 2009
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
PHILIP JOHNSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Municipal Appeal No. 64-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 4, 2009
Before Judges Lihotz and Baxter.
Following a trial de novo in the Law Division, defendant Philip Johnson was convicted of failure to produce a valid insurance card, N.J.S.A. 39:3-29; failure to produce a valid registration certificate, N.J.S.A. 39:3-29; and interfering or interrupting passage of other vehicles or obstructing intersections, N.J.S.A. 39:4-67. The Law Division judge imposed the same fines originally issued by the municipal court. On appeal, defendant argues the evidence was insufficient to allow the trial judge to find beyond a reasonable doubt that his vehicle was, in fact, blocking an intersection, and further, the court abused its discretion in not dismissing the other summonses when he produced his valid registration document and insurance certificate. We affirm.
On July 11, 2007, at approximately 2 a.m., Officer Terrance Bryant, of the Jersey City Police Department, observed a Hyundai cross the stop line on Montgomery Street and travel approximately six feet into the intersection at Merceles Street. The signal directing traffic on Montgomery was red and the vehicle was at a full stop in the center of the intersection. The Hyundai impeded the traffic traveling on the cross street. Officer Bryant approached the vehicle. Defendant was the only occupant in the car. When asked for the requisite credentials, defendant produced only a driver's license. Officer Bryant issued three summonses for the stated offenses.
In municipal court, Officer Bryant related his observations. Defendant produced proof of valid insurance and registration for the vehicle, which existed on the date of the incident. In summation, defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence relied upon by the State. The municipal court judge credited the officer and found the evidence presented was sufficient to prove defendant was blocking the intersection and failed to have his driver's registration and automobile insurance card in his possession.
On de novo review, defendant generally maintained the events as stated by Officer Bryant were not reasonable and the officer's recollection of the placement of his vehicle was erroneous. Further, he argued the municipal court's finding of guilt was based on a preponderance of the evidence, an improper standard. The Law Division judge rejected these arguments and concluded the evidence presented was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt defendant's guilt on all charges. Additionally, he found maintaining the charges for failure to produce the required documents, although defendant's registration and insurance were valid and in effect, was a permitted exercise of discretion.
In reviewing de novo Law Division trials of municipal court appeals, we consider only whether there is sufficient credible evidence present in the record to uphold the findings of the Law Division, not the municipal court. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964); Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 7 on R. 3:23-8 (2009). We do not "'weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, or make conclusions about the evidence.'" State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 472 (1999) (quoting State v. Barone, 147 N.J. 599, 615 (1997)).
Simply put, defendant's argument regarding his conviction for blocking an intersection is that he does not believe Officer Bryant. However, he offers no evidential basis to sustain his position. Regarding the other charges, defendant does not dispute he failed to produce his documents when stopped, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-29; State v. David, 287 N.J. Super. 434, 438-39 (App. Div. 1996), but he believes the court should have dismissed the charges when he was able to show that his insurance and registration were valid.
We discern no basis to reject the Law Division findings, which accepted as credible Officer Bryant's testimony, and its conclusion that the evidence sustained defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on all charges. Further, the court is not required to dismiss the summonses for violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-29 once valid documents are produced.*fn1 Thus, the failure to do so was not an abuse of discretion. We, therefore, affirm defendant's convictions.