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State v. Patel

September 16, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Municipal Appeal No. 06-017.

Per curiam.


Argued October 15, 2008

Remanded February 26, 2009

Resubmitted April 1, 2009

Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Chambers.

This is a supplemental opinion to our prior unreported decision, State v. Patel, No. A-3558-06 (App. Div. Feb. 26, 2009). Because the procedural history and statement of facts are contained in our prior opinion, it is unnecessary for us to restate them here. The following summary will place this opinion in context.

On September 16, 2005, while operating his motor vehicle, defendant was involved in a one-car accident when the motor vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree. Patrolman Brian Ahlert of the Florham Park Police Department arrived at the scene at approximately 8:09 p.m. After completing an inquiry of defendant concerning whether he had suffered injuries in the accident, Ahlert administered field sobriety tests to defendant. Based on Ahlert's observation of defendant's physical condition, he arrested defendant for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a).

Following defendant's arrest, he was transported to the Florham Park Police Headquarters, where he submitted to the taking of samples of his breath by use of the Alcotest breath testing device (the Alcotest). Defendant gave three breath samples at 8:54 p.m., 8:58 p.m., and 9:01 p.m. The first sample did not result in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading because the minimum volume of breath was not achieved. The second sample resulted in an IR reading and an EC reading of .205%. The third sample resulted in an IR reading of .216% and an EC reading of .213%. The Alcotest device reported the final BAC test result as .20%, the lowest of the four IR and EC readings, truncated to two decimal places.

At trial in the Municipal Court, the State presented evidence of defendant's guilt by introducing the Alcotest result and by proof of defendant's physical condition. As to defendant's physical condition, the State presented testimony of Patrolmen Brian Ahlert and David Rubelowsky, both of whom testified concerning their observations of defendant's physical manifestations at the scene and at police headquarters, including defendant's failure to properly perform the field sobriety tests. In addition, both officers opined that defendant was intoxicated. Based on the evidence, the Municipal Court found defendant guilty and sentenced him as a third-time offender.

On trial de novo, the Law Division also found defendant guilty. Although the Law Division judge determined that the State had proven defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt under the per se standard of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), relying on the Alcotest result, he did not expressly state that he found defendant guilty based on his physical condition. Because two of defendant's arguments on appeal challenge the admissibility of the Alcotest result, we concluded that a limited remand was required for the Law Division judge to make an express determination of defendant's guilt or innocence based on his physical condition before addressing the merits of the appeal. Thus, we remanded the matter to the Law Division for further proceedings consistent with our prior opinion and retained jurisdiction.

On March 3, 2009, the Law Division judge issued a supplemental letter opinion in which he concluded that defendant was guilty of the offense based on defendant's physical condition.

It was obvious to me, then and now, that there was a substantial diminution of the defendant's faculties and capabilities. His altered physical coordination and mental faculties made it unsafe for him to operate his vehicle. He had imbibed to the extent that he was deleteriously affected, both in his judgment and control of his vehicle. These are not new findings by me. Although inartfully expressed from the bench, they are the same findings that formed the basis for the decision that I arrived at initially. It was, therefore, my conclusion at the time of the trial de novo that the defendant was unequivocally guilty of driving while intoxicated based upon observations and his physical condition.

On March 30, and April 1, 2009, we received letter memorandums from defense counsel and the prosecutor, respectively, addressing the findings and conclusions contained in the Law ...

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