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State v. Podolski

December 17, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Municipal Appeal No. 77-2008.

Per curiam.


Argued November 17, 2009

Before Judges Parrillo and Ashrafi.

Defendant Suzanne Podolski was stopped for speeding and then arrested for disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer, the latter a violation of a local ordinance. Subsequently, she pleaded guilty in the Borough of Spotswood Municipal Court to driving while intoxicated, refusing to take a breathalyzer test, and the local ordinance. Before her guilty pleas, her attorney moved orally to suppress evidence on the ground that her arrest was without probable cause. The municipal court held an evidentiary hearing and denied her motion. The Superior Court, Law Division, affirmed that ruling on de novo review. We affirm.

At the evidentiary hearing, the two arresting officers testified and defendant put in evidence a video recording made from a camera in the police car. Only minimal audio recording accompanied the video because no microphone outside the police car was recording sound.

At about 1:50 a.m. on March 23, 2008, Sergeant Keenan of the Spotswood Police Department was parked in a patrol car when he saw a blue Dodge Caravan speed past his location. He used his radar to clock the Caravan at fifty-one miles per hour in a thirty-five mile per hour zone. Sergeant Keenan pulled out behind the Caravan and accelerated until he was close enough to make a stop. He activated his overhead lights and the video camera inside his patrol car. The Caravan made a left turn onto Roosevelt Avenue, a residential side street, and came to a stop. Sergeant Keenan called in to headquarters to report the traffic stop and then stepped out of his patrol car to approach the Caravan and request credentials. Defendant was the driver and sole occupant of the Caravan. Sergeant Keenan testified as follows regarding what happened next:

She gave me credentials. I took them. She denied at that time the speeding violation, and I didn't want to argue with her. I just went back to my vehicle. And as I got back to my vehicle I was sitting there writing the summons and I noticed that the insurance card was expired. So, I got back out of my vehicle and re-approached her and advised her I needed to see a valid insurance card, at which time she started getting belligerent, she started yelling that I had no reason to stop her. She further said that she couldn't find the insurance card, that it must be on the kitchen table at home and - at which time she demanded me to allow her to go to her house, which she said was a couple of doors upwards, and I told her no, just remain in her vehicle.

A few minutes after the stop, Detective Schapley arrived in a second police car as backup. At the suppression hearing, Sergeant Keenan continued his testimony regarding events after Detective Schapley's arrival:

Q: And while at the scene with the defendant did at any time during that stop, were you presented with an insurance card that covered March 23rd, 2008?

A: No ma'am.

Q: Okay. You indicated that the defendant had requested time to - what was it - go home and get the insurance card?

A: She kept insisting that she lived two doors up and that she should be able - allowed to leave the scene and go to her house and then get the card. She also around that time mentioned that her ex-husband was a police officer and she, you know, in order I guess to influence me to allow her to leave the scene. For officer safety I wouldn't let that happen.

Q: Would that - would such a procedure be consistent with standard procedures in terms of documents?

A: No, ma'am.

Q: Why would that be?

A: Officer safety. We don't know what the person's going to do if we allow them to leave the scene and be out of our control. They could come back with a weapon or something, do harm to the officers.

Q: So, what would procedure dictate if you are not presented with valid documents at the scene?

A: We issue the summons and have them appear in court.

Q: And is that what you, in fact, did with respect to the insurance card?

A: Yes, ma'am, we issued a summons for an uninsured motor vehicle.

Q: Okay, after you had the conversation with the defendant regarding the insurance card what did you do next?

A: I went back to my vehicle, I issued the summonses. As I was writing the summonses the suspect got out her vehicle and started carrying on.

Q: What do you mean by carrying on?

A: Screaming, yelling at the officers, we didn't know what we were doing. I don't remember exactly what she was saying, but she was trying to - she was actually trying to belittle us, demanding that I should let her go to her house. And we told her several times - myself and Patrolman Schapley told her - Detective Schapley told her several times get back in her vehicle or face arrest.


Q: Okay, and at what point did you notice the defendant exit her vehicle?

A: I heard the door open, and then I heard her screaming and yelling, so I looked up, and she was carrying on, flailing her hands up in the air, causing a disturbance, at which time I got out of my vehicle, started walking towards her, and we advised her several times get back in the vehicle. And she wouldn't do it.

I believe Detective Schapley and myself simultaneously said, "Well, you're under arrest now," at which time we placed her under arrest.

Q: Okay, and what was the reason that Ms. Podolski was being placed under arrest at that time?

A: Creating a disturbance, failure to follow a lawful order.

Q: Was there anything about that particular situation at that particular point that you felt was either hazardous ...

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