On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Municipal Appeal No. A-49-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Defendant David Harden appeals from an order of the Law Division, after a trial de novo, finding him guilty of a traffic violation, N.J.S.A. 39:4-66.2. We affirm.
On April 7, 2008, at around 12:10 p.m., defendant was driving northbound on Crown Point Road, in West Deptford, intending to enter a private business, Matteo's Scrap Yard (Matteo's). Crown Point Road runs parallel to Route 295.*fn1
Matteo's is not accessible to vehicles traveling northbound on Crown Point Road. The only method of reaching Matteo's is by traveling on the southbound side of Crown Point Road, which is a one-way street. In order to access Matteo's from this southbound route, a vehicle must enter the southbound lane at or prior to Red Bank Avenue, which is a cross street, located slightly northeast of Matteo's.
When traveling northbound on Crown Point Road, the road forms a jug-handle before Matteo's becomes accessible by vehicle. This jug-handle prevents northbound traffic from being able to directly access Matteo's, rather requiring all vehicular traffic to move southbound. At the end of the jug-handle, before cars from the northbound side of Crown Point Road may enter the southbound roadway, there is a stop sign. Additionally, there is signage visible to drivers on the northbound side of Crown Point Road, indicating that the southbound side is a one-way street.
Within the jug-handle, about twenty feet before the stop sign, there is a dirt-covered area that cuts northward from the middle of the jug-handle, through a grass median, and ends directly across from Matteo's. According to West Deptford Patrol Officer Jeffrey Pallies, the path was "an area with dirt," that looked like cars have driven over it, was not paved, and did not look like a road. At the end of this dirt path, which defendant described as a "road", a vehicle must cross the southbound side of Crown Point Road to reach Matteo's. While the land where the dirt path is located is owned by the State of New Jersey, it is not designated as an official road and there are no signs identifying the property as private or State-owned.
Consequently, any vehicle attempting to reach Matteo's from the northbound side must follow the jug-handle, go southbound all the way down Crown Point Road, go under Route 295, come back up on Route 295 North, exit at Red Bank Avenue, turn left onto Crown Point Road, and then travel southbound before making a right turn into Matteo's. Essentially, the only access to Matteo's is from southbound Crown Point Road, from a point north of the jug-handle.
On April 7, 2008, defendant entered the jug-handle from the northbound side of Crown Point Road, and prior to the stop sign, turned his vehicle onto the dirt path. Defendant then traversed the dirt path and subsequently crossed the southbound side of Crown Point Road to enter Matteo's, which has its entrance located directly across from the end of the dirt path. Although not a regular customer, defendant had been to Matteo's about five times before. Officer Pallies followed defendant into Matteo's and conducted a motor vehicle stop at 12:10 p.m. Officer Pallies issued defendant a citation for operating a motor vehicle on public or private property to avoid traffic signals or signs, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-66.2.
Defendant's initial appearance before the municipal court was set for June 24, 2008, but was relisted for August 5, 2008. The matter was again relisted for September 16, 2008, either due to the officer's unavailability or the court's inability to hear it on that date. On September 16, 2008, the matter was relisted for October 21, 2008, due to the officer's absence. During the September hearing, the court offered to dismiss the case and have defendant pay only court costs of $33, however, defendant refused the offer of dismissal. At that time, the court also denied defendant's motion to dismiss for want of a speedy trial, finding no resultant prejudice to defendant.
The matter proceeded to trial on October 21, 2008, six-andone-half months after issuance of the citation. At the close of evidence, which consisted solely of Officer Pallies' testimony and photographs of the area in question, the court found defendant guilty of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-66.2 and imposed a $206 fine and $33 in court costs. The municipal court judge reasoned thus:
[Defendant] makes the argument that this is in fact the state highway. With all due respect,... it's ludicrous. It's not a highway. Anybody who would apply common ...