August 16, 2010
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
DEAN WOODS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Municipal Appeal Nos. 001-03-09 and 001-04-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 14, 2010
Before Judges Graves and J.N. Harris.
On June 22, 1995, when defendant Dean Woods was nineteen years old, he pled guilty to driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, in the Emerson Municipal Court. During that proceeding, Woods told the court he had spoken to an attorney and he asked if he could "get the careless ticket combined or dropped." The municipal prosecutor agreed to merge the careless driving charge into the DWI charge, and defendant advised the court that he wanted to plead guilty. When questioned by the court, defendant confirmed he had spoken to an attorney and wanted to proceed without counsel; he was entering his plea freely and voluntarily; and he understood the consequences of a guilty plea. In addition, defendant agreed that his two breathalyzer test results, indicating a blood alcohol concentration of .10 percent and .11 percent, were "correct and accurate." Defendant was sentenced as a first time DWI offender, and the court advised him of the penalties for a second or third DWI offense.
More than twelve years later, after defendant was issued a summons for DWI in Midland Park on May 15, 2008, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) challenging his 1995 DWI guilty plea. The Emerson Municipal Court denied defendant's petition on November 10, 2008, and he appealed to the Law Division.
Defendant also filed a motion in the Midland Park Municipal Court to suppress the results of a blood test. That matter was heard and denied on January 22, 2009. After defendant's motion to suppress was denied, he entered a conditional guilty plea to DWI, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.
Defendant appealed from the order entered by the Emerson Municipal Court denying his PCR petition, and he also appealed from the order entered by the Midland Park Municipal Court denying his suppression motion. The Law Division consolidated the two matters and heard them on June 5, 2009. In evaluating defendant's PCR arguments, the Law Division judge determined defendant had failed to satisfy the excusable neglect exception from the five-year time bar under Rule 7:10-2(b)(2). Nevertheless, the court addressed the merits of defendant's petition and found that defendant had entered a valid plea.
With regard to defendant's motion to suppress, the Law Division judge determined that Officer Kenneth Junta of the Midland Park Police Department had probable cause to arrest defendant for DWI based on the officer's observations of defendant at the scene of an accident. When Junta arrived on the scene, he observed that defendant, the operator of a motorcycle, was on the ground and "he appeared to be in pain." As Junta attempted to determine the extent of defendant's injuries, defendant was "rambling" about how the accident was his fault. Defendant also stated he thought he was in Maywood despite the fact he was actually in Midland Park. When defendant spoke, Junta smelled alcohol on his breath, and Junta noticed defendant's eyes were bloodshot and watery. At that point, Junta concluded defendant had been operating his motorcycle while intoxicated. Therefore, Junta decided he would travel with defendant in the ambulance in order to get a blood sample from him at the hospital. Based on Junta's observations, the Law Division judge concluded there was sufficient probable cause for defendant's arrest, and denied defendant's motion to suppress the results of the blood test.
On appeal, defendant raises the same arguments he advanced in the Law Division:
WOODS'S PLEAS OF GUILTY ENTERED IN THE EMERSON MUNICIPAL COURT IN 1995 SHOULD BE VACATED BECAUSE THE PLEA WAS DEFECTIVE, AS MR. WOODS DID NOT PROVIDE AN ADEQUATE FACTUAL BASIS TO SUPPORT THE PLEA, AND WOODS'S PETITION FOR RELIEF IS TIMELY.
A. WOODS'S PCR APPLICATION CONCERNING THE 1995 PLEA IS NOT TIME BARRED BECAUSE THE APPLICATION TOUCHES UPON THE WAIVER OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND SUCH APPLICATIONS MAY BE RAISED AT ANY TIME.
B. WOODS'S PLEA OF GUILTY ENTERED IN THE EMERSON MUNICIPAL COURT IN 1995 SHOULD BE VACATED BECAUSE THE PLEA WAS DEFECTIVE, AS MR. WOODS DID NOT PROVIDE AN ADEQUATE FACTUAL BASIS TO SUPPORT THE PLEA.
THE ORDER DENYING WOODS'S MOTION TO DISMISS IN THE MATTER ARISING OUT OF MIDLAND PARK SHOULD BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE ARRESTING OFFICER LACKED PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT WOODS HAD VIOLATED THE DWI STATUTE AT THE TIME OF THE ARREST WHEN THE OFFICER HAD NOT MADE SUFFICIENT OBSERVATIONS THAT WERE SUGGESTIVE OF SUCH A VIOLATION.
We reject these arguments and affirm the order entered by the Law Division. With regard to defendant's PCR petition, the record amply supports the Law Division judge's determination that defendant failed to establish excusable neglect or other sufficient circumstances to justify relaxation of the five-year time limitation for filing a PCR petition. Defendant also failed to assert "a colorable claim of innocence," State v. Slater, 198 N.J. 145, 157-58 (2009), and he failed to establish that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea "to correct a manifest injustice." R. 7:6-2(b).
With respect to defendant's motion to suppress, we agree that Officer Junta had probable cause to believe defendant had been operating his motorcycle while he was intoxicated. Moreover, whenever someone is involved in a motor vehicle accident involving bodily injury or property damage, "a police officer shall consider that fact along with all other facts and circumstances in determining whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that person was operating a motor vehicle [while under the influence of alcohol]." N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.
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