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State v. Smith

August 30, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
EARL J. SMITH, III, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. WANDA BELL, APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 09-046.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 26, 2010

Before Judges Stern, Sabatino and J. N. Harris.

Wanda Bell, the administratrix ad prosequendum of the victim of a fatal accident, appeals from an "order denying appeal" of the Law Division, entered on October 23, 2009. Appellant seeks to challenge a provision in the disposition of a motor vehicle complaint in the Millstone Municipal Court to the effect that the plea to reckless driving "shall not be used in any civil or administrat[ive] proceedings under Rule 7:6-2."

Appellant believes she is the "real party in interest" on the appeal in promoting the right to use the plea in the wrongful death action she commenced and in "promoting restitution."*fn1 The State contends appellant has no right to pursue the appeal.

Judge Ira Kreizman dismissed the appeal to the Law Division after concluding that Ms. Bell had no standing to pursue the appeal.

Appellant claims the non-use provision constituted an abuse of discretion, that her right to appeal as "the real party in interest on the civil reservation issue... should not be the subject of prosecutorial discretion," that the plea reservation rule should not be applied in a case involving a fatality, and that "municipal courts do not have jurisdiction to render evidentiary determinations in civil cases in the Superior Court."

For present purposes, we accept appellant's statement of facts and underlying procedural history:

On December 22, 2008, the Honorable Francis B. DeStafano, P.J.Cr. entered an order pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2B:12-17.2 remanding State of New Jersey v. Earl J. Smith, III to the Millstone Township Municipal Court for prosecution of motor vehicle charges of improper passing in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-85, failure to stop for a stop sign pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-144, speeding in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-98, reckless driving in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 and failure to wear a seatbelt in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-76.2(f). The Superior Court, Law Division entered the order because a Monmouth County Grand Jury failed to indict defendant for any criminal charges....

On June 12, 2009, counsel for Wanda Bell (hereinafter... "[appellant]"), the mother of Andre Bell, the decedent killed in the motor vehicle accident on June 9, 2007, filed an appearance in the Millstone Township Municipal Court in which the victim expressed objection to any civil reservation of defendant's guilty plea pursuant to R. 7:6-2(a)(1).....

On June 30, 2009, defendant pleaded guilty to reckless driving in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-96. As part of the plea agreement, the court dismissed the charges against defendant for improper passing in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-85, failure to stop at a stop sign in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-144, speeding in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-98 and failure to wear a seatbelt in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-76.2(f).

The court imposed a ninety day sentence on defendant and suspended sixty days of the sentence. The court imposed fines of $506.00 and $33.00 in costs and required the defendant to perform 500 hours of court supervised community service at a children's hospital or with sick children. Despite opposition from the victim, the court entered a civil reservation pursuant to R. 7:6-2(a)(1) which barred the admission of defendant's guilty plea in civil proceedings.

On July 15, 2009, the... [appellant] filed a notice of appeal of the order entering a civil reservation of defendant's guilty plea..... On September 24, 2009, the State opposed victim-appellant's motion to correct or supplement the record and urged the dismissal of the victim-appellant's appeal based on our alleged lack of standing. On October 2, ...


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