On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Municipal Appeal No. 001-16-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 20, 2010
Before Judges Rodríguez and Grall.
Defendant Darrell Crow was convicted in the Municipal Court of Mahwah and again, after a trial de novo in the Law Division, of driving while his license was suspended, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.
He was sentenced by the Law Division judge to pay: a $1,000 fine; an enhanced $500 fine; SNSF $75; VCCB $50; and $33 court costs. The judge also imposed: a one-year driver's license suspension to be served consecutively to any suspension being served; and twenty days in the Bergen County Jail. We reverse the conviction.
This is a summary of the proofs presented to the municipal court. Mahwah Police Officer McCombs testified that on December 3, 2008, at approximately 11:30 a.m., he was involved in a motor vehicle stop on Mountainside Avenue in Mahwah. While McCombs was standing next to his vehicle, he saw an adult male driving defendant's pickup truck towards him in the opposite lane. The vehicle was traveling at approximately twenty-five miles per hour. McCombs noticed that the driver looked at him and then "appeared to sharply" look away as he passed. McCombs returned to his patrol car and entered the license plate into his mobile data terminal (MDT). The MDT revealed that defendant was the registered owner of the pickup, and that the owner's license was suspended. McCombs attempted to locate the pickup truck on the road but was unsuccessful. He returned to headquarters and issued the summons to defendant by mail.
The State offered a copy of the MDT printout into evidence. Defendant objected because this document had not been provided in discovery. The judge overruled the objection. McCombs identified defendant at trial as the person he saw driving the pickup truck on December 3, 2008. The State rested without introducing a certified motor vehicle abstract.
Defendant did not testify. He presented James Balaz as a witness. Balaz testified that on December 3, 2008, he was working for defendant, who is a construction contractor, at the Sheraton Crossroads Hotel in Mahwah. Shortly after 11:00 a.m., defendant asked Balaz to drive to the Home Depot to buy caulk. As he was driving defendant's pickup truck, he saw a police officer who had pulled over a dark minivan.
Balaz testified that he has known defendant for more than ten years--ever since defendant moved to a house across the street from Balaz's father's house. Balaz has worked for defendant on and off for ten years. On the day defendant got the traffic summons in the mail, Balaz had driven defendant home. There was no explanation why Balaz was driving defendant's truck.
Nathan Mzhen, an employee of the Office Division of Garden Homes, owners of the Sheraton Crossroads, testified that on December 3, 2008, he brought paint to defendant at his worksite, but forgot the caulk. According to him, defendant then "sent one of his guys to Home Depot on Route 17 to find caulk."
Defendant's final witness was Greg Seman, who worked for defendant. He testified that on December 3, 2008, sometime after 11:00 a.m., defendant sent "Jimmy" [Balaz] to Home Depot to get some caulk for the job.
The municipal judge found that the State had proven all elements of the offense. Defendant appealed to the Law Division. Following a trial de novo based on the evidence presented in the municipal court, the judge found defendant guilty of the offense.
On appeal, defendant contends that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charged crime of driving with a suspended license. These elements are that defendant: (1) was driving the vehicle, (2) during the period of ...