December 27, 2010
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
STANLEY ECKERT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 09-060.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 8, 2010 - Decided
Before Judges Fuentes and Ashrafi.
Defendant Stanley Eckert appeals from a judgment of conviction in the Law Division for driving while his driver's license was suspended. We affirm.
On the morning of June 2, 2009, defendant drove his pickup truck past an Interlaken Borough police officer, who conducted a random license plate check of the truck on his mobile data terminal (MDT). The officer learned that the vehicle was registered to defendant and that defendant's driver's license was then suspended. Without having seen who was actually driving, the officer stopped the truck and determined that defendant was in fact the driver. He issued a summons for violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.
Defendant moved to suppress evidence on the ground that the motor vehicle stop, without first "matching" the driver with the owner whose license was suspended, violated defendant's constitutional rights. The municipal court heard testimony and denied defendant's motion. Defendant then entered a conditional plea of guilty to the charge and was sentenced to ten days in jail and a total fine of $1,009 in accordance with N.J.S.A. 39:3-40f(2), an additional one-year suspension of his driving privileges, and court costs of $33. The jail sentence was stayed pending appeal.
On de novo review under Rule 3:23-8(a), the Law Division reached the same conclusions as the municipal court and also denied the motion to suppress evidence. The Law Division re- imposed the same sentence as the municipal court, again staying the custodial term pending appeal.
On the appeal before us, we reject defendant's argument that:
BECAUSE THE STOP OF DEFENDANT'S VEHICLE WAS NOT THE RESULT OF GENERALIZED MATCHING, PARTICULARIZED SUSPICION AS TO THE DRIVER WAS NOT ESTABLISHED, RENDERING THE STOP WITHOUT A WARRANT INVALID UNDER THE FOURTH AMENDMENT.
The police may stop a motor vehicle without violating the Fourth Amendment or our State constitution if they have an "articulable and reasonable suspicion" of violation of law by the driver or a passenger. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 1401, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660, 673 (1979); State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470 (1999). The State is not required to prove an actual violation of law to justify a motor vehicle stop. It is sufficient to prove reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurred. State v. Williamson, 138 N.J. 302, 304 (1994).
In State v. Donis, 157 N.J. 44, 58 (1998), the Court stated:
The police officers in their initial use of MDT learned that the vehicles' owners had suspended licenses. That information itself gave rise to the reasonable suspicion that the vehicle was driven in violation of the motor vehicle laws and was in itself sufficient to justify a stop.
See also State v. Pitcher, 379 N.J. Super. 308, 315 (App. Div. 2005) (police may constitutionally conduct random checks of license plates and make a motor vehicle stop if the driver's license of the owner is suspended), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 242 (2006). Our earlier decision in State v. Parks, 288 N.J. Super. 407, 412 (App. Div. 1996), suggesting that the police need additional information identifying the driver, is not the controlling law.
Defendant's motion to suppress evidence was correctly denied.
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