January 11, 2011
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
MOHAMMED AMERI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Municipal Appeal No. 09-15.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 5, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Fisher and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant appeals his conviction for driving while his license was suspended, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40, arguing the State failed to identify him as the operator of the vehicle at the time in question. We reject this argument and affirm.
The evidence the municipal judge found credible came from Officer Thomas E. Pomeroy, who testified he was on patrol in Parsippany-Troy Hills during the afternoon of August 18, 2008, when he observed a blue Pontiac on Littleton Road make a right turn. The officer testified that the driver -- upon seeing the police vehicle -- gave an "oh, my gosh, it's the police kind of response, pretty much like deer in the headlights." Consequently, the officer ran the license plate numbers and learned that the license of the registered owner was suspended. The officer turned his vehicle around and proceeded into the apartment complex the blue Pontiac had entered, arriving at the Pontiac's location within "about 60 to 90 seconds." By that time, the Pontiac's occupants had already exited the vehicle.
During the discussion with the officer at the scene, defendant acknowledged he was the Pontiac's registered owner but denied that he was operating the vehicle, claiming instead the driver was a relative of his. The officer was not convinced and gave defendant a summons.
At trial, it was stipulated that defendant's license was suspended at the time, and the officer testified that defendant was operating the vehicle on Littleton Road.
During direct examination, Officer Pomeroy was asked whether "the individual [he] spoke with that afternoon" was in court. The officer said he was but was not asked to point out that individual. Based largely on that omission, defendant appealed to the Law Division, which rejected his arguments and found defendant guilty, and now this court, arguing in a single point that:
THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE THE DEFENDANT GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
We find insufficient merit in this argument to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add only the following brief comments.
It is true the prosecutor's request that Officer Pomeroy make an in-court identification during direct examination was inartful. The officer testified that the vehicle operator was in the courtroom but was not asked to point specifically toward him. The fact that defendant was the individual who was driving while his license was suspended, however, was inferable from all the evidence. For example, Officer Pomeroy repeatedly referred in his testimony to the operator of the vehicle as Mr. Ameri. In addition, the testimony of defendant's sister-in-law, who claimed she and not defendant was driving the Pontiac on August 18, 2008, also bridged any arguable missing link in the State's proofs by acknowledging that the "gentleman" to defense counsel's "left" at counsel table -- meaning defendant -- was present during the motor vehicle stop on August 18, 2008. Indeed, defendant himself, during his testimony, acknowledged his presence at the motor vehicle stop. The judge was free to find from this evidence that it was defendant and not some other person whom Officer Pomeroy identified in court as the operator of the vehicle on the occasion in question.
Ultimately, the judge found Officer Pomeroy's testimony to be credible and found in rather strong terms that defendant's testimony -- as well as the testimony offered by defendant's other witnesses -- unworthy of belief. On appeal, the Law Division judge properly gave due regard to the municipal judge's credibility findings and, based on the evidence in the record, found defendant guilty; he also imposed the same penalties that were imposed by the municipal judge.
Our standard of review requires that we defer to a judge's factual findings. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 474 (1999). In deferring to those findings and in concluding the State presented sufficient evidence identifying defendant as the operator of a motor vehicle on August 18, 2008, we reject defendant's arguments.
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