On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Municipal Appeal No. 07-09-R-T18.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 5, 2011
Before Judges Fisher and Fasciale.
In this appeal, defendant argues that the police unlawfully stopped his motor vehicle and that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. We reject these arguments and affirm.
Based on evidence found credible, it was determined that during the evening of January 24, 2007, a northbound dark-colored sport utility vehicle (SUV) swerved into the southbound lane of Route 206, nearly colliding with a Bedminster police officer's southbound police vehicle. The officer turned around and headed north on Route 206 in search of the SUV. Shortly thereafter, the officer pulled over a dark-colored SUV; that driver, however, was on her cellphone with a 9-1-1 operator, reporting a dark-colored pick-up style SUV with a license plate beginning with the letter "R" that was "all over the road" and driven by someone "drunk and impaired."
Armed with this additional information, as well as information provided by other law enforcement personnel, the officer continued north on Route 206 seeking a dark-colored pick-up style SUV with a license plate beginning with the letter "R" that he soon observed in an Elks Club parking lot. The officer shined a spotlight on the SUV and informed county dispatch. The officer did not speak to defendant and was still in his vehicle when he observed defendant grasp onto the vehicle for support as he exited his vehicle. Before the officer could say or do anything, defendant suddenly reentered his SUV and drove away. The officer activated his emergency lights and pursued.
Defendant eventually stopped his vehicle on Pottersville Road. When defendant exited his vehicle, the officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol and noticed defendant's watery and bloodshot eyes. In response to questioning, defendant admitted drinking four beers that night. Defendant then failed two preliminary field sobriety tests and struggled with a third. Defendant was arrested, searched, and charged with DWI, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Defendant's SUV was impounded; a later search uncovered what the police officer referred to in his testimony at trial as "an open twelve pack."
At the conclusion of a trial, the municipal judge found defendant guilty of DWI. Defendant filed an appeal, and the Law Division also found defendant guilty and, like the municipal judge, imposed among other things a fine and a three-month suspension of defendant's driving privileges.
Defendant appeals his conviction, arguing:
I. THE STOP AND SEARCH OF DEFENDANT AND HIS VEHICLE WAS IMPROPER AND IN VIOLATION OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS.
II. THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE THAT DEFENDANT WAS INTOXICATED BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
We reject defendant's arguments. The officer did not stop or detain defendant's SUV in the Elks Club parking lot, and the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion justifying the investigatory stop on Pottersville Road in light of his own observations when he was run off the road on Route 206, the information provided by the 9-1-1 caller, and the observations he made of defendant in the Elks Club parking lot. We are also satisfied ...