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State of New Jersey v. Shlomo Benhaim

May 10, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Municipal Appeal No. 116-2009.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 5, 2011

Before Judges Yannotti and Espinosa.

The Edison Township municipal court found defendant Shlomo Benhaim guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-129; failure to report an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-130; obstruction of justice, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(b); simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a)(1); and resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a)(1). Defendant sought de novo review by the Law Division, which found him guilty of obstruction of justice, simple assault and resisting arrest but not guilty of the other charges. Defendant was sentenced on each offense to a $200 fine, and required to pay court costs and appropriate penalties. Defendant appeals from the judgment entered by the Law Division on April 22, 2010. We affirm.

At the trial in the municipal court, David Soden (Soden), an officer in the Highland Park Police Department (HPPD), testified that on May 3, 2009, he was assigned to the HPPD's Traffic Safety Division. Soden was dispatched to a Rite Aid store located on Raritan Avenue, where he spoke with a witness, who reported an accident and gave him the number of a license plate. Soden ascertained that the number corresponded with a motor vehicle registered to defendant. Soden went to defendant's home.

A young girl, later identified as defendant's daughter P.B., answered the door and Soden asked if an adult was at home. Defendant came to the door. Soden told him that he was investigating a motor vehicle accident that occurred in the Rite Aid parking lot.

Defendant admitted that he had been operating his car at that location and backed into a pole. Soden asked defendant why he had not stopped and reported the incident to the police. Defendant said that he did not report the matter because there was not much damage to his car or the pole.

According to Soden, defendant was cordial at this point and invited him to see the car, which was in the driveway. Soden walked with defendant to the car. Soden observed very minor damage to the rear bumper, which consisted of a small dent. Defendant admitted that the damage had been caused by the impact of his car with the pole in the Rite Aid parking lot.

Soden asked defendant for his credentials, specifically his driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance card. Soden told defendant that he needed those credentials so that he could complete an accident report. Defendant produced the documents. Soden said that defendant's demeanor changed at that point. Soden testified that defendant's eyes were bloodshot and he detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his clothing.

Soden asked defendant whether he had consumed any alcoholic beverages that day. Defendant did not respond to that question but told Soden to get off of his property because he had no right to be there. Soden testified that he wanted to "de-escalate the situation." He viewed the matter as a traffic violation. He told defendant that he would move from the driveway to the sidewalk in front of the property.

After Soden moved to the sidewalk, defendant appeared to calm down. Soden looked at defendant's driving credentials and noticed that the insurance card had expired. Soden told defendant he required a valid insurance card. Defendant expressed anger and stated that he wanted to know why Soden was there since he had not observed the accident. Soden said that defendant became very agitated.

Defendant turned and walked back up his driveway. He made no indication that he was going to obtain another insurance card. Soden followed him up the driveway. It appeared that defendant was going to the side door of the house. Soden stated that he did not know what defendant intended to do. Soden stated that defendant then turned and pushed him in the chest with his open palms. Soden said it was a "medium to hard push" which propelled him backwards and knocked him slightly off balance.

Defendant kept walking away. Soden followed him and told defendant he was under arrest. When the defendant did not stop walking, Soden took defendant's left arm and again told defendant he was under arrest. He attempted to put defendant in an "arm bar" which he described as a physical move used to make a person comply with his demands. Soden was not able to apply ...

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