On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Municipal Appeal No. 71-2010.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 21, 2011 -
Before Judges Lihotz and Waugh.
Defendant Matt Pinter appeals from his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Although he pled guilty to the charge, he reserved his right to pursue an appeal based upon his argument that the police officer who issued the summons charging that offense made an illegal motor-vehicle stop. We affirm.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record.
Officer Frank Sutter of the East Brunswick Police Department (EBPD) was on patrol from 8:30 p.m. on March 12, 2010, until 7:00 a.m. the following morning. Sutter had been employed by the EBPD for five years, and had received training in DWI detection. He had previously arrested approximately 125 intoxicated drivers.
At approximately 3:00 a.m. on March 13, Sutter was driving in the southbound lane on Old Bridge Turnpike, a two-lane road. He observed Pinter's white Isuzu Trooper traveling in the northbound lane. Because Pinter was traveling "close to the yellow lines at a slow rate of speed," Sutter entered his license plate into his patrol car computer to do "a random lookup."
Sutter continued on Old Bridge Turnpike, made a right onto Main Street, and then turned into the driveway of the Bound Monroe School to wait for his computer to return information on Pinter's vehicle. A few seconds later, Sutter observed Pinter's Isuzu drive past on the westbound lane of Main Street, but did not observe anything remarkable about Pinter's driving. Nevertheless, based on the time of night and the fact that Pinter had changed direction, Sutter pulled out of his parking spot and began to follow Pinter's vehicle. He testified that he was suspicious "because drunk drivers get disoriented all the time."
Pinter made a right turn onto Old Stage Road, and Sutter followed. Sutter drove behind Pinter for about one-and-a-half to two miles. He testified that he followed Pinter for that distance so that he could observe Pinter's driving on a straight portion of the road because he "couldn't tell if he [was] weaving back and forth until [they] got to a straightaway."
Once they came to a straight section of roadway, Sutter observed Pinter's vehicle "weaving back and forth in its lane." However, he did not see the vehicle cross any lines. Sutter described Pinter's driving as "drifting back and forth," making an "S pattern." Using his own speedometer, Sutter estimated that Pinter was traveling between twenty-eight to thirty miles per hour (mph) in a thirty-five mph zone. Although it was raining, Sutter considered Pinter's speed to be "slow" for that area.
Sutter turned on his flashing lights and initiated a stop of Pinter's vehicle.*fn1 At the time of the stop, it was raining and there was "light traffic" on Old Stage Road, which is not a highway or freeway. After the arrival of a second officer, Pinter was arrested and escorted to the patrol car.*fn2 He was issued several summonses, including the one involved in this appeal.
Pinter moved to suppress all evidence resulting from the motor vehicle stop, arguing that there was no legal basis for Sutter to have stopped him. At the municipal court hearing, the judge found Sutter's testimony credible. The judge could not determine whether Pinter's vehicle appeared "to be traveling toward the left side of the lane" in the video from the recorder in Sutter's car. He also concluded that no motor-vehicle ...