On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 10-040.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and J. N. Harris.
Defendant Thomas Frain, Jr. appeals from his conviction in the Law Division for failure to pay a toll on the Garden State Parkway on October 16, 2009, contrary to N.J.A.C. 19:9-1.19, and from the imposition of a fine of $86 plus $33 in costs. After considering the record and reviewing Frain's arguments on appeal, we affirm.
We gather the facts from the trial conducted in the Borough of Freehold Municipal Court after the matter was transferred from the Borough of Tinton Falls Municipal Court.
On October 16, 2009, Linda M. Bell, an employee of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA), was assigned to serve as a toll violation officer at the so-called Asbury Park Toll Plaza, located in Tinton Falls.*fn1 Bell testified that she was stationed behind a two-way mirror above the toll collection basket in Lane 5, which required a one-dollar toll for cars. She was able to observe passing traffic without obstruction and had a clear view of both the lane of travel and the toll collection basket. At approximately 8:16 a.m., Bell observed a Ford automobile enter the lane being driven by a male operator. She testified as follows:
I observed, I observed this . . . Ford . . . with a male driver [come] through the lane and the only thing deposited in the basket was two quarters and he opened the door.
At trial, Bell expressly identified the driver as Frain. She went on to testify that after Frain drove away, she left her position and checked the pavement. She found "no money on the ground." She further noted that Frain never blew his horn or otherwise signaled that he was having difficulty paying the toll. Bell added that she prepared a report detailing the events that she had just observed, and someone else prepared a complaint and summons for a state police officer's review and signature.
The State also presented the testimony of Sergeant Miguel Estrada, a state police officer for twenty-four years. Sergeant Estrada indicated that his involvement in the matter was limited to signing Frain's complaint and summons. He testified that "[t]he procedure is . . . they literally just give me a box of summonses with toll violators and I just sign them and that's my extent of the process." Sergeant Estrada estimated that on the date he signed Frain's complaint and summons, he probably signed "about 600" other similar pleadings. He was not responsible for the actual mailing of the complaint and summons, and he did not know how that was accomplished.
Frain moved to dismiss the complaint and summons on the ground that it originated from a private citizen -- toll violation officer Bell -- and pursuant to Rule 7:2-2(a)(1), a citizen complaint cannot result in the issuance of an arrest warrant or summons unless a judicial officer is involved. The municipal court denied the motion, finding that Sergeant Estrada's involvement in the process satisfied Rule 7:2-2(a)(2).
Next, the court analyzed the evidence adduced at trial. It found the following:
I am satisfied from the testimony presented to me -- first of all, let me say that I find that Ms. Bell who testified is more than credible. She testified about this. She gave us a detailed account what she did, how she does it. And as I said, I found her to be fairly interesting. I had no idea how it worked. But she has a system and a mechanism for doing this. She testified explicitly as to how she does everything everyday. She has the records that back that up.
She was quite honest in saying that she is certain, although obviously she can't be 100 percent certain that it [was] Mr. Frain, but that she is indeed -- she is ...