On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Municipal Appeal No. 30-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.
After pleading guilty, defendant appeals from his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. The primary issue is whether the police had a reasonable articulable suspicion to stop defendant's vehicle. Defendant contends that the police lacked probable cause and, as a result, "the evidence derived [from the stop] should be suppressed." We disagree and affirm.
The events leading to the motor vehicle stop occurred at the intersection of County Road 530 (530) and Route 206 (206). Defendant had been traveling on 530 towards 206, and Officer Thomas O'Connor, driving a marked police vehicle, followed twenty feet directly behind defendant's car and never lost sight of him. When defendant reached the intersection, he intended to turn right onto 206 northbound.
Officer O'Connor testified at the motion to suppress hearing that defendant failed to obey a yield sign which controlled traffic traveling from 530 onto 206 northbound. As a result of defendant's failure to yield, a pickup truck traveling north on 206 stopped to avoid colliding with the driver's side of defendant's car. The officer then pulled defendant over within 100 feet from the intersection, arrested defendant, and charged him with DWI, careless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-97, and failure to yield, N.J.S.A. 39:4-144.
The municipal court judge conducted a hearing of the motion to suppress, considered the officer's testimony, viewed a DVD of the stop recorded by the patrol car's dashboard camera, and viewed a DVD of the area where the stop occurred provided by defendant. The judge issued an oral opinion denying the motion and stated:
In this case the officer's testimony was that there was a vehicle going eastbound on 530 making a left turn to go north on 206 and that the defendant failed to yield.
I've considered the testimony and I believe at the time that the officer was following the defendant's vehicle[,] he had reason to believe that a motor vehicle violation had occurred and that he had probable cause to stop the defendant and conduct a motor vehicle stop.
The municipal court judge imposed on defendant a $256 fine, $33 court costs, $200 drunk driving surcharge, $50 Victim Of Violent Crime Compensation Board assessment, and $75 Safe Neighborhood Fund Assessment. The judge suspended defendant's driver's license for 90 days, and ordered defendant to serve 12 hours in the Intoxicated Driver's Resource Center.
Defendant filed his municipal appeal and the Law Division conducted a trial de novo, issued a written opinion, and denied defendant's motion to suppress. The judge stated:
Trooper O'Connor testified that the defendant, by going right through the roadway when turning past the yield sign, caused oncoming traffic to stop immediately as defendant entered the roadway. Additionally, Trooper O'Connor testified [that] he recalled one vehicle that came to a complete stop because of defendant's actions. Therefore, Trooper O'Connor ultimately possessed a reasonable articulable suspicion that defendant violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-144, titled "Stopping or yielding right of way before entering stop or yield intersections." Thus, the stop was permissible and all evidence obtained as a result should be admissible. O'Connor's testimony regarding justification for the stop [was] ...