On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Municipal Appeal No. 10-006.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Fasciale.
Defendant appeals from his de novo conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. It is undisputed that defendant struck a parked vehicle when he drove home from a restaurant, a distance of approximately two miles. The main question is whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was under the influence of alcohol when he drove home. We affirm.
On December 17, 2009, Officer David Xenitelis was dispatched to the area of Whippany Road and Sylvan Way. When he arrived, the officer noticed that "some of the pavement had actually been gouged up." The officer testified that the gouge marks "appeared to be . . . made by a tire that had been blown out or an axle that had been dragging . . . off a vehicle." He followed the gouge marks on Sylvan Way directly to defendant's home.
When Officer Xenitelis arrived at the house, he located defendant outside his home. The officer testified that he could tell that defendant was "extremely intoxicated." Defendant admitted to the officer that he struck a parked car and that he had his last alcoholic drink at a restaurant, which is located "a couple of minutes" from defendant's home. Officer Xenitelis arrested defendant, charged him with DWI, and transported him to the police headquarters.
Meanwhile, Officer Carmen Capinegro had been dispatched to the area where the parked car was located. He arrived at the location, observed that the rear-end of a white Honda "[h]ad been crushed pretty good," and noticed a trail of fluid and gouge marks that led from the Honda to defendant's home. Officer Capinegro then traveled to police headquarters where defendant admitted to him that he was not paying attention to the road and struck the parked Honda. The Honda was located between the restaurant and defendant's home.
The matter was tried in the Township of Morris Municipal Court before Judge Robert J. Nish. Officers Xenitelis and Capinegro testified for the State. Defendant did not testify. Judge Nish rendered an oral opinion and found defendant guilty of DWI. Judge Nish treated the DWI conviction as defendant's second offense, sentenced him to two-years loss of license, and imposed penalties and fines. Defendant then appealed to the Law Division.
Judge Stuart A. Minkowitz conducted a trial de novo in the Law Division and issued an eight-page oral opinion.
Defendant contended that the State failed to introduce sufficient evidence to prove he was under the influence when he drove home from the restaurant. Judge Minkowitz disagreed and stated:
The pieces of the puzzle fall together. While it's not a neat puzzle, nevertheless all the pieces are present.
First, the testimony is that the defendant admitted to drinking at the [restaurant]. The last drink he had was at the [restaurant], not any time thereafter.
He admitted to the officers that the last drink he had was right before he saw them. While that may not have occurred two minutes before, the officer's testimony indicates that . . . it would take [approximately two minutes] ...