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State of New Jersey v. Idella Mitchell

November 15, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Municipal Appeal No. 2011-09.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 10, 2012 --

Before Judges Yannotti and Harris.

Defendant Idella Mitchell appeals from an order entered by the Law Division on July 25, 2011, dismissing her appeal from a judgment of conviction entered by the Ewing Township Municipal Court on July 19, 2007. We affirm.

This appeal arises from the following facts. On March 27, 2005, State Trooper Matthew Morin issued several summonses to defendant charging her with various motor vehicle violations, including driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; refusal to provide a breath sample, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2; consumption of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle, N.J.S.A. 39:4-51a; and failure to drive within a single lane, N.J.S.A. 39:4-88(b).

Defendant filed a motion to suppress and the municipal court judge conducted a hearing on the motion on February 15, 2007. Defendant was not present, but she was represented by counsel. The State presented testimony from Trooper Morin. The hearing continued on April 25, 2007. Defendant and her attorney were present and defendant testified. The judge denied the motion to suppress, finding that Trooper Morin had reasonable grounds to stop defendant's vehicle because he observed defendant's car weaving to the left and to the right.

Trial in the matter began on June 14, 2007. Defendant was represented by counsel. The parties stipulated to the admission of the testimony that Trooper Morin gave about the motor vehicle stop at the suppression hearing. The Trooper further testified that he approached defendant's vehicle, which was stopped at the side of the road. Trooper Morin detected the odor of alcohol emanating from defendant. He also observed a half-filled glass of what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage in the center console of the car.

Trooper Morin administered certain field sobriety tests, which defendant did not successfully complete. Defendant was arrested and taken to the police station. She was informed of her Miranda rights.*fn1 Defendant signed a statement acknowledging she had been advised of her rights. The Trooper also read the standard drinking and driving questionnaire. Defendant remained silent when asked to provide a breath sample. The officers treated this as a refusal.

Defendant also testified. Defendant stated that in the early morning hours of March 27, 2005, she was returning from a friend's house in Trenton, when she was stopped by the police. She said she was a diabetic and was "prone to hypoglycemia" which makes her nauseous and dizzy. Defendant stated that the speed limit in the area was thirty-five miles per hour and she was "doing" thirty miles per hour. She had consumed about twelve ounces of beer at her friend's house, and had about three or four ounces of alcohol in the car.

Defendant further testified that she pulled over when she saw the flashing lights. She did not recall making any errors in performing the "recite-the-alphabet" test. She thought the other field sobriety tests "went smoothly." Defendant did not believe the alcohol had affected her ability to drive. Defendant said she was annoyed when she was taken to the police station because she thought she had performed the tests well.

Defendant also said that, at the police station, she remained "totally silent" because she did not believe she should have been stopped. Defendant conceded she refused to provide the breath sample but said this was because she "felt . . . the whole thing was illegal[.]" The trial was adjourned so that defendant's attorney could have the opportunity to view a videotape made of the field sobriety tests.

The trial resumed on June 21, 2007. According to her attorney, defendant was ill and could not be present. The municipal court judge denied defendant's motion for an adjournment, noting "the tortured history of many adjournments of the matter over the course of two years[.]"

The judge said he had informed defendant he expected her to be in court and the matter would proceed in her absence if she was not present. Defendant's attorney then stated that, since defendant was not present, he did not believe the videotape would help her case. Defense counsel moved to ...

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