On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Municipal Appeal No. 01-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall and Simonelli.
Following trial de novo on the record of the Municipal Court of Camden, the Law Division judge found defendant Nasir Finnemen guilty of disorderly conduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2a, and of the disorderly persons offense of obstruction of administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1a. The judge merged defendant's convictions and sentenced defendant to pay a $300 fine, $33 for court costs, a $50 VCCB penalty and a $75 SNSF assessment.
Defendant raises three issues on appeal:
I. THE EVIDENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT THE CRIME [SIC] OF OBSTRUCTION OF LAW.
II. THE EVIDENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT THE CRIME [SIC] OF DISORDERLY CONDUCT.
III. APPELLANT-DEFENDANT FINNEMEN HAD A RIGHT TO COUNSEL AT THE TRIAL DE NOVO.
Patrolmen Khary Bullock and John Venuto of the Transit Division of the Delaware River Port Authority testified for the State. On the night of October 3, 2009, they were patrolling in a marked police car within steps of the transportation center in Camden. Venuto saw defendant standing on the sidewalk holding a can that appeared to be an alcoholic beverage. Venuto left the police car, stopped defendant and saw that he was, in fact, carrying a twelve-ounce can of beer. Venuto issued and served defendant with a citation for having an open container of alcohol.
The officers resumed their patrol and stopped two other men. While Bullock spoke to one and Venuto the other, defendant approached Bullock and asked for his badge number. According to Bullock, defendant was agitated and said he was upset. Bullock asked defendant to back away several times, explaining that he was dealing with others and needed to concentrate. Venuto heard Bullock say, "We are in the middle of an investigation. You need to step away. When we're clear of this investigation we will talk to you and handle your problem."
When Bullock asked defendant to move for about the fifth time, defendant was within two feet of Bullock, within arm's reach, and had raised his hands towards Bullock. Venuto explained that defendant "kept walking towards" his partner, pointed his finger at him and "got up in his face." Based on defendant's proximity and aggressive manner, Bullock placed him on the ground face down and handcuffed him.
Defendant testified and contradicted the patrolmen's testimony, but the municipal court judge credited the patrolmen's, not defendant's, testimony. The Law Division judge accepted and relied upon that determination.
Crediting the patrolmen's testimony and carefully reviewing the entire record of the municipal court, the Law Division judge found that the State established defendant's guilt by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The question for this court is whether the judge's findings of guilt could reasonably have been reached "on sufficient credible evidence present in the record." State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964); see State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. ...