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State v. Das

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 15, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
SANJAY K. DAS, Defendant-Appellant.


Argued telephonically October 3, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Municipal Appeal No. 02-2012.

Rohit K. Mallick argued the cause for appellant (Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, L.L.P., attorneys; Mr. Mallick, on the brief).

Brian D. Gillet, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Andrew C. Carey, Acting Middlesex County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Gillet and Matthew P. Tallia, on the brief).

Before Judges Ostrer and Carroll.


Following a municipal court trial and a trial de novo in the Law Division, defendant Sanjay K. Das was convicted by the Law Division judge of failure to maintain lane, N.J.S.A. 39:4-88(b). He appeals that conviction. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

The case arose from a serious motor vehicle collision which occurred on Route 535 near Stults Road in South Brunswick at approximately 5:15 a.m. on April 16, 2011. The State alleges that defendant, who was operating his automobile on Route 535 in the northbound left lane, crossed over the double yellow line, causing a collision with a tractor trailer travelling in the opposite direction on the southbound side of the road. Defendant suffered severe personal injury, and his vehicle sustained significant damage, as a result of the collision with the tractor trailer. Following a police investigation, on May 14, 2011, defendant was issued a summons for unsafe lane change, N.J.S.A. 39:4-88(a).[1]

The only witness to testify at the municipal court trial was Patrolman Michael Hallman, a five-year veteran of the South Brunswick Police Department, who was the first officer to respond to the accident scene. The court also conducted a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing to determine whether Hallman could qualify as an expert in determining the point of impact where the collision between the two vehicles occurred. Over defendant's objection, the municipal judge ruled that Hallman could testify as an expert, consistent with the limitations of his level one crash certification. Hallman was not offered by the State, nor did he qualify, as an expert in accident reconstruction. The judge concluded:

[The] testimony is admissible to the extent that it helps the [c]ourt in understanding where the point of impact between the vehicles occurred, and I will give it the appropriate weight to the extent that that information is helpful in deciding whether prior to the collision [] defendant was operating his vehicle in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-88.

Hallman testified, during the N.J.R.E. 104 hearing and the ensuing trial, that some three years earlier he completed a two-week course and became certified as a level one crash investigator. The purpose of the course was to identify the point of impact when a collision occurs. This is done through the examination of physical evidence, such as skid marks, yaw marks, gouges, scrapes, and debris fields. Since becoming certified, Hallman had investigated some fifty to seventy-five accidents.

At the accident scene, Hallman spoke with defendant, who was initially pinned inside his vehicle. Defendant informed Hallman that he had been returning from Connecticut to his East Windsor home, and that he had been driving for five hours and was tired.

Hallman then made physical observations of the vehicles involved in the collision, and the accident scene. Hallman observed that the tractor trailer was in the southbound lane, and that its driver's side rear axle was dislodged. Defendant's vehicle had also come to rest in the southbound lane, facing the same direction as the truck. The driver's side of defendant's automobile had sustained heavy damage, and its door was sheared off. Hallman described the debris field as large, covering both directions of travel. Hallman next examined the roadway, and observed physical damage in the form of gouge marks located approximately forty to fifty feet behind the truck in the left southbound lane. This finding was significant because, upon impact, metal from the bottom of defendant's vehicle dug into the roadway, creating the gouge ...

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