NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued July 9, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Municipal Appeal No. 38-12.
Michael Bandler, appellant argued the cause pro se.
John Santoliquido, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (James P. McClain, Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Santoliquido, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Ostrer and Hayden.
Defendant appeals his Law Division conviction in a trial de novo for a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-125. His main contention is that he did not violate the statute because his turn into a parking space could not be characterized as a U-turn. We agree with defendant and reverse his conviction.
The underlying material facts are not in dispute. On May 21, 2012, defendant was driving northbound on Philadelphia Avenue in Egg Harbor City en route to the post office. Philadelphia Avenue is divided by a double yellow line and signs in the area indicate that no U-turn is permitted. The avenue is lined with parking spaces on either side of the street, which are set at an angle relative to the direction of traffic. As defendant approached the post office, which is located on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue in the middle of the block, he noticed an available parking space in front of the building. The parking spaces were angled to permit drivers traveling southbound on Philadelphia Avenue to pull into he spots.
Defendant signaled he was turning left, and, when traffic was clear, he initiated a left-hand turn across the double yellow line to pull into the angled parking space on the opposite side of the street. As defendant drew near to the vacant parking space, another driver, parked in the adjacent space, began to back out of her space and struck defendant's vehicle. A police officer responding to the accident issued defendant a summons for effectuating an illegal U-turn in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-125.
After a trial in the Egg Harbor City Municipal Court on June 16, 2008, the municipal judge found defendant guilty. The judge determined that the street was properly marked with signs prohibiting U-turns and defendant had violated the statutory prohibition against U-turns. The judge reasoned that a driver does not have to turn around 180 degrees to violate the statute; rather, "[a]n indication to turn in the opposite direction of where you're traveling is enough, the opposite direction being facing in some manner, whether it's 10 degrees or more[.]" Since defendant was making a left turn, not at a ninety degree angle, but "more southerly, " to enter the angled parking space, the judge found that his actions violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-125 and imposed a fine of $56 and court costs of $33.
Defendant appealed and a trial de novo took place on October 26, 2012, in the Law Division. The trial judge also found defendant guilty. He reasoned, based on State v. Smith, 408 N.J.Super. 484 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 200 N.J. 477 (2009), that a complete 180-degree U-turn is not required and since defendant's turn was slightly in a southerly direction to maneuver into the angled parking space, he had made an illegal U-turn. The court imposed the same fines as assessed by the municipal court. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant contends that the purpose of his turn was to park his car, not to proceed in the opposite direction. As such, he argues, the turn was not prohibited by N.J.S.A. 39:4-125. He also contended that, if N.J.S.A. 39:4-125 prohibited a turn to park a vehicle, it is impermissibly vague.
In reviewing a trial court's decision on a municipal appeal, we determine whether sufficient credible evidence in the record supports the trial court's decision. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 157 (1964); State v. Cerefice, 335 N.J.Super. 374, 383-84 (App. Div. 2000). We must accord deference to the trial court's findings of facts and determinations of credibility. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 474 (1999). "[T]he rule of deference is more compelling where, as in the present case, two lower courts have entered concurrent judgments on purely factual ...