NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 2, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Municipal Appeal No. 2013-004.
Emanuel Goldman, appellant, argued the cause pro se.
Stephen A. Pogany, Special Deputy Attorney General, Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Carolyn A. Murray, Acting Essex County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Pogany, on the brief).
Before Judges Ashrafi and Leone.
Defendant Emanuel Goldman appeals from his conviction in the municipal court for driving through a red traffic light, N.J.S.A. 39:4-81. The municipal court judge reviewed defendant's extensive record of traffic violations and imposed a fine of $81 and court costs of $33. On trial de novo, R. 3:23-8(a), the Law Division judge also found defendant guilty of the charge, but neither the order nor written opinion of the judge stated the penalty. We assume the penalty after trial de novo was the same as that imposed by the municipal court. We affirm.
At about 1:45 a.m. on October 29, 2012, as Superstorm Sandy was about to strike New Jersey, defendant was driving to an all-night pharmacy to get a prescription antibiotic for his four-year-old son, who had woken up in the night crying with an earache. At the intersection of Pompton Avenue with Linden Avenue and Cambridge Road in Verona, defendant was observed by a police officer as he proceeded through a traffic light that was red. The officer stopped defendant and issued a ticket.
Defendant pleaded not guilty. In the municipal court, he raised two defenses. He argued that his proceeding through the red light was justified by his son's emergency, in particular, at that hour when there were no other cars at the intersection. He also argued as a matter of law that the light should have been a flashing rather than a sustained traffic light in the low traffic conditions of that time of night.
On the appeal before us, defendant has not pursued his first point of argument regarding a personal emergency and a necessity defense. Instead, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In support of his legal argument that the light should have been flashing rather than sustained, defendant cites two statutes for our consideration: N.J.S.A. 39:4-106, entitled "Sequence of Lights, " and N.J.S.A. 39:4-120.2, which pertains to the discretionary authority of municipalities to operate flashing traffic signals during off-peak hours.
We reject all of defendant's arguments and affirm the Law Division's judgment of conviction for the reasons stated in the comprehensive written opinion of Judge Ramona Santiago dated March 20, 2013.
We briefly add the following. Defendant argues that the officer's dashboard camera was operating, and the municipal court judge viewed the recording and found that the light was actually green. Defendant reads too much into an isolated and vague comment of the judge contained in the transcript of the municipal court trial. The judge apparently thought he saw a green light on the video recording, but the police officer who was testifying in conjunction with the recording explained that the light was red at the time that defendant's car was moving through the intersection. The officer testified that defendant never stopped at the red light but drove straight through, albeit at low speed. Defendant testified in his own defense and claimed that he stopped at first. But significantly, defendant admitted that he started through the intersection as he saw an amber light on the cross street and before the light controlling his direction had turned green. Defendant now argues that his own admission was not credible evidence.
The municipal court judge relied on all the evidence — the video recording, the officer's testimony, and defendant's admission. He found that defendant had in fact failed to observe a red light as he drove through the intersection. We defer to the judge's fact finding based on sufficient credible evidence in the record. See ...