STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. CHRISTOPHER IANOSAnnotate this Case
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-5755-12T2
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
November 12, 2014_______________________________
Submitted November 5, 2014 Decided
Before Judges Fasciale and Hoffman.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Municipal Appeal No. 001-36-13.
The Toscano Law Firm, L.L.C., attorneys for appellant (Patrick P. Toscano, Jr., on the brief).
John L. Molinelli, Bergen County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Jacqueline Choi, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Defendant appeals from his de novo conviction of driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. He contends primarily that there was insufficient probable cause to arrest him. We disagree and affirm.
The parties stipulated to the following facts. Defendant drove on the rim of a tire that blew out and crashed into a retaining wall. The police arrived at the scene and observed that defendant was unable to exit his vehicle and stand without being supported by an officer; defendant's eyes were bloodshot and watery; there was an odor of alcohol coming from defendant's breath; his speech was slurred; he was incoherent; and defendant was confused about where he was. An officer arrested defendant for DWI, transported him to police headquarters, and administered an Alcotest indicating that he had a .18 blood alcohol concentration.1
Defendant moved in Municipal Court to suppress the evidence arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest him. The Municipal Court judge denied the motion and defendant pled guilty to DWI. The Municipal Court judge suspended defendant's license for seven months and imposed the appropriate fines and penalties. Defendant appealed to the Law Division.
Defendant repeated his argument in the Law Division that there was insufficient probable cause to arrest him. The Law Division judge determined that probable cause existed, conducted a de novo trial finding defendant guilty of DWI, and suspended his license for seven months imposing the appropriate fines and penalties.
On appeal, defendant raises the following point
NO PROBABLE CAUSE/REASONABLE GROUNDS EXISTED IN ORDER TO DIRECT THE APPELLANT TO TAKE A BREATH TEST.
After carefully considering the record and the briefs, we conclude that defendant's argument is "without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion." R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add the following brief remarks.
To make an arrest for DWI, the arresting officer need only have "'reasonable grounds to believe' that the driver was operating a motor vehicle in violation [of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50]." State v. Moskal, 246 N.J. Super. 12, 21 (App. Div. 1991) (alteration in original) (quoting Strelecki v. Coan, 97 N.J. Super. 279, 284 (App. Div. 1967)). Reasonable grounds can be based solely on the officer's observations. See State v. Liberatore, 293 N.J. Super. 580, 589 (Law Div.) (holding that "observational evidence" may be sufficient to prove "a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of DWI."), aff'd, 293 N.J. Super. 535 (App. Div. 1996); State v. Morris, 262 N.J. Super. 413, 421-22 (App. Div. 1993) (holding that defendant's slurred speech, loud and abusive behavior, disheveled appearance, red and bloodshot eyes, together with the strong odor of alcohol were sufficient to sustain a DWI conviction); Moskal, supra, 246 N.J. Super. at 20-21 (holding that defendant's flushed face, "drooping and red" eyes, the strong odor of alcohol, and an admission of drinking established probable cause for arrest).
The stipulated facts in this case established the requisite reasonable grounds. Based on the officer's observations of defendant including an odor of alcohol emanating from defendant's breath; defendant's bloodshot and watery eyes; his slurred speech; his inability to identify where he was and to maintain his balance there was sufficient probable cause for defendant's arrest for DWI. Therefore, it was appropriate for the officer to require defendant to submit to an Alcotest.
As we have previously stated, a defendant's demeanor, physical appearance, slurred speech, and bloodshot eyes, together with an odor of alcohol, are sufficient to sustain a DWI conviction. State v. Bealor, 187 N.J. 574, 588-89 (2006); Morris, supra, 262 N.J. Super. at 421-22. Such is the case here.
1 The officer did not ask defendant to perform field sobriety tests because defendant was unable to stand.