NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court." Although it is posted on the
internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-4666-16T1
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
Argued October 23, 2018 – Decided November 27, 2018
Before Judges Fisher, Hoffman and Firko.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Morris County, Municipal Appeal Nos.
16-013 and 10-017.
Michael D'Alessio, Jr. argued the cause for the
Paula C. Jordao, Assistant Prosecutor argued the cause
for the respondent (Fredric M. Knapp, Morris County
Prosecutor, attorney; Erin Smith Wisloff, Supervising
Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).
Defendant Michael Olenowski appeals from his conviction, after a trial de
novo, for driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), on two separate
occasions in 2015. The first charge was defendant's second DWI conviction,
and the Law Division judge imposed a two-year license suspension, forty-eight
hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) program, and
appropriate fines, costs, and penalties. Because the second charge was
defendant's third DWI conviction, the Law Division judge imposed a ten-year
driver's license suspension, a mandatory 180-day sentence in the Morris County
Correctional Facility, and requisite fines, costs, and penalties.
On appeal, defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove
him guilty of all charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He attacks the credibility
of the State's witnesses, and promotes his own and his Drug Recognition
Expert's (DRE) credibility. He presents the following points on appeal:
DRE EVIDENCE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN
ADMITTED AS EXPERT OPINION BECAUSE IT IS
UNRELIABLE AND NOT "GENERALLY
ACCEPTED" AS REQUIRED UNDER FRYE.
A. Standard of Review.
Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923).
B. The DEC Protocol.
C. DRE Evidence is Subject to the Frye Standard of
Admissibility and the Requirement for General
Acceptance in a Criminal Case.
D. New Jersey Judicial Opinions Do Not Establish
That DRE Testimony Has Gained General
E. DRE Opinion Is Not Reliable or Generally
Accepted in the Scientific Community.
THERE WAS INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO FIND
DEFENDANT GUILTY OF DRIVING UNDER THE
A. Standard of Review.
B. There Was Insufficient Evidence to Convict
Defendant on the August 17, 2015 Incident.
C. There Was Insufficient Evidence to Convict
Defendant on the February 13, 2015 Incident.
We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in the comprehensive
written opinion of Judge James M. DeMarzo. There was sufficient credible
evidence in the record to support Judge DeMarzo's finding that defendant was
driving while intoxicated on both occasions.
DEC stands for Drug Recognition and Classification Program.
The February 13, 2015 Incident:
We derive the following facts from the record. At approximately 4:45
p.m. on February 13, 2015, Patrolman Peter Grawehr of the Denville Police
Department stopped defendant for failing to wear a seatbelt. Upon approaching
defendant's vehicle, Grawehr smelled the "odor of heavy alcohol." He
administered a series of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, beginning with the
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN Test). Grawehr next attempted to
conduct the walk-and-turn test, after explaining and demonstrating the test for
defendant. During this time, defendant was "swaying side-to-side," and had to
"stop several times to maintain his balance." After three reinstructions,
Grawehr attempted to conduct the One-Leg Stand Test but defendant
repeatedly lost his balance and "explained to [Grawehr] that he could not count
past ten one thousand," but "could count to 31,000 by counting to ten one
thousand three times." Defendant "fumbled Patrolman Grawehr's request for
registration by producing a rental agreement," and admitted to consuming one
alcoholic beverage. Based on all of his observations, Grawehr believed
defendant was under the influence and unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
He was placed under arrest and transported to the Denville police station, where
Grawehr administered an Alcotest, which revealed a blood alcohol content of
0.04%. The officer discovered a "small pink plastic [z]iploc baggie with some
unknown residue inside." After questioning defendant about the contents of the
baggie, he asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Additionally, Grawehr observed defendant exhibiting erratic behavior and
Since Grawehr felt "the level of impairment didn't match up with the
alcohol reading," he contacted Sergeant Pat McNichol, a certified DRE, who
performed a Drug Influence Evaluation (DIE) on defendant. He had difficulty
with balance, and exhibited a "circular sway." McNichol also attempted to
conduct the One-Leg Stand Test, however, when defendant "swayed while
balancing and used his arms for balance," the officer stopped the test because of
safety concerns. McNichol concluded that defendant was under the influence of
a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, a sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
stimulant, and alcohol.
The August 17, 2015 Incident:
On August 17, 2015, defendant drove his GMC Yukon off a road and
struck a telephone pole in Denville. At approximately 4:48 a.m., Patrolman
David Longo investigated the accident. He approached defendant, who had
already exited his vehicle, and noted he was "having trouble keeping his
balance[,]" "his speech was slurred[,]" and he had "a lot of saliva" on his face
and chin. After being questioned by Officer Longo about medications,
defendant responded that he was released from the hospital the night before and
prescribed Lipitor, Ambien, and another medication, but could not recall the
name.3 Defendant also stated that he injured his foot a year prior to the accident,
which affected his balance and ambulation. Longo administered a series of
Standard Field Sobriety Tests, including the HGN Test, walk-and-turn test, and
One-Leg Stand Test. Defendant had to be instructed "multiple times" before
complying with instructions. He had a "blank stare," his speech was slurred,
and he was swaying.
Defendant was arrested for DWI. After being transported to the police
station, Longo administered an Alcotest, which showed a blood alcohol con tent
of 0.00%. No blood was drawn, and defendant refused to provide a urine
sample. Based upon defendant failing the field sobriety tests, finger-to-nose
test, his slow coordination, rapid breath, a pale complexion, and bloodshot eyes,
Longo contacted Detective Dennis Subrizi to perform a DRE on defendant.
The record reflects that he was also prescribed Nexium and a beta blocker.
After conducting a DRE, Subrizi confirmed these symptoms. He also found
defendant exhibited mood swings, as he "went from being happy to crying in all
of a matter of a couple of seconds," which he opined is "a huge indicator f or
somebody to be under [the influence] of liquor and/or drugs." He concluded
that defendant was under the influence of a CNS stimulant and depressant.
Dr. Robert Pandina, defendant's DRE expert, testified that the DRE
protocol was flawed here because no toxicology samples were collected and
same were necessary to identify the drug and quantity consumed by defendant.
Our standard of review is limited following a trial de novo in the Law
Division, conducted on the record developed in the municipal court. State v.
Clarksburg Inn, 375 N.J. Super. 624, 639 (App. Div. 2005); see also R. 3:23-
8(a)(2). In such an appeal, we "consider only the action of the Law Division
and not that of the municipal court." State v. Oliveri, 336 N.J. Super. 244, 251
(App. Div. 2001) (citation omitted). The Law Division judge must make
independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based upon the evidentiary
record of the municipal court judge to assess the witnesses' credibility. State v.
Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 157 (1964) (citations omitted). We focus our review on
"whether there is 'sufficient credible evidence . . . in the record' to support the
trial court's findings." State v. Robertson, 228 N.J. 138, 148 (2017) (alteration
in original) (quoting Johnson, 42 N.J. at 162). On a legal determination, in
contrast, our review is plenary. See State v. Kuropchak, 221 N.J. 368, 383
We will reverse only after being "thoroughly satisfied that the finding is
clearly a mistaken one and so plainly unwarranted that the interests of justice
demand intervention and correction." Johnson, 42 N.J. at 162. "We do not
weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of witnesses, or make conclusions
about the evidence." State v. Barone, 147 N.J. 599, 615 (1997). Because neither
the appellate court nor the Law Division judge is in a good position to judge
credibility, the municipal court's credibility findings are given deference. See
State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-71 (1999). The rule of deference is more
compelling where, as here, both judges made concurrent findings. Id. at 474.
"Under the two-court rule, appellate courts ordinarily should not undertake to
alter concurrent findings of facts and credibility determinations made by two
lower courts absent a very obvious and exceptional showing of error." Ibid.
(citation omitted). Therefore, appellate review of the factual and credibility
findings of the municipal court and the Law Division "is exceedingly narrow."
State v. Reece, 222 N.J. 154, 167 (2015) (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. at
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) penalizes "operat[ing] a motor vehicle while under
the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit -producing
drug, or operat[ing] a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%
or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant's blood . . . ." Defendant argues
that the State failed to prove him guilty of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt
because his BAC for both incidents fell below the 0.08% limit, and DRE
evidence is unreliable without laboratory testing being performed.
We first address defendant's argument raised in Point I that the Law
Division judge erred in concluding that DRE evidence was admissible here
under the Frye standard. We disagree. N.J.R.E. 702 provides for the admission
of expert testimony:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge
will assert the trier of fact to understand the evidence
or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an
expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or
education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion
Expert testimony that is scientific in nature is only admissible if the
method used by the expert has "a sufficient scientific basis to produce uniform
and reasonably reliable results so as to contribute materially to the ascertainment
of the truth." State v. Kelly, 97 N.J. 178, 210 (1984) (citations omitted). In
State v. Bealor, 187 N.J. 574, 592-93 (2006), the Court noted that: "As part of
their required course of study, police officers must be trained in detecting drug-
induced intoxication." When dealing with scientific evidence, this State has
adopted the Frye standard of admissibility as set forth in State v. Harvey, 151 N.J. 117, 169-70 (1997). A proponent of a newly-devised scientific technology
can prove its general acceptance in three ways:
(1) by expert testimony as to the general acceptance,
among those in the profession, of the premises on which
the proffered expert witness based his or her analysis;
(2) by authoritative scientific and legal writings
indicating that the scientific community accepts the
premises underlying the proffered testimony; and
(3) by judicial opinions that indicate the expert's
premises have gained general acceptance.
[Harvey, 151 N.J. at 170 (quoting Kelly, 97 N.J. at
The judge found DRE evidence "qualifies as scientific evidence subject to
judicial gatekeeping," and stated:
[B]ecause of the scientific background of many of the
steps of the protocol, DRE evidence, taken as a whole,
qualifies as being scientific enough to trigger a ruling
under the Frye-Harvey standard. The [c]ourt agrees
with [d]efendant that DRE evidence is indeed
As to the reliability of DRE evidence here, Judge DeMarzo found:
Nevertheless, New Jersey's continued reliance on DRE
evidence indicates the willingness that it still finds it to
be generally acceptable and reliable in the scientific
community. As previously stated, a scientific method
can be disputed, but the evidence it procures remains
admissible. Moreover, Dr. Pandina's disagreement of
such acceptance cannot in itself overturn the reliability
of certain scientific subject-matter because its
acceptability does not turn on a unanimous or universal
agreement. For these reasons, DRE evidence satisfies
the three requirements outlined in Harvey.
[Internal citations omitted.]
These facts were significant enough to support a conclusion that
defendant's intoxication "so affected [his] judgment or control as to make it
improper for him to drive on the highways." Johnson, 42 N.J. at 165. Put
another way, defendant was under the influence because he suffered a
"substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical
capabilities of a person . . . ." State v. Tamburro, 68 N.J. 414, 421 (1975). A
defendant's demeanor, physical appearance, slurred speech, and bloodshot eyes,
together with poor performance on field sobriety tests, are sufficient to sustain
a DWI conviction. State v. Bealor, 187 N.J. at 588-89. Here, Officer Grawehr
and Longo's observations of defendant, combined with his inability to
satisfactorily perform psycho-physical tests, were more than sufficient to sustain
his DWI convictions.
We also reject defendant's argument that the Law Division judge
improvidently relied upon DRE evidence. Further, we are satisfied that the
record contains substantial credible evidence to support the findings by the Law
Division judge that defendant was driving while under the influence of
hallucinogenic and habit-producing drugs, without regard to the Alcotest
readings. Contrary to defendant's contentions, there was ample evidence to
support his convictions based on his physical condition at the time of the stops.
As to the February 13, 2015 incident, DRE expert, McNichol, testified that
defendant "possessed slow coordination, unclear speech, stale breath, a pale
face, bloodshot eyes, reddened nasal area, and a white paste on his tongue."
As to the August 17, 2015 incident, based upon DRE expert Subrizi's
testimony, the judge found "an abundance of evidence" to find defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt based upon "[h]is physical appearance, cognitive
expressions, and multiple failed sobriety tests . . . ." The observations and
opinions of McNichol and Subrizi were sufficient to allow Judge DeMarzo to
determine beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was guilty of driving while
intoxicated on both occasions. Accordingly, we find no basis for reversal here.
Defendant's other arguments do not warrant further discussion. R. 2:11-
We conclude that Judge DeMarzo's factual findings are fully supported by
the record, and in light of these facts, his legal conclusions are unassailable for
the reasons expressed in his well-reasoned opinion.