NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE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-2227-18T1
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
KELBY B. KRAMER,
Argued November 6, 2019 – Decided December 27, 2019
Before Judge Yannotti and Hoffman.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Morris County, Municipal Appeal No. 18-
John Menzel argued the cause for appellant.
Paula Cristina Jordao, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the
cause for respondent (Fredric M. Knapp, Morris County
Prosecutor, attorney; Paula Cristina Jordao, on the
The Florham Park Municipal Court convicted defendant of driving while
intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, obstructing the administration of the law,
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a), and reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96. The court
sentenced defendant to three months loss of driving privileges and assessed
mandatory fines and penalties. Following a de novo trial, the Law Division
again found defendant guilty of the same charges and imposed the same sentence
as the municipal court.
Defendant filed this appeal. He contends the following arguments warrant
reversal of convictions:
I. With Only Observations of Defendant's Eyes,
Breath, and Demeanor, Police Had Neither
Reasonable Suspicion to Justify Ordering Her to
Get Out of Her Car Nor Probable Cause to Arrest
II. Because Defendant Fully Cooperated With
Police Beginning When They Guided Her Out of
Her Car and at All Times Thereafter, the State
Failed to Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that
She Purposefully Obstructed, Impaired, or
Perverted the Administration of Law via
Affirmative Interference with Governmental
III. The State Failed to Prove that Defendant Drove
Either Recklessly or Carelessly.
After reviewing the record in light of defendant's arguments, we affirm .
We derive the following facts from the record. Just before midnight on
October 1, 2016, Officer Daniel Braico of the Florham Park Police Department
observed defendant leave the Wyndham Hamilton Park Hotel in her car and attempt
to turn left and northbound onto Park Avenue. Instead, she turned into the
southbound lane, placing her head-on with oncoming traffic. Another vehicle
flashed its high beams to alert defendant of her error. Defendant corrected her course
and proceeded to the northbound side of the median.
Based on these observations, Officer Braico signaled defendant to pull over;
upon asking for her credentials, he immediately "smelled a potent odor of alcohol
emanating from the interior of [her] vehicle and also observed her eyes to be watery
and bloodshot." Asked if she consumed any alcohol, defendant responded she was
"fine." When asked if that meant she previously drank alcohol, she nodded
affirmatively. Defendant mistakenly thanked Officer Braico multiple times for
warning her of her wrong turn, confusing him with the driver who flashed high
beams at her. Defendant confirmed she had just left a bar located in the hotel.
Due to his suspicion that defendant was intoxicated, Officer Braico instructed
defendant to exit her vehicle so he could administer field sobriety testing (FST). In
response, defendant questioned why she needed to exit her vehicle and expressed
concern over performing any testing in her high heels. Officer Braico explained the
FST and, after informing defendant multiple times of his suspicion of DWI, he took
her keys based on his concern defendant would attempt to drive away.
Officer David Rubelowsky then arrived to provide backup for the stop. He
also instructed defendant to exit her vehicle multiple times, informing her of his
suspicion of DWI, and the need for her to submit to FST; however, defendant
continued to express confusion as to why she needed to exit her vehicle.
Officer Geoffrey Rothrock also provided backup, detected alcohol on
defendant's breath, and noticed her eyes bloodshot and watery. He explained to her
that she had to exit her vehicle so Officer Braico could continue his investigation of
DWI and administer the FST. In response, defendant claimed she did not
understand, asked what her options were, and proclaimed she was a "good person."
Officer Rothrock repeated his instructions and explained he needed a "yes or
no" answer, if she was willing to exit her vehicle, because he believed defendant
intended to stall the investigation. If she did not comply, he explained he would
place her under arrest for obstruction. Defendant did not respond to his warning.
Thereafter, Officers Rothrock and Braico escorted defendant out of her vehicle and
placed her under arrest. While transporting defendant to the police station, Officer
Braico noticed his vehicle smelled of alcohol.
At the station, defendant said she consumed only one glass of wine.
According to Officer Rothrock, his first three attempts to administer the Alcotest to
defendant failed because her breath samples were inadequate, as defendant blew
"very softly" into the machine. On the fourth attempt, defendant finally provided an
adequate breath sample, indicating a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .089; a fifth
breath sample indicated a BAC of .091. At that point, the police charged defendant
with the charges under review, and also careless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.
At trial, the municipal court judge found both Officers Braico and Rothrock
"clearly very credible[,]" forthright and consistent in their testimony. When
addressing the obstruction charge, the judge distinguished defendant's current case
from State v. Powers, 448 N.J. Super. 69 (App Div. 2016), and found defendant
guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because "defendant here repeatedly refused to exit
her vehicle after repeated instructions to do so. . . [t]hat in itself I find constitutes a
physical interference or obstacle satisfying the first prong of 2C:29-1(a)."
The judge also found defendant guilty of DWI and reckless driving, after
reviewing the officer's testimony and the evidence submitted. He dismissed the
careless driving offense as a lesser-included offense of the reckless driving charge.
On December 13, 2018, following a trial de novo, the Law Division judge
found defendant guilty of the same charges as the municipal court and issued a
comprehensive forty-one-page written opinion explaining her decision. The judge
found Officers Braico and Rothrock credible, describing their testimony as "candid
and forthright," with "each officer . . . corroborat[ing]. . . the other officer on a
number of material facts, including the fact that defendant failed on multiple
occasions to abide by officers' instruction that she had to exit her vehicle to undergo
[FST] on the night of the incident."
The judge first addressed whether the police officers had sufficient reasonable
suspicion of DWI to ask defendant to exit her vehicle. She ruled Officer Braico's
observations of defendant's motor vehicle violation and his observations during his
initial contact permitted him to "broaden his inquiry to ask defendant if she had
been drinking." She ruled, "Given defendant sidestepping [his] direct question
about whether she had anything to drink by saying she was 'fine,' in addition to what
[he] had just smelled, seen and heard," the officers established reasonable suspicion
to ask defendant to exit her vehicle to perform FST.
The judge next addressed whether the police officers had probable cause to
arrest defendant for DWI. She found after Officer Braico first observed and pulled
defendant over for careless driving, "he immediately detected a potent odor of
alcohol emanating from the interior of her car and saw that her eyes were bloodshot
and watery." She noted that Officer Rothrock made the same observations when he
addressed defendant, and that all three officers explained to defendant why she
needed to exit her car, but defendant continued to indicate she did not understand.
The judge ruled, "In light of the totality of these circumstances, the court finds
[the] officers had a well-grounded suspicion that defendant's consumption of alcohol
had affected her judgement, making it improper for her to drive. Thus, there was
probable cause to arrest defendant on suspicion of DWI."
The judge then carefully analyzed the evidence present and concluded the
State had proven defendant guilty of DWI by both the per se standard, based on the
BAC readings, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), and the observational standard. State v. Bealor,
187 N.J. 574, 590 (2006).
Addressing whether defendant drove recklessly, the judge found Officer
Braico observed defendant turn into oncoming traffic and drive within twenty feet
of another vehicle, which "suggest[ed] a lack of due caution on her part and creat[ed]
a serious safety concern." She found, independent of defendant's intoxication,
defendant still drove recklessly. She concluded the State demonstrated beyond a
reasonable doubt defendant "drove heedlessly, showed a wanton disregard for the
safety of those around her, and her driving conduct was likely to endanger another
person or property." Therefore, she found defendant guilty of reckless driving.
Regarding the obstruction charge, the judge found defendant was "beating
around the bush" and "stalling," when she disregarded the officer's repeated requests
to exit her vehicle. She ruled defendant's actions prevented the officers from
performing their official duties and found that it was "defendant's conscious
object[ive] to avoid exiting the car to perform FST, even though defendant was
physically able to get out of her car."
Based upon her detailed findings, the trial judge concluded that the State met
its burden in establishing, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was guilty of
DWI, reckless driving, and obstruction.
In reviewing a judgment of the Law Division on a municipal appeal, this court
applies a sufficiency of the evidence standard. See State v. Ugrovics, 410 N.J. Super.
482, 487-88 (App. Div. 2009). This court must "determine whether the findings
made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in
the record." State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964). "When the reviewing court
is satisfied that the findings and result meet this criterion, its task is complete and it
should not disturb the result . . . ." Ibid.
Superior Court review of a municipal court conviction is conducted de novo
on the record. R. 3:23-8. The Superior Court should defer to the municipal court's
credibility findings. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-71 (1999) (citing Johnson,
42 N.J. at 161-62). However, the municipal court's "interpretation of the law and
the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special
deference." Manalapan Realty, LP v. Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995). Thus,
"[o]n a de novo review on the record, the reviewing court . . . is obliged to make
independent findings of fact and conclusions of law, determining defendant's guilt
independently but for deference to the municipal court's credibility findings."
Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, cmt. 1.1 on R. 3:23-8 (2018).
We first address defendant's argument that the trial court erred in finding
that the arresting officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion of a violation
of law, to support requesting defendant to submit to FST. Specifically,
defendant claims the observations of Officer Braico and Officer Rothrock
regarding "defendant's eyes, breath, and demeanor" did not provide the requisite
reasonable suspicion of intoxication to request that she exit her vehicle.
We are guided by well-settled principles. A police officer may, without a
warrant, conduct an investigatory traffic stop based on a reasonable and
articulable suspicion that a defendant committed a traffic offense. "[A] stop
founded on a suspected motor vehicle violation essentially is governed by the
same case law used to evaluate a stop based on suspected criminal or quasi-
criminal activity." State v. Golotta, 178 N.J. 205, 213 (2003).
The "articulable reasons" or "particularized suspicion"
. . . must be based upon the law enforcement officer's
assessment of the totality of circumstances with which
he is faced. Such observations are those that, in view
of [the] officer's experience and knowledge, taken
together with rational inferences drawn from those
facts, reasonabl[y] warrant the limited intrusion upon
the individual's freedom.
[State v. Davis, 104 N.J. 490, 504 (1986).]
Reasonable suspicion is a "lower standard than the probable cause
necessary to sustain an arrest." Golotta, 178 N.J. at 213. Reasonable articulable
suspicion may exist even if there is an innocent explanation for the objective
facts. See State v. Citarella, 154 N.J. 272, 279-80 (1998) ("The fact that purely
innocent connotations can be ascribed to a person's actions does not mean that
an officer cannot base a finding of reasonable suspicion on those actions as long
as a reasonable person would find the actions consistent with guilt.") (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
During an investigatory stop, an officer may require a driver to perform
field sobriety tests if the officer has reasonable suspicion of DWI. See State v.
Bernokeits, 423 N.J. Super. 365, 374 (App. Div. 2011) ("In our view,
administration of the field sobriety tests is more analogous to a Terry stop than
to a formal arrest, and therefore may be justified by a police officer's reasonable
suspicion based on particularized, articulable facts suggesting a driver's
We are satisfied that these facts support a reasonable and articulable
suspicion that defendant was driving under the influence, sufficient to warrant
FST. The municipal judge found both officers credible and the trial judge on de
novo review reasonably adopted those same credibility findings. The trial judge
also found Officer Braico – who observed defendant's motor vehicle violation,
talked to defendant and immediately smelled alcohol, and noticed her blood shot
and watery eyes – "properly broadened his inquiry to ask defendant if she had
During the inquiry, the judge found defendant sidestepped questions
regarding drinking, later nodded in affirmation that she consumed alcohol,
admitted to leaving a bar, and confused Officer Braico on several occasions with
another driver. Additionally, she found Officer Rothrock smelled alcohol on
defendant's breath and observed her bloodshot eyes. The judge's factual findings
clearly establish the officers had reasonable suspicion to request defendant exit
her vehicle to conduct formal FST. Bernokeits, 423 N.J. Super. at 374.
We next turn to defendant's obstruction charge. Defendant argues she fully
cooperated with the police officers "beginning when they guided her out of her car
and at all times thereafter, the [S]tate failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
she purposefully obstructed, impaired, or perverted the administration of law via
affirmative interference with governmental functions."
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a), obstructing administration of law or other governmental
A person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs,
impairs or perverts the administration of law or other
governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent
a public servant from lawfully performing an official
function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence,
or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any
independently unlawful act. This section does not apply
to failure to perform a legal duty other than an official
duty, or any other means of avoiding compliance with law
without affirmative interference with governmental
"The purpose of this statute is 'to prohibit a broad range of behavior designed
to impede or defeat the lawful operation of government,'" and confines its limits to
"(1) violent or physical interference, [or] (2) other acts which are 'unlawful'
independently of the purpose to obstruct the government." State v. Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. 113, 116-17 (App. Div. 2005) (quoting Final Report of the New Jersey
Criminal Law Rev.sion Commission, Vol. II, 1971, at 280). Under the statute, "not
just any interference with the administration of law constitutes the criminal act of
obstruction." Id. at 118.
Simply obstructing, impairing or perverting the
administration of law or the governmental function is no
longer a statutory violation; the obstruction must be
carried out in a manner described in the statute: "by means
of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical
interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently
unlawful act." N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1.
Defendant's argument focuses on her cooperative conduct only after the
officers found she obstructed their investigation of her DWI and ignores her actions
prior to her arrest. The municipal judge found her actions constituted a "physical
interference or obstruction." The trial judge agreed, finding it was defendant's
"conscious objective" to delay the officer's investigation of her DWI and she only
exited her vehicle when escorted by the officers.
We agree with the trial judge's finding that defendant's actions amounted to
obstruction. The record clearly demonstrates defendant's attempts to delay the
officer's investigation of her DWI by not exiting her vehicle to perform FST and by
failing to obey the instructions of three different officers. Officer Braico made
multiple attempts to administer FST to defendant, as did his partner, Officer
Rubelowsky. After these efforts proved unsuccessful, Officer Braico called Officer
Rothrock for assistance in dealing with defendant's delay tactics. Officer Rothrock
further explained FST to defendant, and then provided her with an ultimatum: either
perform FST or be arrested for obstruction. By failing to comply with the officers'
commands to exit her vehicle to perform FST, she physically interfered with the
investigation of her DWI. See Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. at 118.
We next turn to defendant's argument that the police did not have probable
cause to arrest defendant for DWI. In finding probable cause, a court must examine
the totality of the circumstances, State v. Moore, 181 N.J. 40, 46 (2004) (citing
Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983); State v. Novembrino, 105 N.J. 95, 122
(1987)), "and view those circumstances from the standpoint of an objectively
reasonable police officer." State v. Basil, 202 N.J. 570, 585 (2010) (quoting
Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Probable cause for DWI exists where an officer has a well-founded suspicion
that an offense has been committed, State v. Moskal, 246 N.J. Super. 12, 21 (App.
Div. 1991) (citing State v. Wanczyk, 201 N.J. Super. 258, 266 (App. Div. 1985)),
meaning the officer "'had reasonable grounds to believe' that the driver was operating
a motor vehicle in violation of" the DWI statute. Moskal, 246 N.J. Super. at 21
(quoting Strelecki v. Coan, 97 N.J. Super. 279, 284 (App. Div. 1967)). Probable
cause requires more than a bare hunch or suspicion, but less than the legal evidence
required for conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Waltz, 61 N.J. 83,
The trial judge's conclusions are well supported by the testimony of Officers
Braico and Rothrock regarding their observations of defendant, her bloodshot eyes,
her driving into oncoming traffic, her admission of drinking alcohol and leaving a
bar, and her smelling of alcohol. The judge correctly found, based on the totality of
the evidence presented, the officers had "reasonable grounds to believe" defendant
operated her vehicle while intoxicated. Moore, 181 N.J. at 46. We agree with the
trial judge's findings because her analysis is consistent with applicable law and
"could reasonable have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the
record." Johnson, 42 N.J. at 162.
Lastly, we address defendant's reckless driving charge. Defendant argues the
State failed to prove defendant drove either recklessly or carelessly. Specifically,
she argues her driving never "posed any danger to any person or property. Nor was
there willful operation." Under N.J.S.A 39:4-96, reckless driving states that:
A person who drives a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or
wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a
manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a
person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving and
be punished by imprisonment in the county or municipal
jail for a period of not more than 60 days, or by a fine of
not less than $50.00 or more than $200.00, or both.
The trial judge found defendant turning into oncoming traffic and driving
within twenty feet of another driver showed a wonton disregard for the safety of
others around her. The judge found defendant's conduct "was likely to endanger
another person or property" and, even absent her DWI, found her driving reckless.
The record amply supports these findings.
Defendant drove on the wrong side of a highway separated by a median and
came within twenty feet of colliding with oncoming traffic. These facts alone
amount to "sufficient credible evidence" to uphold the trial judge's findings that
defendant drove recklessly. Johnson, 43 N.J. at162. Additionally, the judge found
defendant was legally intoxicated based on the per se violation and circumstantial
evidence. Defendant's erratic driving, in addition to her BAC, overwhelmingly
supports the conclusion she drove recklessly. Ebert, 377 N.J. Super. at 12.