Abstract admitted where mvc employee testified State v Carrigan 2
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
January 14, 2016
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 8, 2015 – Decided
Before Judges Hoffman and Whipple.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 12-08-1606.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Mark H. Friedman, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
Joseph D. Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Samuel Marzarella, Supervising Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel; Roberta DiBiase, Senior Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).
Defendant appeals from a September 13, 2013 judgement of conviction after a jury trial, for operating a motor vehicle during the period of a license suspension for a second or subsequent conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26b. We affirm.
We discern the following facts from the record. On September 23, 2011, an officer of the Seaside Park Police Department initiated a motor vehicle stop of defendant's vehicle and relayed the car's registration number to the county dispatch unit. When the officer asked defendant for his driver's license and insurance, defendant replied that he "may or may not have [his license] on him, he was unsure." He then told the officer that his license may have been suspended due to a previous DUI conviction.
After transmitting defendant's name and date of birth to dispatch, the officer was told that defendant had a suspended driver's license as well as an active warrant out Jackson Township. He placed defendant under arrest and issued summonses. Defendant was subsequently indicted for operating a motor vehicle during a period of suspension for a second or subsequent conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26b.
At trial, the State presented evidence and witnesses demonstrating defendant had two prior convictions for DUI – one in 2008 and another in 2010, for which defendant's license was suspended for ten years. Defendant asserted that because he had previous unresolved license suspensions for non-DUI offenses, he did not know his subsequent suspensions for DUI had commenced and therefore lacked the requisite knowledge to be convicted under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26b. In an attempt to establish that defense, defendant presented Treat DaSilva, an employee of the Eatontown Regional Service Center of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). DaSilva testified that her job is to assist drivers with their driver history and explain administrative procedures to help drivers understand what is keeping their licenses suspended and what they might do to rectify the situation. DaSilva testified as to the various sources from which the loss of driving privileges are relayed to the MVC and added to a driver's history. She stated that when a driver receives multiple suspensions, they run consecutively unless labeled "concurrent," so one suspension will usually not begin until a prior suspension is completed.
Defendant introduced an order of suspension, effective December 27, 2011, which advised that his driving privileges had been suspended for 150 days because he had accumulated excessive points and that this suspension was in addition to previous suspensions in effect since 1983. He also elicited testimony that his driving record also still contained an unresolved suspension from 1983.
On cross-examination, the State was permitted to introduce defendant's certified driver's abstract, because defendant had opened the door by claiming his driving abstract established his lack of knowledge. The driver's abstract indicated defendant had twelve prior convictions for DUI. Defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle during a second or subsequent DUI license suspension. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant argues:
DEFENDANT'S ENTIRE DRIVING HISTORY ABSTRACT SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ADMITTED INTO EVIDENCE SINCE IT WAS IRRELEVANT, PREJUDICIAL, AND DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL AND DUE PROCESS OF LAW.
We review the court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. State v. Harris, 209 N.J. 431, 439 (2012); State v. Gillispie, 208 N.J. 59, 84 (2011); State v. Marrero, 148 N.J. 469, 483-84 (1997).
Defendant's asserted defense was that the State did not prove that, at the time of the offense, he knew that his suspension was for DUI. In order to establish that defense, defendant was permitted to rely upon MVC records including his history of prior suspensions. He asserts it was error for the court to allow his entire driving abstract into evidence and the trial judge misapplied the "opening the door doctrine". We disagree.
"The doctrine of opening the door allows a party to elicit otherwise inadmissible evidence when the opposing party has made unfair prejudicial use of related evidence." State v. James, 144 N.J. 538, 554 (1996). The doctrine "operates to prevent a defendant from successfully excluding from the prosecution's case-in-chief inadmissible evidence and then selectively introducing pieces of this evidence for the defendant's own advantage, without allowing the prosecution to place the evidence in its proper context." Ibid. Evidence is still subject to exclusion, however, where a court finds that the probative value of the otherwise inadmissible responsive evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of undue prejudice, confusion of issues, or misleading the jury. Ibid.
Here, defendant attempted to avoid the reach of N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26b by neglecting to restore his license after the expiration of previous suspensions, essentially serving that first suspension in perpetuity. The trial court allowed defendant to make an arguably specious assertion that he was unaware of the nature of his current suspension based upon the testimony of an MVC employee about defendant's administrative suspension in 2012, a small portion of defendant's driving suspension history. The trial judge allowed State to rebut that assertion with a more expanded discussion of the driving history relied upon by defendant, as reflected in his driver's abstract. We discern no abuse of the court's discretion.
Defendant's argument regarding N.J.R.E. 404(b) is similarly unavailing. Although defendant suggests that the trial court erred in not applying a Cofield analysis to determine admissibility under Rule 404(b), defendant never requested such a hearing. State v. Cofield, 127 N.J. 328 (1992). Furthermore, the prior bad acts on defendant's driving record were not introduced to show that he acted in conformity therewith, but were introduced to rebut defendant's claim that he lacked knowledge of his DUI suspension. Given the considerable discretion we afford the trial court in its evidentiary analysis, we see no reason to disturb the rulings in this case.