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State in Interest of N.L.

Decided: March 10, 1976.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF N.L., JUVENILE-APPELLANT


For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Clifford and Schreiber. For remandment -- Justice Pashman and Judge Conford. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J. Conford, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned (dissenting). Justice Pashman joins in this dissent.

Sullivan

[69 NJ Page 343] N.L., the juvenile herein, was apprehended while a passenger in a stolen car, and was subsequently adjudicated a delinquent on a finding that he had unlawfully

used a motor vehicle. This act if committed by an adult would be a violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-38, commonly known as the joy-riding statute and constitutes an act of juvenile delinquency when committed by a person under 18 years of age. The Appellate Division with one judge dissenting, upheld the adjudication. We also affirm.

The State's proofs presented at the Juvenile Court hearing may be summarized as follows: Three officers of the Newark Police Department while on patrol duty in an unmarked car observed a Ford Mustang with two young persons in it being operated in an erratic manner. They continued to watch the vehicle and noticed that the passenger in the front seat kept looking back at the police car. At this point the officers turned their car around and started to follow the other vehicle. After a few blocks, the Mustang attempted a turn and went halfway up on the sidewalk. The police then sounded their siren and put on their light whereupon the vehicle in question "took off" with the police in pursuit. After several blocks, the officers overtook the Mustang when it attempted another turn and ran into a parked car. As the police pulled their car up behind the Mustang the driver put it in reverse and rammed the police car. Both of the occupants of the Mustang tried to get out but the police "jumped out and grabbed them." N.L., then age 15, who was the passenger in the car, was charged with an act of juvenile delinquency (unlawful use of a motor vehicle).

At the Juvenile Court hearing, the sole contention made on N.L.'s part, on motions made at the conclusion of the State's case and also after N.L. had rested without calling any witnesses, was that the State had failed to prove that N.L. had knowledge that the car was stolen or was being used unlawfully.

The trial judge, after hearing the evidence, found that the State had sustained its case. However, he did not make a specific determination that N.L. knew that the car in which he

was a passenger was stolen or was being operated without the owner's permission.

The Appellate Division assumed that knowledge would be an essential element of the statutory offense. Although it believed that such a finding was implicit in the trial judge's determination, it made its own independent findings based on the record, giving consideration to the trial judge's having fully credited the evidence presented by the State.

A majority of the Appellate Division was satisfied from the proofs that a reasonable inference could be drawn that beyond a reasonable doubt N.L. knew that the car in which he was a passenger was either stolen or was being operated without the owner's permission. One of the Appellate Division judges dissented on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to establish such knowledge. N.L. has appealed to this Court as of right. R. 2:2-1(a).

It is argued on behalf of N.L. that the evaluation of the evidence by the dissenting Appellate Division judge was correct and that the adjudication of delinquency should be reversed.

The State on the other hand contends (1) that the statute does not require proof of knowledge that the car was stolen or was being used without the owner's permission and, (2) even if proof of such knowledge is required, the evidence presented by the State together with the ...


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