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State v. Lopez

Decided: June 5, 1978.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
NESTOR LOPEZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Camden County Court.

Fritz, Botter and Ard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Botter, J.A.D.

Botter

Defendant was charged in two counts with (1) breaking and entering into a building known as the Hurley Building, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:94-1, and (2) stealing cases of assorted canned food valued between $200 and $500, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:119-2. In a jury trial two police officers testified for the State. Their testimony showed that defendant and an accomplice broke into the Hurley Building through a window that had been boarded up. They had removed approximately eight cases of canned goods by lowering them to the ground through the window. Other cases were stacked up by the window. As the officers approached the building the two men fled. They were pursued but one escaped. Defendant, who was caught, was continuously in sight of one officer except for a second or two as he rounded a street corner. Defendant refused to halt at the officer's command but he was captured at gun point as he attempted to open the door of his car. The car was parked about a block away from the building.

Defendant testified that he had been at a social club that night until closing and that, after driving some people home, he parked his car and began walking down the street. It was then about 2:30 A.M. He said, "I wasn't headed nowhere, I was looking for somebody." When he did not find the person he was looking for he started to return to his car when a man came running down the street. He said he

"got scared" and "made a move" away from his car. Then he saw two policemen, the State's witnesses, chasing the man. He said: "* * * well, when they came out, they saw me run, you know, that I made a move, and they stopped me and placed me under arrest." Defendant's cousin testified in support of the alibi, claiming he was with defendant at the social club and until about 2:30 A.M. on the night in question.

At the end of the State's case defense counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal. As to the breaking and entry it was urged that the State failed to prove ownership of the building and lack of authority or permission to do what defendant did. This ground is not urged on appeal. Rather, here it is urged that the evidence was insufficient to establish that defendant was one of the men who fled from the building. It is claimed that the lack of proof inheres in the fact that both officers lost sight of the man they were pursuing for some interval of time. We find this contention insubstantial and wholly without merit. There was ample evidence for the jury to find that defendant was one of the men pursued until apprehended. All the evidence, including some of defendant's own testimony, strongly supports the jury's verdict. There is no question that the case was one for the jury. See State v. Reyes , 50 N.J. 454, 458-459, 464 (1967).

The trial judge's treatment of defendant's motion for acquittal on the larceny count presents an issue that is novel and interesting. The motion was based on the contention that the State failed to prove that the goods had a value exceeding $200. Therefore an indictable offense under N.J.S.A. 2A:119-2 was not proved. Defense counsel argued that "at best" the proofs showed a nominal value sufficient to support a conviction for a disorderly person's offense under N.J.S.A. 2A:170-30.1. The trial judge correctly concluded that the evidence justified a finding that the goods had some value. State v. Taylor , 132 N.J. Super. 386 (Cty. Ct. 1975); United States v. DiGilio , 538 F.2d 972, 978

(3 Cir. 1976), cert. den. sub nom. United States v. Lupo , 429 U.S. 1038, 97 S. Ct. 733, 50 L. Ed. 2d 749 (1977); United States v. Thweatt , 140 U.S. App. D.C. 120, 127, 433 F.2d 1226, 1233 (D.C. Cir. 1970); United States v. Wilson , 284 F.2d 407, 408 (4 Cir. 1960); State v. Paramo , 92 Ariz. 290, 293, 376 P. 2d 554, 556 (Sup. Ct. 1962); Boone v. United States , 296 A.2d 449, 450 (D.C. Ct. App. 1972); People v. Kelly , 66 Ill. App. 2d 204, 209, 214 N.E. 2d 290, 293 (App. Ct. 1965); Lanham v. Commonwealth , 250 Ky. 500, 504, 63 S.W. 2d 585, 587 (Ct. App. 1933). These cases hold that proof of specific value is not required to convict for the petty offense of larceny, so long as the stolen object had some value to the owner that may be inferred from the evidence or may be judicially noticed. See Evid. R. 9(2) (d) (a judge may judicially notice matters of common knowledge not susceptible of reasonable dispute, that is to say, a judge is deemed to know what everyone knows); Evid. R. 12(1) and (2), authorizing a reviewing court in its discretion to take judicial notice of any matter specified in Evid. R. 9, whether or not judicially noticed by the trial judge.

Here the trial judge determined that the goods had some value sufficient to support a conviction for some degree of theft. He said, "* * * I know it has value, but whether it's in excess of two hundred dollars, I don't know." He properly concluded that the jury could not convict defendant of a misdemeanor under N.J.S.A. 2A:119-2, but that the proofs would support a conviction of the disorderly persons offense of stealing property whose "price or value * * * is $200.00 or less." N.J.S.A. 2A:170-30.1; see State v. Inman , 140 N.J. Super. 510 (App. Div. 1976). Accordingly, he did not submit the indictable larceny offense to the jury.

However, the trial judge also did not give the jury the lesser included disorderly persons offense. In a side-bar discussion, not recorded and ...


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