On appeal from Adjudication of Delinquency in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Somerset County.
Shebell and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, P.J.A.D.
On January 30, 1992, the juvenile, M.N., was charged in a delinquency complaint with acts which if committed by an adult would constitute third-degree arson (N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1b) and third-degree criminal mischief (N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3a(1)). The property damaged by M.N. was separated in the complaint into two counts:
1. Count One, charging third-degree arson of a garage.
2. Count Two, charging third-degree criminal mischief of a boat.
In April 1992, following a bench trial, the Family Part Judge concluded that M.N. did not purposely set the boat or garage on fire, but that, beyond a reasonable doubt, M.N. "purposely lit a fire" by striking a match. Therefore, the Judge found M.N. guilty of third-degree arson of the garage as alleged in count one of the complaint. The Judge made no findings on the charge of third-degree criminal mischief involving the boat as contained in count two of the complaint. M.N. was sentenced on June 4, 1992, to two years of probation and was ordered to complete one hundred hours of community service and to attend individual counselling.
In his brief on appeal, M.N. argues:
M.N.'S CONVICTION OF THIRD DEGREE ARSON MUST BE VACATED AND THE CHARGES DISMISSED.
A. The Court's Finding That M.N. Purposely Started A Fire By Merely Lighting A Match Is Erroneous.
B. The State Failed To Prove That M.N. Recklessly Endangered Or Destroyed The Property Of Another.
C. The Court Failed To Make A Finding Regarding Whether Or Not M.N.'s Conduct Toward The Property Of Another Was Reckless.
D. Since M.N.'s Conduct Amounted To Mere Negligence He Could Not Have Been Found Culpable For Anything Other Than Criminal Mischief In The Fourth Degree.
THE DOCTRINE OF DOUBLE JEOPARDY REQUIRES THAT THE ALLEGATION OF CRIMINAL MISCHIEF CONTAINED IN COUNT TWO OF THE COMPLAINT MUST BE DISMISSED. (Not Raised Below)
On December 10, 1991, at about 8:00 a.m., twelve-year-old M.N., a seventh grader, was walking to the school bus stop. As was his
usual habit, he took a short-cut through three owners' properties. According to M.N., while walking, he found a book of matches near his house. He picked up the matches, lit one, and threw it onto the road. He continued on to the bus stop "throwing the matches around and cutting through the people's yards." When he got to a tree by the yard of the victim, M.N. lit a match, blew it out, threw it, and then threw the entire book of matches away and walked on to catch his bus.
An unknown man knocked on the door of a nearby house, shouted "fire," and ran away. The neighbor saw flames across the street, called the police, and attempted to put out the fire with a garden hose. He observed that the fire was actually coming from a boat parked next to a detached garage which was at the rear of the property. The owner of the property was summoned from work. When he arrived home, he saw his boat and garage on fire. The fire destroyed the boat, a substantial portion of the detached garage, one antique car, sporting equipment, and other personal items. The owner estimated the damage to the boat and the garage and its contents to be approximately $100,000.
A Franklin Township detective, assigned to the Police Arson Squad, investigated the fire. He arrived on the scene at 9:30 a.m. He observed that it had rained overnight and that the ground was very wet. He noted that the garage had burned from the outside in and that there were no "heat sources" (i.e. extension cords, batteries) in or near the boat.
After finding a piece of paper with "Franklin School" written on it and learning that the school bus picked up students at around the time the fire began, the detective asked a patrolman to go to the school and ask the principal and students if anyone had knowledge of the fire. M.N. became a suspect when the detective was informed by the property owner's daughter that M.N. had been ...