Before Judges Stern, Kestin and Steinberg.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steinberg, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: April 19, 2000
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Gloucester County.
S.B., a juvenile, appeals from two adjudications of delinquency for offenses that would constitute aggravated assault under N.J.S.A. 2C:12- 1(b)(5)(d) if committed as an adult. He also appeals from the imposition of a probationary sentence. We affirm in part, and modify in part.
Specifically, S.B. was charged with assaulting four teachers, Graham Hall, Nicholas Yates, John Schilling, and David Vignola, who had intervened to attempt to break up a fight between S.B. and another student. At the end of the State's case, the trial judge granted defendant's motion to dismiss the charge relating to Yates. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge found S.B. not guilty of assaulting Schilling, but found him guilty of assaulting Hall and Vignola. The judge sentenced S.B. to a one-year term of probation, and also imposed the appropriate statutory penalties and assessments.
According to the State's proofs, S.B. was a student at Monongahela Middle School in Deptford Township. On October 19, 1998, the students at the school were dismissed early due to a water main break. Hall, Schilling, and Maryann Brown, another teacher, were walking out of the school. Hall heard Brown say that there was a fight. The fight was between S.B. and another student. Hall and Schilling ran to the fight and separated the combatants.
Hall testified that he grabbed the other student, T.D., and attempted to separate him from S.B. who was being held by Schilling. Hall was looking back over his shoulder and observed S.B. "coming back towards [T.D.] and that's when I was kicked in the left leg" by S.B. He said he felt the impact of the kick, but was not in any particular pain. He also testified that S.B. was very determined to get to T.D., that he was "crazed, kind of out of control". Hall was able to move T.D. from the area. On cross-examination, Hall conceded that he assumed S.B. intended to kick T.D., rather than him. Schilling also said on cross- examination that he thought S.B. was attempting to kick T.D., rather than Hall. He said he thought S.B. "just missed ... Hall was in the ... wrong place". Vignola also said that S.B. broke away from Schilling and Yates and "attempted to kick [T.D.] in the head as [T.D.] was bending over to pick up his books". However, "in reality, he had hit [Hall]". Yates also testified that S.B. attempted to kick T.D., rather than Hall. Schilling testified that he and Yates separated S.B. from T.D., taking S.B. to the ground. They let him up and allowed S.B. to retrieve his book bag. However, Schilling said S.B. began to run towards T.D. and attempted to kick him. Instead, S.B. kicked Hall. Schilling again intervened and "grabbed a hold of [S.B.], pulled him away".
S.B. continued to be aggressive. Vignola then came to Schilling's assistance. Ultimately, Yates, Vignola, and Schilling were able to move S.B. towards the entrance to the school. They took S.B. to the main office. S.B. again became aggressive and was shouting at Vignola. Vignola attempted to calm S.B. down. According to Schilling, S.B. "grabbed a hold of [a] picture to try to hit Mr. Vignola".
Vignola testified that he and Schilling attempted to separate S.B. from T.D., and they were able to escort S.B. into the building. He said S.B. "was still fighting and struggling to get away". They proceeded to the main office. According to Vignola, S.B. "erupted again". Vignola said S.B. "jumped up into my face and pushed me, and I put my hands up to stop him and pushed him away". He and Schilling attempted to put S.B. into a chair and S.B. grabbed a picture from the wall and attempted to "swing it around". Vignola said Schilling "intercepted [S.B.'s] hand before he hit me in the head with the picture, and the picture went flying".
On this appeal, S.B. raises the following arguments:
POINT I THE ADJUDICATION OF DELINQUENCY MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT A FINDING THAT THE JUVENILE COMMITTED AGGRAVATED ASSAULT.
POINT II THE FAMILY COURT JUDGE ERRED BY NOT ADJOURNING THE DISPOSITION OF S.B.'S CASE FOR 12 MONTHS PURSUANT TO N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43b(1).
Initially, we point out that our scope of appellate review of the factual determinations of the trial judge is extremely narrow. We must review the record not from the point of how we would decide the matter if we were the trial judge. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999); State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161 (1964). We must give deference to those findings of the trial judge which are substantially influenced by his or her opportunity to hear and see the witnesses and have the "feel" of the case, which we do not enjoy upon appellate review. Ibid. Thus, we must determine whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record as a whole. Locurto, supra, 157 N.J. at 471; Johnson, supra, 42 N.J. at 162. If we are satisfied that the findings and result meet this criterion, our task is complete, and we may not disturb the result, even though we may feel we may have reached a different conclusion. Ibid. Only if we are thoroughly satisfied that the finding is clearly a mistaken one and so plainly unwarranted that the interest of justice demand intervention and correction may we appraise the record as if we are deciding the matter at inception and make our own findings and conclusions. Ibid. On the other hand, a trial judge's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference. Manalapan Realty v. Township Comm., 140 N.J. ...