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State ex rel J.A.

May 23, 2006

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF J.A., JUVENILE-APPELLANT.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Passaic County, Docket No. FJ-16-2020-05.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parrillo, J.A.D.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted March 6, 2006

Before Judges Cuff, Parrillo and Gilroy.

Following a bench trial, juvenile, J.A., was adjudicated delinquent of an act which, if committed by an adult, would constitute second-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1. He was sentenced to a two-year term at the Training School for Boys at Jamesburg. J.A. appeals, arguing that it was reversible error to admit the hearsay statement of a non-testifying eyewitness. We disagree, and affirm.

According to the State's proofs, on February 10, 2005, shortly before 9:30 p.m., J.C. exited a bus at 28th Street in Paterson and began walking home, carrying a purse and a book bag. She was approached from behind by two juveniles, later identified as J.A. and H.A.*fn1 , one of whom grabbed her shoulder. H.A. grabbed her purse, forcing her down to the ground and injuring her knees. While lying on the curb screaming for help, J.C. saw H.A. snatch the purse from her shoulder. She then observed H.A. flee with his cohort.

Responding to the victim's screams, three young women approached and helped J.C. by lending her a cell phone to call her son and by flagging down a police car. Soon, backup police arrived, including Officers Belton and Semmel, who were responding to a police radio broadcast of a purse snatching at 20th Avenue and East 31st Street. J.C. informed the officers that her purse was "snatched by two individuals," one of whom wore a red-hooded sweatshirt and black jacket. The responding officers began patrolling the area for suspects.

Unbeknownst to J.C. at the time, an eyewitness had observed the robbery and actually followed the fleeing suspects. While in pursuit, the witness telephoned the police and gave a description of the suspects, which was then broadcast over the police radio. Office Semmel was dispatched to the witness' location and within two minutes of the radio transmission, encountered the witness near Public School 30, approximately two blocks from the robbery scene. The witness indicated the suspects' direction of travel and stated that two Hispanic teenagers, one wearing a white and blue jacket, and the other one wearing a red jacket and glasses, knocked the victim down.

As a result of this information, Officer Semmel located J.A. and H.A. walking down the street. The juveniles matched the witness' earlier description, as J.A. had a red jacket and glasses and H.A. wore a white and blue jacket. The juveniles were brought back to the robbery scene where J.C. identified H.A. as the one who snatched her purse, but was unable to identify J.A. as the other assailant.

J.A. and H.A. were arrested and given their Miranda*fn2 rights. H.A. led Officer Semmel to the purse, which was in a rear lot behind a gym door at Public School 30. The purse was located next to its contents, which were spilled on the ground; however, the victim's money, $18, was missing. A search of the two juveniles disclosed a total of $18 between them.

At trial, the victim and several police officers testified for the State. The State did not produce the eyewitness, who apparently refused to appear to testify. Consequently, Officer Semmel was permitted to testify as to the statements conveyed to him by the witness. The juvenile did not call any witnesses. In summation, defense counsel argued that J.A. was merely present at the scene, but had not been an accomplice to the robbery.

On appeal, J.A. contends that the judge erred in admitting the hearsay statements of the eyewitness as "present sense impressions" or "excited utterances" under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(1) and (2) respectively, and that the admission of such testimony violated J.A.'s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation under Crawford ...


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