On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FJ-07-1097-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 11, 2006
Before Judges Kestin and Lihotz.
We again review D.A.J.'s appeal of an adjudication of delinquency for conduct that, if committed by an adult, would constitute receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7. In his prior appeal, D.A.J. challenged the trial court's disposition after a bench trial. In State in the Interest of D.A.J. (Improperly designated A.D.J.), No. A-4585-04T4 (App. Div. January 27, 2006), we vacated the adjudication of delinquency and remanded for further fact finding on whether the State proved D.A.J. had possession or control of the stolen vehicle, a necessary element of the offense charged.
On remand, D.A.J. filed a motion to dismiss, bottomed on the claim that the State failed to prove all elements of the offense. The trial court denied D.A.J.'s motion, reciting factual findings in support of the element of possession, and reinstated the adjudication of delinquency and the previously entered disposition.
In the present appeal, D.A.J. argues there is insufficient evidence that he controlled the vehicle, negating a finding of receiving stolen property, and warranting reversal of the trial court's adjudication. We disagree and affirm.
During the bench trial in the Family Part, the evidence disclosed that on September 6, 2005, Kymberly Holland parked her 2000 Volkswagen Passat outside of a friend's house at approximately 12:30 a.m. When she awoke, her car was missing. She immediately reported the vehicle stolen and filed a police report.
That same morning, at approximately 4:30 a.m., uniformed Newark Police Department patrol officers, Antonio Tavares and Angelo Vecchione, were dispatched to the intersection of Van Buren and Clifford Streets on a report of male suspects breaking into vehicles. Upon arrival, Officers Tavares and Vecchione observed D.A.J., Z.R. and N.D. standing outside a Volkswagen Passat, which had been double-parked. As the officers approached, the three male suspects quickly entered the vehicle, the driver accelerated, rammed the police car, and fled, driving the wrong way down a one-way street. With the officers in pursuit, the juvenile's vehicle crashed into parked cars before coming to a halt.
Officer Tavares observed Z.R. exit from the driver's side door. D.A.J. and N.D. exited through the passenger side front window. Neither officer could identify where D.A.J. was seated in the vehicle. After a foot chase, D.A.J., Z.R. and N.D. were apprehended and arrested.
Officers Tavares and Vecchione observed damage to the exterior of the vehicle, as well as the ignition and the driver's side door handle and lock. The car was later proven to be the Volkswagen Passat owned by Holland.
The original adjudication fully set forth facts supporting the allegation that the car was stolen and establishing D.A.J.'s knowledge that it was stolen. On remand, the trial court enumerated only the facts relied upon to support the conclusion that D.A.J. was in possession of the automobile, as required by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7, including: D.A.J., along with his friends Z.R. and N.D., were observed engaging in highly suspicious activity at 4:30 a.m.; when approached by the police officers, D.A.J., Z.R. and N.D. "immediately terminated the suspicious activity," and "voluntarily" entered the stolen vehicle; Z.R. drove the stolen vehicle into the police car, then continued to flee in an attempt to avoid interception or arrest; when the vehicle was disabled, D.A.J. exited through a window and fled on foot until he was apprehended and arrested. The trial court further concluded:
[F]rom the totality of the circumstances, . . . [D.A.J.], and the other two co-juveniles were on a joint or common mission on the . . . morning of September 6, 2005, i.e., burglarizing or attempting to burglarize or steal . . . the ...