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State ex rel R.B.


January 2, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FJ-21-413-06.

Per curiam.



Submitted December 18, 2007

Before Judges Grall and Chambers.

R.B. appeals from an adjudication of delinquency based on a finding that he engaged in conduct that would constitute theft of movable property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3a, if he were an adult. Because the State's evidence was inadequate to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that R.B. took ten dollars from his mother's car, as alleged in the juvenile delinquency complaint she filed, we reverse.

The State presented no evidence at trial other than the testimony of R.B.'s mother, P.B. According to P.B., on the morning of April 5, 2006, she went to the grocery store, where she purchased coffee and a newspaper. She paid with a debit card and withdrew an additional twenty dollars in cash from her account. She went to work that day and purchased five dollars worth of gas. The gas station attendant gave her change, a five-dollar and ten-dollar bill, which she placed in the "cup holder" of her car, where she already had two or three one dollar bills.

The attendant who put the gas in P.B.'s car neglected to replace the gas cap. Later that day P.B. picked R.B. up and drove him home. She parked the car in the driveway about one-hundred feet from the house and asked R.B. to go to the gas station to get her gas cap and put it in place. He agreed.

P.B. gave R.B. her car keys "so that he could unlock the gas cap from the car and put the gas cap back on the gas tank." She knew that he had to enter the car to accomplish the task, and she did not give him permission to take money from her car. When R.B. returned to the house after retrieving and replacing the gas cap, he gave his mother her car keys.

When she went to the car the next morning, P.B. noticed that the ten-dollar bill was missing. She could not say whether her car door was locked or unlocked when she went to use it that day. She explained that her car has a keyless lock. The car's horn sounds as the door lock is activated, but there is no sound made when the remote is used to unlock the door. She did not hear the horn sound while R.B. was outside.

P.B. gave no testimony about whether she kept her car locked on the day the money was taken between the time that she put the money in the car and her return home. She did not testify that the money was in the car when she returned home. She knew she had not given anyone else permission to use her car that day and was not aware of anyone other than R.B. entering the car.

R.B testified. He acknowledged that he retrieved and installed his mother's gas cap at her request but denied taking any money from the car. He locked the car doors when he was finished replacing the cap.

Although defense counsel did not move to dismiss the delinquency complaint at the close of the State's case, he argued that the State's evidence was not adequate to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that R.B. took the ten-dollar bill. Considering the testimony of R.B.'s mother and R.B.'s testimony about locking the car door, the judge concluded that the State established the elements of theft of movable property beyond a reasonable doubt.

On appeal R.B. contends that the State's evidence is inadequate to support the adjudication of delinquency.*fn1 We agree. The State's evidence is sufficient to support a criminal conviction or adjudication of delinquency only if that evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the State and with the benefit of all reasonable inferences, is sufficient to permit a finding of each element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454, 458-59 (1967) (conviction); State in Interest of R.B., 200 N.J. Super. 573, 578 (App. Div. 1985) (adjudication of delinquency); see In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 362, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1071, 25 L.Ed. 2d 368, 374 (1970). Whether considered at the close of the State's evidence or after the defense rests, the court may not consider evidence adduced by the defense in determining whether the State has met its burden of proof. State v. Kluber, 130 N.J. Super. 336, 341-42 (App. Div. 1974), certif. denied, 67 N.J. 72 (1975); see State v. Samuels, 189 N.J. 236, 245 (2007).

In this case, the State's evidence and the reasonable inferences from that evidence were clearly inadequate to permit the court to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that R.B. took the ten-dollar bill. P.B. testified to placing the ten-dollar bill in the car's cup holder in the morning. She gave no information about the location of the ten-dollar bill from that point in time until the following morning when she noticed that the money was missing. She also gave no information about the location of the car or whether its doors were locked between the time she left the money in the car and the time that she noticed that it was gone. This evidence, viewed most favorably to the State, gives rise to no more than a reasonable suspicion that R.B. took the money; it falls far short of proof adequate to establish a theft by R.B. beyond a reasonable doubt.*fn2

Accordingly, we reverse and vacate the adjudication of delinquency as unsupported by adequate evidence. Because we conclude that the evidence is inadequate to support the adjudication, there is no need to consider the additional issues R.B. raises on appeal.


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