On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FJ-02-298-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Lihotz.
T.S., a juvenile, appeals from an adjudication of delinquency for what would have been, if committed by an adult, second-degree attempted robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a(1). The trial judge sentenced the juvenile to a probationary sentence of two years together with mandated penalties and assessments. We affirm.
These are the facts adduced at the one-day trial of this offense.
On July 24, 2008, Hackensack Police Detectives Thomas Aletta, Kevin O'Boyle and Detective Smith were on robbery detail at various Hackensack locations, as a number of restaurant employees in the area had recently been robbed in the city while walking home from work at night.
Officer Aletta was working undercover. He was unshaven and dressed in disheveled street garb to appear drunk and homeless. After noticing a group of young males gathered on Central Avenue, he staggered past them onto Railroad Avenue. Officer Aletta then heard a group of males rapidly approaching him from behind. Officer Aletta heard someone shout, "Get that guy, let's take his shit, let's get that guy" and "[l]et's get that mother fucker, he's drunk. Let's take his shit." At this time, Officer O'Boyle, who had been parked nearby in an unmarked car, intercepted the impending confrontation and shouted "Stop, police!" The group fled across the nearby railroad tracks and the officers pursued them. Having observed the assailants, Officer Aletta positively identified T.S. as one of the three juveniles involved in the incident.
Officer O'Boyle corroborated Detective Aletta's observations and added that he observed three males running full speed behind Detective Aletta. He heard T.S., the "lead guy" or "ringleader" shout "[g]et that mother fucker, he's drunk."
Although another juvenile, M.C., indicated that he had intended to rob Officer Aletta, he claimed that he changed his mind prior to committing the act. M.C. was confronted with the statements he made at his plea hearing. These statements confirmed that the three juveniles, including T.S., all intended to rob Officer Aletta. At trial, M.C., who did not know the officer, also offered that the three juveniles were not "running up" on Officer Aletta, but rather, were "walking fast." M.C. also denied hearing any threats being shouted at Officer Aletta.
A.S., the third juvenile involved in the incident, denied any intention of committing a robbery and claimed that he had perjured himself at the August 27, 2008 guilty plea hearing. At his plea hearing, A.S. also confirmed that all three juveniles intended to rob Officer Aletta on the evening in question.
T.S. testified on his own behalf. He claimed that he recognized Officer Aletta's cover, and that one friend even said, "[c]ut that shit out, Aletta." He also indicated that he was pursuing a female friend and two children - not Officer Aletta - down Railroad Avenue; however, he was unable to identify or name the female friend he claimed to be following.
In an extensive and thorough twenty-two page oral opinion, Judge Guida determined that the State had established the elements of attempted robbery beyond a reasonable doubt. Critical to his decision were his findings as to the credibility of the witnesses including the juvenile. In that regard, the judge found that the officers were credible while M.C. and A.S.'s recantation of their earlier plea agreement testimony was incredible. In assessing credibility, the judge noted that he "takes into account several factors including the demeanor of the witnesses, including a witness' prior testimony if there was any and including the witness' body language ...