March 28, 2011
STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF T.L.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Salem County, Docket No. FJ-17-249-10.
RECORD IMPOUNDED NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 9, 2011
Before Judges Ashrafi and Nugent.
Juvenile T.L. appeals from her adjudication of delinquency for charges that, if committed by an adult, would constitute disorderly persons theft, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3a and 2C:20-2b(4), and disorderly persons simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a. She argues that the adjudication was against the weight of the evidence. We affirm.
At a trial conducted on January 19, 2010, the only witnesses were A.G. and T.L., both sixteen years old at the time. A.G. testified that she and T.L. were students at Salem High School. At the end of the school day on October 6, 2009, A.G. was walking with her friend outside the school, and her friend was holding A.G.'s MP3 player. A.G. heard T.L. and some other girls yelling to her and her friend, apparently as a result of an earlier incident. She kept walking and tried to pay no attention, but the crowd of girls caught up. Another girl pushed A.G.'s friend down to the ground and began to strike her, causing the MP3 player to fall to the ground. A.G. hurried away to call the police, but T.L. followed and pushed her to the ground. T.L. then hit her about her face. A.G. saw T.L. holding her MP3 player. She did not know what happened to it after the incident; she never got it back.
T.L. testified that a crowd of people were urging her to fight A.G., but she did not do so. Her friend E.W. began a fight with A.G.'s friend and pushed her down. T.L. saw the MP3 player fall to the ground, but she did not take it. She testified that she never put her hands on A.G. and also did not know what happened to the MP3 player.
The Family Part judge found the testimony of A.G. credible. Although T.L. had originally been charged with robbery, the judge dismissed the robbery charge and found T.L. guilty of theft and simple assault. At the dispositional hearing on February 2, 2010, the judge sentenced T.L. to one year of probation with several conditions, including ten hours of community service and a curfew. In addition, T.L. was ordered to pay $180 restitution to A.G. for the MP3 player and $30 VCCB penalty at the rate of $10 per week.
On appeal, T.L. argues that the judge's decision was against the weight of the evidence because the testimony of A.G. was inconsistent in describing the events. Focusing primarily on the theft charge, she argues that A.G. could not have seen T.L. pick up her MP3 player from the ground because she testified she was rushing away and was some distance toward a parking lot after her friend was pushed to the ground and dropped the MP3 player.
Both sides have improperly argued with respect to rules and standards that apply only to jury trials. "[T]he argument that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence is not the proper standard in a non-jury case. The standard is whether there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the judge's determination." State in Interest of R.V., 280 N.J. Super. 118, 120-21 (App. Div. 1995).
In applying that standard, we exercise a limited scope of review from a trial judge's findings of fact. See State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999); State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161-62 (1964). We must give due regard to the trial judge's credibility determinations and "feel for the case" based upon the opportunity of the judge to see and hear the witnesses. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998); Pascale v. Pascale, 113 N.J. 20, 33 (1988). Appellate courts accord particular deference to fact-finding in family cases, and to the conclusions that logically flow from those findings. Cesare, supra, 154 N.J. at 412-13; State ex rel. X.B., 402 N.J. Super. 23, 29 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 196 N.J. 601 (2008).
We discern no error in the Family Part judge's conclusion that the evidence supported an adjudication of guilt on the charges of theft and assault.
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