May 17, 2011
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE INTEREST OF S.E.B., A JUVENILE.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FJ-13-1773-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 3, 2011
Before Judges Graves and Waugh.
S.B. was seventeen years old when he was charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would constitute the petty disorderly persons offense of disorderly conduct, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(a)(1). Following a trial, S.B. was adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to a one-year term of probation. The court also imposed fifty hours of community service and a Victims of Crimes Compensation Board assessment in the amount of thirty dollars. On appeal, S.B. argues that "the evidence was insufficient" to warrant the adjudication of delinquency. We reject this argument and affirm.
The two witnesses that testified during S.B.'s trial were both members of the Wall Township Police Department. Patrolman Michael Malone testified that he had been a police officer for seven-and-one-half years, and Patrolman Todd Czech testified that he was a member of the police department for thirteen years. S.B. did not testify or call any witnesses.
On November 15, 2009, at approximately 2:00 a.m., Officer Malone responded to a one-car accident in which S.B. was a passenger. When he arrived at the scene of the accident, Malone observed that a vehicle had struck a telephone pole and that some of the passengers had been injured. Malone described "a hectic scene":
There [were] officers that were photographing the scene, there [were] officers getting information out of the vehicle -- insurance cards and what have you. And it was . . . kind of a hectic scene because we had people that were injured on the side of the roadway. I was actually then beginning to identify the driver of the vehicle [to determine] whether that person had been drinking . . . . So, my interaction with [S.B.] was pretty brief. After I was able to leave the victims because EMS came, my main focus was the driver and then the officers were assisting me with gathering the other information, taking photographs and talking to witnesses, jotting down names and phone numbers and everything that I would need for my report. My focus was dealing with the driver -- I believe [he was S.B.'s] older brother.
Malone also indicated that S.B. was upset, crying, "agitated at what had happened" and "cursing at the circumstances." According to Malone, he told S.B. to get out of the roadway because there were "other cars that were passing and we were trying to conduct our investigation as to what happened." When asked if S.B. complied, Malone responded, "Not at first, no." In addition, Malone testified that S.B. "became more of a hindrance" as the investigation continued because "[h]e was not listening to our instructions to get out of the roadway."
Officer Czech arrived a few minutes after Officer Malone. He testified that the traffic had stopped and the "roadway was blocked" because "the vehicle was in the roadway" and "several passengers . . . were on the roadway." He also testified that he had "several interactions" with S.B.:
[S.B.] was one of the occupants in the vehicle and he was very excited at the scene, so I had several interactions with [S.B.], insomuch as trying to calm him down. We understood that he was upset, that he had been involved in an accident and friends of his were injured. There were several times when he was on the roadway and we had to ask him to move to the side so we could conduct the investigation. He was, as I said, upset, loud at times, at times he would use profanities and we just attempted to calm him because we were trying to conduct the investigation which also involved EMS [personnel] on [the] scene attending to those parties that were injured and marking out the vehicle for the accident investigation itself.
When asked whether S.B.'s behavior had "an impact on the investigation," Czech responded: "It distracted us at the time from gathering names, keeping the scene safe. So, I would say yes."
Czech also testified that while S.B. was talking to his uncle on a cell phone, Czech asked to speak to the uncle to explain what had happened and S.B. gave the phone to Czech. As Czech was speaking with S.B.'s uncle, S.B. stated that he wanted to talk to his uncle, and S.B. "grabbed" Czech's left arm "to get the phone back." At that time, S.B. was placed under arrest.
It is a petty disorderly persons offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(a) if a person, "with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof . . . [e]ngages in . . . tumultuous behavior." The trial court found that S.B.'s conduct was tumultuous and that he had caused a public inconvenience:
The State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt tumultuous behavior that caused a public inconvenience when in this particular case [S.B.] repeatedly used profanity, criticizing the actions of the police while they were conducting a serious accident investigation, refused to move from the middle of the street after being repeatedly instructed to do so, and attempted to grab his phone from the officer as he was performing his duties. As a result [of] the juvenile's actions, the officers' attention was being taken away from their primary responsibility [of] attending to injured passengers, securing and clearing an accident scene so that traffic could resume and completing a DWI investigation. The extent and duration of his behavior was unreasonable under the circumstances and served no legitimate purpose.
For those reasons, the juvenile is found delinquent under the statute.
The scope of our review is limited. A trial court's findings "are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence." Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412 (1998) (citing Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)). In the present matter, we conclude from our review of the record that the trial court's findings were amply supported by substantial credible evidence, and we agree that the State's proofs were sufficient to establish disorderly conduct.
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