NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 5, 2011
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Sabatino.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FJ-07-2485-10. Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for juvenile appellant S.R.W. (Dana A. Citron, Designated Counsel, on the brief). Carolyn A. Murray, Acting Essex County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent State of New Jersey (LeeAnn Cunningham, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Appellant S.R.W., a juvenile, appeals the Family Part's adjudication of delinquency for engaging in conduct that, if committed by an adult, would constitute third-degree receipt of stolen property. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7a. The Family Part judge imposed upon appellant a twenty-four-month term at the Training School for Boys, plus applicable fees and penalties. We affirm.
The property in question was a Dodge Neon that had been reported as stolen. At around 12:50 a.m. on January 30, 2010, a Newark police officer in a patrol car observed a Neon matching the description of the stolen vehicle. The police officer pursued the Neon for several blocks. The Neon was occupied by a driver and a passenger. The driver stopped the Neon and emerged from the car through the driver side door, while the passenger got out through the passenger side door. The police officer and his partner chased both individuals on foot. The driver jumped over a wall and briefly eluded the police, but was apprehended and arrested about three to five minutes later. The arresting officer recognized appellant, the apprehended individual, as the juvenile who had been driving the stolen car.
Appellant's version of events is markedly different. He contends that after leaving a party on the night in question, he saw another juvenile, Q.D.M., outside the party in a car. He asked Q.D.M. for a ride home. Appellant asserts that, after several evasive movements, Q.D.M. suddenly stopped the car and ran out. Appellant claims that he likewise got out of the car and ran from the police because he was scared and was not sure what was occurring.
At trial, the Family Part judge heard the testimony of several witnesses. The State first presented the owner of the Neon, who confirmed that his car had been stolen and that he had not given anyone other than his sister permission to drive the vehicle. The State also called the arresting officer, who confirmed that he had observed appellant driving the stolen vehicle. In his own trial testimony, appellant denied that he was the driver. Appellant also proffered testimony from Q.D.M., but Q.D.M. declined to testify substantively after being advised of his right against self-incrimination and speaking with his mother.
After hearing the witnesses, the judge issued an oral decision on April 19, 2010, finding appellant had committed the charged theft beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge credited the arresting officer's identification of appellant as the driver, noting that the officer had an ample opportunity to see the driver's face and that his description of the driver's clothing matched that of appellant. The judge described the evidence that appellant knew the car was stolen as "overwhelming," especially given the fact that the car was driven without an ignition key and that appellant had fled from the scene. The judge rejected appellant's claim of innocence, stating that "incredible is [a] mild term" for the narrative that he had presented. The judge specifically rejected appellant's claim that he had fled from the scene simply out of fear.
Three points are now raised by appellant in his brief:
BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION BY SUBSTANTIALLY INTERFERING WITH [Q.D.M.'S] DECISION TO ...