March 13, 2012
STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF C.L., A JUVENILE.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FJ-09-1598-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 28, 2012 -
Before Judges Payne and Simonelli.
Appellant C.L., a juvenile, appeals from the May 3, 2010 adjudication of delinquency for an act that, if committed by an adult, would constitute fourth-degree criminal trespass. N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3a. We affirm.
The charges against C.L. stem from her alleged unlawful entry into a high school building when she knew she had been suspended from school. According to the principal of the high school C.L. attended, when a student is suspended, the school's normal procedure is to first notify the student's parent by telephone, either speaking to the parent directly or leaving a message. Because parents sometimes do not receive the suspension notice, students may come to school unaware of their suspension; however, when this occurs, the students will generally say they were unaware of the suspension, and will be allowed to remain in school for the remainder of the day.
The principal testified that the school keeps at the school's main entrance a daily list of students who have been suspended in order to alert school personnel of students who are not permitted to enter the building. C.L.'s name was on the suspension list on February 1, 2010. At approximately 12:20 p.m. that day, the principal was inside the school building near the main entrance, monitoring students as they returned from lunch. She saw C.L. in the building with other students, which caught her attention because she knew C.L. was suspended. When the principal asked C.L. "why [are you] here, you are suspended[,]" C.L. did not say she was unaware of her suspension; rather, she became belligerent and disrespectful to the principal and said, "you can't tell me what to do. You wanna put me out of here, but you can't." C.L. created "so much noise" that students in a nearby classroom came "at the door to look." A police officer, who witnessed the incident, escorted C.L. out of the building.
The police officer testified that he was assigned to an off-duty position at the high school on February 1, 2010. At 12:20 p.m., he was summoned to the main entrance to assist with C.L. He saw C.L. in the building coming down the stairs from the second floor. The principal and a Crisis Intervention Teacher approached C.L. at the main entrance, and told her to stop, but C.L. refused to stop and "kept going." C.L. eventually left the building.
C.L. moved for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case, arguing that the State presented no evidence that she knew she was not permitted on school property. Giving the State the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence, the judge denied the motion, holding that it was reasonable to infer that C.L. knew she was suspended.
C.L. again moved for judgment of acquittal following the close of all evidence. *fn1 The trial judge denied the motion and found C.L. guilty of the charge, concluding as follows:
Now, of course, this is something that, apparently, could have been avoided if [C.L.] had said, [to the principal], "why do you tell me to leave? Why do you say, what am I doing here? I'm going to school here as a student." [The principal] could have explained the situation and maybe [C.L.] could have said, "My mother didn't know" or "I didn't know." But [C.L.] didn't do that. She got -- and I found [the principal] to be credible when she said that [C.L.] got belligerent with her. That [C.L.] began shouting at her. That [C.L.] made so much noise and such a scene that students were coming to the door to see what was going on. Students who were supposed to be returning to their classrooms and settling down to learn, after lunch.
So, at that point [C.L.] -- even if [C.L.'s] mother had not been notified about the suspension; at that point in time, when [C.L.] entered the school and was told to leave, and she refused to, and, instead created a scene, she was trespassing. She no longer had permission to be on school grounds. And she was being advised, at that point in time, of the suspension and she was not cooperating, not turning around or not having a rational discussion with the teacher. . . . So, I'm finding [C.L.] guilty of fourth degree trespass.
This appeal followed.
On appeal, C.L. contends that the judge erred in denying her motions for judgment of acquittal because the State failed to prove that she knew she was suspended prior to entering the school building. We disagree.
We use the same standard as the trial judge in reviewing a Rule 3:18-1 motion for judgment of acquittal. State v. Johnson, 287 N.J. Super. 247, 268 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 144 N.J. 587 (1996). We must determine whether, viewing the State's evidence in its entirety, be that evidence direct or circumstantial, and giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony as well as all of the favorable inferences which reasonably could be drawn therefrom, a reasonable jury could find guilt of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. [State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454, 459 (1967).]
Under Rule 3:18-1, the court "is not concerned with the worth, nature or extent (beyond a scintilla) of the evidence, but only with its existence, viewed most favorably to the State." State v. Kluber, 130 N.J. Super. 336, 342 (App. Div. 1974), certif. denied, 67 N.J. 72 (1975). "If the evidence satisfies that standard, the motion must be denied." State v. Spivey, 179 N.J. 229, 236 (2004).
A person is guilty of criminal trespass "if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or surreptitiously remains in any . . . structure[.]" N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3a.*fn2 The offense is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in a school or on school property. Ibid.
A person acts knowingly with respect to the nature of his conduct or the attendant circumstances if he is aware that his conduct is of that nature, or that such circumstances exist, or he is aware of a high probability of their existence. A person acts knowingly with respect to a result of his conduct if he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result. [N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2b(2).]
Knowledge may be inferred from conduct, the nature of the act, and the surrounding circumstances. See Model Jury Charge (Criminal), "State of Mind" (1993).
We are satisfied that the trial judge properly denied defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal. There was sufficient evidence on which the judge could have reasonably inferred that C.L. knew she was suspended when she entered the school. When the principal told C.L. that she was suspended, C.L. did not disagree, but rather, became belligerent, refused to leave the school, and stayed there long enough to cause a commotion that drew the attention of other students. We are also satisfied that there is sufficient credible evidence in the record supporting the judge's determination that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that C.L. committed fourth-degree criminal trespass. State ex rel. R.V., 280 N.J. Super. 118, 121 (App. Div. 1995).