April 25, 2012
IN THE INTEREST OF C.G., A JUVENILE.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket Nos. FJ-07-2255-09 and FJ-07-2159-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Submitted March 12, 2012 --
Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.
After a trial in this juvenile matter, the Family Part judge concluded that appellant C.G. had committed the following offenses: aggravated assault upon a police officer; simple assault (as amended from the original complaint); unlawful possession of a weapon; and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. At the time these offenses were committed on December 26, 2008, appellant was on probation for delinquency arising out of a 2007 robbery. The judge imposed a three-year sentence on the present offenses, plus a consecutive term of one year for appellant's violation of probation.
The offenses stem from an episode in Newark in which appellant, who was then seventeen years old, was driving a pickup truck that did not belong to him.*fn1 According to the State's proofs, appellant attempted to drive the truck into a marked police cruiser that was stopped near another motorist. The approach of the truck, which was traveling at approximately thirty to forty miles-per-hour, caused a police officer to take evasive action and back the cruiser into a fire hydrant. Appellant then crashed the truck into a fence. He and his passenger ran from the scene. Appellant was soon apprehended when the police found him lying in a ditch. A gun was recovered by the police from the driver side floor of the truck.
Appellant raises two arguments for our consideration:
THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT THE TRUCK DRIVEN BY C.G. WAS BEING USED AS A WEAPON AGAINST THE OFFICERS.
THE AGGREGATE FOUR-YEAR SENTENCE IMPOSED WAS MANIFESTLY EXCESSIVE, AND MUST BE MODIFIED.
We reject these contentions.
The record contains ample circumstantial proof that appellant was attempting to use the pickup truck as a weapon by ramming it into the cruiser. The trial judge found that appellant's manner of driving was purposeful, and not merely negligent or accidental. There is no need to disturb these findings, which are supported by substantial credible evidence. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 474 (1999).
Appellant's brief quotes certain testimony from the officer who had been at the wheel of the police car, in which the officer expressed uncertainty about whether the driver of the truck had lost control when the truck "drifted" over the center line and headed for the police car. That particular testimony and the officer's choice of words is not dispositive. The judge, as the ultimate fact-finder, reasonably determined appellant's criminal purpose from the totality of the evidence, including his flight from the scene, which was indicative of consciousness of guilt. See State v. Wilson, 57 N.J. 39, 49 (1970).
We have no difficulty sustaining appellant's sentence. Appellant has a lengthy juvenile record, including repeated violations the year before the present offenses were committed while on probation. The three-year term imposed was not excessive given the severity of the present offenses and appellant's prior record. The trial judge did not abuse her sentencing discretion, which is entitled to considerable deference on appeal. State v. Bieniek, 200 N.J. 601, 612 (2010); State v. Dalziel, 182 N.J. 494, 500-01 (2005). The consecutive one-year term for the violation of probation is also justified, even though the trial judge did not explicitly discuss on the record her reasons for imposing that additional year. See State ex rel. J.L.A., 136 N.J. 370, 382-83 (1994) (noting that juveniles who commit two or more acts of delinquency may be sentenced to consecutive terms); State ex rel. G.C., 136 N.J. 383, 385 (1994) (same). In general, the law disfavors "free" offenses, and appellant's violation of probation warranted an additional sanction. See State v. Yarbough, 100 N.J. 627, 639 (1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1014, 106 S. Ct. 1193, 89 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1986).