December 11, 2012
IN THE INTEREST OF L.C., JUVENILE-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FJ-04-702-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Submitted November 27, 2012
Before Judges Fisher and Alvarez.
L.C., a juvenile,*fn1 appeals an order adjudicating him delinquent for conduct which, if committed by an adult, would constitute third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1), and third-degree CDS possession with the intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(3). The juvenile contends that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was in constructive possession of drugs, which were actually in the possession of another, or that he could have been adjudicated delinquent on a theory of accomplice liability. We find no merit in these arguments and affirm.
Two state troopers testified as did the juvenile and five other witnesses called by the juvenile during a one-day trial. The trial judge found the troopers credible and, as a result, determined the following occurred in Camden on July 3, 2010. On that date, the troopers were not in uniform but dressed in plain clothes with black tactical vests, while seated in an unmarked police vehicle, as they conducted a "sneak and peek" operation in the known drug area in question. They observed two hand-to-hand transactions fifteen minutes apart. On both occasions, individuals approached the juvenile and handed him money, following which co-defendant Alexander Cotto would hand the individual an object taken from his pocket. Believing these to be CDS transactions, the troopers drove to the juvenile and Cotto's immediate location, exited their vehicle, and identified themselves. As they approached, the juvenile and Cotto fled in separate directions on foot. One trooper chased and caught Cotto approximately one block away; a search yielded crack cocaine and heroin but no money. The other trooper apprehended the juvenile a short distance from the point of flight; a search yielded no CDS, only $77 in cash.
The troopers' observations provided substantial support for the judge's conclusion that the juvenile and Cotto were acting in concert and that the juvenile had constructive possession of the CDS in Cotto's actual possession. Constructive possession over an object "emerges from a defendant's conduct with regard to the item in question." State v. Schmidt, 110 N.J. 258, 268 (1988). That is, a person has constructive possession -- even though he lacks physical or manual control -- if "the circumstances permit a reasonable inference that he has knowledge of its presence, and intends and has the capacity to exercise physical control or dominion over it during a span of time." State v. Spivey, 179 N.J. 229, 237 (2004). See also State v. Morrison, 188 N.J. 2, 14 (2006); Schmidt, supra, 110 N.J. at 270. The troopers' testimony about their observations, which the judge found credible, demonstrate that the juvenile was aware of Cotto's possession of CDS and that the juvenile exercised control over those drugs through his acceptance of cash from the two buyers. Thus, the judge's findings that the juvenile and Cotto acted in concert and that the former had constructive possession of the drugs in Cotto's actual possession are supported by credible evidence and entitled to our deference. See State v. Robinson, 200 N.J. 1, 15 (2009).