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In re Nathaniel H.

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Second Division, Department A

August 15, 2013


Not for Publication Rule 28, Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure

APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PIMA COUNTY Cause No. 13663103 Honorable Lisa Abrams, Judge Pro Tempore.

Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney By Barbara S. Gelband Tucson Attorneys for State.

David T. Hardy Tucson Attorney for Minor.



¶ 1 Nathaniel H. was charged by delinquency petition with unlawful use of means of transportation, a class five felony, in violation of A.R.S. § 13-1803(A)(1). After a hearing, the juvenile court found he had committed the offense and adjudicated him delinquent. The court placed Nathaniel on probation until his eighteenth birthday, which is in September 2013. On appeal, Nathaniel contends the court erred when it denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Rule 20, Ariz. R. Crim. P. We affirm for the reasons stated below.

¶ 2 Because this is a juvenile proceeding, Rule 29(D), Ariz. R. P. Juv. Ct. applies, not Rule 20, Ariz. R. Crim. P. Rule 29(D)(2) provides as follows: "On motion of the juvenile or the court's own motion, the [juvenile] court shall enter a judgment of acquittal . . . if there is no substantial evidence to support an adjudication." The language of the criminal and juvenile rules is essentially the same; therefore, we refer to authority in adult criminal prosecutions to determine the meaning of "substantial evidence." See Ariz. R. Crim. P. 20(a) ("On motion of a defendant or on its own initiative, the court shall enter a judgment of acquittal . . . if there is no substantial evidence to warrant a conviction."); In re Maricopa Cnty. Juv. Action No. JV-508488, 185 Ariz. 295, 299-300, 915 P.2d 1250, 1254-55 (App. 1996) (interpretations of criminal rules provide useful guidance in juvenile setting).

¶ 3 In reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion under either rule, we must determine de novo "'whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. West, 226 Ariz. 559, ¶ 16, 250 P.3d 1188, 1191 (2011), quoting State v. Mathers, 165 Ariz. 64, 66, 796 P.2d 866, 868 (1990). "Substantial evidence" includes both direct and circumstantial evidence. Id. "'When reasonable minds may differ on inferences drawn from the facts, the case must be submitted to the jury, '" or the trier of fact, which is the juvenile court in a delinquency adjudication, "'and the trial judge has no discretion to enter a judgment of acquittal.'" Id. ¶ 18, quoting State v. Lee, 189 Ariz. 590, 603, 944 P.2d 1204, 1217 (1997) (alteration removed from West).

¶ 4 Thus, in determining whether the juvenile court properly denied Nathaniel's motion for a judgment of acquittal, made at the close of the state's case and renewed at the close of evidence, we view all of the evidence presented at the adjudication hearing in the light most favorable to sustaining the court's ruling and will resolve all reasonable inferences against him. In re Dayvid S., 199 Ariz. 169, ¶ 4, 15 P.3d 771, 772 (App. 2000); see also In re Maricopa Cnty Juv. Action No. JT 9065297, 181 Ariz. 69, 82, 887 P.2d 599, 612 (App. 1994); In re John M., 201 Ariz. 424, ¶ 7, 36 P.3d 772, 774 (App. 2001). Much like our review of the evidence to determine whether it was sufficient to support the finding that the juvenile committed the charged offense after submission of the case to the court, "we consider whether the evidence sufficed to permit a rational trier of fact to find the essential elements of [each] offense beyond a reasonable doubt." Dayvid S., 199 Ariz. 169, ¶ 4, 15 P.3d at 772. "[W]e will not re-weigh the evidence, and we will only reverse on the grounds of insufficient evidence if there is a complete absence of probative facts to support the judgment or if the judgment is contrary to any substantial evidence." John M., 201 Ariz. 424, ¶ 7, 36 P.3d at 774.

¶ 5 Section 13-1803(A)(1) provides that "[a] person commits unlawful use of means of transportation if, without intent permanently to deprive, the person . . . [k]nowingly takes unauthorized control over another person's means of transportation." "It is axiomatic that . . . knowledge may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding a person's behavior or action." State v. Martinez, 15 Ariz.App. 10, 12, 485 P.2d 600, 602 (1971). The evidence at the adjudication hearing established J.B. had purchased a 2008 Enduro motor bike about a year before it was stolen, paying $3, 500 for it. He usually parked it outside of his home in a gated community, with the keys in the ignition. Discovering it was missing one morning, J.B. called the Pima County Sheriff's department and reported the motor bike had been stolen. The Pima County Sheriffs department contacted J.B. a few days later after Sheriff's Deputy Scott McCleod found the motor bike in Nathaniel's possession; Nathaniel was on the side of the road at the intersection of Swan Road and Sunrise Drive.

¶ 6 The state presented evidence that Nathaniel had obtained the motor bike in exchange for $600 and an Xbox gaming system from a person who had responded to Nathaniel's advertisement on Craig's List stating he would sell the Xbox. The two met after negotiating a price over the telephone. Nathaniel admitted to McCleod he did not know who the registered owner of the motor bike was and, when the officer asked Nathaniel if the deal had seemed a bit "fishy, " Nathaniel responded it had but he had taken the motor bike in any event because it was a "once in a lifetime deal." Nathaniel knew how much the motor bike was worth. The seller gave Nathaniel a registration that did not have the seller's name on it, although Nathaniel apparently did not look at it until he was stopped by McCleod and asked about it.

¶ 7 After the state rested, Nathaniel moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing the state had failed to present sufficient evidence that he had acted knowingly, that is, that he had actual knowledge the motor bike had been stolen and therefore the requisite intent to commit the offense. Relying on the definition of "knowingly, " see A.R.S 13- 105(10)(b), Nathaniel argued the state had failed to prove he had "actual knowledge" that the motor bike was stolen. At best, he contended, the state's evidence showed Nathaniel had agreed the transaction was "a bit fishy." In response, the prosecutor pointed out that Nathaniel had negotiated the priced down to $600 from $1, 000, adding,

He doesn't have a driver's license. He bought it on the side of the road from somebody he can't identify. He got no title, no receipt, and no license plate. It's clear that he knew that or had—it was more than a suspicion. He knew that he had possession of something . . . he was not authorized to have.
The court denied the motion.

¶ 8 The defense then presented its case, calling Nathaniel as a witness. He claimed that when he had acquired the motor bike, he did not know he was required to have a license to drive it, which he did not have, and did not know it needed to be registered. He claimed he did not know the difference between a title and registration, and did not know who had sold him the motor bike. Nathaniel described the negotiations for the sale of the motor bike, and commented that when he first saw it, the motor bike "was in astonishingly good condition." From the fact that the motor bike was in such good condition and did not appear as if it had been tampered with, he thought the person selling it owned it; together with the title or registration, that gave him "reassurance that [he] was not even expecting." He testified further about the transaction for the motor bike, and his testimony conflicted at times with what he had told McCleod. It also conflicted with his mother's own statements to the sheriff's deputies and to the jury when she testified.

¶ 9 After the state presented its closing argument, Nathaniel's counsel renewed the motion for a judgment of acquittal before going on to make his closing argument, emphasizing that there was reasonable doubt at the very least as to whether Nathaniel actually had known the motor bike was stolen when he purchased and used it. The juvenile court then made detailed factual findings on the record, including the following: (1) at the time he bought the motor bike, Nathaniel was just one month short of his seventeenth birthday; (2) Nathaniel was home schooled, Nathaniel's own characterization of his educational background was "advanced" and he spoke and understood English; (3) he is "astute in the area of internet advertising" and placing advertisements on Craig's List, and had placed an advertisement for the sale of an Xbox that he had purchased previously for the exchange of other goods or cash; and, (4) the circumstances under which he had purchased the Xbox from his friend were "suspicious to the court." After entering additional findings of fact related to Nathaniel's negotiations with the seller and the arrangements for and delivery of the motor bike, the court concluded the state had sustained its burden, thereby implicitly denying the renewed motion for judgment of acquittal and finding Nathaniel responsible for the charged offense.

¶ 10 Nathaniel argues on appeal that there was insufficient evidence he knowingly had taken the motor bike without authorization, as required by § 13-1803(A)(1) and he had been entitled to a judgment of acquittal. He argues the standard was not whether he should have known the motor bike had been stolen, the standard for criminal negligence or recklessness, but whether he actually knew. He insists there was insufficient evidence to support such a finding.

¶ 11 Although the evidence was not overwhelming, there was "substantial evidence to support [the] adjudication" on the charged offense of unlawful use of a means of transportation. Ariz. R. P. Juv. Ct. 29(D)(2). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, a "'rational trier of fact'" could find the state had presented sufficient evidence, albeit circumstantial evidence, establishing "'the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" West, 226 Ariz. 559, ¶ 16, 250 P.3d at 1191, quoting Mathers, 165 Ariz. at 66, 796 P.2d at 868. And even assuming reasonable minds could differ with respect to the conclusions that could be drawn from that evidence, id. ¶ 18, there was nevertheless substantial evidence before the court. That evidence included Nathaniel's testimony. As the trier of fact, the juvenile court was free to reject his testimony, which presumably it did, finding he was not credible. See In re Maricopa Cnty. Juv. Action No. JS-8490, 179 Ariz. 102, 107, 876 P.2d 1137, 1142 (1994). That court was "in the best position to measure the credibility of all the witnesses who testified at the adjudication hearing, and to weigh the evidence accordingly. Id. When there are conflicts in the evidence, as there were here, it was for the juvenile court to resolve them. See Lashonda M. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec, 210 Ariz. 77, ¶ 16, 107 P.3d 923, 928 (App. 2005). We will not reweigh the evidence on appeal. Id ¶ 13.

¶ 12 The evidence before the juvenile court when the initial and renewed motions for judgment of acquittal were made was sufficient to withstand the motion. Rejecting Nathaniel's explanations about the circumstances that resulted in his obtaining the motor bike, the court reasonably could find he knew it was a stolen motor bike when he purchased and used it. We therefore affirm the juvenile court's order adjudicating Nathaniel delinquent and placing him on probation until his eighteenth birthday.


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