STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
A jury found appellants and a co-defendant guilty of attempted burglary. We consolidated their separate appeals and now reverse the convictions and remand for a new trial because the trial judge erred in refusing to allow the jury to consider whether appellants committed the crime of criminal mischief. Two additional points raised by appellants will require attention; the rest are rendered moot by our remand.
Robert Livaich, an off-duty police officer, was driving past a warehouse about 9:45 p.m. when he noticed defendant William Josey pacing back and forth in front of the building. Josey was looking from side-to-side and over his shoulder toward the building. The officer suspected that Josey was standing lookout for a burglary. He parked his car in a lot across from the warehouse and continued his observations. An on-duty police [p. 223] officer happened to drive past the building about the same time in response to a call from another location. He heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the direction of the warehouse and radioed this information to police headquarters.
Detective Robert Stewart responded to the radio call and joined Officer Livaich just after Josey had entered a wooded area alongside the building. The officers followed him and soon came upon all three defendants crouched behind bushes near the building. The officers testified that a pair of gym socks were lying on the ground nearby. Detective Stewart testified that socks are commonly used by burglars to protect their hands from shards of glass and to avoid leaving fingerprints. The police found another pair of socks in defendant Clarke's back pocket.
Meanwhile additional officers arrived at the scene. An inspection of the building revealed that a windowpane, located at the front of the building behind tall shrubs, was completely missing. A rock and shattered glass were inside the building near the window. There were shoeprints on the ground in a two-foot space between the shrubs and the broken window.
The State relied on the foregoing circumstantial evidence to prove the crime of attempted burglary, the only offense charged in the indictment.
Defendants told their story through the testimony of Josey. He testified that they were on the way to the movies when they stopped at a tavern to purchase a six-pack of beer. They took the beer to where the police later found them. After finishing his beer, Josey left to purchase cigarettes with the understanding that he would meet the others in front of the warehouse upon his return and then they would go to the movies. When Josey returned the others were not there. While he was waiting for them to emerge from the bushes, he noticed a police car pass by. He then went into the bushes to see what was causing the delay. He found his friends and had settled in with them when the police arrived. Josey denied any intent to [p. 224] burglarize the warehouse, denied hearing the sound of breaking glass, and denied seeing any socks on the ground. The jury obviously rejected his story.
After both sides had rested, defendant Clarke's attorney asked
the court to "charge criminal mischief as a lesser included offense"
based upon evidence that defendants broke the window. Criminal mischief
is committed by a person who "[p]urposely or knowingly damages tangible
property of another...." N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(1). Without asking the
assistant prosecutor for his view, the trial judge replied:
Absolutely not. There is no evidence that they committed criminal mischief, none at all.
He explained that in view of Josey's denial that he broke the window and in the absence of any direct evidence that any of the defendants threw the rock through the window, it would be "speculation" for the jury to find that they had. We disagree.
A trial judge must charge a lesser included offense "when the facts on the record would justify a conviction" for that offense even where there has been no request by the parties to do so. State v. Powell, 84 N.J. 305, 319, 419 A.2d 406 (1980). This permits a jury to return a verdict that conforms to the evidence and relieves the pressure to return an all-or-nothing verdict. See State v. Lopez, 160 N.J.Super. 30, 36, 388 A.2d 1273 (App.Div.1978). Here the judge did not have to act sua sponte.
The theory of the State's case was that the arrival of the police prevented defendants from carrying out their plan to burglarize the warehouse after they had taken a substantial step toward committing that crime. Taking "a substantial step" is a key element of an attempt. N.J.S.A. 2C:5- 1(a)(3). The State argues that Josey's conduct as lookout, the socks in Clarke's pocket, and defendants' hiding in the bushes were enough to establish the requisite substantial step without the need to prove that defendants also broke the window.
We cannot assume that without the evidence that defendants broke
the window to gain entry the jury would have [p. 225] been satisfied that
the State proved a substantial step. Besides, an offense may be a
lesser included offense even though the greater offense could also be proved
without it. An offense is "included" when:
(1) It is established by proof of the same or less than all the facts required to establish the commission of the offense charged; or
(2) It consists of an attempt or conspiracy to commit the offense charged or to commit an offense otherwise included therein; or
(3) It differs from the offense charged only in the respect that a less serious injury or risk of injury to the same person, property or public interest or a lesser kind of culpability suffices to establish its commission. [N.J.S.A. 2C:1-8(d) ]
Burglary is defined as unlawfully entering a private structure "with purpose to commit an offense therein...." N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2(a). In this case the State contends that defendants' ultimate purpose was to steal. Had there been proof of entry for the purpose of theft, defendants would have been charged with burglary, and the lesser included offense of criminal trespass would have been routinely charged in case the State should fail to convince the jury of larcenous intent.
Defendants were charged only with attempted burglary because there
was no proof of entry. However, they could not be found guilty of
attempted criminal trespass as a lesser included offense because such conduct
is not an offense under the Code. N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3(a) provides that
unlawful entry into a structure that is not a dwelling is only a disorderly
persons offense. An attempt to commit a disorderly persons offense
is not itself an offense. [n. 1] See N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(a); II
Final Report of the New Jersey Criminal Law Revision Commission:
Commentary 113-114 (1971). However, committing criminal mischief by breaking
a window to gain entry into a structure is a fact that can be used to prove
trespass. It is therefore a lesser [p. 226] offense included in trespass
which in turn is included in burglary. Here it serves to take the
place of the unavailable offense of attempted criminal trespass.
In the circumstances of this case, criminal mischief is a lesser offense
included within attempted burglary and, having support in the evidence,
should have been charged--especially where there was a specific request
to do so. See State v. Green, 86 N.J. 281, 289-290, 430 A.2d 914
* * *
Reversed and remanded for a new trial.