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In re David P.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 27, 2017

IN RE: DAVID P.

         Case No. 22-J-16-000060

          Wright, Kehoe, Shaw Geter, JJ.

          OPINION

          WRIGHT, J.

         This appeal arises out of a judgment of the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, sitting as a juvenile court, finding that David P. ("David") was involved in attempted first-degree arson and reckless endangerment. At a subsequent disposition hearing, David was placed in the custody of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services ("department") and sent to an out-of-state facility for detention.

         David now appeals, questioning the sufficiency of the evidence as to both findings of involvement.

         QUESTIONS PRESENTED

         We have reworded David's questions for clarity, as follows: [1]

I. Was the evidence sufficient to support the juvenile court's finding of David's involvement in attempted arson?
II. Was the evidence sufficient to support the juvenile court's finding of David's involvement in reckless endangerment?
III. Did the juvenile court err in denying the motion to suppress an out of court identification?

         For the reasons stated below, we answer the first two questions in the negative. Accordingly, we vacate David's convictions, and we do not reach the third question.

         FACTS

         Nuzhat Nada provided testimony as to the following facts.

         On March 21, 2016, Nada was at her residence at 205 Walnut Street, Salisbury, in Wicomico County. At 7:00 p.m. on that evening, Nada heard a noise at her door and walked over to open it. No one was standing at the doorway, but she observed a person running away. Nada later heard the noise a second time, and again opened the door to find no one there. She then stood by the door, waiting to hear the noise again. When the noise started for a third time, she immediately opened her door and saw David running from her doorstep, looking backwards over his shoulder. Nada then followed David to his house, at 121 Chestnut Street, with the intention of informing his mother about what had happened. However, Nada returned home without speaking to anyone at David's house.

         A few minutes after returning home, Nada heard a noise at her door again. She opened the door to again see someone running away, and she saw two matches burning on the bricks in front of her door. Nada explained that the matches were about "one and a half feet away from the door, " and that she has "a lot of wood and cones" on her other porch.

         Nada then called the police. She testified that while waiting for the police, she stood by the matches and let them burn because she "didn't want to touch them." She testified that she did not extinguish the matches, but watched to make sure they did not fly off, fearing that the matches could ignite dry leaves at the side of the house "because of the wind." Nada testified that the matches left scorch marks "on the bricks" in front of the home and that she had photos of the marks. No such photos were offered as evidence.

         The police arrived and Nada conveyed her account of what had happened. An officer took Nada to 121 Chestnut for a show-up identification. Beforehand, neighborhood residents spoke with Nada about their own experiences with David.

         Officer Brian Weglarz testified next for the State. He confirmed responding to a call at 205 Walnut Street and meeting with Nada at her residence. Weglarz further testified that he observed "two extinguished matches" in front of the home on a concrete area attached to the front door. Weglarz described the matches as "about two inches in length, the cut that you would find out of a match book." On cross examination, Weglarz answered affirmatively when asked if Nada had extinguished the matches by stepping on them, and he also answered affirmatively when asked if Nada "had to actually extinguish" the matches. Weglarz further testified that he did not see scorch or burn marks on the porch. Finally, Officer Carroll testified for the State and provided testimony regarding the circumstances of the show-up identification.[2] The above was the extent of the evidence actually presented at trial.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

          The Court of Appeals has remarked: "In a juvenile delinquency matter, an appellate court will 'review the case on both the law and the evidence.' We review any conclusions of law de novo, but apply the clearly erroneous standard to findings of fact." In re Elrich S., 416 Md. 15, 30 (2010) (internal citation omitted). This Court has noted that "[a] delinquent act is an act which would be a crime if committed by an adult." In re Lavar D., 189 Md.App. 526, 585 (2009) (citing Md. Code (1973, 2013 Repl. Vol.), Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article § 3-8A-01(1)).

         Accordingly, as to the sufficiency of the evidence, we apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings the same standard of review as in criminal trials:

"Appellate review of the [trial] court's judgment on the evidence is limited to determining whether there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for the court's underlying factual findings. [T]he appropriate inquiry is not whether the reviewing court believes that the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather, whether after reviewing 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."

Elrich S., 416 Md. at 30 (quoting In re Anthony W., 388 Md. 251, 261 (2005)); see also In re Kevin T., 222 Md.App. 671, 676-77 (2015).

         The State notes that circumstantial evidence suffices to affirm a conviction as long as "the circumstances support rational inferences from which the trier of fact could be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused." Painter v. State, 157 Md.App. 1, 11 (2004) (citation omitted). "Circumstantial evidence is as persuasive as direct evidence. With each, triers of fact must use their experiences with people and weigh probabilities." In re Lavar D., 189 Md. at 586 (quoting Mangum v. State, 342 Md. 392, 400 (1996)).

         The juvenile court, as the finder of fact, "possesses the ability to choose among differing inferences that might possibly be made from a factual situation and [the appellate court] must give deference to all reasonable inferences [that] the fact-finder draws." In re Landon G., 214 Md.App. 483, 491 (2013) (citations omitted). "However, [w]hen an action has been tried without a jury, the appellate court will review the case on both the law and the evidence. It will not set aside the judgment of the trial court on the evidence unless clearly erroneous, and will give due regard to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses." In re Antoine H., 319 Md. 101, 108 (1990) (quoting Md. Rule 8-131(c)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence - Attempted Arson

         David avers that the State failed to meet its burden for the charge of attempted arson, because it failed to prove the requisite mens rea for attempted first-degree arson - a specific ...


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