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State v. Scelfo

Decided: December 14, 1959.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CHARLES SCELFO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Price, Sullivan and Foley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Foley, J.A.D.

Foley

Defendant appeals from a conviction of the crime of bookmaking (N.J.S. 2 A:112-3) entered in the Passaic County Court on a jury verdict.

The sole defense to the indictment was that defendant was legally insane at the time of the commission of the acts alleged therein. On this appeal it is urged (1) that the evidence of defendant's insanity having been uncontradicted medically, the trial court erroneously denied defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal; (2) that for the same reason the conviction was against the weight of evidence; (3) that the court in its charge should have burdened the State with proving defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) that hospital records relating to defendant's prior mental condition should have been admitted in evidence.

The proof adduced by the State was uncontradicted: on February 1, 1958, a squadron of detectives from the office of the Prosecutor of Passaic County raided the premises of the Second Ward Veteran's Club in the City of Passaic. Upon entering they found the defendant and a number of other persons, later identified as club members and bettors, sitting at a table. In front of Scelfo were schedules of college and professional basketball games played or to be played during the previous and current weeks. The detectives searched defendant immediately and found in his coat pocket nine slips which he admitted were records in his own handwriting of wagers on basketball games he had accepted. He had in his pockets the sum of $519.89, $423 of which he admitted was the product of his bookmaking activities.

Scelfo remained calm throughout the raid, frankly admitted that he was the bookmaker, and asserted that the other men present were not in any way involved in the gambling operation. He was placed under arrest and taken

to police headquarters where he was formally interrogated by the officers. He answered calmly, accurately, and responsively. After his voluntary account was typed he read it and approved its accuracy, but refused to sign it because of advice previously given to him by a lawyer. The statement was offered in evidence. It is in question and answer form and covers in such detail the identification and explanation of the betting records which were seized as to impel the conclusion that he was completely aware of the nature of his difficulties.

Additionally, three witnesses, who testified for the State that they had placed bets on basketball games with the defendant during the month of January 1958, said that he handled the transactions in a normal manner and experienced no difficulty in computation. Parenthetically we observe that certain of the bets known as "parlay," "round-house," and "round robin" appear to have been relatively involved.

The lay testimony of insanity may be summarized as follows: Scelfo, 42 years of age at the time of the trial, served in the Armed Forces during World War II and was separated from service in 1945. He then took up residence with his two sisters, who live next door to each other in Passaic. Both testified that shortly after his return from service he appeared to be nervous, argumentative, careless of his dress and person, and unkempt. As time went on he developed eccentricities of an objectionable nature such as using toilet facilities without closing the bathroom door; he frequently complained of headaches and often said that he thought "someone was chasing him."

In October 1955 he was taken by his sisters to the New Jersey State Hospital at Greystone Park where he was examined by Dr. Lawrence M. Collins, a well-known psychiatrist. Dr. Collins recommended that he be committed to the hospital, and on January 10, 1956 he entered as a voluntary patient. The medical proofs established that he remained at the hospital until June 13, 1956, when he was discharged in "convalescent care." During his confinement

he received insulin injections, shock treatment and related therapy. His mental illness was diagnosed by the hospital staff as "schizophrenic reaction, chronic undifferentiated type," a condition which is also known as dementia praecox. He was finally discharged from the institution on June 13, 1957. In December of that year he again visited Dr. Collins for treatment. At that time tranquillizers were prescribed and he was sent home. In January 1958 he again complained of illness and sought Dr. Collins' assistance. The doctor then suggested that he have himself admitted to the hospital for treatment, but Scelfo declined to do so. On May 24, 1958, which was subsequent to his arrest, he was admitted as a voluntary patient but left again on June 13, 1958. Between then and the time of trial he was seen by Dr. Collins on four occasions. Each time he was found to be in good mental health. In response to a question by the court the doctor stated that the defendant was sane at the time of trial.

The entire factual complex was presented to Doctors Collins and Zigarelli in hypothetical questions, in response to which both testified unequivocally that during the month of January 1958 Scelfo was unaware of the nature and quality of his acts and did not understand the difference between right and wrong. Thus the opinions were in accord with the M'Naghten rule recently reaffirmed as the law of this State in State v. Lucas , 30 N.J. 37, 72 (1959).

Defendant urges that the uncontradicted opinions of these highly qualified medical experts were completely dispositive of the insanity issue and required the court to enter a "judgment of acquittal by reason of insanity." The underlying theory of this contention is that the medical testimony completely destroyed the recognized presumption of sanity. We cannot agree. It is well settled, of course, that expert testimony bearing upon the sanity of the accused is relevant and admissible. However, as with all ...


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