For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None.
These appeals challenge judgments of the Cumberland County Court: 1) ordering that appellants be confined to a state institution under N.J.S.A. 30:4-82, and 2) determining that appellants do not have the capacity to stand trial as defendants under indictments returned against them.
Frank Caralluzzo was indicted for murder and two counts of atrocious assault and battery in 1962 by the Cumberland
County Grand Jury, and his brother Joseph Caralluzzo, Jr. was indicted at the same time for murder and one count of atrocious assault and battery. Subsequently, the trial court on request of the prosecutor held a hearing under N.J.S.A. 30:4-82. This section provides that a County or Superior Court may hold a hearing on its own motion to determine whether a person under indictment should be committed to a state institution for care and treatment because of his mental condition. The court determined that both defendants were imbeciles and should therefore be committed to a state institution for care and treatment. When appellants first challenged this determination in this Court, we remanded to have a different trial judge determine whether appellants had the capacity to stand trial on the indictments. The trial court sitting without a jury found that they did not. The present two appeals followed.
It is undisputed that both appellants are imbeciles with mental ages of about six years (although both have physical ages in the twenties). Their condition of mental retardation was testified to and established by several experts in psychology and psychiatry at the hearing held under N.J.S.A. 30:4-82. The experts based their opinions on observations of and interviews with appellants. Similar testimony was introduced at the second hearing after the remand to determine capacity to stand trial to show that appellants were not able to comprehend their position or consult with counsel. However, at this hearing some expert opinion was offered on behalf of appellants that the boys although imbeciles could meet the necessary minimum level of understanding.
An accused under a criminal indictment is unfit to stand trial if he has a condition of mental illness or retardation which prevents him from comprehending his position and from consulting intelligently with counsel in the preparation of his defense. State v. Lucas, 30 N.J. 37, 72-74 (1959); see N.J.S. 2A:163-2. Our review of the record shows considerable testimony that the severely limited intelligence of appellants prevents them from understanding their
position and from consulting with counsel in their defense, and there is no reason for us to disturb the finding of the trial court which rests on sufficient evidence that appellants are not able to stand trial. See Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 598-599 (1965); State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964).
A determination that persons are unfit to stand trial is persuasive on the question of whether they should be confined under N.J.S. 30:4-82. However, this statute only authorizes confinement of persons who are a hazard to themselves or others, persons who cannot fend for themselves. Aponte v. State, 30 N.J. 441, 455 (1959). It is not a blanket authorization to commit persons with any condition of mental illness or mental retardation.
While we think that there was sufficient evidence to show that appellants were a hazard to themselves or others and required institutional supervision, the trial judge excluded evidence by Police Officer Jost on the hazardous behavior of appellants, and also excluded testimony by Dr. Brancale and other experts which might have shown in detail why and how the appellants were a hazard to themselves or others. The trial judge apparently believed that a finding that the appellants were imbeciles was sufficient in itself regardless of the question of hazard to self or others. Therefore, we cannot be sure that the trial judge made the finding required by a proper interpretation of the statute.*fn1 Since the statute authorizes the confinement of a person and loss of his freedom, the courts must be careful to see that the statute is not used as a catch-all device to punish persons under indictment without an adjudication of guilt at a criminal trial. The
statute does not turn on guilt or innocence of a criminal charge but on the need of the individual ...