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State in Interest of R.G.W.

Decided: June 30, 1975.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, IN THE INTEREST OF R.G.W., JUVENILE-APPELLANT


Matthews, Fritz and Botter. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, J.A.D.

Fritz

Defendant, a juvenile, confessed to a brutal murder in which he, a newsboy, stabbed a female patron from whom he was collecting, some 36 times. He was formally charged with juvenile delinquency.

Two competency hearings were held, the first on February 25, 1974 and the second on May 10, 1974. In each case, the juvenile was adjudged unable to stand trial by reason of insanity and was committed to the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. In the latter hearing the judge was urged to inquire with respect to and determine, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2, whether the juvenile was insane at the time of the offense. He declined, characterizing his determination in this regard as an exercise of discretion. Somewhat enigmatically he said that he "truthfully believes that no purpose will be served to trangress in the area of juvenile law that is yet to be established." Regretfully, and we believe incorrectly, he refused to act in this respect until such time as "our appellate courts, and perhaps our Supreme Court * * * have been given the opportunity faced with the facts that are presented to this Court to bring to bear their collective wisdom, and their collective expertise in the handling of these matters" and he had the benefit of "the philosophical direction of the highest court of our State to suggest a court of inferior jurisdiction what in their best judgment should be the course of action to follow."

Defendant appeals from this denial of his motion, urges the applicability of N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2, challenges the exercise of discretion in the denial, and asks that, in the event of a remand, we acknowledge that "there is a 'reasonable' limit to the length of time during which an individual incompetent to stand trial may be institutionalized in an asylum without having the question of his 'criminal responsibility' adjudicated."*fn1

The State does not challenge the applicability of N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2. Rather, it defends as correct the "exercise of discretion" below.

We get swiftly past the threshold question of the applicability of the statute. Juveniles have every right to a defense of insanity, and in fact "all defenses available to an adult." N.J.S.A. 2A:4-60. This postulate being statutorily sound, it is unthinkable that those rights should be abridged, even extinguished, by the failure of N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2 -- which does not exclude application to juveniles -- to include them specifically. We see no reason at all to suppose that the "any person" referred to in N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2 was not intended to include juveniles. Were the statute thought to direct otherwise, a constitutional question might well be presented. State in the Interest of Carlo, 48 N.J. 224 (1966). The holding of State in the Interest of H.C., 106 N.J. Super. 583 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1969) was overriden by N.J.S.A. 2A:4-60 and no longer represents the law.

We turn to the reasons given by the judge below for his refusal to conduct that which he called a M'Naghten hearing. After expressing an opinion that N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2 applied, and determining that there were good reasons for holding a second hearing on the competency of defendant to consult with counsel and stand trial, the judge below turned to the question as to "whether this Court has the right to consider the substantive issue of M'Naughton insanity on the merits." There is no doubt at all as to the existence of that right. The expression of the question by the judge appears inconsistent with his conclusion that N.J.S.A. 2A:163-2 is applicable, for that statute confers the right upon the court. Whether circumstances impel a court,

in the employment of its discretion, to exercise that right is a different matter.

Be this at it may, the judge then postulated in the following form the questions deemed by him to be controlling in exercising his discretion with respect to a M'Naghten hearing:

1. What degree of difficulty, effort and time would be required to determine the question of insanity, and

2. What is to be gained, justified by this difficulty, his effort and time, or in other words, will the welfare of the juvenile be sufficiently enhanced so as to cause the Court to invoke its discretion ...


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