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State v. Krol

Decided: August 4, 1975.


For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan and Pashman and Judge Conford. Dissenting in part -- Justice Clifford. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pashman, J. Clifford, J. (dissenting in part).


An acquittal on grounds of insanity, unlike a simple acquittal, does not automatically free the criminal defendant. The governing statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3,*fn1 provides that if the jury finds the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, it must then make a special finding as to whether defendant's "insanity continues"; if it finds that defendant's "insanity" does "continue," defendant is ordered confined to the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital "until such time as he may be restored to reason." This confinement is for an indefinite period of time, and may prove permanent, for "restoration to reason" requires not merely remission of acute symptoms but complete cure of the underlying illness or personality disorder. State v. Maik, 60 N.J. 203, 217-18 (1972). A lesser degree of improvement suffices to obtain for defendant only a "conditional release" subject to summary revocation by the court. State v. Carter, 64 N.J. 382 (1974). Defendant challenges the constitutionality of this involuntary commitment procedure.

Stefan Krol stabbed his wife to death in their home. He was indicted for murder and tried in the Superior Court,

Law Division in Camden County before a jury. Since he did not deny commission of the homicide, the only issue disputed at trial was whether he had been insane at the time of the act. Testimony of psychiatrists who had examined Krol before and after his wife's death indicated that he was suffering from an acute schizophrenic condition at the time of the killing, and acted under the influence of a powerful delusion that his wife was conspiring with his employer to murder him. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity and found specially that defendant's insanity continued. Acting pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3, the trial judge ordered defendant committed to the Forensic Psychiatric Unit at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.

Defendant appealed the commitment order to the Appellate Division, which affirmed. We granted certification, 65

N.J. 561 (1974), to consider his contention that the standard for involuntary commitment of persons acquitted on grounds of insanity established by N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3 violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment to the federal constitution, a contention which we have not had occasion to consider in our prior decisions on this subject, State v. Maik, supra, and State v. Carter, supra.


Prior to considering the merits of this contention, we must first dispose of a procedural issue. On January 17, 1975, while the present matter was pending before this Court, the Camden County Court authorized the conditional release of defendant Krol, as permitted by our decision in State v. Carter, 64 N.J. 382 (1974). In granting the release, the court imposed a number of restrictive terms upon Krol: he must reside in a "Home for Sheltered Care" in close proximity to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, continue psychiatric treatment as an outpatient, report regularly to a probation officer, and regularly inform the court of his condition; his freedom to travel is limited; and his release may be summarily revoked should he not comply with the terms of the conditional release order or should his condition change. Thus while the order released defendant from the physical custody of the State, it continues substantial restraints upon his liberty. Hence the principle, stated in Stizza v. Essex County Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, 132 N.J.L. 406, 408 (E. & A. 1945), that commitment orders will not be reviewed after the person committed has been released and freed of all restraints upon his liberty and property does not govern this case. The present appeal is not rendered moot by the order for conditional release. Defendant still has a real and substantial interest in the validity of the original commitment order. Cf. State v. Parmigiani, 65 N.J. 154, 155 (1974); Bower v. State, 135 N.J.L. 564, 568-69

(Sup. Ct. 1947); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 50-59, 88 S. Ct. 1889, 20 L. Ed. 2d 917 (1968). Furthermore we have been informed by counsel that the defendant has not been able to obtain a satisfactory halfway house placement and has not in fact been released under the terms of this order, although he has been allowed a somewhat more limited conditional release under the terms of an order of the Camden County Court dated August 1, 1975.


Commitment following acquittal by reason of insanity is not intended to be punitive, for, although such a verdict implies a finding that defendant has committed the actus reus, it also constitutes a finding that he did so without a criminal state of mind. There is, in effect, no crime to punish. State v. Carter, supra, 64 N.J. at 401; State v. Stern, 40 N.J. Super. 291, 296 (App. Div. 1956). The rationale for involuntarily committing such persons pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3 is, rather, to protect society against individuals who, through no culpable fault of their own, pose a threat to public safety. Chief Justice Weintraub succinctly explained the purpose of this procedure in his opinion in State v. Maik, supra, 60 N.J. at 213:

For present purposes it is enough to say that all the doctrines which would excuse an offender from criminal accountability because of insanity have the common characteristic of attempting to distinguish between the sick and the bad.

The point to be stressed is that in drawing a line between the sick and the bad, there is no purpose to subject others to harm at the hands of the mentally ill. On the contrary, the aim of the law is to protect the innocent from injury by the sick as well as the bad.

The anomaly of the procedure established by N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3 is that although its ultimate object is to protect society against certain individuals who may pose

special risk of danger, it does not at any point provide for inquiry by judge or jury into the question of whether the particular defendant involved in fact poses such a risk. The standard for commitment is simply that defendant's "insanity continues." The fact that defendant is presently suffering from some degree of mental illness and that at some point in the past mental illness caused him to commit a criminal act, while certainly sufficient to give probable cause to inquire into whether he is dangerous, does not, in and of itself, warrant the inference that he presently poses a significant threat of harm, either to himself or to others.*fn2

The consequence of this procedure is that a defendant who, despite the fact he still suffers some degree of mental illness, poses no significant danger to society, may nevertheless be deprived of his liberty for an indefinite period of time because dangerousness is, in effect, presumed from continuing insanity. The problem is most acute when the offense which defendant has committed is one which, although violating social norm, did not itself involve dangerous behavior.

But even where, as in this case, the crime is a violent one, the procedure contains great potential for individual injustice.

This defect, which involves serious infringement upon personal liberty, is one of constitutional dimensions. Constitutional principles of due process require that any state action bear a reasonable relationship to some legitimate state purpose. In Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S. Ct. 1845, 32 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1972), the United States Supreme Court, applying this principle to involuntary commitment proceedings, held that the standard for commitment must bear a reasonable relationship to the ostensible purpose for which the individual is committed. That decision, which involved the commitment for incompetency to stand trial of a mentally deficient deaf-mute accused of armed robbery, did not restrict the purposes for which the state might involuntarily commit individuals accused of crime; it did require that the state tailor its standard for commitment to whatever purpose it was nominally attempting to advance. Cf. Davy v. Sullivan, 354 F. Supp. 1320, 1329-30 (M.D. Ala. 1973) (holding that persons confined as sexual psychopaths must be released if their confinement is not within the nominal purpose of the statute -- protection of the public and treatment). Furthermore, the state must make a meaningful factual determination as to whether defendant actually meets the standard for commitment. Jackson v. Indiana, supra 406 U.S. at 738-39, 92 S. Ct. 1845; Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 87 S. Ct. 1209, 18 L. Ed. 2d 326 (1967); Bolton v. Harris, 130 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 395 F.2d 642 (D.C. Cir. 1968) (commitment following acquittal by reason of insanity); People v. McQuillan, 392 Mich. 511, 529-34, 221 N.W. 2d 569, 577-79 (Sup. Ct. 1974) (same); State ex rel. Kovach v. Schubet, 64 Wis. 2d 612, 623, 219 N.W. 2d 341, 347 (Sup. Ct. 1974), appeal dismissed 419 U.S. 1117, 95 S. Ct. 799, 42 L. Ed. 2d 817 (1975) (same). The state

may not simply presume essential adjudicatory facts. Cf. Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. La Fleur, 414 U.S. 632, 644-46, 94 S. Ct. 791, 39 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1974); Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 446, 93 S. Ct. 2230, 37 L. Ed. 2d 63 (1972); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S. Ct. 1208, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1972); Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 91 S. Ct. 1586, 29 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1971).

Since N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3 is designed to protect the public against the risk of future dangerous behavior by persons acquitted by reason of insanity who are still suffering from mental illness, State v. Maik, supra, the principles of due process enunciated in Jackson and like cases require that the standard for commitment be cast in terms of continuing mental illness and dangerousness to self or others, not in terms of continuing insanity alone, and that some trier of fact make a meaningful determination as to whether defendant is actually within these standards.*fn3


This conclusion is also compelled by considerations of equal protection.

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 86 S. Ct. 760, 15 L. Ed. 2d 620 (1966), the Supreme Court held that prisoners who had allegedly developed mental illness while incarcerated and who were, as a result, being involuntarily committed to mental institutions, were entitled under the equal protection clause to substantially the same procedural protections as other persons subject to involuntary civil commitment. Among other things, Baxstrom held that the same standard for commitment to a particular mental institution had to be applied to prisoners and to other persons subject to involuntary civil commitment to that institution. Subsequently, in Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S. Ct. 1845, 32 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1972), the Court applied the principle of Baxstrom to persons determined to be incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges. It held that, except for a short observation period, a state cannot commit such a person unless it applies the same standards for commitment to him as it does to other persons involuntarily committed.

While neither of these cases deals specifically with the problem of involuntary commitment of persons acquitted by reason of insanity, the Supreme Court in these opinions has plainly attempted to enunciate a broad principle -- that the fact that the person to be committed has previously engaged in criminal acts is not a constitutionally

acceptable basis for imposing upon him a substantially different standard or procedure for involuntary commitment. The labels "criminal commitment" and "civil commitment" are of no constitutional significance. In Jackson v. Indiana, supra at 406 U.S. 724-25, 92 S. Ct. 1845, the Supreme Court clearly indicated that it regarded this principle as one to be applied very broadly throughout the spectrum of various forms of involuntary commitment, including commitment of persons acquitted by reason of insanity.

The principles of Baxstrom and Jackson have been widely applied by the state courts and the lower federal courts to overturn procedures for involuntary commitment of persons acquitted by reason of insanity which deviate substantially from those applied to civil commitments generally. E.g., Bolton v. Harris, 130 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 395 F.2d 642 (D.C. Cir. 1968); Reynolds v. Neill, 381 F. Supp. 1374 (N.D. Texas 1974) (three-judge court), vacated and remanded, sub nom. Sheldon v. Reynolds, 422 U.S. 1050, 95 S. Ct. 2671, 45 L. Ed. 2d 703 (1975); State v. Clemons, 110 Ariz. 79, 515 P. 2d 324 (Sup. Ct. 1973); In re Franklin, 7 Cal. 3d 126, 101 Cal. Rptr. 553, 496 P. 2d 465 (1972); Mills v. State, 256 A.2d 752 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1969); People v. McQuillan, 392 Mich. 511, 221 N.W. 2d 569 (Sup. Ct. 1974); State ex rel. Kovach v. Schubert, 64 Wis. 2d 612, 219 N.W. 2d 341 (Sup. Ct. 1974), appeal dismissed 419 U.S. 1117, 95 S. Ct. 799, 42 L. Ed. 2d 817 (1975); State ex rel. Walker v. Jenkins, 203 S.E. 2d 353 (W. Va. Sup. Ct. 1974) (semble). Cf. Commonwealth ex rel. DiEmilio v. Shovlin, 449 Pa. 177, 295 A.2d 320 (Sup. Ct. 1972). See also Chase v. Kearns, 278 A.2d 132 (Me. Sup. Ct. 1971); State v. Kee, 510 S.W. 2d 477 (Mo. Sup. Ct. 1974).

In Bolton v. Harris, supra, the U.S. Appeals Court struck down the District of Columbia automatic commitment statute, holding, among other things, that the standard for involuntary commitment of persons acquitted by reason

of insanity must be substantially the same as that generally applied to persons civilly committed. Id. at 651 n. 50. This holding has been followed in People v. McQuillan, supra, and State ex rel. Kovach v. ...

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