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In re Commitment of A.L.U.

Decided: January 10, 1984.

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF A.L.U.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.

Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.

Brody

Jones v. United States, U.S. , 103 S. Ct. 3043, 77 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1983), requires us to reconsider what minimum standard of proof is constitutionally mandated for the involuntary commitment of a criminal defendant to a mental hospital after he has been found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI). In Jones the United States Supreme Court held that due process is satisfied if the criteria for commitment are proved by a "preponderance of the evidence." The Court thereby allowed a standard of proof for committing NGI's that is lower than the standard required for involuntary commitment in a civil proceeding where due process requires that the criteria be proved by "clear and convincing evidence." Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 99 S. Ct. 1804, 60 L. Ed. 2d 323 (1979). The N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3) "preponderance of the evidence" standard for committing NGI's is therefore constitutional.

As a result of being found not guilty of armed robbery and related charges by reason of insanity, A.L.U. was committed in 1977 to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. Following a periodic review of the commitment, the trial court found "by a preponderance of the evidence" that A.L.U. remains mentally ill and that his release "would pose a danger to well being of both [A.L.U.] and . . . the members of society." A.L.U. argues that

in New Jersey the higher standard of proof required in Addington for civil commitments must prevail over the lower standard permitted in Jones for NGI commitments because New Jersey statutory and case law treat civil and criminal committees the same.

State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236 (1975), established criteria and procedures for committing NGI's under N.J.S.A. 2A:163-3 (superseded by N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8). The statute dealt with in Krol authorized commitment "until such time as he may be restored to reason." Once committed under Title 2A, a committee's status could be changed only after a hearing "on the motion of either the State or the defendant." State v. Krol, supra, at 263. The Krol Court further established the preponderance-of-evidence standard for both the original commitment and any change in status after commitment, the burden of proof falling on "the party seeking the modification [ i.e., more or lesser restraints] or termination." Id. at 263, n. 13. The Court may have thought that as a practical matter NGI's would usually be committed whatever the standard, and because the committee would be the party most likely to initiate post-commitment proceedings, he would benefit from having to bear the lower standard of proof.

In State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282 (1978), the Court required periodic reviews of the status of committees at which the State would bear the same burden of proof as it had at the initial commitment hearing. Id. at 299-300; see R. 4:74-7(f). The committee, however, would remain free to challenge his commitment and its terms "at any time in the interim between the scheduled periodic review hearings." Id. at 303-304. Periodic reviews made it likely that the post-commitment burden of proof would more often be borne by the State to justify continuing commitment than by the committee to justify release or lesser restraints. Nevertheless, the Court expressly retained the lower standard of proof although it noted that the United States Supreme Court was about to consider the question in Addington. Id. at 299-300, n. 6.

When the United States Supreme Court later held in Addington that due process requires the "clear and convincing evidence" standard in order to obtain an involuntary civil commitment, this court held in effect that the United States Supreme Court intended the higher standard to apply as well in periodic review hearings for NGI committees. In re Scelfo, 170 N.J. Super. 394, 397 (App.Div.1979). The Scelfo court undoubtedly took for granted that whatever standard of proof was constitutionally required for civil commitments would be required for NGI commitments because of the clear statement in Fields that "the fact that a mentally ill person has committed an act which would expose a mentally competent person to criminal sanction is a constitutionally unacceptable justification for granting him less procedural and substantive protection against involuntary commitment than that generally afforded all other members of society." State v. Fields, supra, 77 N.J. at 294.

Despite the holding in Scelfo, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3) in 1981 by adding in part the following:

The defendant's continued commitment, under the law governing civil commitment, shall be established by a preponderance of the evidence, during the maximum period of imprisonment that could have been imposed, as an ordinary term of imprisonment, for any charge on which the defendant has been acquitted by reason of insanity. [ L. 1981, c. 290, ยง 9]

The trial judge applied the statutory standard of "preponderance of the evidence" in finding that A.L.U.'s ...


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