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State v. Burnett

Decided: October 24, 1984.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES BURNETT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Cumberland County.

Michels, Petrella and Baime. The opinion of the court was delivered by, Baime, J.A.D.

Baime

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(1)), simple assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a(1)) and aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(2)(a)). Defendant was sentenced to an aggregate custodial term of 15 years and ordered to pay $550 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board. On appeal, defendant attacks the constitutionality of R. 3:12 which requires an accused to serve notice of his intention to claim insanity on the prosecuting attorney within 30 days of the date of his original plea. In a related argument, defendant contends that the trial judge abused his discretion when he precluded him from raising the insanity defense by virtue of his failure to comply with the rule's prescription. Defendant further contends that his confession constituted the fruit of an unlawful arrest and should have been suppressed. Since no objection was interposed in that regard, the latter point is advanced as plain error. Finally, it is argued that the trial judge committed reversible error with regard to certain of his evidentiary decisions. We are convinced that none of these contentions has merit. We thus affirm the judgments of conviction.

The record discloses the following facts. At the time of the offenses, defendant and his daughter, Lenette Spruill, resided at his mother's house. Lenette, who was then 13 years of age, had her own bedroom. Also residing in a separate room at the same house were defendant's girlfriend, Brenda DuBois, and

her son. On Friday, August 7, 1981, defendant went to his place of employment at approximately 7:00 a.m. and remained at work until 5:30 p.m. the next day. During that period of time and on the trip home, defendant consumed a "combination of whiskey and gin." It would also appear that defendant smoked marijuana and later ingested several pills "to keep awake." In any event, defendant arrived home at approximately midnight and immediately engaged Brenda in an argument pertaining to her alleged infidelity. Defendant ordered her to leave the house. Once outside, defendant physically attacked Brenda, ultimately rendering her unconscious. Lenette unsuccessfully attempted to awaken defendant's mother and subsequently sought to intercede in the fracas. When Brenda regained consciousness, defendant directed both her and his daughter to enter his van which was parked in the driveway. Defendant then proceeded to have sexual intercourse with Lenette and Brenda. After the attack, defendant apparently fell asleep. Lenette subsequently fled to the home of her maternal grandmother. On the following morning, she apprised her great uncle of what had occurred. After leaving the van, Brenda awakened defendant's mother and told her that she had been "beaten" and "raped." They then proceeded to the police station.

While Brenda was being taken to the hospital, defendant's mother, accompanied by several officers, returned to her house. When they arrived, the officers were given the key to the front door and were granted permission to enter. Defendant initially appeared at the back door, but subsequently locked it when the officers identified themselves. One of the officers opened the front door with the key and walked toward the rear of the house where he was able to observe defendant being searched by another policeman in the rear yard. Defendant was handcuffed, advised of his constitutional rights which he said he understood, and transported to police headquarters. At approximately 7:30 a.m., defendant was again advised of his rights and was interviewed in the detective bureau. In a

written statement, defendant admitted having intercourse with Brenda, but could not recall whether he had penetrated his daughter.

Defendant initially argues that R. 3:12 is unconstitutional because it imposes an unnecessary burden on the right of an accused to contest his sanity. We are entirely satisfied that the rule's prescription fully comports with well recognized principles of due process. The genesis of R. 3:12 can be found in our Supreme Court's decision in State v. Whitlow, 45 N.J. 3, 25 (1965). There, the Court established various ground rules with regard to the reciprocal right to have a defendant submit to a psychiatric examination when he pleads mental incapacity to stand trial or the defense of insanity. Addressing questions pertaining to notice, the Court "perceive[d] the difficulties attending the State's effort to meet a claim of insanity, particularly at the time of trial when the allegation is offered to show the lack of criminal responsibility for the offense." Ibid. Noting that the State should not be left helpless to meet the defense, the Court suggested adoption of a rule requiring pretrial disclosure of the accused's intent to advance the insanity claim. Ibid. Significantly, the Court analogized the proposed requirement with the alibi rule and observed that "[p]rocedural requirements for notice of the defense have [generally] been sustained." Id., 45 N.J. at 22, n. 3. Several years later, the precursor to R. 3:12 was promulgated requiring notice of the defense of insanity at the time of the original plea or within 30 days. See R.R. 3:5-9A. Our present rule is essentially the same except that it additionally mandates notice of the defense of diminished capacity. Further, the rule requires that the notice be in writing. The notice requirement has also been codified by our Legislature in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-3.

Contrary to defendant's argument, we do not perceive that the rule places an improper burden upon an accused who wishes to claim insanity. The salutary purpose of the rule is to avoid surprise at trial by the sudden introduction of a factual

claim which cannot be investigated without requiring a substantial continuance. Our Constitution "does not protect a defendant from the consequences of the defense he makes, nor assure him a right so to defend as to deny the State a chance to check the truth of his position." State v. Angeleri, 51 N.J. 382, 385 (1968), cert. den. 393 U.S. 951, 89 S. Ct. 372, 21 L. Ed. 2d 362 (1968). Cf. State v. Baldwin, 47 N.J. 379, 388 (1966), cert. den. 385 U.S. 980, 87 S. Ct. 527, 17 L. Ed. 2d 442 (1966); State v. Harris, 117 N.J. Super. 83, 91 (App.Div.1971), certif. den. 63 N.J. 557 (1973). Given the ease with which the defenses of insanity and diminished capacity can be fabricated, the State's interest in protecting itself against "an eleventh-hour" claim is both obvious and legitimate. See Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78, 81, 90 S. Ct. 1893, 1899, 26 L. Ed. 2d 446, 450 (1970). "The adversary system of trial is hardly an end in itself; it is not yet a poker game in which players enjoy an absolute right always to conceal their cards until played." 399 U.S. at 82, 90 S. Ct. at 1899, 26 L. Ed. 2d at 450. The principal purpose of our discovery rules is to assure the parties every legitimate avenue of inquiry prior to trial to enhance the search for the truth. As long ...


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