On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.
Michels, Petrella and Baime. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.
This appeal presents novel questions pertaining to the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:4-2. As amended, that statute requires the defendant to prove mental disease or defect by a preponderance of the evidence when the defense of diminished capacity is raised.*fn1 At issue is whether the statute unconstitutionally shifts the burden of proof with respect to an element of the criminal offense. Auxiliary questions concern whether retroactive application of N.J.S.A. 2C:4-2 constitutes a violation of the ex post facto prohibition set forth in the Federal*fn2 or State Constitution.*fn3 We hold that the statute is not violative of substantive and procedural due process and was properly applied at defendant's trial. We, thus, affirm defendant's conviction.
The facts necessary for resolution of the difficult issues presented need not be recounted at length. Following a protracted jury trial, defendant was convicted of murder. N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve a term of 25 years without being eligible for parole. In addition, the trial judge imposed a penalty of $10,000 payable to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board. At trial, defendant conceded that he shot and killed his former girlfriend at her parent's home in Toms River. The sole question presented pertained to defendant's state of mind at the time of the homicide. More specifically, defendant contended
that he was suffering from a mental disease or defect which precluded him from harboring the requisite mental state required by N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3. Alternatively, defendant claimed that the killing was accidental.
The circumstances directly surrounding the shooting cannot be considered in a vacuum. Rather, the tragic incident was the culmination of a series of attempts by the victim, Lisa Guzzo, to sever her long-standing relationship with defendant. The two first met in the summer of 1978 when defendant was 17 and the decedent was 12. Despite the disparity in their ages, defendant was immediately attracted by Ms. Guzzo. They began dating shortly after her thirteenth birthday. In addition, defendant developed a strong attachment to the Guzzo family. Over the years, defendant often stayed at the Guzzo's home and generally addressed the victim's mother as "mom." This strong relationship was apparently attributable to defendant's "emotionally deprived upbringing." Defendant came from a broken home and resided with his aunt and her two brothers. In any event, defendant's feelings were reciprocated and he continued dating the decedent until the summer of 1981.
On August 5, 1981, Ms. Guzzo told defendant that she had met another man and wished to terminate their relationship. Defendant was obviously devastated. On the following day, he went to the Hillside municipal building and applied for a permit to purchase a gun. After filing his application, defendant made several attempts to determine the identity of the decedent's new boyfriend. When his efforts proved unavailing, defendant proceeded to his uncle's house. While there, defendant's uncle showed him his handgun and demonstrated how to load and unload it. The next day, defendant returned to his uncle's house and "test fired" the weapon. At trial, defendant testified that he harbored thoughts of shooting the decedent at this time.
On the following weekend, defendant stayed at his aunt's summer bungalow in Toms River. After unsuccessfully attempting to meet the decedent at her place of employment in
Ortley Beach, defendant went to a sporting goods store where he purchased a box of .32 caliber ammunition for his uncle's gun. He also purchased a hunting knife. It is undisputed that defendant continued to fantasize about killing Ms. Guzzo at this time. Several days after purchasing the ammunition, defendant proceeded to his uncle's house where he obtained the handgun. Thereafter, he made one last attempt to convince the decedent not to leave him. During their conversation, defendant displayed the weapon. When Ms. Guzzo threatened to telephone her mother, defendant departed and went to his aunt's house.
At approximately 7 p.m. that evening, defendant drove to the decedent's home again seeking to determine the identity of her new boyfriend. Defendant carried with him his uncle's fully loaded handgun, a knife and a pair of binoculars he had purchased earlier in the day. When he arrived, defendant noticed a late model M.G. parked in the driveway which he assumed belonged to the decedent's boyfriend. Defendant then parked his automobile approximately a block away from the Guzzo's home and proceeded on foot through the woods. Unable to observe the decedent, defendant returned to his automobile and parked it on another street. Defendant then went back into the woods and waited for the decedent and her boyfriend to leave. After approximately 40 minutes had elapsed, defendant decided to free Ms. Guzzo's puppy from the dog pen hoping that this would attract her attention. When the decedent and her sister came out of the house, defendant, armed with the handgun and the knife, surrepticiously entered the den through the sliding glass door. When Ms. Guzzo returned with her boyfriend, Stanley Emanuels, and her sister, defendant pointed the gun and knife in their direction and ordered them to be seated. During the ensuing hours, defendant sought to persuade Ms. Guzzo to return to him. When she threatened to call for assistance, defendant pulled the telephone off the wall. At approximately 11:30 p.m., defendant heard the sound of an automobile in the driveway. Peering from the window, defendant
observed the decedent's parents approaching the house. At this point, defendant, gun in hand, ran toward the sliding glass door which led to the backyard shouting "this is where I make my exit." As he exited, defendant said "it's been nice knowing you Stanley; we could have been friends, Lisa." Defendant pointed the gun at the decedent and fired the fatal shot. After the shooting, defendant fled from the scene and remained a fugitive for a period of two months. During this time, defendant's travels took him to New York, North Carolina and ...