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State v. Warren

Decided: December 15, 1986.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J.


[104 NJ Page 572] The primary issue on this appeal is whether a trial court must charge that if a defendant establishes that his voluntary intoxication

negated the mental elements of purpose and knowledge, which are elements of the crime of murder, the jury may still find the defendant guilty of manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter.

Defendant, John Warren, was indicted for murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a; unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. At trial, the court instructed the jury on the weapons offenses, murder, and the lesser included offenses of aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a; "passion-provocation" manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4b(2); and simple manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4b(1). The court also explained the application of intoxication to crimes requiring a knowing or purposeful state of mind, but failed to explain that intoxication was not a defense to manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter, thereby depriving the jury, if it found that defendant had been intoxicated, of the option of convicting the defendant of those lesser included offenses. Consequently, the jury convicted the defendant of murder, as well as possession of a weapon without a permit and possession of a weapon with the purpose to use it unlawfully. In an unreported opinion, the Appellate Division affirmed. We granted certification, 102 N.J. 363 (1985), and now reverse.


The following facts emerged at trial. In May 1983, defendant, John Warren, and Carol Cox, the victim, broke off a six-year affair after Cox threw a caustic substance at defendant. About a month later, on June 17, 1983, Warren called Cox early in the morning. Cox then left the house to run an errand and to drive her eight-year old son, Marvin, to school. About 8:30 a.m. Warren parked his car directly behind Cox's car, which was parked in front of a market in Newark. According to Marvin, who was sitting in his mother's car, he heard her say "[g]et off my car." As Cox left her car, defendant called out,

"Hey! Come here." Apparently, in response to Warren's call, Cox approached the passenger window of his car. Warren fired three shots, two of which hit the victim. Cox staggered into the market, stating, "He shot me," and subsequently died. Warren drove away from the scene, but was later apprehended. In a statement to the police, he admitted that he shot the victim, explaining that he carried out the shooting with "military precision."

At trial, Warren's defense was that he was so intoxicated at the time of the offense that he was incapable of acting "purposely" or "knowingly." Although he did not testify himself, defendant's wife and two of his sons testified about his alcoholism and drunkenness on the day of the shooting. Since 1972, he had been hospitalized several times for alcoholism, most recently at a Veterans Administration hospital from June 6-9, 1983, a week and a half before the shooting. During the day and night before the shooting, defendant had consumed almost three pints of rum and approximately fourteen cans of beer. He went to sleep around 11:30 p.m., awoke at 5:30 a.m., and before leaving the house between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., drank a substantial amount of rum as well as a "king-size" beer.

Relying on the Model Jury Charge, the court instructed the jury on intoxication:

There is presented to this jury evidence concerning the use of alcohol by this defendant and whether or not on the day in question he was intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol. Let me state to you that generally a defendant is not relieved of criminal responsibility because he is found to have acted under the influence of an intoxicating beverage. The general assumption is that every man is normal and is possessed of ordinary faculties. The State need not prove that the defendant was sober. You may consider the evidence as to the defendant's consumption of alcoholic beverages in determining whether or not he was intoxicated to such a degree that you could believe he was incapable of acts purposely or knowingly, and I will hereafter define purposely for you. However, once a defendant produces evidence of his intoxication, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that such intoxication did not render him incapable of acting purposely or knowingly.

Intoxication under our law means a disturbance of the mental or physical capacities resulting from the introduction of the alcoholic substances into the body. In considering the question of ...

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