On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.
For affirmance in part, reversal in part and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pollock, Clifford, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- Justice Handler. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Wilentz, C.J. O'Hern, J., concurring in the result. Handler, J., dissenting.
In this matter and in State v. Biegenwald, 106 N.J. 13 (1987), also decided today, the defendant has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In their appeals, both defendants attack the constitutionality of this state's capital punishment act (L. 1982, c. 111) under the federal and New Jersey Constitutions. They also contend that various trial errors warrant reversal of their convictions and their sentences.
We hold that the capital punishment act is in all respects constitutional. We sustain the verdict of guilty in each case. We conclude, however, that critical portions of the trial courts' instructions in the sentencing proceedings were erroneous. See infra at 299-300; State v. Biegenwald, supra, 106 N.J. at 190. We therefore reverse the death sentence in each of these cases and remand them to the respective trial courts. The murder conviction in each case is affirmed.
In State v. Biegenwald, the trial court on remand shall conduct a new sentencing proceeding; in the Ramseur matter, because we have ruled that the death penalty cannot be imposed on remand, the trial court shall sentence the defendant,
in accordance with the act, to imprisonment for a specific term of years with no parole eligibility for thirty years.
We will first describe the death penalty act and the facts of this case. We will then treat the constitutional questions and follow that with a discussion of Ramseur's allegations of trial and sentencing errors.*fn1
Before doing so, we note that this case and State v. Biegenwald were among the first capital punishment cases tried under the reimposition of the death penalty in this state. Both the difficulty and responsibility involved in being among the first trial judges to preside over a capital cause were great, as were the talents of the two trial judges who met that challenge. Our disagreement with some of their rulings should not in any way detract from the credit to which they are entitled for the quality of their performance.*fn2
New Jersey's death penalty act (hereafter referred to as "the Act") was passed in 1982 as an amendment to the murder provisions of our Code of Criminal Justice. N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3. Inasmuch as this is the first case to come before this Court challenging the validity of a sentence imposed pursuant to the Act, we will set forth the provisions of the legislation in some detail.
The Act calls for a bifurcated trial in which punishment is determined in a separate proceeding following the establishment of guilt. Sec. c(1).*fn3 In the guilt phase, the central question is whether the defendant committed murder, i.e., whether he purposely or knowingly caused death or participated in one of a number of crimes during the commission of which death resulted (similar to the former common-law crime of "felony murder"). Sec. a(1), (2), and (3). A defendant is subject to a separate sentencing proceeding, i.e., is "death-eligible," only if he has been found guilty of purposeful and knowing murder and committed the murder by his own hand or paid someone else to do so. Sec. c. "Death-eligible" defendants face either death or at least a thirty-year term of imprisonment without parole, depending on the outcome of the sentencing proceeding. Sec. c(1). Defendants convicted of murder but not "death-eligible" are sentenced to a prison term of at least thirty years without parole. Sec. b.
In the sentencing proceeding, ordinarily conducted before the same jury that determined guilt, the State is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of one or more "aggravating factors" specifically set forth in Section c(4)(a)-(h). The aggravating factors are:
(a) The defendant has previously been convicted of murder;
(b) In the commission of the murder, the defendant purposely or knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim;
(c) The murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery*fn4 to the victim;
(d) The defendant committed the murder as consideration for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt of any thing of pecuniary value;
(e) The defendant procured the commission of the offense by payment or promise of payment of anything of pecuniary value;
(f) The murder was committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, punishment or confinement for another offense committed by the defendant or another;
(g) The offense was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit robbery, sexual assault, arson, burglary or kidnapping; or
(h) The defendant murdered a public servant, as defined in [ N.J.S.A. ] 2C:27-1, while the victim was engaged in the performance of his official duties, or because of the victim's status as a public servant.
Thereafter the defendant may produce evidence of any "mitigating factors" set forth in Section c(5)(a)-(h). The mitigating factors are:
(a) The defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance insufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution;
(b) The victim solicited, participated in or consented to the conduct which resulted in his death;
(c) The age of the defendant at the time of the murder;
(d) The defendant's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was significantly impaired as the result of mental disease or defect or intoxication, but not to a degree sufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution;
(e) The defendant was under unusual and substantial duress insufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution;
(f) The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity;
(g) The defendant rendered substantial assistance to the State in the prosecution of another person for the crime of murder; or
(h) Any other factor which is relevant to the defendant's character or record or to the circumstances of the offense.
The State is required to notify the defendant of the aggravating factors that it intends to prove, the notice to be given during discovery in the guilt phase. R. 3:13-4(a); see Sec. c(2)(e). Both the State and the defendant are permitted to rebut the proofs of the other in the sentencing proceeding. Sec. c(2)(d). An amendment to the Act not applicable to these cases requires the State to prove aggravating factors in accordance with the Rules of Evidence while allowing the defendant to establish the existence of mitigating factors by "reliable" relevant evidence, without regard to those Rules. L. 1985, c. 178. The "catch-all" provision of the mitigating factors, Sec. c(5)(h) ("[a]ny other factor which is relevant to the defendant's character or record or to the circumstances of the offense"), has no counterpart in the aggravating factors. This provision is designed to meet the constitutional requirement that the defendant must be allowed to present any relevant evidence in mitigation. See Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 98 S. Ct. 2954, 2964, 57 L. Ed. 2d 973, 990 (1978) (plurality opinion).
If the jury (or the court when there is no jury) finds that the State has proven one or more of the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt and that -- as the statute read at the time of the Ramseur and Biegenwald trials -- any aggravating factor or factors are "not outweighed by one or more of the mitigating factors," the court is required to sentence the defendant to death. Sec. c(2)(a), (3)(a). If the jury does not so find, or if it is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the court shall sentence the defendant to at least a thirty-year prison term without parole. Sec. c(3)(b), (c).
The Legislature twice amended the Act in 1985. L. 1985, c. 178, 478.*fn5 Two of its changes are of substantial importance in these cases. One revision concerns the jury's weighing of the aggravating and mitigating factors; as just discussed, at the time of these trials the statute provided that if the jury found that the aggravating factor or factors were "not outweighed" by the mitigating factors, the defendant would be sentenced to death. Sec. c(3)(a). That section now reads that "if the jury . . . finds that any aggravating factors exist and that all of the aggravating factors outweigh beyond a reasonable doubt all of the mitigating factors, the court shall sentence the defendant to death." For the reasons given in State v. Biegenwald, supra, 106 N.J. at 64-67, our interpretation of this portion of the statute as it read at the time of these trials conforms with this later legislative amendment. That is to say, we read the statute under which Ramseur and Biegenwald were sentenced as requiring, as a condition for the imposition of the death penalty, a jury finding that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Even without the amendment, we believe the history of the Act strongly supports that reading; with the amendment, we think simple justice compels it.
The other important revision for the purpose of these cases was the addition of a new subsection, Section f, that requires
the trial court to inform the jury that its failure to reach a unanimous death verdict will result in sentencing pursuant to Section b, i.e., at least a thirty-year term without parole. L. 1985, c. 178. That amendment strongly supports our conclusion that the trial court in this case committed prejudicial error when it repeatedly attempted to persuade the deadlocked jury to achieve unanimity in the sentencing proceeding.
Finally, the Act provides for appeals from death sentences to this Court as a matter of right, pursuant to our Rules. Sec. e. We have implemented that provision by allowing a direct appeal from the trial court. R. 2:2-1(a)(3). Formerly the Act merely permitted such an appeal; as amended, the Act now requires an appeal to be taken, by the public defender if necessary. L. 1985, c. 478. This amendment codifies our holding in State v. Koedatich, 98 N.J. 553 (1984) (allowing public defender to file appeal on behalf of defendant who did not wish to appeal his death sentence). The Act also formerly required that in an appeal to this Court we determine "whether the sentence is disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant." Sec. e. By virtue of the 1985 amendment (L. 1985, c. 178), however, we now must do so only "[u]pon the request of the defendant."*fn6
Asaline Stokes, the victim in this case, lived with her grandchild across the street from defendant's aunt's house. She and defendant "used to go together," the relationship having apparently existed for several years. On occasion, Ramseur would threaten her, as he did during an argument about a year or year and a half before the killing. On the day following those
threats, after learning a man had been in her house, Ramseur told her, according to one of Ms. Stokes' granddaughters, that "what he say yesterday was about to come true," namely, "that she was going to regret it." That granddaughter also overheard a loud noise during an argument between them that day and upon entering the room, after Ramseur left, she saw her grandmother, Ms. Stokes, lying on the floor with blood coming out of her mouth, blood on the wall, and "like a hole all the way through her cheek." The police were called, and Ms. Stokes was taken to the hospital.
On another occasion, three to four months before the murder, someone rang the doorbell at the Stokes' residence, and as one of her granddaughters tells it, "my grandmother went on the porch and asked who was it and [Ramseur] was -- he backed back down onto the sidewalk so my grandmother could see him and he told my grandmother that he would kill her and the kids or just her by herself. . . ." Ms. Stokes' granddaughter was standing right behind her when that occurred.
The night before the killing, again during an argument, Ms. Stokes told Ramseur that "she's tired of his drinking and tired of him coming up there with her grandkids because if she can't raise them who else was going to raise them?," as recounted by a neighbor who lived next door and heard the exchange. He told her "You'll be sorry." That same evening he took a knife from her kitchen, secretly, he thought, but in fact one of Ms. Stokes' grandchildren saw him. It was the knife he used the next day to kill Ms. Stokes.
On August 25, the day of the killing, Ms. Stokes, one of her grandchildren, some friends of her grandchildren, and a neighbor were on the porch of the neighboring home; another grandchild was on Ms. Stokes' sunporch. Her neighbor was braiding the hair of a young child, and several of the children were teasing each other and generally having fun. At one point, Ms. Stokes left the porch to talk to a mechanic who was standing by the front of a truck near the house. As they
spoke, her neighbor noticed Ramseur "peeping" through the window from his aunt's house across the street. He "had the curtains back, and he [was] looking"; he was "just peeping out, just like this, staring across the street." He did this for a couple of minutes, maybe more.
Ramseur then emerged from the house, walked down the porch steps, and crossed the street to the place near the truck where Ms. Stokes and the mechanic were talking. He patted Ms. Stokes on the shoulder. As one witness recounted:
He walked up to her and just like this, stabbed her. . . . When he stabbed her, she went down and she throwed her hands up and he got on her like this and was stabbing her like this and fell down by the truck and she was laying there and her tongue was coming out and she stretched her leg out like this so he walked [he walked away from her]. . . . Then he came back, then leaned over and stabbed her. . . . He was stabbing her I don't know how many times . . . I know at least four times, all over, and then that's when she went to throw up her arms. It was so many. It were fast. I don't know how many.
Other witnesses also testified that the defendant, after having stabbed Ms. Stokes, began to walk away, but then returned to inflict additional wounds. He told his victim as she lay there, in a voice loud enough to be heard by others, "If I see your kids again I'm going to kill them too."
A Newark police officer who was driving through the area arrived at the scene. He left his patrol car, ran after Ramseur, and ordered him to stop three times before the defendant complied.
When the ambulance arrived Ms. Stokes was lying in the mud bleeding from the chest and face. The two ambulance team members, the emergency room nurse at University Hospital, and the assistant medical examiner of Essex County gave testimony concerning the number of stab wounds received by Ms. Stokes. She had major stab wounds in the face and chest, including two chest wounds about eight and one-half inches deep that pierced the lung. She also received a number of stab wounds on both arms -- called "defense" wounds because they were inflicted when Ms. Stokes "trie[d] to defend herself by either grabbing the knife or protecting herself from the knife."
The wounds were such that Ms. Stokes did not die immediately. As witnesses testified, she kept saying "I'm going to die, I'm going to die," and asked that "somebody hold my hand." She told a grandchild that "she couldn't breathe." When the ambulance arrived she was screaming and saying "I am going to die." As one of the ambulance personnel said, "[a]s I was picking her up to put her on the stretcher, she reached up. She grabbed me by the collar and she told me she was going to die." Her exact words were: "Please help me. I am going to die." "She was moving all over. . . . While we were trying to check her out and lay her on the stretcher, you know, she was kicking, moving, you know, trying to fight with us, you know."
They put her in the ambulance and started fixing her wounds with bandages. When they drove away, according to the ambulance attendant who accompanied her, "she kept on fighting me and saying 'I am going to die. I am going to die.'" She repeated this all the way to the hospital, a ride of four to five minutes. Only upon her arrival at the hospital did she become unconscious. She died at the hospital after an unsuccessful attempt to revive her through direct cardiac massage.
On September 17, 1982, an Essex County grand jury indicted Thomas Ramseur on three counts: (1) murdering Asaline Stokes (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3); (2) knowingly and unlawfully possessing and carrying a knife under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful use (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d); and (3) knowingly and unlawfully possessing a knife with the purpose to use it unlawfully against the person of another (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d).
Defendant filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the indictment because of alleged underrepresentation of certain groups on Essex County jury panels. The jury challenge motion, which was heard after the trial, was denied.
The voir dire of jurors was conducted from April 4, 1983, to April 22, 1983. The trial court placed limits on the types of questions counsel could pose, including restricting questions about race to the single inquiry of whether race would influence
the jurors in reaching a fair and impartial verdict. Initially, the court permitted defense counsel to ask broad questions concerning how prospective jurors felt about the law. After two days, however, he disallowed these questions because he concluded that the proper question was whether the jurors could comport with the law. Six jurors were dismissed for cause on the ground that they could not comport with the law. Neither side used all its peremptory challenges.
At trial, the State presented a number of witnesses who testified about the events of August 25, 1982, and the threats that Ramseur had made. There was also testimony concerning the medical treatment received by Ms. Stokes.
A number of witnesses testified for the defendant. It was conceded that he committed the killing. Friends and relatives of Ramseur testified that his behavior had substantially changed after June 1982, when he apparently was the victim of a mugging. They testified that this incident precipitated a change in his personality.
Dr. Mark Mishkin, a neuroradiologist, testified that Ramseur had atrophy (a shrinkage or wasting) of the brain in the frontal and temporal lobes. He labelled the atrophy progressive based on CAT scans performed on Ramseur. Dr. Mishkin, on cross-examination, stated that such a pathology would not preclude normal conduct.
Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who had examined Ramseur, testified that he suffered from psychomotor seizures, a type of epilepsy. During a seizure an individual may lose control over his or her behavior. Violence is possible if the person is also paranoid and provoking circumstances exist. Dr. Lewis further testified that Ramseur was paranoid. Dr. Lewis stated that the stabbing occurred during such a psychomotor seizure.
The trial court ruled that evidence of Ramseur's 1966 killing of his first wife was admissible because it formed a significant basis for the experts' opinions, and because its prejudicial
potential was minimal given that the defense admitted that Ramseur killed Ms. Stokes. Its purpose was to rebut the defense of diminished capacity.
Various other experts, for the State on rebuttal and for the defendant on surrebuttal, testified concerning Ramseur's mental condition.
The trial court instructed the jury that insanity or diminished capacity was a complete defense to the murder charge. Defense counsel wanted to waive the insanity instruction. Defense counsel also objected to the court's instruction that if the jury found that Ramseur suffered from diminished capacity it must acquit him, and argued that if the jury made such a finding, Ramseur could be found guilty of manslaughter. The court overruled the objections. The jury found Ramseur guilty of murder.*fn7
During the sentencing proceedings, after three and one-half hours of deliberations the jury sent a note to the trial court stating "Jury unable to reach a unanimous decision. Suggestions please." Over defense counsel's objections, the court charged the jurors to continue deliberating, sequestered them for the night, and required them to recommence deliberations the next morning. The court also issued supplemental instructions to the jury that repeatedly emphasized the importance of the jury's reaching a unanimous verdict.
Eventually, the jury found that two aggravating factors were present: that the murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim, Sec. c(4)(c), and that Ramseur had previously been convicted of murder, Sec. c(4)(a). Two mitigating factors were also found: that defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance insufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution, Sec. c(5)(a), and that defendant's capacity to appreciate the
wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was significantly impaired as the result of mental disease or defect or intoxication, but not to a degree sufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution. Sec. c(5)(d). The jury found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Ramseur was sentenced to death.
The Act is attacked, on both federal and state constitutional grounds,*fn8 as violating the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV; N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, para. 12. One prong of that attack contends that every death penalty statute, regardless of its provisions, is unconstitutional; capital punishment, defendant contends, conflicts with contemporary standards of decency, constitutes disproportionate punishment, serves no penological purpose, is inevitably discriminatory, and in all those respects constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Implicit in the contention of lack of penological justification is a claim of denial of substantive due process, and implicit in the contention that the death penalty is inevitably discriminatory is a claim of denial of equal protection.
The second prong of the attack contends that this statute does not sufficiently guide jury discretion in imposing the death penalty, that it allows death to strike arbitrarily, discriminatorily, and unpredictably, and that it is therefore cruel and unusual "in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual," Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 309, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed. 2d 346, 390 (1972) (Stewart, J., concurring). Defendant also attacks a specific aggravating factor of
the Act, Section c(4)(c) ("The murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim"), as being so vague that its application in any case, and in this case, violates due process, i.e., deprives him of his life without due process of law. No limiting construction, it is said, can save this provision.
Before treating these contentions, we note our agreement that the testing of a death penalty law by both federal and state constitutional standards is appropriate. That capital punishment is a matter of particular state interest or local concern and does not require a uniform national policy (see State v. Hunt, 91 N.J. 338, 366 (1982) (Handler, J., concurring)) is evident, not just to this Court but to the Supreme Court of the United States. See California v. Ramos, 463 U.S. 992, 1013-14, 103 S. Ct. 3446, 3459-60, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1171, 1188-89 (1983) (noting in capital case that "[i]t is elementary that States are free to provide greater protections in their criminal justice system than the Federal Constitution requires"). Indeed, two states have declared their death penalty laws violative of their own state constitutions. People v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628, 493 P. 2d 880, 100 Cal.Rptr. 152, cert. den., 406 U.S. 958, 92 S. Ct. 2060, 32 L. Ed. 2d 344 (1972); District Attorney v. Watson, 381 Mass. 648, 411 N.E. 2d 1274 (1980). Application of state constitutional provisions to these questions is particularly appropriate in view of the "[c]onsiderations of federalism" that have constrained the United States Supreme Court in this area. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 186, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 2931, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859, 882 (1976) (plurality opinion) (upholding states' right to impose death penalty under federal Constitution).
Ultimately, however, we conclude that both Constitutions produce the same results when applied to these issues. Cf. Greenberg v. Kimmelman, 99 N.J. 552, 569 (1985) ("In some cases our analysis of article I, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution may lead to a different result from that required
by the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. In this case, however, the two constitutions point toward the same result."). Quite frequently we rely here on the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's plurality opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859, in support of our conclusions. We do so fully aware that in determining the validity of a state action challenged under our own Constitution, we are not obliged to adhere to the reasoning or the results of the Supreme Court's federal constitutional decisions. That we are not required to follow the Supreme Court's analysis does not, however, mean that we are precluded from following that analysis where we find it persuasive, as we often do in this case.*fn9 See State v. Hunt, supra, 91 N.J. at 363 (Handler, J., concurring) ("The opinions of the Supreme Court, while not controlling on state courts construing their own constitutions, are nevertheless important guides on the subjects which they squarely address.").
A. Constitutionality of Death Penalty Per Se
Defendant claims that no matter how written, a statute providing for capital punishment inflicts cruel and unusual
punishment, since the death penalty violates contemporary standards of decency, is disproportionate, has no penological justification, and is inevitably discriminatory.
To the extent that defendant relies on the eighth amendment as made applicable to the states through the fourteenth amendment, see Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666, 82 S. Ct. 1417, 1420, 8 L. Ed. 2d 758, 763 (1962), his contention may be summarily dismissed. Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859. As noted above, however, this Court recognizes its freedom -- indeed its duty -- to undertake a separate analysis under the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the New Jersey Constitution.
The test to determine whether a punishment is cruel and unusual under Article I, paragraph 12, of our Constitution is generally the same as that applied under the federal Constitution. Three inquiries are required. First, does the punishment for the crime conform with contemporary standards of decency? Second, is the punishment grossly disproportionate to the offense? Third, does the punishment go beyond what is necessary to accomplish any legitimate penological objective? Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 173, 96 S. Ct. at 2925, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 874-75; State v. Des Marets, 92 N.J. 62, 82 (1983); State v. Hampton, 61 N.J. 250, 273-74 (1972).
In determining whether the death penalty conforms with contemporary standards of decency, we first observe that there is nothing in New Jersey's legislative, judicial, or cultural history and traditions to suggest there is a significantly different attitude toward capital punishment in this state from that prevailing nationwide. Death has been regarded as an appropriate punishment for murder throughout this state's history. See L. 1898, c. 235, sec. 108; L. 1796, c. DC, sec. 3; N.J. Revision 1709-1877, Crimes, sec. 68, at 239 (death penalty was mandatory for all first-degree murders from 1709 to 1877). It would be very difficult to sustain the argument that the framers of our 1947 Constitution viewed capital punishment beyond the pale of
a civilized society. Indeed, the very same constitutional documents that prohibit the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment contain provisions implicitly recognizing the appropriateness of capital punishment. N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, para. 11 (referring to power to deny bail to persons accused of "capital offenses"); N.J. Const. of 1947 art. VI, sec. 5, para. 1(c) (authorizing direct appeal to this Court in "capital causes"); N.J. Const. of 1844 art. I, para. 10 (referring to power to deny bail to persons accused of "capital offenses"). In his monograph to the Constitutional Convention, Dean Heckel specifically wrote that the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the proposed Constitution would not per se prohibit capital punishment. Heckel, "The Bill of Rights," in 2 Proceedings of the State of New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1947 at 1336, 1354 (S. Goldmann & H. Crystal ed. 1951).
New Jersey courts have upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty. In State v. Tomassi, 75 N.J.L. 739 (1907), the Court of Errors and Appeals rejected the claim that electrocution, preceded by solitary confinement, constituted cruel and unusual punishment under our Constitution. Id. at 746-47. More recently, this Court rejected an attack based on the eighth amendment, finding that "the judiciary cannot say that the death penalty is now beyond 'the limits of civilized standards.'" State v. Forcella, 52 N.J. 263, 293 (1968) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 98, 78 S. Ct. 590, 596, 2 L. Ed. 2d 630, 641 (1958) (plurality opinion)), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Funicello v. New Jersey, 403 U.S. 948, 91 S. Ct. 2278, 29 L. Ed. 2d 859 (1971).
This historical background, while relevant, is not in and of itself dispositive of our resolution of the legal issue. Constitutional provisions drafted in different times and intended to embody general principles need not be limited to the specifics then in the minds of the framers. See generally Brennan, "Constitutional Adjudication and the Death Penalty: A View From the Court," 100 Harv.L.Rev. 313, 325-28 (1986);
Munzer & Nickel, "Does the Constitution Mean What It Always Meant?," 77 Colum.L.Rev. 1029, 1042-45, 1050 (1977) (discussing new meanings given to Constitution generally, and to eighth amendment in particular). Thus even the fact that the very same Constitution that contains the prohibition also clearly contemplates death as a permissible punishment is not dispositive. Obviously what was thought not cruel then may be viewed differently now. See Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 378, 30 S. Ct. 544, 553, 54 L. Ed. 793, 803 (1910) (cruel and unusual punishment clause "may acquire meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice"); Trop v. Dulles, supra, 356 U.S. at 101, 78 S. Ct. at 598, 2 L. Ed. 2d at 642 (amendment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society"). Our search must be for contemporary standards of decency.
The view that the death penalty does not accord with contemporary standards of decency draws much of its support from those convinced, for many reasons, of the death penalty's futility, indecency and inhumanity. They include some of the best-informed students of the subject, many of whom believe that society would share their views if it were better informed. See, e.g., Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S. at 362, 92 S. Ct. at 2789, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 420 (Marshall, J., concurring); cf. Bedau, "Thinking of the Death Penalty as a Cruel and Unusual Punishment," 18 U.C.D.L.Rev. 873, 923 (1985) (referring to the "handful of literate friends of the death penalty"). The "contemporary standard of decency" against which the death penalty must be tested, however, is that of the community, not that of its scientists, penologists, or jurists.
We therefore will not detail the arguments on both sides of this issue -- including the horrors of the punishment inflicted on the murderer by society, or those inflicted on the victim by the murderer -- for we do not regard this question as requiring or even permitting our resolution of the many conflicting
values. Nor does the question relate to the citizen's possible response in an academic discussion of the death penalty, of good and evil, of the aims of punishment, and of the ultimate nature and fate of humanity. Rather, the question is one of fact: do the contemporary standards of morality in our society deem capital punishment to be an appropriate penalty for murder? We have no doubt of the answer: although the view is not unanimous, it is a widely held belief, and a strongly held one in our society, that the appropriate penalty for murder may be death.
One of the strongest indicators of this contemporary standard is the fact that the Legislature passed the Act in 1982. Obviously, passage of that law cannot be dispositive. Such an interpretation would render the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments a mere tautology, eliminating its function as a limitation on legislative power. Nevertheless, since contemporary community standards are the test, such recent legislation, enacted by those who represent the community, must be given great deference. See Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 175, 96 S. Ct. at 2926, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 876.
We are confident that the presumptive evidence provided by the Legislature's enactment of a death penalty statute is not rebutted by other evidence of community standards. The absence in New Jersey of any executions since 1963 is sometimes relied on as an objective indicator of contemporary standards, the position being that what society does is more important than what it says. The facts when understood, however, support rather than undermine the conclusion that the death penalty does not conflict with contemporary moral standards. As Chief Justice Weintraub said in his concurring opinion in State v. Funicello, 60 N.J. 60, cert. den. sub nom. New Jersey v. Presha, 408 U.S. 942, 92 S. Ct. 2849, 33 L. Ed. 2d 766 (1972):
There has been a suspension of capital punishment in this country for a number of years -- since 1963 in our State. The reason is that the Federal Supreme Court has not reached for and resolved known issues as to the constitutionality of capital punishment. The failure to do so has effectively ended capital
punishment with respect to every defendant sentenced to death before the Federal Supreme Court lays the issues to rest. [ Id. at 82.]
During that period, moreover, as indicated from our own review of the history of individual death sentences, defendants successfully avoided execution by innumerable proceedings and applications before our state courts, federal courts, and back and forth. In other words, the lack of executions may have had more to do with judicial standards than with community standards.
If the actions of jurors are to be taken as a true reflection of society's morality, the most recent evidence strongly supports the view that the death penalty does not violate contemporary standards of decency. Since the restoration of capital punishment in 1982, juries in this state have imposed twenty-six sentences of death. Letter from Office of the Public Defender, Feb. 17, 1987. And while our inquiry is necessarily limited to New Jersey, the passage since 1972 of death penalty statutes in thirty-seven states, see "Capital Punishment in 1984: Abandoning the Pursuit of Fairness and Consistency," 69 Cornell L.Rev. 1129, 1217 (1984), is strong evidence of community standards here. Despite our diversity, we are a nation of shared values. When, in the course of a decade, thirty-seven states call for the death penalty, the probability that the legislature of each state accurately reflects its community's standards approaches certainty.
If there was some decrease in support for the death penalty during the 1960s, if there were more people then than there are now who found the infliction of death indecent and immoral, the evidence does not suggest that the change was significant or of long duration. When the meaning of a constitutional provision depends, as does the cruel and unusual punishment clause, on community standards, and when the consequent validity of the most important laws -- laws affecting life and death -- depends, therefore, also on those standards, the judiciary must measure this critical factor with a scale that registers only changes of significance, significant not only in the extent of change, but
also in the duration of change in light of our history. As far as we can see, nothing even approaching that kind of change occurred in the 1960s or has ever occurred in this country or in this state on this issue.*fn10
We hold that New Jersey's death penalty does not conflict with contemporary standards of decency in this state. The claim that it is in violation of our state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment on this basis must therefore be denied.
It is further claimed that the death penalty is grossly disproportionate punishment, and that any death penalty statute therefore violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause.
A function of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments is to guard against punishments that are grossly disproportionate in relation to the crime. State v. Des Marets, supra, 92 N.J. at 82. Under the eighth amendment, the United States Supreme Court has invalidated the death penalty as an excessive and disproportionate punishment when imposed for the rape of an adult, Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584, 97 S. Ct. 2861, 53 L. Ed. 2d 982 (1977), or for participation in a felony as the driver of a getaway car where the homicide was committed by others and the defendant had no intent to kill, Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782, 102 S. Ct. 3368, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1140 (1982).
When the crime is murder, however, the claim that punishment by death is by its very nature "disproportionate" loses
meaning. Neither of the objective grounds relied on as indicators of the death penalty's excessiveness in the circumstances presented in Coker and Enmund, the attitudes of legislatures nationwide and the practices of juries, supports the claim that the death penalty is an excessive punishment for murder. All thirty-seven states that have enacted post- Furman death penalty statutes include murder as an eligible offense, and, as previously noted, twenty-six juries have imposed the death penalty for murder since the revival of capital punishment in this state in 1982. Nor can we say that "our own judgment," Coker v. Georgia, supra, 433 U.S. at 597, 97 S. Ct. at 2868, 53 L. Ed. 2d at 992, leads us to a different conclusion. "Murder is the most heinous and vile offense proscribed by our criminal laws." State v. Serrone, 95 N.J. 23, 27 (1983). Measuring the punishment, death, against the crime, causing death, it is most difficult to appreciate the death penalty's excessiveness.
We believe that the claim of "disproportionality," in the death penalty context, is a short-hand method of expressing either the contention that the legitimate penological goals of society could be, and therefore must be, served by a lesser punishment, or the contention that the death penalty violates contemporary standards of morality. These contentions are better dealt with on their own merits. We therefore agree with the plurality in Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 187, 96 S. Ct. at 2931, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 882, that although the death penalty is severe and irrevocable, it is not an excessive or disproportionate penalty for the crime of murder.
Defendant claims that the Act, indeed every death penalty act, has no justifiable penological purpose and therefore violates the cruel and unusual punishment provision of our Constitution. Amicus American Civil Liberties Union advances the related argument that the cruel and unusual punishment clause, in conjunction with Article I, paragraph 1, of our Constitution,*fn11
requires the State to demonstrate a compelling governmental interest and the unavailability of less restrictive measures before it may intentionally deprive someone of the fundamental right to life.
We believe that these contentions misconceive the constitutional guarantees upon which they rely.*fn12 Our function [106 NJ Page 177] is not to determine whether, in our opinion, any penological ends served by the death penalty are compelling or legitimate. Nor is it thought to be appropriate for the judiciary to invalidate a particular statutory punishment on the ground that something less might accomplish the same penological goal. See, e.g., Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 175, 96 S. Ct. at 2926, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 876. Our ban on cruel and unusual punishments is not a vehicle for enforcing judicial notions of penological "reasonableness." Cf. Heckel, supra, at 1355 (proposed amendment to substitute "excessive and unreasonable punishments" for "cruel and unusual punishments" was defeated). "'Legislatures, not courts, prescribe the scope of punishments.'" State v. Des Marets, supra, 92 N.J. at 66 n. 2 (quoting Missouri v. Hunter, 459 U.S. 359, 368, 103 S. Ct. 673, 679, 74 L. Ed. 2d 535, 544 (1983)). Especially when dealing with the "particularly egregious offense" of murder, "great deference
must be given to the legislative intent governing sentencing." State v. Serrone, supra, 95 N.J. at 27.
The question before us is the far more narrow one of whether the enactment of the Act was a legitimate exercise of the Legislature's power, and we must conclude that this power was legitimately exercised unless the punishment "is so clearly arbitrary and without rational relation to the offense" as to require this Court to find that the Legislature has exceeded its "very wide discretion" in this area. See State v. Smith, 58 N.J. 202, 211 (1971).
The legislative history of the Act provides no persuasive evidence of the Legislature's purpose. We will therefore assume that the Legislature intended one or more of the well-recognized penological purposes underlying all criminal sanctions: deterrence (both general and specific), retribution, and rehabilitation. See, e.g., State v. Ivan, 33 N.J. 197, 199 (1960). Quite clearly rehabilitation is not intended, so we will deal only with deterrence and retribution.
There is apparently a school of thought that contends that retribution (punishment) without more is not a justifiable penological goal. See, e.g., People v. Anderson, supra, 6 Cal. 3d at 651, 493 P. 2d at 896, 100 Cal.Rptr. at 168. While this Court on occasion seems to have expressed some sympathy with that view, see State v. Ivan, supra, 33 N.J. at 199 ("retribution is not a favored thesis"); State v. Leggeadrini, 75 N.J. 150, 162 (1977), more recently that position, if such it be, has changed. See State v. Yarbough, 100 N.J. 627, 635 (1985) (noting that contemporary model for sentencing in New Jersey is "based on notions of proportionality and desert"), cert. den., U.S. , 106 S. Ct. 1193, 89 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1986); State v. Roth, 95 N.J. 334, 345-51 (1984) (describing the demise of the rehabilitation and prediction-of-future-dangerousness theories of punishment in the 1970s and the reemergence of "just deserts" principle as a primary penological aim); In re Trantino Parole Application, 89 N.J. 347, 373 (1982) (requiring parole determinations
to include consideration of whether the "punitive aspects" of sentence have been satisfied). In defendant's view, to inflict the death penalty for retributive reasons is "to devalue life" and "to abandon respect for the individual." Society, however, apparently regards the nonimposition of the death penalty in certain instances as a failure to uphold the value of human life, namely, the life extinguished by the murderer. The Constitution does not require society to share defendant's view. Justice and the perception that justice is done are indispensable to the survival of an ordered society. The Legislature, speaking for its citizens, has determined that the demands of justice are met by executing those who murder. Society's views here must be given primacy.
We thus agree with the United States Supreme Court that retribution constitutes a valid penological objective for the death penalty. Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 183-84, 96 S. Ct. at 2929-30, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 880-81. As the Court in Gregg said:
[C]apital punishment is an expression of society's moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct. This function may be unappealing to many, but it is essential in an ordered society that asks its citizens to rely on legal processes rather than self help to vindicate their wrongs. [ Id. at 183, 96 S. Ct. at 2929, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 880.]
These authorities, and many others,*fn13 demonstrate sufficient respectable support for the proposition that retribution is a legitimate penological goal to allow a Legislature to fix punishment with that goal in mind.
The argument about deterrence is different. All accept its legitimacy as a penological goal; the division, and it is a sharp one, concerns an empirical question. Does the death
penalty deter murder? The answers, the reasons, and the statistics conflict and proliferate,*fn14 but add up to only one conclusion: the Legislature could reasonably find that the death penalty deters murder, just as it could find that it does not. Given the plethora of scientific analysis, "common-sense" explanations of the penalty's deterrent effect based on logic, see, e.g., id. at 186, 96 S. Ct. at 2931, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 881-82 (assuming that death penalty may deter "carefully contemplated murders"), are neither persuasive nor important. Given the conflicting and inconclusive evidence, we cannot say that a legislative conclusion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is so clearly arbitrary and irrational as to constitute an illegitimate exercise of power.*fn15
We respect the arguments of those who believe that a more enlightened view is that the death penalty serves no legitimate penological purpose. In this area of crime and punishment, however, it is not our function to weigh competing arguments and determine which is more enlightened. State v. Des Marets, supra, 92 N.J. at 66. The wisdom of the death penalty is not for this Court to decide.
Ordinarily the kind of claim here asserted would be summarily dismissed. We would never spend more than a sentence responding to a defendant's claim that, for instance, a particular prison term serves no penological purpose for the crime involved, and indeed such a contention is so clearly lacking in legal substance that it is almost never made. The penalty of
death rather than imprisonment is involved here, however. The difference requires this more extended treatment. Ultimately, however, even when it comes to the death penalty, we agree with Chief Justice Weintraub that "[a]s to the question whether the death penalty serves a useful end, and its morality and fairness, these are matters which rest solely with the legislative branch of government." State v. Forcella, supra, 52 N.J. at 293 (emphasis added).
Finally, defendant contends that the death penalty inherently discriminates on the basis of race and hence is unconstitutional.*fn16
We are well aware of the history of discrimination against blacks in this country and of the role that discrimination played in the decision in Furman to strike down all then-existing death penalty statutes. See Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S. at 249-57, 92 S. Ct. at 2731-35, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 355-60 (Douglas, J., concurring); id. at 364-65, 92 S. Ct. at 2790, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 421 (Marshall, J., concurring). While the requirement that a capital jury's discretion be rationally guided protects the rights of all persons accused of a capital crime, it can appropriately be regarded as a special protection for black defendants. We are not convinced that this requirement has failed in other states, and inevitably will fail in this state, to perform this function. No court has found constitutionally significant evidence of racial discrimination in the application of a post- Furman death penalty statute,*fn17 and no such evidence has been presented to us in this case.
Suffice it to say that this Court will receive any evidence on this issue and that we will, in addition, attempt to monitor the racial aspects of the application of the Act. We refuse, however, preemptively to invalidate the Act on the theory that it will inevitably be applied in a racially discriminatory fashion.
We hold that capital punishment is not per se a violation of our state constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishments.
B. Constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3
Defendant contends that even if capital punishment is not per se unconstitutional, the particular capital punishment statute adopted by the Legislature violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments by failing to narrow sufficiently the jury's discretion in determining who will receive the death sentence. We will examine this contention first under the eighth amendment to the federal Constitution and then under our own state Constitution, independent state constitutional analysis being, as we have noted, appropriate in this area.
To assess defendant's federal constitutional argument, we must review the United States Supreme Court's difficult struggle to ensure that any system of capital punishment is "at once consistent and principled but also humane and sensible to the uniqueness of the individual." Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 110, 102 S. Ct. 869, 874, 71 L. Ed. 2d 1, 8 (1982). At one time, the Supreme Court ridiculed the futility of any requirement designed to limit jury discretion in capital cases:
To identify before the fact those characteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for the death penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can be fairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be tasks which are beyond present human ability. [ McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 204, 91 S. Ct. 1454, 1465, 28 L. Ed. 2d 711, 724 (1971).]
One year later, in Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed. 2d 346, the Court invalidated every death penalty statute in the nation essentially for failing to do that which McGautha said could not be done. At the heart of Furman was the concern that, by placing uncontrolled discretion in the hands of jurors, our legal system had failed to provide a "meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed from the many cases in which it is not," id. at 313, 92 S. Ct. at 2764, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 392 (White, J., concurring), thus permitting this uniquely severe punishment to be "wantonly and . . . freakishly imposed." Id. at 310, 92 S. Ct. at 2762, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 390 (Stewart, J., concurring).
Furman suggested that to pass constitutional muster, a capital punishment statute must achieve two objectives: limit imposition of the penalty to what is assumed to be the small group for which is it appropriate, see id. at 310, 92 S. Ct. at 2762, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 390 (White, J., concurring), and ensure that the limited class selected for the penalty is chosen with rationality and consistency, see id. at 310, 92 S. Ct. at 2762, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 390 (Stewart, J., concurring). Both requirements are aimed primarily at eliminating the arbitrary nature of capital proceedings in the past and their high risk of discrimination. Death penalty statutes enacted after Furman, modeled on the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code § 210.6 (Proposed Official Draft 1962), attempted to adhere to these principles. A key feature was bifurcation. In the first proceeding of the bifurcated system, those murderers potentially subject to the death penalty are identified by the defining provisions of each statute. This proceeding narrows the class to "death eligibles." In the second proceeding, the sentencing proceeding, the narrow class is further limited by the jury's application of statutory identifying factors.
In Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859, the Supreme Court declared the Georgia post- Furman death penalty statute constitutional. The bifurcated
proceeding, the use in the sentencing proceeding of aggravating and mitigating factors, the instruction that the jury must find at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt, and the provisions for appellate review were deemed to constitute sufficient guidance of the jury's discretion. Id. at 206-07, 96 S. Ct. at 2940-41, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 893. The Court apparently found no constitutional infirmity in the absence of any guidance in the Georgia statute as to how the jury should weigh aggravating and mitigating factors; as the Court later explained, Gregg 's validation of the Georgia act makes it apparent that the initial narrowing process itself will satisfy Furman even though, at the end of the process, there is significant un guided discretion left to the jury. See Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 875, 103 S. Ct. 2733, 2741, 77 L. Ed. 2d 235, 248-49 (1983). Based largely on the reasoning in Gregg, the Court also sustained the revised Florida and Texas death penalty statutes. See Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 96 S. Ct. 2960, 49 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1976); Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 96 S. Ct. 2950, 49 L. Ed. 2d 949 (1976).
At the same time, however, the Court made clear that there are also constitutional constraints on the degree to which a capital jury's discretion may be controlled. The Court invalidated the death penalty statutes of North Carolina and Louisiana because they provided for a mandatory death sentence in certain circumstances upon the jury's return of a guilty verdict. Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 96 S. Ct. 2978, 49 L. Ed. 2d 944 (1976); Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 96 S. Ct. 3001, 49 L. Ed. 2d 974 (1976). By preventing the "particularized consideration" of a convicted defendant's character and record, the mandatory death penalty failed to meet the special constitutional "need for reliability" in meting out the sentence of death. Woodson v. North Carolina, supra, 428 U.S. at 303, 305, 96 S. Ct. at 2990, 2991, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 960-61. In addition, the purported advantage of the mandatory death sentence, an assurance of consistency, was thought to be more apparent than real, because it is outweighed by the disadvantage that
history has taught us inheres in such schemes: juries will simply not convict, they will act on factors not set forth by statute (in effect they will nullify the law), and the outcome will actually be significantly more unpredictable and less consistent than that under a statute providing for some measure of jury discretion. Id. at 302-03, 96 S. Ct. at 2990, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 959-60.
Later cases expanded on the reliability principle. The Court in Lockett v. Ohio, supra, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S. Ct. 2954, 57 L. Ed. 2d 973, ruled that a death penalty law may not provide for the exclusion of any mitigating evidence concerning the defendant's character or record or the circumstances of the offense. The breadth of this ruling was enlarged in Green v. Georgia, 442 U.S. 95, 99 S. Ct. 2150, 60 L. Ed. 2d 738 (1979), which required the admission of a statement, offered as mitigating evidence, that would have been excluded under Georgia's hearsay rule.
Two principles emerge from the Court's decisions in and since Furman requiring a capital jury's discretion to be channeled: that decisions to impose the death sentence be consistent (in the sense of consistency with other decisions to impose or not to impose death) and that they be reliable (in the sense that the individual defendant is deserving of the punishment). Sometimes conflicting, the two principles of consistency and reliability reflect the increased demands of accuracy and fairness, rising to constitutional dimension, in the implementation of this unique criminal sanction.
We believe that the Act fully conforms with the constitutional requirements set forth by the United States Supreme Court. Our statute is substantially patterned on the Georgia statute upheld in Gregg and later in Zant v. Stephens, supra, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S. Ct. 2733, 77 L. Ed. 2d 235. As the Court in Gregg noted, the fact that a death penalty statute is constructed along the general lines of the Georgia act is not in and of itself a guarantee of constitutional validity; constitutional review of each statutory system remains a necessity. Gregg
v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 195 & n. 46, 96 S. Ct. at 2935 & n. 46, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 887 & n. 46. Nevertheless, the Act contains all of the essential features: a narrowing of the class of death eligibles, a bifurcated trial, a requirement that the jury find at least one aggravating factor and then weigh the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors, a "catch-all" mitigating factor that will allow the introduction of any mitigating evidence relevant to the defendant's character or record or to the circumstances of the offense, no mandatory sentence of death for any offense, and a provision for appellate review by this Court.*fn18
The statute additionally provides several procedural protections for the defendant that are not required under the constitutional analysis of the Supreme Court. The jury must find that aggravating factors exist beyond a reasonable doubt, and that they outweigh mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. This Court not only has mandatory appellate review, but also the authorization to conduct proportionality review upon the defendant's request. And Section c(3)(c), providing that in the event of deadlock at the penalty proceeding the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment, assures to some extent that doubtful cases (as indicated by the deadlock) will not result in death, lending further support to the consistency and reliability of the statutory scheme.
Defendant claims, however, that our statute is constitutionally infirm in its initial failure to exempt any murderers from potential subjection to the death penalty (with the exception of those who did not cause death by their own conduct or pay someone to do so). He notes that under New Jersey's prior [106 NJ Page 187] death penalty law, only those defendants convicted of deliberate premeditated murder or felony murder were subject to a death sentence. We will assume that the class of murderers who have caused death purposely or knowingly*fn19 by their own hand, or have paid someone else to do so, is larger than those formerly encompassed within first-degree murder in this state. The comparison, however, is irrelevant: there is no constitutional requirement that, at the first stage of narrowing (at the guilt phase), the class covered must be smaller than the class ultimately subject to the death penalty under a state's prior statute. Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing in any United States Supreme Court case to suggest that the death eligible class may not be defined precisely as New Jersey has defined it.*fn20
Nor is the further narrowing subject to constitutional objection. It is true that any aggravating factor may alone lead to death, and that one aggravating factor -- that the murder was committed in conjunction with a robbery, rape, burglary, arson, or kidnapping (Sec. c(4)(g)) -- includes a very substantial portion of all murders. But ultimately the question remains, is the jury's discretion sufficiently guided? Our conclusion is that it is. There is nothing in any of the cases that suggests such a classification is invalid. It is capable of fairly exact definition, thereby assuring consistency, and will ultimately be tested by the almost limitless introduction of mitigating factors, thereby tending to assure reliability.
There is one class of murder in which a factor defines both death eligibility as well as selection for the penalty itself. The defendant who pays another to commit knowing or purposeful murder and is therefore death eligible (Sec. c) will, without proof of any further aggravating factor (since such payment itself is an aggravating factor, Sec. c(4)(e)), be subject to the death penalty if that aggravating factor outweighs any mitigating factors. But there is nothing whatsoever unconstitutional about that. The definition of the circumstance is precise, and the penalty therefor consistent.*fn21
We hold that the Act is constitutional under the eighth amendment to the federal Constitution.
We conclude, furthermore, that the Act is valid under the New Jersey Constitution. We read Article I, paragraph 12 of our Constitution as also mandating the goals of consistency and reliability in the administration of capital punishment. The state Constitution thus provides an additional and, where appropriate, more expansive source of protections against the arbitrary and nonindividualized imposition of the death penalty. As our dissenting colleague has demonstrated, see post at 351-369, in recent years the United States Supreme Court has departed from the vigorous enforcement of these constitutional principles, particularly the principle of consistency. We are not obliged to follow the reasoning of all these United States Supreme Court decisions in interpreting our own state constitutional protections, nor do we intend to.
But the fact that the Supreme Court has faltered in its pursuit of consistency and reliability does not, as the dissent suggests, mean that the goals themselves are "fundamentally contradictory -- perhaps unattainable." Post at 347. The concept of "guided discretion" is no stranger to our jurisprudence. Indeed, our criminal justice system's sentencing policies generally -- apart from the death penalty -- are based on it. See State v. Roth, supra, 95 N.J. at 358. In the context of the death penalty, where the demands for fairness and accuracy are heightened, the principles of consistency and reliability rise to constitutional dimension. While there is an undeniable measure of "doctrinal tension" between these principles (see post at 339-340), we cannot agree that "doctrinal tension" is a basis for depriving society of the ability to ordain what it believes to be the appropriate sanction for murder. Here as in numerous other contexts, this Court must strike the best balance we can
between competing values. Hard cases there will be, but we have always believed that the judiciary's role in such cases is to find the right answer, not to shrink from our responsibility to apply the law.*fn22
We must therefore arrive at an independent determination under our Constitution that the Act contains sufficient safeguards to prevent both arbitrary and nonindividualized infliction of the death penalty, whether or not the United States Supreme Court would require those safeguards under the federal Constitution. In this connection we note that, with one exception, none of the United States Supreme Court cases criticized by the dissent concerned the facial validity of a death penalty statute. Rather, those cases involved claims of error specific to the death sentence imposed on the defendant involved. Even assuming that we would not follow these cases as a matter of state constitutional law, they have no bearing on a facial attack on the Act itself. The one exception is Zant v. Stephens, supra, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S. Ct. 2733, 77 L. Ed. 2d 235, in which the Court held that Georgia's death penalty statute was not defective for failing to guide further the jury's discretion after the point at which the jury found aggravating factors to exist. But whether or not this Court would follow Zant is irrelevant, for the New Jersey death penalty statute does
substantially guide the jury's discretion at this stage by requiring a finding that aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
The dissent, however, would require more than a bifurcated trial, a narrowing of the death-eligible class, a requirement that the jury find at least one aggravating factor, a further requirement that the jury find the aggravating factors to outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, a "catch-all" mitigating factor, and a provision for appellate review, all of which are found in the Act. The dissent would require that "[w]here a life is at stake, the procedures used to take that life must maximize both consistency and individual consideration in sentencing, and thus minimize arbitrariness and irrationality." Post at 370.
We are not quite sure what is meant by this suggested directive to "maximize" procedural protections in capital sentencing. If the suggestion is that capital defendants are entitled to perfection, to totally consistent, accurate and reliable procedures, obviously not only this Act but any death penalty act would be unconstitutional. Society has never been required to conform to such an impossible standard. While the dissent explicitly declines to say that the death penalty is unconstitutional per se under the New Jersey Constitution, it apparently would accomplish the same result indirectly by establishing requirements that, though unspecified, could never be met.
If, on the other hand, the suggestion is the more narrow one that the Act must contain certain additional measures that it does not currently contain in order to assure the consistent and reliable imposition of the death penalty, we do not believe that our dissenting colleague has identified any such measures. The dissent advances five criticisms of the Act: that the definition of murder is too broad, that the aggravating factors are too vague, that jury determinations of "death-eligibility" and "death-selection" are made simultaneously, that no procedure for review of prosecutorial discretion is included, and that
proportionality review is required only where the defendant requests it. Post at 384. These last two criticisms are simply premature. We share many of the dissent's concerns with respect to the need for controlling prosecutorial discretion and the importance of proportionality review even in the absence of a request by the defendant. Suffice it to say that in this case we have not been presented with a claim or showing of prosecutorial abuse in this early stage of the administration of the Act or with a defendant unwilling to request proportionality review, that we will consider these issues if and when they arise, and that we decline to invalidate the Act on its face on these grounds.
The dissent finds great significance and constitutional unfairness in the fact that the Act, like the death penalty statutes of several other states,*fn23 narrows the death-eligible class at the sentencing phase rather than at the guilt phase. We note first that the dissent is not entirely accurate in stating that the Act "[i]n effect . . . encompasses all murders." Post at 387. There is a very large class of murderers, namely, those who are accomplices to persons who cause death during the commission of a felony, who are not subject to the death penalty. Section c of the Act permits the death penalty to be imposed only on those who commit murder "by [their] own conduct" or who pay another to do so. Thus the Act does provide for a certain degree of narrowing at the guilt phase.
This is just one of many facts that significantly undercuts the dissent's argument that the Act expands the class of murderers subject to the death penalty as compared to this state's prior capital punishment law. That law subjected only first-degree murderers to the death penalty, but it defined felony-murder as first-degree murder; and under it felony-murderers who did not participate, indeed, who had no intent to participate nor any
reason to participate, in the homicidal act nevertheless could be and were sentenced to death. See, e.g., State v. Bunk, 4 N.J. 461, cert. den., 340 U.S. 839, 71 S. Ct. 25, 95 L. Ed. 615 (1950); State v. Mule, 114 N.J.L. 384 (E. & A.1935). The current Act excludes such felony-murders.
The dissent also mistakenly assumes a clearcut distinction between the categories of first-degree murder and second-degree murder under our prior law. Such a clearcut distinction did not in fact exist. The dissent has called the element of "deliberation" the "crucial difference" between the two degrees of murder. Yet our cases consistently held that for deliberation to be found, no particular period of time need have elapsed between the formation of the defendant's homicidal plan and the execution of that plan. See, e.g., State v. Coleman, 46 N.J. 16, 45 (1965), cert. den., 383 U.S. 950, 86 S. Ct. 1210, 16 L. Ed. 2d 212 (1966); State v. Walker, 37 N.J. 208, 218, cert. den., 371 U.S. 850, 83 S. Ct. 89, 9 L. Ed. 2d 86 (1962). Under this standard, it was undoubtedly the rare murder whose facts could not support a finding of either first-degree or second-degree murder, and in fact our cases indicate that in many if not most murder prosecutions the jury was instructed on both theories. See, e.g., State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454, 458, 464 (1967); State v. Bindhammer, 44 N.J. 372, 389 (1965) ("Though the testimony relied on by the defendant might have justified a lesser degree, the testimony relied on by the State clearly justified the finding of first degree, for under settled law it is not necessary that any particular period of time elapse between the formation of the purpose to kill and its execution."); State v. Wynn, 21 N.J. 264, 270 (1956).
Moreover, while intent to do only serious bodily harm could not formerly support a first-degree murder charge, it may similarly be insufficient to support a capital sentence today because of the constitutionally required culpability standards regarding a capital defendant's intent to kill. See Enmund v. Florida, supra, 458 U.S. 782, 102 S. Ct. 3368, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1140.
Of course, in one respect the class of murderers subject to the death penalty is significantly greater today than under prior law. The Act prevents potential capital defendants from avoiding a capital sentencing proceeding by pleading guilty to the murder charge. Sec. c(1); see State v. Wright, 196 N.J. Super. 516 (Law Div.1984). Such non vult pleas with that effect were permissible under the prior statute. In 1972, however, this Court invalidated the death penalty law precisely because it allowed (and thereby tended to compel) defendants to forgo a trial on guilt and plead non vult in order to avoid death. State v. Funicello, supra, 60 N.J. 60. The dissent's reliance on the pre- Funicello function of the non vult plea in "narrowing" the class of death-eligibles under prior law is ironic given the dissent's overall purpose of demonstrating that the current Act will be arbitrarily applied. For while the pre- Funicello availability of the non vult plea undoubtedly decreased the number of murderers subject to the death penalty, it did so in a wholly illegitimate fashion, and perhaps as much as anything else contributed to the arbitrary infliction of the death penalty condemned in Furman v. Georgia.
In short, the dissent's preference for the definition of capital murder contained in our prior statute is inexplicable. Although empirical evidence is lacking, we may confidently assume that the class of murderers subject to the death penalty today is not substantially greater than it was under prior law (excluding, as we think we must, the role of the non vult plea). More importantly, we think it undeniable that the current law's definition of murder, in conjunction with its provisions relating to pleas, helps make this statute far more fair than the prior law, and far less likely to result in the arbitrary application of the death penalty. A further narrowing of the death-eligible class before sentencing as proposed by the dissent would not, in our opinion, make the Act in any significant degree more fundamentally fair. All it would do is deprive society of its right and power to punish and deter murder.
The dissent is on no firmer ground in suggesting that the "use of aggravating factors in a single proceeding both to define the murder as a capital offense and to determine the imposition of the death sentence is [not] a fair way to administer the ultimate sanction of death." Post at 391. As the dissent points out, the fact that the New Jersey statute requires juries to weigh aggravating factors against mitigating factors is an important distinction between it and the Georgia statute. The Georgia statute does not contain such a requirement; it gives juries complete discretion over the life-or-death decision once the jury has determined that at least one aggravating factor exists. In Zant v. Stephens, supra, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S. Ct. 2733, 77 L. Ed. 2d 235, the Supreme Court held that the failure of the Georgia statute to allow aggravating factors to play any role in guiding the jury's discretion, apart from its function of narrowing the class of death-eligibles, did not violate the Constitution.
Our dissenting colleague would hold the New Jersey Act un constitutional because it provides the additional restraint on jury discretion that the petitioner in Zant argued was constitutionally necessary. That is to say, the dissent argues that one of the Act's most important provisions for assuring that the death penalty is consistently applied is in fact un fair. The reason given is that "from the defendant's perspective, the sentence is imposed as and when the offense is defined." Post at 393. The dissent sets forth this proposition as if the element of unfairness is self-evident. It is not, at least to us. In our view, the statutorily mandated weighing process does not promote the arbitrary application of the death penalty; on the contrary, it protects against it.
The dissent's final contention -- that the aggravating factors are vague and overbroad -- really reduces to a claim that one of the aggravating factors, Section c(4)(c), is vague and overbroad. The dissent's position is that in construing this factor we in New Jersey will make the same mistakes other courts have made, no matter how aware of those errors or how determined
not to make them. We deal with this contention in the following section. We note here only that, assuming that this aggravating factor can be freed of its vagueness and can be consistently applied, we find no constitutional infirmity in the mere fact that its inclusion in the Act will increase the class of murderers subject to the death penalty. That is society's choice to make, not the judiciary's.
We conclude under the state and federal Constitutions that New Jersey's death penalty act sufficiently guides juries' discretion so as to achieve a capital punishment system that narrows the class, and that it defines and selects those who will be subject to the sentencing proceeding and ultimately to the death penalty with consistency and reliability. The attack on its constitutionality in this respect must fail.
C. Constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c)
Section c(4)(c) lists as one of the aggravating factors that "[t]he murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim." Defendant challenges this factor as being facially unconstitutional, and argues that no limiting construction can render it constitutional. This claim is based both on the eighth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution. The eighth amendment challenge is that this aggravating factor is imprecise because it permits juries to find the existence of the aggravating factor in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and therefore fails to assure the "channeling" of the jury's discretion required by Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed. 2d 346; the fourteenth amendment challenge is that Section c(4)(c) is so imprecise as to amount to an impermissibly vague criminal law,
which will allow for standardless and arbitrary application of the law by prosecutors and juries.*fn24
Section c(4)(c) of the Act is its most troublesome portion and one of its most important. The provision is troublesome because of its obvious vagueness. Merely quoting it is the best proof of that fact. The provision is important because this vagueness probably accurately expresses society's wish to limit the death penalty to only certain murderers and yet reflects society's inability to define precisely that limit.*fn25 The trouble,
therefore, originates not with the Legislature's language, but with the requirement that we provide each sentencing jury in advance with specific guidance as to the nature of the crimes that will satisfy the statute without allowing the provision to encompass every act of murder. That our construction of this provision may result in some murders falling outside the death penalty when society may have intended otherwise is a consequence of the constitutional command that criminal laws conform to a certain standard of precision, a command based on fundamental notions of fairness.
Quite clearly the introductory language of the provision ("[t]he murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman") is indefinite beyond anyone's ability to remedy, and presumably was so recognized by the Legislature, which attached to that part of the section the explicitly limiting portion "in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim . . ." (Emphasis added). Interpretations by various courts throughout the nation give effect to this limitation, ultimately by construing the entire provision in a manner that results in the second portion being the essential finding. See Hance v. State, 245 Ga. 856, 268 S.E. 2d 339, cert. den., 449 U.S. 1067, 101 S. Ct. 796, 66 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1980); Turner v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 513, 273 S.E. 2d 36, 44-45 (1980), cert. den., 451 U.S. 1011, 101 S. Ct. 2347, 68 L. Ed. 2d 863 (1981). In effect, although these courts do require two independent findings (that the offense (1) is "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman," and (2) involves torture, depravity or aggravated battery), in applying the construction, the first part of the provision is rendered nugatory. The resultant construction is that the aggravating factor exists when the murder "involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim." Some courts, such as the trial court in State v. Biegenwald, supra, 106 N.J. at 49-50, however, have read
the introductory language as modifying the second part of the provision and have required that the torture, battery or depravity must warrant a characterization of being "wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman." We believe that the language of the provision itself, its clear intent, and constitutional considerations all support a construction that does not treat the first part of the provision ("was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman") as either an independent requirement or a qualitative modification of what follows.
While not quite so obvious, it is fairly clear that the second portion of Section c(4)(c) will also not pass constitutional muster unless a narrowing construction is supplied. The United States Supreme Court's approval of the Georgia court's narrowing construction of both sections of the provision in Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. at 201-02, 96 S. Ct. at 2938, 49 L. Ed. 2d at 890-91, and Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 430-32, 100 S. Ct. 1759, 1765-66, 64 L. Ed. 2d 398, 408-09 (1980), indicates that a limiting construction of both parts of the provision may be required.*fn26
This Court's power and obligation to narrow imprecise statutory language in order to render it constitutional is beyond question. See, e.g., Town Tobacconist v. Kimmelman, 94 N.J. 85 (1983); New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce v. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Comm'n, 82 N.J. 57 (1980); Borough of Collingswood v. Ringgold, 66 N.J. 350 (1975), app. dism., 426 U.S. 901, 96 S. Ct. 2220, 48 L. Ed. 2d 826 (1976); State v. Profaci, 56 N.J. 346 (1970). As indicated above, the narrowing is essential to satisfy the requirement of Gregg that the discretion of the jury be adequately controlled and the requirement
of the fourteenth amendment that criminal laws not be vague.*fn27
What, then, did the Legislature intend? The question is not meant to suggest that a particular constitutionally permissible construction was part of that intent. We search only for those general indications that will enable us to adopt a construction
of this provision with reasonable confidence that it fairly reflects the legislative purpose.*fn28
In State v. Bass, 189 N.J. Super. 445, 451-52 (Law Div.1983), the trial court concluded that our death penalty provision, which is identical to that of Georgia's statute, must be interpreted in accordance with the construction adopted by the Georgia Supreme Court. Its reasoning in support of this proposition is compelling: unquestionably, as demonstrated by the comments of the bill's chief sponsor*fn29 and the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice,*fn30 the drafters of the Act sought to design a statute that would pass constitutional muster and were keenly aware of the United States Supreme
Court's decisions approving Georgia's construction of its provision. See Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859; Godfrey v. Georgia, supra, 446 U.S. 420, 100 S. Ct. 1759, 64 L. Ed. 2d 398.
We do not, however, agree that in copying Georgia's statute, including the particular provision at issue, the Legislature intended to adopt Georgia's construction of this provision. We say this for several reasons. First, and foremost, we believe the New Jersey Legislature wanted assurance that the Act was constitutional. Since Georgia's statute was constitutionally approved, the Legislature copied it for that reason and that reason alone. It is true that the holding by the United States Supreme Court depended on a narrowing of the aggravating factor at issue here, but it was quite clear that any narrowing that provided the requisite degree of definiteness would pass constitutional scrutiny. The particular narrowing effected at that point by the Georgia Supreme Court*fn31 (and "approved" by
the United States Supreme Court in Godfrey) was not essential. Our position is debatable, for there is sound authority that the "copying" state adopts not only the statute but the construction of the originating state. See Todd Shipyards Corp. v. Weehawken, 45 N.J. 336, 343 (1965); 2A C. Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 52.02 (4th ed. 1973). That authority, however, is much more persuasive when dealing with statutes covering complex matters, whose adoption is preceded by careful study, often by commissions appointed for that purpose, and especially statutes that have had a fairly long history of interpretation in the originating state. For example, New Jersey statutes relating to tort claims, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq., and comparative negligence, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1, were copied from California and Wisconsin statutes respectively. In both of these instances, our courts have fairly consistently adopted the construction of the statute by those states. See, e.g., S.E.W. Friel Co. v. New Jersey Turnpike Auth., 73 N.J. 107, 122 (1977) (Tort Claims Act); Suter v. San Angelo Foundry & Mach. Co., 81 N.J. 150, 161 (1979) (Comparative Negligence Act). The statute at issue here, however, is relatively new, had been subjected to relatively little construction at the time of its adoption in New Jersey, and was certainly, at least insofar as the construction of the statute was concerned, not at all the subject of any long-term study by any commission in these states or by anyone else.
Furthermore, we cannot believe that the Legislature of New Jersey intended a construction of this provision that would limit it to only murders preceded by the infliction of physical pain. The language of the provision undeniably calls for a
broader interpretation, and that interpretation can easily be accommodated to constitutional requirements. It is not tenable, for instance, to attribute to the Legislature a willingness to shield from the death penalty murderers who inflict psychological torture on their victims before death while condemning those whose brutality is limited to the infliction of physical pain. Where the policies of the copying state are not reflected in the construction of the statute in the original jurisdiction, the adopting state is not bound by such constructions. See Engberg v. State, 686 P. 2d 541, 552 (Wyo.) (although copying Florida's death penalty statute, Wyoming need not follow Florida's application of the statute where state policies diverge), cert. den., 469 U.S. 1077, 105 S. Ct. 577, 83 L. Ed. 2d 516 (1984).
We therefore conclude that while the Legislature intended to obtain the benefits of the constitutional validation of the substantially identical Georgia provision, it did not intend to assume the burdens of what, to us, appears to be an unduly restrictive construction.
It is instructive to refer to the various constructions of this provision in other states. The results of these endeavors, however, often provide examples better not followed. We list some of the constructions that other courts have developed in their attempt to apply similar statutory factors constitutionally. In defining an "aggravated battery" for this purpose, courts have defined it as a battery which occurs in addition to or independently of the force that caused death, see, e.g., Smith v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 248 S.E. 2d 135, 149 (1978) (aggravated battery is one "which qualitatively and quantitatively is more culpable than the minimum necessary to accomplish an act of murder"), cert. den., 441 U.S. 967, 99 S. Ct. 2419, 60 L. Ed. 2d 1074 (1979) [no reason is given why, despite the fact that severe and long-lasting pain is intentionally inflicted by the murderer, it is considered less horrible if the blows that were intended to cause that pain also were intended to, and did, [106 NJ Page 206] result in death];*fn32 in other states an "aggravated battery" occurs where the act caused "unnecessary pain," presumably meaning pain in excess of what was "necessary" to accomplish the murder, see State v. Sonnier, 402 So. 2d 650, 658-60 (La. 1981), cert. den., 463 U.S. 1229, 103 S. Ct. 3571, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1412 (1983) [but death should not be imposed as a result of what may be an extremely close determination of how much pain is considered "necessary"]. Some states seem to require that death be preceded by serious abuse, see State v. Sonnier, supra, 402 So. 2d at 658-60; but see State v. Moore, 414 So. 2d 340, 348 (La.1982) (awareness of imminent death sufficient to satisfy provision), cert. den., 463 U.S. 1214, 103 S. Ct. 3553, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1399 (1983); see also State v. Wood, 648 P. 2d 71, 86 (Utah) (murder must involve aggravated battery or torture), cert. den., 459 U.S. 988, 103 S. Ct. 341, 74 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1982) [the limitation to physical pain is insufficient because it excludes the infliction of psychological pain]; or where death was preceded by "foreseeable" suffering, State v. Adamson, 136 Ariz. 250, 665 P. 2d 972, 988, cert. den., 464 U.S. 865, 104 S. Ct. 865, 78 L. Ed. 2d 178 (1983) [this formulation, if literally accepted, would inflict the death penalty based on negligence, ordinarily thought to be the lowest degree of culpability, one that rarely sustains a finding of even any crime]. Finally, many states limit the factor to include only acts committed by the defendant before death, see Simmons v. State, 419 So. 2d 316, 319 (Fla.1982); State v. Steward, 197 Neb. 497, 250 N.W. 2d 849, 864 (1977) [this assumes that society is interested only in the victim's suffering as compared to the murderer's depravity].*fn33 [106 NJ Page 207] We are convinced that the essence of the legislative concern is the defendant's state of mind. We do not believe that the Legislature intended to distinguish between two murderers each of whom intended to inflict immediate death upon the victim without any additional suffering whatsoever, when one victim dies immediately and the other lives for a long period of time and experiences excruciating pain. That capricious event alone would be perceived as an insufficient basis on which to inflict death on that defendant while imposing imprisonment on the other. Our system of criminal laws is predicated usually on the imposition of punishment based on the defendant's
intent. Indeed, our Code's ranking of crimes by degree places those crimes committed with intentional conduct as the highest degree of crime, for which the defendant is most severely punished. Society's concern, the community's concern, the Legislature's concern, is to punish most harshly those who intend to inflict pain, harm, and suffering -- in addition to intending death.
We would not, however, include within the coverage of Section c(4)(c) the murder in which the victim suffered no pain in fact despite the murderer's intention to inflict pain, i.e., in which the victim unexpectedly died instantaneously. While both defendants (the ones intending pain in these two examples) are, concededly, equally culpable, we conclude as a practical matter that absent this particular limit on the application of Section c(4)(c) (i.e., no death penalty where no pain was suffered despite the murderer's intent to inflict it), there would be too many possible presentations by the prosecution, each conceivably turning on theoretical reconstructions of intent. Because proof that will support a Section c(4)(c) finding, as we shall construe it here, is already largely circumstantial, to permit the added speculation as to proof of intent to inflict pain when no pain was inflicted might allow impermissibly discretionary findings and death sentences based on the slimmest of evidence.
We therefore start by including within Section c(4)(c) the class of murders in which defendant intended to, and did in fact, cause extreme physical or mental suffering -- in addition to death.*fn34 The state of mind that we require corresponds to our Code's "purposeful" definition. Thus, the extreme physical or mental suffering must be precisely what defendant wanted to
occur in addition to death.*fn35 "Torture" and "aggravated battery" take on adequate definiteness when the circumstances are described in terms of defendant's intention, and the requirement that defendant intentionally inflicted extreme physical or emotional pain eliminates the need for a distinction between the two statutory terms.
We conclude that "depravity of mind," however, identifies a concern distinct from that discussed above. These words mark society's concern to punish severely those who murder without purpose or meaning as distinguished from those who murder for a purpose (albeit a completely unjustified purpose). This term isolates conduct that causes the greatest abhorrence and terror within an ordered society, because citizens cannot either in fact or in perception protect themselves from these random acts of violence. The killer who does it because he likes it, perhaps even because it makes him feel better, who kills bystanders without reason, who kills children and others whose helplessness*fn36 would indicate that there was no reason to murder, evinces what we define as depravity of mind.*fn37
Troublesome issues of justification may arise. They will be answered as are other troubling moral and policy judgments that sometimes find their way to the courts. What society is concerned with here, however, is the complete absence -- from society's point of view -- of any of the recognizable motivations or emotions that ordinarily explain murder. The definition of this kind of murder is not vague. There is not a danger here that it will be difficult to distinguish between those who fall under our definition of depraved and those who do not.
To clarify further the limits of this classification we refer to an objection made by the dissent to this construction of depravity. The dissent here mischaracterizes our definition of depravity. The apparent purpose is to prove the construction we adopt is vulnerable to manipulation that would undo our effort to narrow it. Were depravity merely a killing without warning as is contended, we would agree that the definition fails. However, nothing in our definition suggests that a killing committed without a warning would by itself constitute depravity. A murder committed without a warning is not at all the same as one lacking a recognizable motive, because warning has little to do with the reason or lack thereof for killing. In addition, the second part of the dissent's argument -- that a murder preceded by a warning to the victim would render it one accompanied by aggravated battery or torture -- ignores our requirement that the killing be accompanied by extreme physical or mental suffering, and that such suffering be intentionally inflicted, purposely inflicted, the specific purpose being to cause the victim to suffer prior to death. By itself, the victim's
awareness of imminent death is not sufficient to satisfy Section c(4)(c). The mere fact that a murder is preceded by a warning to the victim would not fulfill our requirement that the murderer intends to, or has as his explicit purpose to, inflict severe psychological (or physical) pain prior to death; to constitute torture or a battery under our test, the murderer must want the victim to suffer that pain.
Therefore, depending on the facts, the jury should be charged -- without quoting the statute -- that this aggravating factor exists if the murder involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim. Torture or aggravated battery to the victim shall be found if the defendant intended to cause, and did in fact cause, severe physical or psychological pain or suffering to the victim prior to the victim's death,*fn38 "severity" measured either by the intensity of the pain, or the duration of the pain, or a combination of both.*fn39 Where the murder was not the product of greed, envy, revenge, or another of those emotions ordinarily associated with murder, and served no purpose for the defendant beyond his pleasure of killing, the court shall instruct the jury on the meaning of depravity in this specific context. For the defendant who killed for the enjoyment of it, because the victim just happened to be in the area, or for no reason at all, just to kill, society must be able to reserve its most extreme sanction.
Having determined that the Act withstands constitutional scrutiny, we turn now to defendant's allegations that numerous errors infecting his trial mandate reversal of both his conviction and his death sentence. In accordance with the presentation in defendant's brief, we have grouped these allegations into three chronological categories into which they generally fall. In this section and in section V, we treat defendant's claims that errors that occurred at the pretrial stage and at the trial in the guilt phase, respectively, require reversal of his murder conviction. In section VI, we address defendant's claim that errors that took place in his sentencing proceeding warrant reversal of the sentence of death.
A. Selection of Essex County Juries
Defendant poses a broad challenge to the Essex County jury selection system. He contends that: (1) the grand and petit juries that indicted and tried him were drawn from lists that are unconstitutionally underrepresentative of blacks; (2) the grand jury procedures used by assignment judges in the county violate New Jersey selection statutes; (3) the selection procedure for grand jury forepersons excludes blacks and women. The Law Division rejected all three of defendant's claims. State v. Ramseur, 197 N.J. Super. 565 (1984). We consider them in turn.
Since 1979 in Essex County, both petit and grand juries have been chosen from a "source" list consisting of every person whose name is found on either the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) licensed driver list or the voter registration list. N.J.S.A. 2A:70-4, amended by L. 1979, c. 271, § 1. The source list is arranged by municipality. From it is derived the "master" list, which consists of the names of all persons to whom qualifying questionnaires will be sent. Jury managers determine how
many questionnaires should be sent based on their anticipated needs and their experience as to what rate of return they can expect from the mailing. They then create the master list by randomly selecting the required number of names from the source list. The actual design of the method insures that prospective jurors are chosen from each street in each municipality without selecting more than one person from any one household. State v. Ramseur, supra, 197 N.J. Super. at 571-72.
The 20 to 28% of the questionnaires that are completed and returned are screened for eligibility. Persons who have served on a jury within the last seven years or who have received a questionnaire in the last four years are deemed ineligible. On the basis of information returned with the questionnaire, the extreme hardship cases are excused. The remaining names are placed on the "qualified" list. Once the qualified list is constituted, jury managers randomly select grand jurors from it; those not selected as grand jurors are designated petit jurors. The lists are divided into panels and placed in alphabetical order. The jurors then receive summonses to report for jury duty.
Defendant presented evidence showing that blacks*fn40 are underrepresented on the jury source and qualified list. According to the 1980 census figures, the percentage of black adults between the ages of 18 and 74 in Essex County is 35.9. Defendant's experts conducted three separate surveys between 1981 and 1982 to determine the percentage of blacks on the jury lists. Averaging the results of two telephone surveys (one conducted in May 1981 and another in May 1982) and a "geographical
inference" study*fn41 (corresponding to the May 1982 telephone survey), defendant's experts concluded that blacks represented about 21.3% of the individuals on the source list and about 21.8% of the individuals on the qualified list.
The State sought to discredit defendant's expert testimony on several grounds. In addition, the prosecution conducted its own informal "headcount" to determine the actual number of blacks appearing for jury duty. The parties stipulated that this study was intended only to prove the race of those persons who actually appeared for service, not to prove the racial composition of the source or qualified lists. This "observation" concluded that 32.2% of the 4451 petit jurors who appeared for duty in the period studied were black, a figure closely approximating the 35.9% of eligible blacks in the county population. A similar "headcount" of the grand jurors concluded that 24.6% were black. The trial court did not make a factual finding as to whether the prosecution's data were scientifically reliable. Because it found defendant's figures to be constitutionally insignificant, the court also declined to evaluate the credibility of his expert witnesses. 197 N.J. Super. at 574 n. 4.
We must analyze the evidence presented for possible violations of defendant's federal and state constitutional rights to an impartial jury and to equal protection of the laws. U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV; N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, paras.
5, 9.*fn42 Under the equal protection clause, selection of both grand and petit jurors must be free from any taint of discriminatory purpose. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. (10 Otto) 303, 25 L. Ed. 664 (1880). Under the sixth amendment, petit jurors must be drawn from pools that represent a "fair cross-section" of the community, Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357, 368 n. 26, 99 S. Ct. 664, 670 n. 26, 58 L. Ed. 2d 579, 589 n. 26 (1979); there is also authority suggesting a similar cross-section right with regard to grand jury selection in this state, where the right to indictment by a grand jury is constitutionally protected, State v. Porro, 152 N.J. Super. 259, 265 (Law Div. 1977), aff'd, 158 N.J. Super. 269 (App.Div.), cert. den., 439 U.S. 1047, 99 S. Ct. 724, 58 L. Ed. 2d 706 (1978); see N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, para. 8.
To prove either an equal protection or fair cross-section claim, a defendant must first identify a constitutionally cognizable group, i.e., a group capable of being singled out for discriminatory treatment. Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 494, 97 S. Ct. 1272, 1280, 51 L. Ed. 2d 498, 510 (1977); Duren v. Missouri, supra, 439 U.S. at 364, 99 S. Ct. at 668, 58 L. Ed. 2d at 587.
Second, under the equal protection test, the defendant must prove "substantial underrepresentation" over a significant period of time, Castaneda v. Partida, supra, 430 U.S. at 494, 97 S. Ct. at 1280, 51 L. Ed. 2d at 510, whereas under the sixth amendment the defendant must show that the representation of the particular group is not "fair and reasonable" over a period of time, Duren v. Missouri, supra, 439 U.S. at 364, 99 S. Ct. at 668, 58 L. Ed. 2d at 587. Finally, under equal protection analysis, the defendant must show discriminatory purpose, either by the strength of his statistical showing or by demonstrating the
use of racially non-neutral selection procedures to support the inference of discrimination raised by substantial underrepresentation. Castaneda v. Partida, supra, 430 U.S. at 494, 97 S. Ct. at 1280, 51 L. Ed. 2d at 510-11. Under the sixth amendment's fair cross-section test, the defendant need not show purposeful discrimination but must show merely that the underrepresentation was due to systematic exclusion. Duren v. Missouri, supra, 439 U.S. at 364, 99 S. Ct. at 668, 58 L. Ed. 2d at 587.
It is not necessary for the defendant to show that the particular juries that indicted and tried him were underrepresentative. Indeed, a defendant has no right to a jury that includes members of his own race. See Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 538, 95 S. Ct. 692, 701, 42 L. Ed. 2d 690, 703 (1975); Alexander v. Louisiana, 405 U.S. 625, 628, 92 S. Ct. 1221, 1224, 31 L. Ed. 2d 536, 540-41 (1972). He does, however, have the right to assert the failure of the jury system to provide generally for adequate representation of cognizable groups, and such a showing entitles him to reversal of his conviction whether or not he has suffered prejudice. See Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254, - , 106 S. Ct. 617, 622-24, 88 L. Ed. 2d 598, 607-09 (1986). Thus, for example, the fact that Ramseur's juries more than represented the percentage of blacks in Essex County -- nine of the twenty-three grand jurors, see infra note 46, and seven of the twelve petit jurors, see State v. Ramseur, supra, 197 N.J. Super. at 582 n. 6, were black -- is not relevant to the constitutional inquiry.
Having proved the three prongs, under either the equal protection or fair cross-section tests, the defendant has made out a prima facie case and the State must establish a rebuttal case, which also varies under the two tests. Under equal protection analysis, the State must dispel the inference of intentional discrimination by, for example, showing that permissible racially neutral selection criteria and procedures have produced the disproportionate result. See Castaneda v. Partida, supra, 430 U.S. at 497-98, 97 S. Ct. at 1281-82, 51 L. Ed. 2d at 512.
Under the fair cross-section test, the prima facie case is overcome by a showing that a significant state interest is manifestly and primarily advanced by those aspects of the jury selection process that result in disproportionate exclusion of the distinctive group. Duren v. Missouri, supra, 439 U.S. at 367-68, 99 S. Ct. at 670, 58 L. Ed. 2d at 589.
Reducing both tests to their constitutional essence, whether analyzing a grand or petit jury challenge, we would primarily focus on the cognizability of the group in question, the substantiality of the underrepresentation, and the possible causes of it. We recognize that the separate prongs of each test are interrelated, seeming like converging streams of analysis rather than rigid compartments. Our application of the test must be practical rather than mechanical, remembering that the ultimate judgment demanded is whether there has been unconstitutional exclusion in the Essex County jury-selection process. We do not here seek to "turn matters that are inherently incommensurable into mere matters of arithmetic." Cassell v. Texas, 339 U.S. 282, 291, 70 S. Ct. 629, 633, 94 L. Ed. 839, 849 (1949) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).
Blacks unquestionably being a constitutionally cognizable group, defendant has met the first prong of both the equal protection and fair cross-section tests. See, e.g., Rose v. Mitchell, 443 U.S. 545, 565, 99 S. Ct. 2993, 3005, 61 L. Ed. 2d 739, 756 (1979).
No court has yet provided a specific mathematical test for determining when underrepresentation becomes "substantial" and therefore constitutionally suspect. Rather, impermissible ranges of underrepresentation have been identified on a case-by-case basis. See, e.g., Duren v. Missouri, supra, 439 U.S. 357, 99 S. Ct. 664, 58 L. Ed. 2d 579 (group represented 54% of community population but 15% of jury pool); Castaneda v. Partida, supra, 430 U.S. 482, 97 S. Ct. 1272, 51 L. Ed. 2d 493 (79% of community, 39% of jury pool); Alexander v. Louisiana,
supra, 405 U.S. 625, 92 S. Ct. 1221, 31 L. Ed. 2d 536 (21% of community, 14% of jury pool, but only 7% of panel from which jury was drawn); Turner v. Fouche, 396 U.S. 346, 90 S. Ct. 532, 24 L. Ed. 2d 532 (1970) (60% of community, 37% of jury pool); Jones v. Georgia, 389 U.S. 24, 88 S. Ct. 4, 19 L. Ed. 2d 25 (1967) (per curiam) (30.7% of community, 5% of jury pool); Sims v. Georgia, 389 U.S. 404, 88 S. Ct. 523, 19 L. Ed. 2d 634 (1967) (24% of community, 5% of jury pool); Whitus v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 545, 87 S. Ct. 643, 17 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1967) (42.6% of community, 9.1% of grand jury pool and 7.8% of petit jury pool).
The meaning of the statistical evidence presented in such cases is obscured not only by the absence of rigid rules but also by the different methods used to analyze the data. Three methods are most commonly used. We will briefly describe the three procedures, the phenomena they purport to measure, and the flaws the courts have discovered in attempting to apply them.*fn43
The simplest method, enunciated in Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S. Ct. 824, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1965), overruled on other grounds, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. , 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1986), and relied upon by the State and the Law Division in this case, is absolute disparity. It measures the absolute difference between the proportion of the subject group in the general population and its proportion to the jury pool, i.e., the qualified list. In Swain, while the absolute disparities ranged from 11 to 16%, the Court held that purposeful discrimination based on race alone could not be "satisfactorily proved by showing that an identifiable group in a community is underrepresented by as much as 10%." Id. at 208-09, 85 S. Ct. at 829, 13 L. Ed. 2d at 766.
Absolute disparity is largely a descriptive measure that states in mathematical terms the existence of a disparity that may or may not be the result of unconstitutional discrimination. It is more likely to reveal underrepresentation where the subject population is large because the smaller the population, the less striking the numerical differences appear. See Foster v. Sparks, 506 F.2d 805, 818-19, 834-35 (5th Cir.1975) (appendix by Gewin, J.); Kairys, Kadane & Lehoczky, "Jury Representativeness: A Mandate for Multiple Source Lists," 65 Calif.L.Rev. 776, 793-94 (1977) (hereafter "Jury Representativeness"). Thus a 4% absolute disparity probably does not demonstrate impermissible underrepresentation where a group comprises 50% of the population (i.e., 50% of population, 46% of jury pool). However, where the cognizable group constitutes only 8% of the population, a 4% disparity may be significant (8% of population,
4% of jury pool). Under the Swain test, this second group would receive no protection against possible underrepresentation.
The second method, comparative disparity, uses the absolute disparity figure and constructs a ratio to measure the magnitude of the disparity given the difference in population size. It is calculated by dividing the absolute disparity by the population figure. In the above example, the 4% disparity in a 50% population represents an 8% relative disparity whereas that same 4% absolute disparity in a population of 8% is a 50% relative disparity. Comparative disparity measures the diminished likelihood that members of the underrepresented group, when compared to the population as a whole, will be called for jury service. Again using the above example, in the first population, members of the underrepresented group are 8% less likely to serve as jurors than members of the majority group. In the second, those members are 50% less likely. This method is also largely descriptive, but because it takes the size of the subject population into account, it is more likely to register underrepresentation of smaller groups. The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged, though it never explicitly adopted, this formula in Alexander v. Louisiana, supra, 405 U.S. at 629, 92 S. Ct. at 1224, 31 L. Ed. 2d at 541. It has been followed in several lower courts. See, e.g., United States v. Goff, 509 F.2d 825 (5th Cir.), cert. den., 423 U.S. 857, 96 S. Ct. 109, 46 L. Ed. 2d 83 (1975); People v. Harris, 36 Cal. 3d 36, 679 P. 2d 433, 201 Cal.Rptr. 782, cert. den., 469 U.S. 965, 105 S. Ct. 365, 83 L. Ed. 2d 301 (1984).
In none of these cases has a maximum permissible level been specified. However, one court has observed that
[i]f these cases have a common thread, it is that a comparative disparity well over 50% is strong evidence of underrepresentation cognizable under the sixth and fourteenth amendments. A comparative disparity of about 50% may or may not be adequate to show such underrepresentation, depending in part upon the size of the group in question. Finally, a comparative disparity well below 50% is unlikely to be sufficient, especially where the absolute disparity also is small. [ State v. Lopez, 107 Idaho 726, 692 P. 2d 370, 377 (Ct.App.1984).]
The third approach, recognized by the Supreme Court in Castaneda v. Partida, supra, 430 U.S. at 496 n. 17, 97 S. Ct. at 1281 n. 17, 51 L. Ed. 2d at 512 n. 17, the Statistical Decision Theory (SDT) or statistical significance test, is not purely descriptive. It attempts to measure the likelihood that aspects of the selection process do not operate randomly. Thus it indicates the possible existence of discrimination within the system. Specifically, SDT provides a measure of the extent to which the actual percentage of minority jurors can be expected to differ from the percentage of the minority proportion in the general population if the selection process is completely random. SDT further indicates whether this figure is so at variance with the expected outcome that the hypothesis of random selection ought to be rejected.
For the purpose of illustration, the jury selection process in which two groups are being compared can be likened to filling a box with a population of 1,000 slips of paper of which 600 are pink and 400 gray, and having someone randomly select a sample of 100 slips. The expected number of pink slips would be 60 and the expected number of gray slips would be 40. That is, in any drawing there would be a 60% probability of drawing a pink slip and a 40% probability of selecting a gray one. However, a statistician would not be surprised if the number of pink slips "deviated" from the expected. Statisticians measure this deviation by a formula that enables them to tell whether the result is so far from the expected as to demonstrate that the result was not random. Using our illustration above and applying the formula of SDT described in Castaneda, we would expect that the standard deviation from the expected in our drawing would be plus or minus 4.8 slips.*fn44 If the result of our
drawing were to yield only 30 pink slips, that would be approximately six standard deviations away from the expected. A statistician would assume that a result more than 2 or 3 standard deviations from the expected would be suspect.*fn45
We do not purport to describe fully the significance of the three tests used to measure underrepresentation in jury pools or to demonstrate any certainty about our mathematical understanding. We will not, in this case, choose one test over the others as the best method for assessing the significance of statistical evidence. Nor will we attempt to establish, for any of the tests, a fixed numerical line separating substantial from insubstantial showings of underrepresentation. Instead, we will use all three standards and the traditional common-law method of reasoning by example to other cases to arrive at a judgment of the significance of the evidence presented with respect to the Essex County jury system at issue in this case.
As previously noted, the percentage of blacks in the Essex County population eligible for jury service is 35.9, and defendant's surveys showed that the percentage of blacks on the qualified juror list for the periods surveyed was only 21.8. Thus the absolute disparity was 14.1% (35.9 minus 21.8). The comparative disparity was 39.3% (14.1 divided by 35.9) -- that is, any white had roughly a 40% greater chance than any black of being selected. Finally, defendant calculated the standard deviations to be 28.9 from the expected deviation.
The 14.1% absolute disparity in the representation of blacks in the Essex County jury lists is roughly equivalent to the absolute disparities held impermissible in Preston v. Mandeville, 428 F.2d 1392 (5th Cir.1970) (13.3%), and Stephens v. Cox, 449 F.2d 657 (4th Cir.1971) (15%), yet it is also close to the disparities found permissible in United States ex rel. Barksdale v. Blackburn, 639 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir.) (11.5%), cert. den., 454 U.S. 1056, 102 S. Ct. 603, 70 L. Ed. 2d 593 (1981), and Thompson v. Sheppard, 490 F.2d 830 (5th Cir.1974) (11%), cert. den., 420 U.S. 984, 95 S. Ct. 1415, 43 L. Ed. 2d 666 (1975), and falls within the 11% to 16% range of disparity found in Swain v. Alabama, supra, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S. Ct. 824, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759.
The comparative disparity here shows that black people have about 40% less chance of being selected than population figures would otherwise indicate. This is not much lower than the 45.4% condemned in Preston v. Mandeville, supra, 428 F.2d 1392, or the 50.0% condemned in Stephens v. Cox, supra, 449 F.2d 657. Yet it is within the 36% to 42% range found permissible in Swain (42%), United States ex rel. Barksdale v. Blackburn, supra, 639 F.2d 1115 (40.8%), and Thompson v. Sheppard, supra, 490 F.2d 830 (36.4%), and below 50%. Cf. State v. Lopez, supra, 107 Idaho 726, 692 P. 2d at 377 (disparity well below 50% is "unlikely to be sufficient" to support a constitutional claim).
Finally, the difference between the expected and observed number of blacks, 28.9 standard deviations, as calculated by defendant, is almost identical to the 29 standard deviations held in Castaneda v. Partida, supra, to be constitutionally significant. We thus may be confident that the demonstrated underrepresentation of blacks in the Essex County jury pools is not the result of random selection. The fact that the underrepresentation is not random does not, however, mean it is intentional, nor does it mean that it is substantial; the determination of substantiality requires an exercise of judgment, not the application of a formula.
We conclude that the statistical evidence, in light of prior case law, is not so alarming as to compel a conclusion of substantial underrepresentation. We believe the evidence is, however, significant enough to alert us to a possible constitutional violation. Because the numbers themselves appear to straddle the borderline of substantial underrepesentation, we must look to the circumstances surrounding the statistical showing to determine its full constitutional import.
We look first to the nature of the source lists. The federal courts have recognized that the constitutional importance of the statistical showing depends in part on the degree of subjectivity involved in the selection mechanism. A higher disparity is tolerable "[i]f the disparity proceeds from objective criteria, i.e., age, educational attainment, registration to vote, etc.," than "if the disparity proceeds from the application of subjective tests, under which there is wide opportunity for intentional racial discrimination." Blackwell v. Thomas, 476 F.2d 443, 447 n. 7 (4th Cir.1973); see Barber v. Ponte, 772 F.2d 982, 994 (1st Cir.1985), cert. den., U.S. , 106 S. Ct. 1272, 89 L. Ed. 2d 581 (1986); Thompson v. Sheppard, supra, 490 F.2d at 832; Stone, "Grand Jury Discrimination Challenges: Defeat by Default," 4 W.New Eng.L.Rev. 665, 681-82 (1981). The use of DMV and voter registration lists is a facially neutral procedure. The source lists are drawn "objectively, mechanically, and at random," Thompson v. Sheppard, supra, 490 F.2d at 833, allowing no opportunity for subjective or racially-motivated judgments.
We have found no case holding a jury selection system unconstitutionally underrepresentative where the statistical showing was similar to that presented here and where objective selection criteria such as voting registration and drivers' licenses were used. In the cases mentioned above involving similar absolute and comparative disparities, subjective judgments by state officials entered into the process of constituting the juror rolls. See Preston v. Mandeville, supra, 428 F.2d at 1394 ("[d]efendants maintained the master roll partially at least on
subjective judgment as distinguished from objective criteria or on a random selection system"); Stephens v. Cox, supra, 449 F.2d at 660 (jury commissioners, who were allowed to rely on personal knowledge in choosing jurors, had "opportunity to discriminate"). In contrast, in Thompson v. Sheppard, supra, 490 F.2d 830, where the statistical showing -- an 11% absolute disparity and a 36.4% comparative disparity -- was comparable to those in Preston and Stephens and very similar to that here, but where the jury lists were chosen randomly from voter lists, the court held that defendant failed to carry his burden of demonstrating a violation of the fair cross-section standard. Id. at 833.
In general, courts have consistently upheld against constitutional challenge the random drawing of jurors from lists of registered voters. United States v. Blair, 493 F. Supp. 398, 407 (D.Md.1980), aff'd, 665 F.2d 500 (4th Cir.1981); State v. Porro, supra, 152 N.J. Super. at 266. See generally Annot., "Validity of Requirement or Practice of Selecting Prospective Jurors Exclusively from List of Registered Voters," 80 A.L.R. 3d (1977) (collecting cases). A few courts have found unconstitutional underrepresentation even where voting lists were used, but in those cases the statistical showing was substantially more dramatic than that made here. See People v. Harris, supra, 36 Cal. 3d at 48, 679 P. 2d at 438-39, 201 Cal.Rptr. at 788 (56% comparative disparity for blacks, 87% comparative disparity for Hispanics); State v. Lopez, supra, 107 Idaho 726, 692 P. 2d at 376 (61% comparative disparity for Hispanics).
Second, we look to the time period over which violations are alleged. This inquiry goes to the existence of a history of exclusion. In this case, we have evidence based on only two telephone surveys, one in May 1981 and another in May 1982, and one geographic study corresponding to the 1982 telephone survey. Particularly given the borderline nature of the disparities shown, we are most reluctant to strike down the entire Essex County jury system on the basis of studies covering these time periods. See Ford v. Commonwealth, 665 S.W. 2d 304
(Ky.) (statistical data based on random sampling of jury panels for two years does not constitute a showing of underrepresentation over a significant period of time), cert. den., 469 U.S. 984, 105 S. Ct. 392, 83 L. Ed. 2d 325 (1984).
Finally, we look to the State's efforts at reform. We are not dealing here with a system in which there has been long-standing abuse with no attempts at reform. New Jersey has been conscious of its obligation to achieve greater neutrality and representativeness in its jury selection system. The addition of the DMV lists in 1979 -- at a time when very few jurisdictions, state or federal, required the use of multiple lists in addition to voter lists, see "Jury Representativeness," supra, 65 Calif.L.Rev. at 778 -- was obviously intended to broaden the representativeness of the pool. In addition, a 1981 Task Force chaired by Justice Clifford to study the current jury system has made numerous recommendations that may serve to increase the representativeness of juries. We are certain that those currently working on improvements in jury procedures will continue to seek to improve the yield of jurors from the source lists.
We agree, however, that the results are still far from optimal. Greater representativeness on the jury panels is obviously desirable. Jury officials should undertake the improvements suggested by this record, if practical and fair, e.g., eliminating duplicates on the master list (who apparently tend to be white), and pursuing follow-up measures that will increase juror yields.
Moreover, we cannot concur in the suggestion, frequently made, that jury selection systems based on voter lists are effectively insulated from constitutional attack since random selection from a properly compiled voter list can never amount to a "systematic exclusion" as required under the third prong of the Duren test. See, e.g., United States v. Clifford, 640 F.2d 150, 156 (8th Cir.1981); State v. Bernal, 137 Ariz. 421, 671 P. 2d 399, 404 (1983); State v. Sheppard, 350 So. 2d 615, 651 (La.1977) (system involved both voter registration and driver license lists); State v. Ferguson, 651 S.W. 2d 521, 524-25 (Mo.Ct.App.1983).
These courts reason that the fair cross-section requirement is satisfied so long as each qualified citizen is provided "an equal opportunity to be selected in random drawing to serve on a petit jury." United States v. Clifford, supra, 640 F.2d at 156. The fair cross-section principle, however, is designed to achieve results, not just assure opportunities; thus "'compilers of jury lists may drift into discrimination by not taking affirmative action to prevent it.'" People v. Harris, supra, 36 Cal. 3d at 58, 679 P. 2d at 446, 201 Cal.Rptr. at 795 (quoting People v. Superior Court, 38 Cal.App. 3d 966, 972, 113 Cal.Rptr. 732, 736 (1974)).
We may assume, although defendant did not attempt to prove, that a major reason for the apparent underrepresentation of blacks in Essex County jury pools is the likelihood that proportionally more blacks than whites do not register to vote and do not have driver's licenses. Knowing this, jury officials may not sit by idly in the belief that no constitutional complaint may be lodged against a random selection mechanism that relies upon facially "neutral" voter and DMV lists. That belief would be mistaken, for such inaction in the face of knowledge of the system's underrepresentativeness would indicate that the underrepresentation has a systematic and partly subjective cause, has continued over a significant period of time, and is not being counteracted by efforts at reform. Thus, even though the numbers shown here are arguably within acceptable limits, if they were to continue over a significant period of time, the continued exclusive reliance by jury officials on the voter and DMV lists could become constitutionally suspect.
At this time, however, and on the showing made by defendant in this case, we cannot say that the inadequacies in the present system rise to constitutional dimensions. Given the marginal strength of the statistical showing in comparison to other cases, the fact that the mechanism by which jury lists are now constituted is facially neutral and objective, the failure to demonstrate underrepresentativeness over a sufficient period of time, and the State's efforts at reform, we hold that defendant
has failed to make a prima facie showing that the Essex County grand and petit jury selection procedures violate either the sixth or fourteenth amendments.*fn46
In addition to his challenge to the method of composing the jury pools, defendant asserts that the procedures used by the county assignment judges to assemble the grand jury panels from those pools impermissibly selected grand jurors on the basis of race.
The trial court heard testimony to the effect that upon receipt of the summons and realization that grand jury duty means six
weeks of service, almost every juror submits a written request for excusal from service. These letters are screened by the clerk's office and the obviously meritorious requests are granted. The two assignment judges for Essex County during the periods relevant to this appeal would then review the letters and questionnaires before the panel was called. The grand jury selection process produces seventy-five names. After the early excuses, about fifty grand jurors actually appear for service.
At the actual selection, both assignment judges would question each juror and reconsider (but generally deny) excuses. One judge's method for selecting grand juries differed slightly from panel to panel. However, he always briefly interviewed each juror with respect to an excuse, then if the juror was not excused, he asked him or her either to take the next seat in the jury box or to wait in the courtroom. He exercised discretion in selecting jurors to get a "cross section of the community, so that all interests, all walks of life, all backgrounds are properly represented. . . ." This included excluding from the grand jury that indicted defendant two black jurors who were willing to serve because he was "deliberately trying to get an even mix of people from background and races, and things like that. . . ." In choosing another grand jury, the judge tried to "get some white males if I can," because he had "too many white women on the jury right now. . . ." On another occasion the judge interviewed the entire panel of fifty or so and then selected from among the panel twenty-three people to sit as the grand jury, again stating that he wanted to obtain a cross-section. The other judge also followed this select-after-interview procedure. According to the first judge, in the exercise of discretion, he sometimes chose individuals of one race over another simply to obtain a racial balance. The judge was not, however, familiar with the census figures for Essex County, or the actual percentage of blacks, although the other judge testified that blacks constituted about 40% of the population, and that he always attempted to "get a good balance between black and white."
Defendant contends that the assignment judges' practices disregarded statutory and constitutional commands and mandate dismissal of his indictment. We take up the statutory issue first.
Grand jury selection procedures are governed in New Jersey by N.J.S.A. 2A:71-1 to -7. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 2A:71-2 provides that grand jurors shall be drawn randomly and seated for service on the panel as they are selected. N.J.S.A. 2A:78-1 allows the assignment judge to excuse a juror "whenever it appears that any member . . . should be excused." N.J.S.A. 2A:73-1 mandates that prospective grand jurors remaining after excuses have been granted be seated in the order they were drawn. Finally, N.J.S.A. 2A:72-7 prohibits disqualification of otherwise qualified grand or petit jurors on account of race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, marital status, or gender. At a minimum, the statutes evidence a clear legislative intent to maximize the randomness and objectivity of the grand juror selection process despite the exercise of discretion inherent in the granting of excuses.
The State argues that the discretion allowed by N.J.S.A. 2A:78-1 permits assignment judges to grant excuses in pursuit of a fair cross-section in the grand jury. It further asserts that even if the procedures used were improper, the defendant's failure to show prejudice defeats his claim.
We recognize that both judges, in the exercise of their discretion, attempted to advance the salutary purpose of obtaining a fair cross-section of jurors. For this it is difficult to criticize them. However, jury selection is an integral part of the fair process to which every criminal defendant is entitled. State v. Singletary, 80 N.J. 55, 62 (1979). It is vital that juries be selected in a manner free from taint and suspicion. To that end the pertinent practice safeguards in the statute must be carefully observed. State v. Wagner, 180 N.J. Super. 564, 567 (App.Div.1981). In capital cases this responsibility is of the deepest concern. State v. Kociolek, 23 N.J. 400 (1957) (statutes
providing for twenty peremptory challenges for criminal defendant and pre-trial delivery of jury list to defendant charged with murder are mandatory).
Both judges testified that on occasion they excused prospective grand jurors of a particular race to obtain a racial balance. As noted, although they stated that they attempted, when excusing grand jurors, to obtain a representative cross-section, they both indicated that they did not know the actual black population of Essex County. Thus, they exercised their discretion to realize their individual conceptions of fair representation, conceptions that were not informed by the facts. It is clear, however, that modern jury selection statutes were designed especially to avoid such subjective evaluations of grand jury composition. While we do not dispute the necessity of allowing the judge to exercise discretion to excuse those prospective grand jurors who may be eligible for excusal, judges are not permitted by the statute to exercise their discretion to implement personal notions of cross-sectionality.
The requirement of a random process to insure representativeness of grand jury panels demands that each person have an equal chance of serving. See State v. Long, 204 N.J. Super. 469, 483-84 (Law Div.1985). A particular grand jury is not required to be a mirror image of the community. State v. Porro, supra, 152 N.J. Super. at 267. We do not believe that N.J.S.A. 2A:78-1 was contemplated by the Legislature as the mechanism by which fair representation on grand jury panels would be achieved. Rather, the legislators intended that the randomness requirements of N.J.S.A. 2A:71-2 would accomplish this result. Finally, it is quite clear that N.J.S.A. 2A:78-1 cannot be read to contravene the clear mandate of 2A:72-7 that jurors not be disqualified solely on the basis of race. The procedures followed here did just that.
We now turn to the question whether these statutory violations are of such dimension as to require dismissal of defendant's indictment. We do not construe our state's statute
as requiring dismissal of the indictment whenever the statutory commands are breached, regardless of the nature or effect of the violations or the intent of those who committed them. It is well-settled that judicial power to dismiss an indictment is not to be exercised except on the clearest and plainest grounds and that an indictment should stand unless manifestly deficient or palpably defective. State v. Wein, 80 N.J. 491, 501 (1979); State v. Weleck, 10 N.J. 355, 364 (1952). In formulating remedies for violations of the Federal Jury Selection and Service Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1861-1869 (1982), federal courts have noted that Congress "left room for harmless error by providing that dismissal should lie only when there was a substantial failure to comply with the [Federal Jury Selection and Service] Act." United States v. Evans, 526 F.2d 701, 705 (5th Cir.), cert. den., 429 U.S. 818, 97 S. Ct. 62, 50 L. Ed. 2d 78 (1976). We believe that our statute is infused with a similar purpose, and that violations of it should warrant dismissal of an indictment only where they substantially undermine the randomness and objectivity of the selection mechanism or cause harm to the defendant.*fn47
With these principles in mind, we decline to dismiss defendant's indictment because of the statutory violations. We acknowledge that the assignment judges' procedures were improper and that they may have even created the potential for abuse. However, no one suggests that the independence of the grand jury itself was compromised, cf. State v. Hart, 139 N.J. Super. 565, 568 (App.Div.1976), or that the panel was in any way biased or prejudiced, or that "the grand jury had before it no substantial or rationally persuasive evidence upon which to base its indictment," Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 364,
76 S. Ct. 406, 409, 100 L. Ed. 397, 403 (1956) (Burton, J., concurring). Were we to sense any such fundamental injustice, we would not hesitate to call for further proceedings. Although the procedures used obviously implicated the randomness of the selection process, there is no showing that they substantially undermined the randomness principle, and when, as here, the purpose of the judges' actions was to achieve greater racial balance and not impermissibly to exclude members of a cognizable group, the statute does not call for a dismissal.
Nor can we agree with defendant's contention that the judges' procedures give rise to a claim that Essex County grand juries were constituted in a manner violative of the sixth or fourteenth amendments. As previously discussed, one of the essential elements of a prima facie claim is that the procedures used result in substantial underrepresentation of a cognizable group. Defendant produced no evidence, however, concerning the actual representation of blacks on Essex County grand juries; his evidence went solely to the percentage of blacks in the pools from which the juries were selected. It is thus impossible for this Court to say that the assignment judges' procedures, which came into play after the qualified list was constituted, caused any underrepresentation of blacks, much less a substantial underrepresentation. Plainly, defendant's constitutional challenge to the system must fail on this prong of the prima facie test.
The assignment judge's dismissal of two blacks from the specific grand jury that indicted defendant requires separate constitutional analysis. In recent decisions limiting prosecutors' use of peremptory challenges, both this Court and the United States Supreme Court have made clear that unconstitutional exclusion of blacks and other cognizable groups during jury selection may occur in an individual case as well as systematically over a period of time. See Batson v. Kentucky, U.S. , , 106 S. Ct. 1712, 1722, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 87
(1986); State v. Gilmore, 103 N.J. 508, 527 (1986). Applying the principles set forth in Batson and Gilmore, however, we hold that the dismissal of two blacks from defendant's grand jury was not an error of constitutional magnitude.*fn48
In Batson, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all four blacks from the petit jury venire, leaving the defendant, a black, to be tried by an all-white jury. U.S. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1715, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 78. Overruling its prior determination in Swain v. Alabama, supra, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S. Ct. 824, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759, the Court held that the prosecutor's conduct may have violated the equal protection clause. "Exclusion of black citizens from service as jurors," the Court said, "constitutes a primary example of the evil the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to cure." U.S. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1716, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 80 (emphasis added). To "establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in selection of the petit jury" under Batson, the defendant must show that "the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove from the venire members of the defendant's race." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1722, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 87. The facts in the present case belie any contention that the assignment judge exercised his powers in order "to remove from the venire
members of the defendant's race": the actual grand jury empanelled contained nine blacks, and the assignment judge testified that in dismissing the two jurors he sought to achieve a more truly representative grand jury. While the assignment judge's actions were improper under statutory law, and certainly would have been unconstitutional had they been intended to exclude all or virtually all blacks from the grand jury, we cannot find in these circumstances that they constituted the type of "purposeful discrimination" interdicted by Batson and the fourteenth amendment.
In State v. Gilmore, supra, 103 N.J. 508, we held that in addition to raising the equal protection concerns identified in Batson, a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude all blacks from a petit jury violated the defendant's state constitutional right to an impartial jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community. We do not believe that this right*fn49 was violated by the assignment judge's actions in this case. In Gilmore, defendant was tried by an all-white jury; here, nine blacks remained on the grand jury. Of course, "one need not eliminate 100% of minority jurors to achieve an impermissible purpose. If the minority's representation is reduced to 'impotence,' as, for example, by the challenge of a disproportionate number of group members," the representative cross-section requirement may not be fulfilled. Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 387 N.E. 2d 499, 516 n. 32, cert. den., 444 U.S. 881, 100 S. Ct. 170, 62 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1979). But it is clear that the assignment judge's practices here did not reduce the minority's representation to "impotence" or "restrict unreasonably the possibility that the petit jury will comprise a representative cross-section of the community," State v. Gilmore, supra, 103 N.J. at 529. The grand jury that indicted defendant was more than representative of the Essex County
black population, and we therefore hold that the dismissal of the two additional black jurors, while erroneous, was not unconstitutional.
Lastly, defendant seeks dismissal of his indictment on the ground that the procedure for selecting grand jury forepersons in Essex County contravenes the sixth and fourteenth amendments, as well as Article I, paragraphs 5, 8, and 9 of the New Jersey Constitution, "and New Jersey statutes."*fn50
Once each grand jury was selected, the assignment judges used discretion to choose the foreperson and his or her deputy. To locate potential forepersons, the judges would review all the questionnaires and excuse letters of the grand jurors prior to their being empaneled. Once the grand jury was empaneled, both judges would have a short conversation with the grand jury manager, to determine who would be the best foreperson and deputy. Both judges testified that they tried to ensure that a "balance" of people became forepersons. One judge took into account leadership and administrative skills and educational or employment background. The other judge testified that although he did not look for a "leader," he expected the foreperson to be articulate, have an average ability to read and write, and not be timid. The defendant adduced evidence that for blacks in the grand jury foreperson position, there was an absolute disparity of 29.8% and a comparative disparity of 83%, with standard deviations of 7.2.
The sixth amendment's fair cross-section requirement does not extend to the post of grand jury foreperson. See
United States v. Holman, 680 F.2d 1340, 1356 (11th Cir.1982); United States v. Perez-Hernandez, 672 F.2d 1380, 1385 (11th Cir.1982). Only the equal protection clause has been invoked to prohibit discrimination in that post and then only when the foreperson's functions are deemed constitutionally significant. See Hobby v. United States, 468 U.S. 339, 104 S. Ct. 3093, 82 L. Ed. 2d 260 (1984). Moreover, we see no reason why this Court should interpret the state Constitution to create such a fair cross-section right. In Perez-Hernandez, supra, the Eleventh Circuit, in explaining why the fair cross-section right does not apply to the grand jury foreperson, said:
[T]he Sixth Amendment right to an "impartial jury" is given full effect by insuring that distinct groups of the community are represented, but are not given the opportunity to dominate, or, in the alternative, denied the opportunity to participate, in a democratic system of justice. Accordingly, the fair cross section analysis is only applicable to groups, such as a grand or petit jury, which can represent society as a whole. One person alone cannot represent the divergent views, experience, and ideas of the distinct groups which form a community. Thus, a grand jury foreman is a member of the group which represents a cross section of his or her community, but he or she cannot be a fair cross section of that community. [672 F.2d at 1385.]
Ramseur's equal protection claim is still outstanding, however. The tripartite test is the same for the underrepresentation in the post of grand jury foreperson as for the underrepresentation of blacks in the source and qualified lists.
The question here is whether the grand jury foreperson in this state performs duties that are so significant that the equal protection clause may be said to be violated. In Hobby v. United States, supra, the Supreme Court found that the post of federal grand jury foreperson was "essentially clerical in nature: administering oaths, maintaining records, and signing indictments." 468 U.S. at 344-45, 104 S. Ct. at 3096, 82 L. Ed. 2d at 266. The Court found that "the ministerial trappings of the post carry with them no special powers or duties that meaningfully affect the rights of [the accused] beyond those posessed by every member of that body." Id. at 345, 104 S. Ct. at 3096, 82 L. Ed. 2d at 266. According to the Court, the foreperson has "no authority apart from that of the grand jury as a whole to
act in a manner that determines or influences whether an individual is to be prosecuted." Id.
Ramseur places primary reliance on the plurality opinion in Rose v. Mitchell, supra, 443 U.S. 545, 99 S. Ct. 2993, 61 L. Ed. 2d 739. In that case, the Court "assume[d] without deciding that discrimination with regard to the selection of only the foreman" required that a conviction be set aside. Id. at 551-52 n. 4, 99 S. Ct. at 2998 n. 4, 61 L. Ed. 2d at 747 n. 4. The defendant in Rose, however, had been convicted in Tennessee state court. Under Tennessee law, the trial court chose a foreperson from the general population to serve as the thirteenth juror in a body otherwise composed of persons selected by a random process. A foreperson served for two years and could be, and often was, reappointed. He was expected to assist the district attorney in investigating crimes, could conduct the questioning of witnesses, and had to sign an indictment for it to be valid. See id. at 548 n. 2, 99 S. Ct. at 2996 n. 2, 61 L. Ed. 2d at 744 n. 2.
It is clear that the Tennessee grand jury foreperson was in a position to guide the decisionmaking process of the grand jury and had substantially greater power than his federal counterpart. In the instant case, the trial court found, based on the evidence adduced at the motion hearings, that the duties of the grand jury foreperson in this state are closer to those of federal forepersons than to those of Tennessee forepersons, and hence are not constitutionally significant. We agree with the conclusion of the court below and therefore leave it undisturbed.*fn51
Defendant moved before trial for implementation of the so-called "Arizona" or "struck" jury system. The trial court had determined to empanel eighteen jurors and to leave until the conclusion of the case the selection of the twelve who would ultimately deliberate. Under the form of "struck" jury system proposed by defendant, it would have been necessary to death-qualify a total of sixty prospective jurors before any peremptory challenges could be asserted -- the eighteen to be sworn, plus twenty-six to account for the number of peremptory challenges allowed defendant, plus sixteen to accommodate the State's peremptories.*fn52
The trial court rejected defendant's proposal for a struck jury system, but recognized that if the parties were required to exercise their peremptory challenges after each juror was qualified, "neither counsel [would] have any good idea as to the composition of . . . eighteen members that [would] ultimately be selected." The court therefore qualified eighteen jurors before the parties were called on to exercise peremptories; as each peremptory was exercised, a new panel member was examined on voir dire until a replacement juror was qualified, at which point the other party was permitted to challenge peremptorily. The process continued in that fashion until a jury of eighteen, satisfactory to both sides, was obtained. As it turned out, neither the State nor the defense exhausted its allotted number of peremptory challenges.
Defendant acknowledges that the method of jury selection is a matter reposed in the sound discretion of the trial court, but he contends that the denial of his motion for a struck jury amounted to an abuse of that discretion, warranting a new trial before a jury chosen in accordance with his proposal. The struck jury system, says defendant, is the best suited for insuring that capital defendants receive a fair and impartial trial.
To the extent that defendant claims a constitutional right to a struck jury, the claim is without merit. The right to peremptory challenges springs not from any constitutional basis but rather from statutory provisions designed to insure an impartial jury. State v. Singletary, supra, 80 N.J. at 62; see N.J.S.A. 2A:78-7(c). States may fix reasonable limitations on peremptory challenge procedures, "so long as the right of challenge is not taken away and reasonable opportunity is given to challenge." Veach v. McDowell, 133 Ind.App. 628, 184 N.E. 2d 149, 151 (1962). Thus, the manner in which the peremptory
challenges are exercised, if not directed by statute, is within the discretion of the court, limited by defendant's right to a fair and impartial jury. St. Clair v. United States, 154 U.S. 134, 148, 14 S. Ct. 1002, 1008, 38 L. Ed. 936, 941 (1894); United States v. Turner, 558 F.2d 535, 538 (9th Cir.1977); State v. Brunson, 101 N.J. 132, 140 (1985); cf. Batson v. Kentucky, supra, U.S. , 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69; State v. Gilmore, supra, 103 N.J. 508.
In Foraker v. State, 394 A.2d 208 (Del.1978), the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a rule requiring the exercise of peremptory challenges in capital cases immediately after examination of individual jurors and not after the entire jury has been impaneled.
We find no constitutional defect in this procedure as it rationally requires the defendant and the State to focus upon possible prejudices of the individual jurors, as opposed to allowing evaluation of the composition of the jury as an entire body. In the context of a murder trial, such a procedure is legitimate. [ Id. at 215 (citation omitted).]
See St. Clair v. United States, supra, 154 U.S. at 147-48, 44 S. Ct. at 1007-08, 38 L. Ed. at 941-42 (defendant in capital case does not have right to examine all jury members for cause before exercising peremptory challenges).
Defendant's contention that the struck jury system is the only valid method of selecting a capital jury fails not only as a constitutional argument but also as a suggested statement of desirable state policy. We understand the attraction of the struck jury procedure: under it, the parties are confronted with all of the jurors who might hear the case, enabling the parties to make a comparative assessment before exercising a peremptory challenge. See Swain v. Alabama, supra, 380 U.S. at 217-18, 85 S. Ct. at 834, 13 L. Ed. 2d at 771; United States v. Sams, 470 F.2d 751, 754 (5th Cir.1972). In no case, however, has such a system been mandated. Indeed, in United States v. Blouin, 666 F.2d 796 (2d Cir.1981), the court held explicitly that the "'struck jury system' . . . is not required," nor, on balance, even "necessarily preferable to the 'jury box' system; it is merely different." Id. at 799. Certainly, the struck jury
system is not necessarily more fair for defendants; its benefits accrue also to the prosecutor, who will likewise use the opportunity to make a comparative assessment of potential jurors.
Moreover, the struck jury system poses certain obvious problems, notably, in our view, in its requirement that a larger group of jurors must be questioned and qualified. 3 ABA Standards for Criminal Justice Standard 15-2.6, commentary at 15.70 (2d ed. 1980). In capital cases, the process is particularly lengthy because individual voir dire may be required under Rule 1:8-3(a) and (d) for many potential jurors, here sixty. Often neither party will use all of the allotted peremptory challenges, in which case jurors will have been questioned unnecessarily.
The concerns over judicial economy raised by the proposed system were addressed by this Court in an analogous context in State v. Rios, 17 N.J. 572 (1955). In Rios, also a capital case, the trial court denied defendant's application to exercise a peremptory challenge after the juror had been found acceptable to defense counsel and had been sworn. In rejecting defendant's contention that the denial constituted error, Justice Wachenfeld, writing for a unanimous Court, observed:
Were we to sanction peremptory challenges after the swearing of the jurors, it would soon become standard practice for counsel to withhold their peremptory challenges until a full panel had been sworn, doubtlessly hoping thereby to gain the advantage of an observation made after the entire panel had been seated. Such a procedure would lead to but further and needless delay in the selection of a jury and would not serve to advance the ends of justice. [ Id. at 594.]
This is not to say that we disapprove the use of a "struck" jury system per se; it is to say, however, that trial courts do not err in seeking to balance the exigencies of the judicial system with the interests of the parties in exercising informed peremptory challenges.
We thus cannot say that the trial court's analysis here was erroneous. In essence, defendant's argument confuses his right to an impartial jury with his interest in acquittal. Defendant is not entitled, however, to a jury he considers most
favorably disposed to him; he is entitled to an impartial jury. The right of challenge is one of exclusion, not selection. E.g., State v. Marchese, 14 N.J. 16, 21 (1953). Here, defendant has made no showing that the system used produced anything other than an impartial jury. The method of jury selection provided defendant a fair and reasonable opportunity to exercise his peremptory challenges to exclude any juror defendant believed would not be impartial. We therefore hold that defendant was not entitled to the qualification of sixty jurors prior to the exercise of his peremptory challenges. The struck jury issue in future cases is left to the sound discretion of the trial courts.
Defense counsel in this case sought permission to ask potential jurors several questions regarding racial attitudes and prejudices.*fn53 The trial court, however, forbade all questioning on the subject except for a single general question. This limitation, according to defendant, made intelligent challenges for cause and peremptory challenges impossible, violating defendant's
right to an impartial jury under the federal and state Constitutions. See U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV; N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, paras. 1, 10.
At a conference before jury selection began, the trial court stated that "race is not, at all, a factor in the case," and that any questions on the issue were therefore unnecessary. It saw "no reason at all" to ask the questions relating to race proposed by the defendant because the case did not involve an interracial crime. Nevertheless, not wishing to foreclose all such inquiry, the court ruled as follows:
I'll permit you to ask the question as to whether race would have any influence in the ability of the [juror] to reach a fair and impartial verdict. If there is an answer that requires further elucidation, of course, I will permit additional inquiry.
This judgment was consonant with the Supreme Court's view of the law in this area. In Ristaino v. Ross, 424 U.S. 589, 96 S. Ct. 1017, 47 L. Ed. 2d 258 (1976), the Supreme Court held that due process does not compel questions about racial bias except in cases in which "[r]acial issues . . . were inextricably bound up with the conduct of the trial." Id. at 596-97, 96 S. Ct. at 1021, 47 L. Ed. 2d at 264. However, under the circumstances presented in Ristaino, with the defendant accused of violent interracial crimes, the Court would have required questioning about racial bias "under [its] supervisory power" over federal courts. Id. at 597 n. 9, 96 S. Ct. at 1022 n. 9, 47 L. Ed. 2d at 265 n. 9. Further, the states were "free to allow or require questions not demanded by the Constitution." Id. In Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182, 191, 101 S. Ct. 1629, 1635, 68 L. Ed. 2d 22, 30 (1981), the Supreme Court held that in federal courts, denial of requested inquiry into racial prejudice would constitute reversible error "where the circumstances of the case indicate that there is a reasonable possibility that racial or ethnic prejudice might have influenced the jury."
A plurality of the Rosales-Lopez Court explained the result in Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 51 S. Ct. 470, 75 L. Ed. 1054 (1931), and Ristaino, supra:
Aldridge and Ristaino together fairly imply that federal trial courts must make such an inquiry when requested by a defendant accused of a violent crime and where the defendant and victim are members of different racial or ethnic groups. This supervisory rule is based upon and consistent with the "reasonable possibility standard" articulated above. It remains an unfortunate fact in our society that violent crimes perpetrated against members of other racial or ethnic groups often raise such a possibility. [451 U.S. at 192, 101 S. Ct. at 1636, 68 L. Ed. 2d at 31.]
The Court held that because the petitioner had been tried for immigration law violations rather than crimes of violence, and because no other special circumstances existed, neither the Constitution nor supervisory powers required inquiry into racial prejudice. Id. at 192-94, 101 S. Ct. at 1636-37, 68 L. Ed. 2d at 31-32.
Most recently, in Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. , 106 S. Ct. 1683, 90 L. Ed. 2d 27 (1986), the Court held that "a capital defendant accused of an interracial crime is entitled to have prospective jurors informed of the race of the victim and questioned on the issue of racial bias." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1688, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 37 (footnote omitted). The Court adhered to the principle that "[t]he fact of interracial violence alone is not a 'special circumstance' entitling the defendant to have prospective jurors questioned about racial prejudice," id. at n. 7, 106 S. Ct. at 1687 n. 7, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 36 n. 7, but distinguished Ristaino on the ground that "the crime charged [in Turner ] was a capital offense." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1687, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 35. In Turner, the trial court had rejected the question, to be asked of jurors during the voir dire preceding an interracial murder trial, whether the fact the defendant was black and the victim white would affect the juror's "ability to render a fair and impartial verdict based solely on the evidence." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1685, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 33.
In the instant case, by contrast, not only was there no interracial crime involved, but the trial court did allow a question on race analogous to the one refused by the trial court in Turner. The trial court thus exceeded both the federal constitutional and supervisory standards. As in Ristaino, moreover,
and in further contrast to Turner, racial issues in the present case were not "inextricably bound up with the conduct of the trial." Ristaino v. Ross, supra, 424 U.S. at 597, 96 S. Ct. at 1021, 47 L. Ed. 2d at 264. Not only were the defendant, victim, and State's fact witnesses all of the same race, but the defendant did not interpose a racially implicated defense and racial issues formed no part of the State's case. Defendant's argument fails, therefore, as a matter of federal constitutional law.
The present case provides no convincing justification, moreover, for requiring a more specific voir dire dealing with racial bias under state law. In State v. Long, 137 N.J. Super. 124, 130-31 (App.Div.1975), certif. den., 70 N.J. 143 (1976), where the defendant stood trial on drug charges, the Appellate Division held that absent "racial overtones," see Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524, 93 S. Ct. 848, 35 L. Ed. 2d 46 (1973), racial-prejudice inquiries were not constitutionally imperative. Nevertheless,
[w]here a defendant does request a voir dire inquiry as to potential prejudice because of color or other physical characteristics, it is the better practice for a judge to accede to the request and pose simple and direct questions pointed to the specific element of prejudice involved. [137 N.J. Super. at 131.]
Whether the failure to ask the question constitutes an abuse of discretion, the court held, depends on the facts of the case. Id. In Long itself, nothing in the nature of the crime, "milieu" of the community, or pretrial publicity made the court's failure reversible error. Id. at 132. In this case, as in Long, the absence of racial overtones among either the defendant and victim, or the defendant and witnesses, or in the legal issues raised by either side supports the trial court's judgment.
In contrast to the defendant in Long, the three black male defendants in State v. Sims, 140 N.J. Super. 164 (App.Div.1976), stood trial for the attempted murder of two white police officers. The Appellate Division held that those facts made questions concerning racial prejudice appropriate, and ordered the trial court to ask such questions if requested on a retrial granted in part on other grounds. Id. at 173. Sims is distinguishable
from the instant case, however, because Ramseur's crime was not interracial.
We are sensitive to the reality of racial prejudice, and to the possibility that jurors may prejudge a defendant because of his or her race, even in the absence of an interracial crime. Racial prejudice may operate, for instance, when the defendant is black simply because the defendant is black and regardless of the victim's color. We must be particularly sensitive to this possibility in a capital case. As the Supreme Court has recognized, "[b]ecause of the range of discretion entrusted to a jury in a capital sentencing hearing, there is a unique opportunity for racial prejudice to operate but remain undetected." Turner v. Murray, supra, 476 U.S. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1687, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 35. This Court too has recognized the crucial role of extensive voir dire in weeding out unfit jurors in capital cases:
Another important, indeed critical, means for dealing with potential and latent bias is the voir dire. The court should consider the efficacy of more exhaustive and searching voir dire examinations. The court in conducting the voir dire should be particularly responsive to the requests of counsel regarding the examination of prospective jurors as to potential bias. The court should consider whether there should be a greater willingness to resolve doubts in favor of the defendant in excusing jurors for cause. Particularly in capital cases, trial judges should exercise extraordinary care in the voir dire of potential jurors. . . . [ State v. Williams, 93 N.J. 39, 68-69 (1983) (footnotes omitted).]
We are satisfied, however, that where the case itself carries no racial overtones, racial concerns are met by the approach followed by the trial court in the instant case although, where defendant so requests, we would prefer a broader range of inquiry. We reject the defendant's characterization of the allowed question as a "sledgehammer" inquiry. By allowing a general inquiry into whether racial views would affect impartiality, and by leaving open the possibility of further questioning if the initial answer warranted it, the trial court responded to the general problem of racially prejudiced jurors. Because the case itself carried no racial overtones, there was no abuse of discretion in so limiting the questioning; nor would there have been abuse in allowing more extensive
questioning. Under the circumstances in this case, the trial court's approach cannot be said to have deprived defendant of his right to an impartial jury, even if a more searching inquiry is usually advisable when requested.
Defendant contends that New Jersey's process of "death qualification" deprives capital defendants of the right to an impartial jury as provided by the federal and state Constitutions. He also contends that the trial court's dismissal of two jurors in his case on the ground that they were unqualified to sit in a capital cause was erroneous and deprived him of his right to an impartial jury.
At the time of the argument of these appeals, there was an open question of whether the federal Constitution forbade
removal for cause, prior to the guilt phase of a bifurcated trial, of prospective jurors whose opposition to the death penalty is so strong that it would prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties as jurors at the sentencing phase of the tria[l]. [ Lockhart v. McCree, 476 U.S. , , 106 S. Ct. 1758, 1760, 90 L. Ed. 2d 137, 142 (1986).]
The Supreme Court has since held in Lockhart v. McCree, supra, that it does not. Thus defendant's constitutional objection must be rejected as a matter of federal law. Because defendant has based his attack on Article I, paragraph 10 of our state Constitution as well as the federal Constitution, however, our inquiry cannot begin and end with Lockhart. We must review the evolution of the death qualification doctrine and arrive at our own judgment on this matter.
In Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S. Ct. 1770, 20 L. Ed. 2d 776 (1968), the Supreme Court held that exclusion of all jurors who express "conscientious scruples" against the death penalty violates a capital defendant's right to an impartial jury. "A man who opposes the death penalty, no less than one who favors it," the Court said, "can make the discretionary judgment entrusted to him by the State and can thus obey the oath
he takes as a juror." Id. at 519, 88 S. Ct. at 1775, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 783. The Court stated that jurors who made their opposition to the death penalty "unambiguous" or "unmistakably clear," however, could be excluded. Id. at 515 n. 9, 522 n. 21, 88 S. Ct. at 1777 n. 21, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 781 n. 9, 785 n. 21. In Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, 45, 100 S. Ct. 2521, 2526, 65 L. Ed. 2d 581, 589 (1980), the Court restated the exclusion test in terms of whether the juror's views "would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath."
Such jurors are referred to as " Witherspoon excludables." Lockhart v. McCree, supra, 476 U.S. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1761, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 143. The process of jury selection that eliminates " Witherspoon excludables" from the panel is referred to as "death qualification." Id. The question that Lockhart had to resolve was whether the process of death qualification that is necessary to select a jury capable of following the judge's instructions in the capital sentencing phase of the trial results in the seating of a jury that is uncommonly prone to convict in the guilt phase. The issue arose because Arkansas, by legislative enactment and judicial decision, had provided for the use in capital cases of a unitary jury, i.e., a jury that sits during both the guilt and penalty phases. The reliability and validity of the studies that support the conclusion that "death qualified" juries are more likely to convict were extensively reviewed by the Supreme Court in Lockhart. The Court accepted, "for purposes of [the] opinion[,] that the studies are both methodologically valid and adequate to establish that 'death qualification' in fact produces juries somewhat more 'conviction-prone' than 'non-death-qualified' juries." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1764, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 147.
The Court nonetheless held that the Constitution does not prohibit states from death-qualifying juries in capital cases. The Court first concluded that death-qualification did not violate the fair cross-section requirement for a jury because the process did not involve the systematic exclusion of a distinctive
group in the community. Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1764-66, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 147-50. The group of " Witherspoon excludables" differs significantly from the groups previously recognized as distinctive, such as women and racial minorities, because the " Witherspoon excludable" group is identified as the result of an activity "designed to serve the State's concededly legitimate interest in obtaining a single jury that can properly and impartially apply the law to the facts of the case at both the guilt and sentencing phases of a capital trial." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1765, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 149. The Court emphasized, and the defendant agreed, that the state had not instituted its death qualification procedures for the purpose of arbitrarily skewing the composition of capital-case juries. Id.
The Court also rejected the argument that death qualification deprives capital defendants of their right to an impartial jury. Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1766-70, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 150-54. In its view, if the Constitution required a certain mix of individual viewpoints, i.e., those less or more prone to convict on a particular jury, then courts would be required to undertake the difficult task of balancing each jury. Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1767, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 151. The Court also emphasized the state's "entirely proper interest in obtaining a single jury that could impartially decide all of the issues in [the defendant's] case." Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1768, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 152.
The Court distinguished Witherspoon because in that case Illinois had "deliberately slanted" the process so that "'when it swept from the jury all who expressed [any] scruples against capital punishment . . ., the State crossed the line of neutrality . . . [by] produc[ing] a jury uncommonly willing to condemn a man to die.'" Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1768, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 151 (quoting Witherspoon v. Illinois, supra, 391 U.S. at 520-21, 88 S. Ct. at 1776, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 784). The Court further distinguished Witherspoon and Adams by noting the lesser role of jury discretion at a traditional guilt trial than at a capital sentencing proceeding. Id. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1769, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 154.
We find that the protections regarding death qualification afforded under the New Jersey Constitution are no different from or greater than those under the federal Constitution. We find no distinct tradition of state constitutional doctrine that would call for such a difference. As previously noted (see supra at 169-170), New Jersey does not appear to have a unique public attitude toward the death penalty. The specific question of death qualification in the context of the bifurcated trial is novel, but as lower courts have noted, see State v. Cohen, 211 N.J. Super. 544, 551 (App.Div.1986); State v. Bass, 189 N.J. Super. 461, 467 (Law Div.1983), this Court previously permitted death qualification in trials where the guilt and penalty phases were combined. See State v. Holland, 59 N.J. 451, 463 (1971). We thus find no reason in state tradition or doctrine to depart from Lockhart.*fn54
Nor do we find that death qualification of jurors prior to the guilt phase of a capital trial offends notions of fundamental fairness. Three reasons support this conclusion.
First, we note that the Legislature has addressed the fairness issue in the scheme that it has developed. Although there is no constitutional compulsion that there be a jury at the penalty phase, Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S. Ct. 3154, 82 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1984), our statute presupposes in most
instances that there shall be the same jury that heard the guilt/innocence phase of the trial.*fn55 This scheme is seen as "evidencing a desire for 'death qualification' before the guilt phase." State v. Bass, supra, 189 N.J. Super, at 464. Ordinarily we defer to such a determination when "substantive fairness is a matter of legislative policy that does not offend constitutional principle." State v. Roth, supra, 95 N.J. at 345 (sustaining procedures for state appeal of certain criminal sentences).*fn56
Second, we note that other jurisdictions that have addressed the issue since Lockhart v. McCree have maintained their belief that death qualification before the guilt phase of a capital trial does not offend their principles of state criminal procedure, whether based on state constitutional doctrine or fairness to the defendant. See Blount v. State, 511 A.2d 1030, 1038 (Del. 1986); State v. Hughes, 106 Wash. 2d 176, 721 P. 2d 902, 908 (1986). Each of these jurisdictions has considered and rejected challenges to death qualification prior to the guilt phase.
Finally, we believe, as do the other jurisdictions that have addressed the issue, that there is no satisfactory alternative to death qualification of jurors prior to the guilt phase. Following the Eighth Circuit's decision in Grigsby v. Mabry, 637 F.2d 525 (1980), and before the Supreme Court's 1986 reversal of that decision in Lockhart v. McCree, the Arkansas Supreme Court reconsidered its death qualification practices. That court noted that "we should not be averse to suggested changes in the jury system (which we think should be specified by legislation, not by judicial directive) if the resulting advantages could be shown to outweigh the disadvantages. So far we have not seen a suggested change meeting that test." Rector v. State, 280 Ark. 385, 659 S.W. 2d 168, 173 (1983), cert. den., 466 U.S. 988, 104 S. Ct. 2370, 80 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1984).
The Arkansas court concluded that "[t]he Grigsby proposed modification, involving the same case being tried twice before successive juries, is the least appealing of the possibilities . . . [, the effect being] comparable to having the actors in a play, after the audience had left the theater, repeat their lines in a second performance." 659 S.W. 2d at 173. It rejected as well the use of alternative jurors in the penalty phase as involving an unnecessary "shuffling [of] jurors in and out of the jury box . . . [resulting in] the separation of certain jurors' responsibility for the verdict from their responsibility for fixing the penalty. The two must go hand in hand, else the common law jury system no longer exists." Id. at 174. Finally, the court perceived a danger that jurors strongly opposed to capital punishment, in an effort to avoid feeling any responsibility, would tend to vote for acquittal. Id.
The Delaware Supreme Court has noted that it had a long established statutory preference for a single jury qualified to try both phases of a capital trial and found that "[t]he State has a strong interest in avoiding . . . repetitive trials." Blount v. State, supra, 511 A.2d at 1038. As to the selection of additional jurors who would hear the trial
and be substituted for the jurors who could not impose the death penalty at the beginning of the penalty phase of the trial, . . . these new jurors would have to deliberate on the penalty with jurors who had already deliberated on and considered the evidence at the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. These new members would be ignorant of the prior discussions, running afoul of the concept that a jury reach a verdict through deliberations which are the common experience of all jurors. [ Id. ]
See also People v. Fields, 35 Cal. 3d 329, 673 P. 2d 680, 197 Cal.Rptr. 803 (1983) (state interest in unitary jury sufficient to exclude noncognizable group of persons who would automatically vote against death at the penalty phase), cert. den., 469 U.S. 892, 105 S. Ct. 267, 83 L. Ed. 2d 204 (1984).
As the Washington Supreme Court has noted, the two-jury system may indeed not be beneficial to the defendant. "Jurors may harbor what one court has referred to as 'whimsical doubts' in the guilt phase that might prevent them from voting for the death penalty in the sentencing phase. If a new jury sits in the sentencing phase, it will harbor no such doubts and may be more likely to vote for the death penalty." State v. Hughes, supra, 721 P. 2d at 908 (quoting Smith v. Balkcom, 660 F.2d 573, 580 (5th ...