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State v. Reyes

June 5, 1995


On certification to the Superior Court Appellate Division.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Garibaldi, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, Pollock O'Hern, Stein and Coleman join in Justice Garibaldi's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garibaldi

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).


Argued January 31, 1995-- Decided June 5, 1995

GARIBALDI, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

Jose Luis Reyes and Norma Martinez lived together from late 1982 until June imprisoned for narcotics possession. Because Norma could no longer afford the rent, she and her sister, Teresita Martinez, moved into the apartment of a friend, Emie Pagan. After Reyes was released from jail, Norma ended their relationship because of Reyes' continued abusiveness, jealousy and threats.

On October 28, 1984, after having had an argument with Norma, Reyes ingested a variety of intoxicants, including angel dust (PCP), heroin, marijuana, and alcohol. Sometime after 5:00 a.m. the following morning, Reyes went to his friend Eduardo's home, grabbed a kitchen knife and proceeded to Emie Pagan's apartment. Reyes broke into Emie's apartment and found everyone sleeping. Reyes went directly to Emie's room where he stabbed Emie to death. Thereafter, Norma, Teresita, and Teresita's boyfriend, Roberto, tried to subdue Reyes. During the struggle, Reyes stabbed Norma, Teresita, and Roberto. Reyes also terrorized Norma and Teresita and sexually assaulted Norma. Eventually, Norma was able to calm Reyes and she agreed to leave with him. Sometime later, Reyes brought Norma to the hospital where he was arrested by police.

On November 16, 1994, Reyes was indicted for: burglary; murder; felony murder; aggravated assault; terroristic threats; attempted aggravated sexual assault; attempted murder; and possession of weapons for an unlawful purpose. The matter was tried as a capital case, requiring a death-penalty phase. Reyes' defense at trial was that he was unable to form the requisite mental intent because he suffered from voluntary intoxication and diminished capacity due to mental defect or disease brought about by his long-term ingestion of drugs and alcohol. At the Conclusion of the trial, the court acquitted Reyes of the burglary of Eduardo's garage and the jury acquitted him of attempted aggravated sexual assault of Norma. Reyes was found guilty of all other charged offenses, including murder.

At the Conclusion of the penalty-phase, the jury declined to impose the death penalty, finding that the aggravating factor of committing the murder during the course of a felony did not outweigh the mitigating factors of extreme mental or emotional disturbance and intoxication. Reyes was sentenced to eighty-years of imprisonment with a forty-five-year period of parole ineligibility.

Reyes appealed his conviction, contending, among other things, that the trial court had improperly instructed the jury on voluntary intoxication by improperly shifting the burden of proof onto the defense. The Appellate Division affirmed Reyes' convictions, finding that, in light of the entire jury charge, the trial court's instruction had adequately distinguished between voluntary intoxication and diminished capacity and had not impermissibly shifted the burden of proof of voluntary intoxication to Reyes. Reyes filed a petition for certification before the Supreme Court, raising essentially the same issues. That petition was denied, effectively ending Reyes' direct appeal.

Reyes filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the trial court's charge on diminished capacity went beyond the limits established in State v. Breakiron and State v. Zola, both of which were decided after Reyes' trial but before the filing of his appellate brief; that the trial court's charge on diminished capacity also violated Humanik v. Beyer, decided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; and that appellate counsel's failure to raise those trial-court errors on Reyes' direct appeal constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied Reyes' petition for post-conviction relief, finding that the evidence did not support a diminished-capacity instruction and, therefore, it should not have been submitted to the jury. As such, any error in the charge was harmless.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court, finding that the jury charge was clearly inconsistent with the dictates of Breakiron and Zola and that the failure to raise that issue clearly affected Reyes' direct appeal. The Appellate Division remanded for a new trial.

The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for certification.

HELD: The trial court's jury charge on diminished capacity was consistent with the decisions in State v. Breakiron and State v. Zola. That charge, however, did not comport with Humanik v. Bever because it contained the "preponderance of the evidence filter." Nevertheless, because the evidence that Reyes presented on diminished capacity failed to establish the presence of a mental disease or defect, that error was harmless.

1. The trial court did not have the benefit of this Court's decisions in Breakiron and Zola. Nevertheless, the trial court's charge, taken as a whole, complies with the requirements of those two decisions. The trial court made abundantly clear that the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Reyes was capable of forming the necessary intent at the time of the murder, despite the presence of mental disease or defect, always remained with the State. The charge, read as a whole, never removed from the State the ultimate burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Reyes acted purposely or knowingly, regardless of his intoxication and/or diminished capacity due to mental disease or defect. (pp. 13-21)

2. Not every mental disease or defect has relevance to the mental states prescribed by the Code of Criminal Justice. A reviewing court looking at the evidence introduced on Reyes' behalf to demonstrate his mental disease or defect would have concluded that Reyes' rage and intoxication, his depression, personality type and "lack of control of behavior," as described by his expert witness, did not constitute the quantum of evidence sufficient to support a diminished-capacity charge. Thus, it was harmless error to have given Reyes a flawed diminished-capacity charge because he was not entitled to that charge in the first place. That determination is enforced by the decision in State v. Pitts. (pp. 21-23)

3. The diminished-capacity charge contained the "preponderance of the evidence filter" condemned by the Third Circuit in Humanik. Although the charge did not comport with Humanik, that error was harmless. Specifically, there was no competent evidence that Reyes suffered from a mental disease or defect that impaired his cognitive capacity to act knowingly and purposely. Thus, the Appellate Division's reliance on State v. Galloway is misplaced because that court reads Galloway too broadly. Reyes had a violent, explosive personality, and he may have been depressed over his break-up with Norma. However, he was never diagnosed as suffering from some type of underlying mental disease or disorder. (pp. 23-28)

4. The failure to raise Humanik on direct appeal did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. If that argument had been raised on direct appeal, the reviewing court would have found the error harmless in light of the Conclusion that diminished capacity was not present. Thus, the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel argument is moot because counsel's failure to raise the issue could not have prejudiced Reyes' direct appeal. (pp. 28-29)

Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, and Reyes' motion for post-conviction relief is DENIED.



This appeal concerns defendant's motion for post-conviction relief. Defendant asserts that the diminished-capacity charge given at his trial was unconstitutional under State v. Breakiron, 108 N.J. 591, 532 A.2d 199 (1987), and State v. Zola, 112 N.J. 384, 548 A.2d 1022 (1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1022, 109 S. Ct. 1146, 103 L. Ed. 2d 205 (1989), and that his appellate counsel's failure on direct appeal to object to that erroneous charge constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant further contends that counsel's assistance was ineffective because of his failure to assert that N.J.S.A. 2C:4-2 was unconstitutional based on Humanik v. Beyer, 871 F.2d 432 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 812, 110 S. Ct. 57, 107 L. Ed. 2d 25 (1989) I. Facts

Jose Luis Reyes and Norma Martinez first met in October 1982, when Jose was twenty-two years old and Norma was sixteen, and shortly thereafter they moved in together. The couple lived together until June 1984, when Jose was imprisoned for narcotics possession. Norma could no longer afford the rent, so she and her sister, Teresita Martinez, moved into the apartment of a friend, Emie Pagan.

When Jose was released from jail a few months later, he and Norma resumed dating. Norma ended the relationship a short time later in September 1984, when Jose became jealous and physically abusive towards her, as he had been in the past. She told Jose that she did not want to see him anymore. Nevertheless, he continued to harass Norma, physically abusing her when he saw her on the street, and warning her not to date other men. Despite his threats, Norma secretly began dating another man.

On Sunday, October 28, 1984, Jose went to Emie Pagan's apartment to visit Norma. The two immediately began to argue over defendant's insistence that Norma was involved with another man. That argument attracted the attention of Emie, Teresita, and Roberto Perez, Teresita's boyfriend, who all went to the doorway to investigate. Teresita told Jose to leave Norma alone, and Ernie ordered Jose "to get the hell out [of her house]." Ernie led Norma back into the apartment, with all but defendant following, and slammed the door shut.

Jose then went across the street to question Roberto's two nephews. Defendant demanded to know if either of them was dating Norma; both denied going out with her. Jose again returned to Emie's apartment, and asked to speak with Norma. Norma agreed to speak to defendant outside on the sidewalk, but he once more began to harass Norma. Teresita briefly argued with Jose before going back inside the apartment. Defendant finally left the area at about 3:00 p.m.

Jose then went to New York City, where he indulged in a variety of intoxicants, purchasing and consuming a bag of "angel dust" (PCP), a "dime" bag of heroin (about ten dollars worth), some marijuana, and about a quart of alcohol. Later that evening, at about 7:45 p.m., he and two companions were picked up by a Port Authority police officer for being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.

At approximately 1:45 a.m, after he had been released on bail, defendant went to a nearby bar where he drank and played pool. Eventually, he and a friend, Ralphie, smoked a "dust joint" (a marijuana cigarette laced with angel dust, or PCP). Before leaving, Ralphie gave Jose another "dust joint," which defendant later smoked by himself.

Around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., Jose let himself into the apartment of a friend, Eduardo Rosa, with a key that Eduardo had given him. Eduardo woke up when Jose turned on the light. Defendant told Eduardo about his arrest earlier that evening. Jose took a kitchen knife from Eduardo's apartment, and Eduardo saw Jose place the knife between his belt and pants. Eduardo asked Jose why he wanted the knife, to which he said Jose replied, laughing, "I want it for you." Jose then left Eduardo's apartment and headed for Ernie Pagan's, which was about one hundred feet away.

When Jose arrived at Ernie's apartment, he cut through a screen covering the bathroom window using a pair of snips he had stolen that day from Eduardo's garage. Once through the screen, Jose broke into Ernie's apartment. Everyone was asleep. Jose entered and went directly to Ernie's room, stabbing her several times in the arms and twice in the chest. At trial, the medical examiner testified that one of the wounds penetrated her heart, causing Ernie's death, which probably occurred within fifteen to twenty minutes after she was stabbed.

Ernie screamed when defendant stabbed her, her screams waking the others. Norma woke and ran to Ernie's room. Defendant saw Norma, raced towards her, pushed her aside, and kicked in the door to Teresita's room. Norma grabbed defendant about his neck in a futile attempt to subdue him. Teresita and Roberto, who had been sleeping in Teresita's room, got up. Roberto ran over and struck defendant. Jose responded by trying to stab Roberto, but Roberto ducked, and Jose instead stabbed Teresita. Realizing she had been stabbed, Teresita ran screaming from the room. Jose tried to follow, but Norma and Roberto dragged him back into the bedroom. Roberto attempted to subdue Jose in a bear hug, but Jose flailed out and stabbed Roberto numerous times in the arms and legs.

Because it was still dark, Roberto did not realize he had been stabbed, and did not realize Jose had a knife until Jose stabbed him in the back. Bleeding profusely, Roberto fell to the floor and feigned death. Jose then terrorized Teresita and Norma for the next forty-five to sixty minutes. Jose ripped Teresita's clothes off, leaving her naked, and shoved her onto the sofa. Jose threatened to kill Norma and Teresita if they did not answer his questions regarding Norma's involvement with other men. Each time Norma did not answer a question to his satisfaction, Jose alternately punched her in the face, stabbed her in the leg, stomped on her, or sexually assaulted her by touching her vagina and threatening to stab her there.

Eventually, Norma managed to calm defendant down by promising to do whatever he wanted, so long as he would release her sister unharmed. Norma agreed to go to Puerto Rico with defendant, and he allowed her to put some clothes on and pack. He also allowed her to call an ambulance for Teresita and the others.

Defendant took Norma back to Eduardo's apartment. Eduardo woke when the two came in, and defendant told Eduardo, "I stabbed some people in the house and maybe one [of] them could be dead or something." He told Norma that "she was lucky, that [he] got a gun ready for her." He threatened her, stating "I should kill you here and kill myself." Concerned over these threats, Eduardo took the knife from defendant and put it under his bed, advising defendant, "You got enough problems."

Realizing his shirt was stained with blood, defendant asked Eduardo for a clean shirt, which Eduardo gave him. Eduardo recognized that Norma needed prompt medical attention, so he borrowed his landlord's car and offered to take defendant and Norma to the hospital. While Eduardo was getting the car, however, defendant warned Norma, "You see what I did? If you ever do me wrong again[,] I'll do it again." Eduardo dropped Norma and defendant off at nearby Barnert Hospital. Because defendant had threatened to kill her if she signed in under her own name, Norma registered as Wanda Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, the police had taken Teresita and Roberto to Barnert Hospital. While awaiting treatment, the two sisters saw each other. Norma told her sister that defendant had brought her and was waiting for her; Teresita immediately told the police officer who had accompanied her to the hospital that defendant was in the hospital as well. The police officer recognized defendant in the ...

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