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State v. Delibero

May 8, 1997

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOSEPH DELIBERO, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'hern, J. Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, Garibaldi, Stein and Coleman join in Justice O'HERN's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'hern

(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).

State of New Jersey v. Joseph Delibero (A-85-96)

Argued February 3, 1997 -- Decided May 8, 1997

O'HERN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

The specific issue in this criminal appeal is whether sequential instructions to the jury that it need not consider the evidence of defendant's insanity unless it had first found defendant guilty of an offense precluded the jury from considering whether the evidence of insanity negated the mental states required for conviction.

In June 1991, defendant, Joseph Delibero, was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, criminal mischief, and possession of burglar's tools. Delibero entered a plea of not guilty and the case was tried before a jury. At trial, Delibero introduced evidence of diminished capacity and insanity. He maintained that, on the night of the burglary, he was having dinner with his wife at their home when he experienced a blackout, after consuming a large amount of food. In support of his defense, Delibero called several witnesses, including two psychiatric experts, both of whom testified that Delibero was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offense. The State offered two expert witnesses in rebuttal.

At the Conclusion of all evidence, the trial court instructed the jury regarding both the defense of diminished capacity and that of insanity. Specifically, in respect of the diminished capacity defense, the trial court instructed the jury that evidence of Delibero's mental state could be considered in determining whether the State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Delibero had the requisite mental states required for the crimes charged.

Immediately after this instruction, the trial court instructed the jury on the issue of insanity, generally tracking the model jury charge. Specifically, the court instructed the jury that if Delibero "was laboring under a defect of reason from a disease of the mind, so as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if [he] did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong, the defendant then was legally insane and therefore, not criminally responsible for his acts." In addition, the trial court instructed the jury that, although the burden to establish the defense of insanity by a preponderance of the credible evidence rests with the defendant who asserts that defense, the burden of proving the defendant guilty of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt never shifts and remains with the State.

The jury convicted Delibero of second-degree burglary, criminal mischief, possession of burglar's tools, and second-degree robbery. He was subsequently sentenced to three concurrent terms of imprisonment.

On appeal, Delibero challenged for the first time the instruction to the jury on diminished capacity and insanity. He argued that, by requiring him to prove that he labored under "a defect of reason from a disease of the mind so as not to know the nature and quality" of his acts, the instructions placed on him the burden of disproving the intent element of the offenses charged. The Appellate Division reversed Delibero's conviction, finding that the trial court's jury instructions had impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to establish his innocence because the court had failed to clarify for the jury that evidence of insanity was relevant to the State's burden of proving Delibero's mental state.

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

HELD: Although a jury instruction should make clear that evidence of insanity may be relevant to the jury's determination of whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that at the time of the offense the defendant possessed the requisite mental state to convict of the offense charged, the instruction in this case did not prevent the jury from considering the relevant evidence of insanity for that purpose.

1. A jury considers evidence of diminished capacity in relation to the State's burden to prove the essential elements of a crime. (p. 10)

2. Insanity is an affirmative defense that a defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. (pp. 10-11)

3. The State in a criminal prosecution is bound to prove every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden cannot be shifted to a defendant, even when he is asserting an affirmative defense. (pp. 11-13)

4. Although evidence of diminished capacity is admissible whenever it is relevant to prove that the defendant did not have a state of mind that is an element of the offense, courts no longer instruct juries that a defendant asserts an affirmative defense when presenting evidence of diminished capacity. (pp. 13-14)

5. When evidence relating to an affirmative defense also bears on the elements of an offense, the jury must be allowed to consider the evidence for that purpose as well. (pp. 14-15)

6. The trial court's instruction, that it must consider evidence as to defendant's mental capacity in determining whether the State has proven the requisite state of mind beyond a reasonable doubt, correctly explained that the jury could consider evidence as to a defendant's mental state in relation to the elements of the crime, regardless of whether the jury believes that the defendant has proven diminished capacity by a preponderance of the evidence. (pp.15-16)

7. Although the complexity of drawing the distinction between the concepts of diminished capacity and insanity may call for a fuller instruction than that given by the trial court, the instruction actually given was not incorrect. (pp. 16-20)

8. To remove any ambiguity, trial courts should, in the future, explicitly instruct juries that in considering the prosecution's burden to prove every element of an offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must consider all evidence of a defendant's mental state, including that offered as evidence of diminished capacity or of insanity. (p. 20)

9. A consideration of the instruction as a whole in this case leads to the Conclusion that its entirety overcame any omission specifically to have better instructed the jury. (pp. 20-21)

Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and defendant's conviction is REINSTATED. The matter is REMANDED to the Law Division for resentencing in accordance with the opinion of the Appellate Division.

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, GARIBALDI, STEIN and COLEMAN join in JUSTICE O'HERN's opinion.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

O'HERN, J. This criminal appeal concerns the relationship between a jury charge on diminished capacity and a charge on insanity. Diminished capacity describes a disease or defect of mind that may negate the mental state that is an element of the offense charged. The insanity defense exculpates an actor from guilt for conduct that would otherwise be criminal. The specific question is whether sequential instructions to the jury that the jury need not consider the evidence of defendant's insanity unless it had first found defendant guilty of an offense precluded the jury from considering whether the evidence of insanity negated the mental states required for conviction.

We hold that a jury instruction should make clear that evidence of insanity may be relevant to the jury's determination of whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that at the time of the offense the defendant possessed the requisite mental state to convict of the offense charged. We find that the instruction in this case did not prevent the jury from considering the relevant evidence of insanity ...


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