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State v. Beckler

January 16, 2004

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD M. BECKLER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, 00-02-0366.

Before Judges King, Lintner and Lisa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lintner, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued December 3, 2003

On February 25, 2000, a Monmouth County Grand Jury returned Indictment No. 00-02-0366 against defendant Richard Beckler, charging him with third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a (Count One); third-degree attempting to lure a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-6 (Count Two); and third-degree attempting to engage in prostitution with a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:34-1b(7) (Count Three). Following a three day Miranda*fn1 hearing, which included testimony from defendant's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Abenante, the trial judge, on December 12, 2000, suppressed defendant's statements made to police immediately after being given his Miranda rights. However, he permitted the use of defendant's spontaneous statements made to police during his processing, subject to further determination under N.J.R.E. 404(b) prior to trial. One month later the judge found that defendant's spontaneous statements to the police were admissible as 404(b) evidence.

Defendant, who was twenty-five years old at the time of the trial, suffers from cerebral palsy and several neurological, behavioral, and intellectual problems, rendering him the functional equivalent of a twelve or thirteen-year-old. Intellectually, he is equivalent to a seven to eight-year-old. On October 11, 2001, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Daniel Paul Greenfield, a Board Certified psychiatrist, who essentially agreed with Dr. Abenante's opinion previously given at the Miranda hearing, that defendant was not competent to stand trial. Dr. Greenfield also opined that defendant was a danger to himself and others. Before ruling on defendant's competency, the judge ordered that defendant be examined by a qualified psychiatrist or licensed psychologist through the Department of Human Services. On December 6, 2001, the judge heard testimony from Dr. Peter D. Paul, a licensed clinical psychologist, holding a Ph.D. from Hofstra University. Dr. Paul rendered a contrary opinion, believing defendant was competent to stand trial. Accepting Dr. Paul's opinion as credible, the judge found defendant competent to stand trial.

Five weeks before the commencement of trial, an evidentiary hearing was held, following which the judge permitted testimony concerning an event occurring almost two years after the alleged offense (the Bragen incident) in which defendant, who was on medication, allegedly patted a ten-year-old boy on the buttocks at an amusement park. Testimony regarding the Bragen incident was permitted for the limited purpose of allowing the State to attack an opinion to be offered by defendant's medical expert that defendant was suffering from diminished capacity at the time of the offense because he had not taken his required medication.

A jury trial commenced on April 2, 2002. Defendant did not offer any evidence of diminished capacity and, therefore, testimony concerning the Bragen incident was never admitted. On April 4, 2002, defendant was found guilty on all counts. Defendant was sentenced to a five-year probationary term conditioned upon his submitting to urine and DNA testing, continued psychiatric treatment, entrance into a sex offender treatment program, compliance with the provisions of Megan's Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -19, and no contact with the victim. Defendant appeals, raising the following points:

Point I

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING DEFENDANT COMPETENT TO STAND TRIAL.

Point II

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ITS DETERMINATION THAT DEFENDANT'S STATEMENTS DURING ARREST PROCESSING WERE ADMISSIBLE.

A. The defendant's statements during arrest processing were not voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently made and, ...


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