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In re Commitment of M.M.

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY


January 26, 2006

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF M.M.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
M.M., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 377 N.J. Super. 71 (2005).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(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).

(NOTE: This Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the judgment of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in Judge Parker's opinion below.)

The issue before the Court is whether aggravating and mitigating factors should be considered when determining a commitment term for a defendant involuntarily committed to a mental health institution after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defendant, M.M., was charged with first degree attempted murder; second degree aggravated assault; second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose; and fourth degree aggravated assault. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) on the attempted murder charge and was ordered civilly committed for a period not to exceed twenty years. The remaining counts were merged into the attempted murder charge and dismissed.

At the commitment hearing, the trial judge reviewed the expert reports and found, in support of the NGI verdict, that M.M. suffered from schizophrenia, a serious defect of reason that prevented her from knowing that what she was doing was wrong. The court found M.M.'s actions were based on delusional thoughts about the victim, actions she felt were necessary to save herself and her father from the imagined evil coming from the victim. The trial court further determined that M.M. could not be released without presenting a danger to herself or others, necessitating commitment to a mental health facility to be treated as a person civilly committed.

At a subsequent Krol hearing, M.M. urged the court to apply aggravating and mitigating circumstances in determining the length of commitment. The judge declined, citing N.J.S.A.2C:4-8b(3) (Section 8b(3)), which in relevant part provides that a defendant's continued commitment be established by a preponderance of the evidence, during the maximum period of imprisonment that could have been imposed, as an ordinary term of imprisonment for any charge on which the defendant has been acquitted by reason of insanity. The trial judge noted that the ordinary term for first degree murder is ten to twenty years with a presumptive term of fifteen years. The court reasoned that Section 8b(3) provided for M.M.'s continued commitment during the "maximum period of imprisonment that could have been imposed."

M.M. appealed to the Appellate Division, arguing that the "usual principles of sentencing" mandate consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the length of commitment. In affirming the decision of the trial court, the Appellate Division concluded that the "usual principles of sentencing" do not include consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the term of commitment because Section 8b(3) establishes the maximum term of commitment, subject to periodic review.

HELD: Judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Parker's written opinion. The "usual principles of sentencing" do not include consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the term of commitment to a mental health facility for a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity.

Per curiam.

Argued January 3, 2006

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, ALBIN, WALLACE and RIVERA-SOTO join in this PER CURIAM opinion.

The judgment is affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Parker's opinion of the Appellate Division, reported at 377 N.J. Super. 71 (2005).

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, ALBIN, WALLACE, and RIVERA-SOTO join in this opinion.

Chief Justice Poritz PRESIDING

20060126

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