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State v. Ortiz

January 17, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MANUEL B. ORTIZ, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 389 N.J. Super. 235 (2006).

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).

The issue in this appeal is whether periodic Krol-type hearings apply to defendants acquitted by reason of insanity who are conditionally released pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2).

New Jersey's Code of Criminal Justice generally admits of two finite verdicts: guilty or not guilty. In the netherworld between those two findings, the Code also recognizes acquittal by reason of insanity. N.J.S.A. 2C:4-3(b). An acquittal by reason of insanity requires that the court "dispose" of the defendant in one of three ways. The court may determine that the defendant poses no danger to himself or to others and that he can be released without supervision and without conditions pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(1). At the other end of the spectrum, the court may determine that the defendant cannot be released without posing a danger to himself or the community, in which case the defendant is civilly committed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3). If the defendant is committed, periodic in camera Krol-type hearings are required to determine whether the commitment should continue. In this appeal, the Court addresses whether continuing procedural requirements apply to those in the middle group between defendants acquitted by reason of insanity who are released without supervision and those who, because they pose a danger to the community or to themselves, must be committed.

Defendant Manuel Ortiz was indicted on one count of first-degree attempted murder and one count of third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Dr. Daniel Greenwald, a psychiatrist, opined that Ortiz was insane when he rushed a police officer responding to a 9-1-1 call, threatening to kill him while wielding a large butcher knife. Dr. Greenwald concluded that Ortiz suffered from "paranoid schizophrenia, from general anxiety, and possible borderline mental retardation," and recommended medication, outpatient psycho-social therapy, and continued monitoring. Following a bench trial in which Ortiz acknowledged that if conditionally released he would be subject to periodic status reviews, the court entered a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, determined that Ortiz was not a danger to himself or the community, and scheduled the case for Krol status review in six months.

Despite the representations he made during his competence allocution, Ortiz later contested whether periodic reviews under Krol applied to him, arguing that such reviews only applied to committed persons. The State objected, taking the position that periodic reviews were necessary to ensure compliance with conditions and to determine whether those conditions should be adjusted. Although it earlier had concluded to the contrary, the trial court sustained Ortiz's arguments. The State appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court, concluding that Krol reviews did not apply to persons not deemed a danger to self or community and released "with or without supervision or under conditions." The panel, however, acknowledged that trial courts possess the inherent authority to impose conditions that may include the procedural requirement of periodic reviews as envisioned by Krol.

HELD: Krol periodic review hearings must be held for those defendants acquitted by reason of insanity who are committed under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3) as well as for those who are released subject to supervision or conditions pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2), but not for those who are released without supervision or conditions as provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(1).

1. A plain language examination of N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b) discloses three dispositions for a defendant who has been acquitted by reason of insanity: unconditional/ unsupervised release, conditional/supervised release, and commitment. That statutorily authorized paradigm is accretive. If a court determines that, without supervision or conditions, a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity is neither a danger to himself or others, an unconditional release shall be ordered. That unconditional release ends the matter, and the defendant is discharged. However, if the court determines that, with supervision or under conditions, a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity does not pose a danger to himself or to others, that court must release the defendant subject to the required supervision and/or conditions. Finally, if the court determines that, even with supervision or under conditions, a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity remains a danger to himself or to others, that defendant must be committed to a mental health facility, requiring periodic review hearings before the Superior Court. (Pp. 12-16)

2. A defendant acquitted by reason of insanity who is unconditionally released is thus discharged, and a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity who is committed is entitled to periodic judicial review of his confinement. However, neither the statute, nor the Rules, nor our case law explicitly address the court's obligations in respect of a defendant who, having been acquitted by reason of insanity, is conditionally released. A defendant who has been acquitted by reason of insanity and is conditionally released pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b) (2) stands far closer to a committed defendant who has been acquitted by reason of insanity under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b) (3) than to an unconditionally released defendant who has been acquitted by reason of insanity as provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(1). Unconditionally released defendants are not a danger to themselves or to others. In contrast, conditionally released or committed defendants share a common thread: they are a danger to themselves or to others, although the danger presented by conditionally released defendants is mitigated by the supervision and/or conditions governing the defendant's release, while the danger presented by committed defendants is mitigated by their commitment. The Appellate Division's analysis aggregated unconditionally released and conditionally released defendants in one category and distinguished them from committed defendants. Because conditionally released defendants share far more characteristics with committed defendants than with unconditionally released defendants, we reject that grouping. Unconditionally released defendants are precisely that: unconditionally released. For that reason, continued, periodic judicial review of their status, progress and prognosis is unnecessary. In contrast, defendants who are conditionally released or committed must be subject to periodic judicial review to determine whether the commitment, or the supervision or conditions, must be continued. (Pp. 16-20)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the cause is REMANDED to the Law Division for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, WALLACE, and HOENS join in JUSTICE RIVERA-SOTO's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rivera-soto

Argued November 13, 2007

New Jersey's Code of Criminal Justice generally admits of two finite verdicts: guilty or not guilty. In the netherworld between these two findings, the Code also recognizes those instances where guilty acts in fact have occurred, but the accused, "at the time of such conduct[,] was laboring under such a defect of reason[] from disease of the mind as to not 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[.]" N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1. If those circumstances are proven, the verdict and judgment must reflect that the defendant has been acquitted by reason of insanity. N.J.S.A. 2C:4-3(b).

Unlike a straightforward acquittal, an acquittal by reason of insanity requires that the court "dispose" of the defendant in one of three ways. N.J.S.A. 2C:4-7; N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b). The least restrictive alternative -- an unsupervised and unconditional release -- occurs "[i]f the court finds that the defendant may be released without danger to the community or himself[.]" N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(1). Once the court determines that a defendant poses no danger to himself or to others and that he can be released without supervision and without conditions, the matter is concluded.

At the other end of the spectrum, "[i]f the court finds that the defendant cannot be released with or without supervision or conditions without posing a danger to the community or to himself, it shall commit the defendant to a mental health facility . . . to be treated as a person civilly committed."

N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3). Further, if a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity is committed, periodic in camera hearings are required to determine whether the commitment should continue. State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236 (1975). See also In re the Commitment of Edward S., 118 N.J. 118 (1990) (providing that Krol hearings, save for those adjudged not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, are to be held in camera); State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282 (1978) (setting forth procedural requirements for Krol hearings); - - N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1 to -27.23 and Rules 3:19-2 and 4:74-7 (governing commitment reviews).

This appeal requires that we address whether continuing procedural requirements apply to those in the middle ground between defendants acquitted by reason of insanity who are released without supervision and those who, because they pose a danger to the community or to themselves, must be committed. Specifically, the question presented in this appeal is "[i]f the court finds that the defendant may be released without danger to the community or to himself under supervision or under conditions," N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2), must the court conduct periodic, Krol-type hearings although the defendant has not been committed?

The Appellate Division reasoned that "when a defendant is released pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2), the court possesses inherent authority to take all steps necessary to ensure that the defendant complies with all conditions of release[.]" State v. Ortiz, 389 N.J. Super. 235, 240 (App. Div. 2006). It concluded, however, that, although post-release Krol hearings are discretionary in this setting, they are not mandatory, explaining that "Krol reviews are not authorized when the court concludes that a defendant may be released without danger to the community or himself with or without supervision or under conditions." Ibid. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

We concur with the Appellate Division's acknowledgement that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2), trial courts possess the inherent authority to impose conditions that may include the procedural requirement of periodic reviews as envisioned by Krol. That said, we further conclude that the better and more logically consistent rule is to extend the requirement of mandatory periodic reviews under Krol to include all defendants acquitted by reason of insanity save for those released entirely without supervision or conditions. We therefore hold that Krol periodic review hearings must be held for those defendants acquitted by reason of insanity who are committed under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3) as well as for those who are released subject to supervision or conditions pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(2), but not for those who are released without supervision or conditions as provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(1).

I.

The relevant facts here were never disputed; defendant Manuel Ortiz consented to the presentation of the State's case through the submission of an affidavit of probable cause and a police report, and did "not dispute the finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on those reports." As succinctly set forth in the affidavit of probable cause, [o]n December 21, 2004, at approximately 10:00 am, Franklin Township Police Officer Steven Biancamano was dispatched to a 9-1-1 hang-up call at the defendant's home. Upon arriving, Officer Biancamano knocked on the door and was immediately ...


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