Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Winder

July 28, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LAVAR WINDER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

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).

In this case in which the defendant, Lavar Winder, advanced an insanity defense to a first-degree murder charge, the Court considers whether the trial court erred in denying Winder's request for a variation of the jury instructions that would have explained to the jury that a criminally insane person may be capable of comprehending that an act is legally wrong while not understanding it to be morally wrong.

In early 2003, Winder, age 25, was a high school graduate with an IQ in the low seventies. After leaving his job with an armored car company in January 2003, Winder was shot in the groin under circumstances that are unclear. Thereafter, Winder began exhibiting paranoid behavior, including talking to himself and expressing a belief that his parents were trying to kill him. On April 16, 2003, Winder's father took him to a hospital because he was complaining about severe headaches. The hospital released Winder after finding no medical cause for the headaches. After Winder told his father that he did not feel safe in his own apartment, he was taken to a hotel. Later that night, Winder's father received a telephone call from police reporting that Winder had been detained for causing a disturbance. Winder's parents decided to have him involuntarily committed. While his parents were en route with him to the hospital, Winder threatened to kill himself or someone else if he was not put in jail.

At the hospital, Winder tested positive for the controlled dangerous substance of phencyclidine (PCP). He was diagnosed with a psychosis and possible PCP dependence. Winder was released from involuntary commitment at the hospital on April 18, 2003. Leaving the hospital, Winder ran away from his parents, jumped into his car, drove to his apartment, retrieved his gun, and then departed for Atlantic City. In Atlantic City, Winder hailed a cab and requested that the driver take him to the police station. When the cab stopped outside the police station, Winder told the driver, "I'm sorry I have to do this," and shot him twice in the back of the head. Winder then walked over to a police officer sitting in a nearby police car and calmly reported to the officer that he had just shot someone in the cab. Winder was arrested, his Miranda rights were read, and his confession was tape recorded. He told the officers that he killed the cabdriver so that he could go to prison for the rest of his life because prison was the only place he would be safe. He explained that he randomly chose the cabdriver as the victim, but added that he would not have killed a child or his own parents. Winder did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Three mental health experts testified at Winder's trial. Dr. Dougherty, a psychologist, testified that Winder suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was obeying voices in his head that told him to kill someone, and his PCP use only exacerbated the pre-existing condition. Dr. Doughtery opined that Winder could not appreciate that shooting the cabdriver was wrong because he irrationally believed that it was the only way for him to get into jail, which he irrationally believed was the only place he would be safe. Dr. Weiss, a psychiatrist, testified that Winder was suffering from schizophrenia, had been hearing voices before using PCP, and that his actions were caused by his mental illness rather than drug use. Dr. Weiss also testified that Winder knew that shooting the cabdriver would give the impression to others that he needed to be locked up, but did not know it was wrong because his intent was to be safe so that he could preserve his own life. Finally, Dr. Voskanian, a psychiatrist testifying for the State, opined that Winder was not schizophrenic and that his irrational thoughts were the result of PCP use. Dr. Voskanian asserted that Winder knew that killing the cabdriver was the wrong thing to do, as demonstrated by his apology to the victim and his statement to police that he would not have chosen a child as a victim because that would be wrong.

Defense counsel requested an insanity instruction that included the definition of legal and moral wrong, citing State v. Worlock, 117 N.J. 596 (1990). The trial court determined that a Worlock tailoring of the model jury charge was unnecessary because in this case the legal and moral wrong were coextensive. The court instructed the jury with the model charge on insanity. The jury found Winder guilty of first-degree murder, among other charges.

The Appellate Division affirmed Winder's conviction. On the insanity charge, the panel agreed with the trial court that legal and moral wrong were coextensive in this case. The Supreme Court granted certification. 196 N.J. 461 (2008).

HELD: In this first-degree murder case, the trial court properly denied defendant's request for a tailoring of the model jury charge on insanity to explain to the jury that a criminally insane person may be capable of comprehending that an act is legally wrong while not understanding it to be morally wrong.

1. The test for criminal insanity is found in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1, which states that a person is "not criminally responsible for conduct if at the time of such conduct he was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind 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." This standard, more commonly known as the M'Naghten test, tracks back to a British judicial opinion that was adopted in 1846 by this Court. Although what precisely was meant by the term "wrong" in M'Naghten was unclear, the upshot of the test was that, in some limited circumstances, a defendant could be excused because of his inability to recognize his actions as morally wrong, even though he may have understood them to be legally wrong. The current Model Jury Charge for insanity reflects that a defendant, who knows the nature and quality of his or her criminal act, must have had the capacity to appreciate that the act was wrong. In addition to reciting the language contained in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1, the charge explains that the "question is not whether the defendant, when (he/she) engaged in the deed, in fact actually thought or considered whether the act was right or wrong, but whether defendant had sufficient mind and understanding to have enabled (him/her) to comprehend that it was wrong if defendant had used (his/her) faculties for that purpose." (Pp. 11-18).

2. The issue in Worlock was whether, when instructing a jury on insanity, a trial court was required to define the term, "wrong," to explain "moral wrong" as distinct from "illegal." Although the Worlock Court emphasized that in most instances, legal wrong is coextensive with moral wrong, it acknowledged that there could be circumstances in which, even for murder, legal and moral wrong would not be coextensive. The Court explained that the insanity defense requires an inquiry into the defendant's ability to comprehend whether his actions would ordinarily be disapproved by society, therefore the concept of moral wrong could not be judged by the personal standard of the individual defendant. Because the standard was a non-subjective one, the Worlock Court concluded that, as a general rule, it would not be sufficient that a defendant's personal moral code justified a killing otherwise prohibited by law and societal morals. The Worlock Court then hypothesized that a killing on obedience to a "command from God" was an example of a situation in which society could distinguish between a legal and moral wrong. Although it noted that other "delusion-based exceptions" might arise where legal and moral wrong were not coextensive, the Court did not identify those situations and concluded that it would be the exceptional case where legal and moral wrong would be objectively discernible and accepted by society as distinct. (Pp. 18-22).

3. Winder's delusion-that jail was the only safe place for him because his parents were trying to kill him-was the hub of his insanity claim. However, he does not assert that his delusion commanded him to kill the cabdriver or that it would not be wrong to kill and he demonstrated knowledge of the social unacceptance of his deed by apologizing to his victim and by consciously excluding children and his parents from his potential victims. This case does not present the kind of command-type delusion that renders its hearer incapable of appreciating what society deems right from wrong. Such delusions are exceptional. The hurdle to overcoming societal disapproval of the killing of another human being cannot be accomplished by references to subjective beliefs, personal preferences, or alternative notions of morality, unrelated to mental illness, that clash with the law and the mores of society. That Winder had a personal motivation for his action, known to be contrary to law and society, does not entitle him to an instruction asking the jury to separate moral wrong. Because the law and society's mores are coextensive in this case, the Court finds that there was no error in the form of the trial court's jury instruction on insanity. (Pp. 22-25).

4. Worlock's dicta on delusional commands allowed for a specific distinction between legal and moral wrong in only the clearest and narrowest category of cases where a delusional command could be objectively recognized to confound the difference between lawful behavior and a moral imperative. Courts have identified few examples as fitting the narrow class of cases contemplated (the few mentioned examples falling into such categories as God-like commands or presidential orders). The Court disapproves an interpretation of Worlock suggesting that any delusion-based voices instructing or commanding a behavior would justify a specialized adjustment to the model charge on insanity. (Pp. 25-26).

5. The Court also rejects Winder's claims that 1) the jury voir dire was deficient because neither the trial court nor defense counsel probed the prospective jurors' views about the propriety of an insanity defense or their prejudices on mental illness; and 2) ineffective assistance of counsel resulted from defense counsel's failure to request an insanity instruction that distinguished between legal and moral wrong early during the trial, failure to voir dire prospective jurors to uncover bias toward the insanity defense and the mentally ill, and misstatement of the insanity defense burden of proof during summation. Finally, the Court rejects Winder's argument that the trial court's limiting instructions regarding his past drug activities deprived him of a fair trial. (Pp. 26-35).

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.

JUSTICE LONG, in a separate CONCURRING opinion in which JUSTICE ALBIN joins, agrees that in this case the absence of a Worlock charge did not affect the outcome or deny Winder a fair trial, but maintains that there should be no limitation on the type of command hallucination that would trigger an explanation of moral as opposed to legal responsibility.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES WALLACE, RIVERA-SOTO and HOENS join in JUSTICE LaVECCHIA'S opinion. JUSTICE LONG filed a separate, concurring opinion, in which JUSTICE ALBIN joins.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice LaVECCHIA

Argued March 9, 2009

Defendant was charged with first-degree murder for the execution-style killing of a cab driver, to whom he apologized before shooting him point blank in the head. At trial, he advanced the affirmative defense of insanity. See N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1 ("A person is not criminally responsible for conduct if at the time of such conduct he was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind 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 key issue on appeal concerns the trial court's jury instruction on insanity.

The court gave the model charge on insanity despite defendant's request for a Worlock*fn1 variation on the charge, which he asserts would have explained to the jury that a criminally insane person may be capable of comprehending that an act is legally wrong while not understanding it to be morally wrong. Defendant claimed a belief that his parents were trying to kill him and that the only safe place for him was in prison. Although he knew killing to be wrong, defendant claimed not to know that it was morally wrong to have killed to get himself into the safety of jail. Hence he wanted the jury instruction to distinguish between legal and moral wrong. The trial court refused, determining that in this matter legal and moral wrong were coextensive, and the jury convicted defendant of first-degree murder. The Appellate Division found the trial court's jury charge to have been sufficient and affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. We granted defendant's petition for certification, 196 N.J. 461 (2008), and, because we reject defendant's interpretation of Worlock's import and application, we likewise conclude that the jury instruction in this matter was not legally insufficient. Finding no merit to defendant's other claims of error, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

I.

On April 18, 2003, defendant Lavar Winder hailed a cab in Atlantic City, asked the cabdriver to take him to the police station, and, upon arrival, shot the cabdriver twice in the back of the head, killing him instantly. He was charged with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); and third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b). Because defendant claimed that he was not guilty due to insanity, much of the trial focused on defendant's background.

At the time of the incident, defendant was twenty-five-years old. Although a high school graduate, he had an IQ in the low seventies, which constitutes borderline mental functioning. He lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had been employed by an armored car service in a position that legally authorized him to carry a gun. Defendant left the job in January 2003. Some time during the next month, he was shot in the groin, although the record is unclear as to the circumstances of that incident. Defendant provided various inconsistent explanations about it. What is clear is that defendant began exhibiting strange and paranoid behavior after the shooting incident. According to defendant's parents, who were divorced, and his ex-girlfriend Lillian Andrews, defendant would cry for no reason, talked to himself, and expressed the belief that people were trying to kill him. He eventually came to believe that his parents had been responsible for the February 2003, shooting incident.

On April 16, 2003, defendant called his father complaining of bad headaches and his father took him to a local Philadelphia hospital. Doctors examined defendant, but they released him when they found no medical cause for the headaches. On leaving the hospital, defendant told his father that he did not want to return to his apartment because he did not feel safe there, so his father took him instead to a hotel. Later that night, defendant's father received a phone call from the police, explaining that defendant had been detained for causing a disturbance. He had been walking along a busy and dangerous roadway near the hotel, wildly swinging his arms. Defendant's parents immediately sought to have him involuntarily committed. While defendant's parents were en route with him to the hospital, defendant threatened to kill himself or someone else if he was not put in jail.

Defendant was admitted at a local hospital, where he tested positive for the controlled dangerous substance of phencyclidine (PCP). Doctors at the hospital diagnosed defendant with psychosis not otherwise specified (NOS) and possible PCP dependence. Defendant was released from involuntary commitment at the hospital on April 18, 2003.

When defendant's parents went to pick him up upon his discharge from the hospital on April 18, they had decided that it would be best for him to live with his mother in Virginia, where he could receive assistance for his mental health problems. Defendant thwarted that plan, however. As the three of them exited the hospital, he abruptly ran from his parents, jumped into his car, and drove away. He went to his apartment, retrieved his gun, and departed for Atlantic City. Defendant later explained that he chose Atlantic City because he believed that the jails in New Jersey were safer than those in Philadelphia.

When he arrived in Atlantic City, he drove around awhile as he contemplated killing someone. Defendant then left the city and, while driving on the Atlantic City Expressway toward Philadelphia, still trying to decide whether to kill someone, stopped at rest area and purchased a snack. After that, he turned back toward Atlantic City and returned to the downtown area. Once there, defendant parked his car, hailed a cab, and requested that the cabdriver take him to the police station. When the cab stopped outside of the police station, defendant pulled out his handgun, said to the driver, "I'm sorry I have to do this," and shot the driver twice in the back of the head, killing him.

Defendant got out of the cab, walked over to a uniformed police officer sitting in a nearby police car, and calmly announced, "Officer, I just shot someone in that cab over there." The officer confiscated defendant's weapon and placed him under arrest. Defendant was taken inside the station and placed in an interview room.

When officers entered the room to speak to him, defendant was crying and knocking his head against the wall. The officers read defendant his Miranda*fn2 rights and tape-recorded the confession that defendant gave. Defendant told the officers that he had to kill the cabdriver so he could go to prison for the rest of his life because prison was the only place where he would be safe. Defendant explained that he randomly chose the cabdriver as the victim, but added that he would not have killed a child and that he would not kill his parents.

The officers who had interviewed defendant testified that he did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When they asked him if he had consumed drugs or alcohol, defendant denied having had any alcohol but told them that he had taken medication earlier in the day.

At defendant's trial in January 2006, three mental health experts testified: Dr. Edward J. Dougherty, psychologist, and Dr. Kenneth J. Weiss, psychiatrist, for defendant; and Dr. Pogos Voskanian, psychiatrist, for the State. Defendant did not testify.

Having interviewed defendant and performed diagnostic testing, Dr. Dougherty testified that, in his professional opinion, defendant suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Consequently, according to Dr. Dougherty, defendant heard and obeyed voices in his head that told him to kill someone. Dr. Dougherty further opined that defendant's PCP use would have only exacerbated his pre-existing mental condition. Dr. Dougherty ultimately concluded that defendant could not appreciate that what he was doing was wrong when he shot the cabdriver because he ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.