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State of New Jersey v. Boyce Singleton

July 30, 2012


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 418 N.J. Super. 177 (2011).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice LaVECCHIA


(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 v. Boyce Singleton, Jr.

(A-124) (067756)

Argued January 31, 2012

Decided July 30, 2012

LaVECCHIA, J., writing for the Court.

In this appeal, the Court considers whether the trial court erred in not sua sponte including the variation of the insanity-defense jury charge recognized in State v. Worlock, 117 N.J. 596 (1990), i.e., additional language separating defendant's ability to appreciate legal wrong from moral wrong based on "deific commands" to kill.

On September 13, 2005, defendant shot his girlfriend Michelle Cazan four times. Because defendant "didn't want her to suffer," he also stabbed her four times. She died within minutes. Defendant took the knife and went to his friend's home, where he washed up, changed his clothes, and drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. The next morning, defendant threw the knife into a canal and went to Cazan's house, where he retrieved his gun and attempted to clean the crime scene. Defendant initially fled the area, but returned home and was subsequently arrested. During his interrogation, in explaining his killing of Cazan, defendant indicated that he was angry because of the Bible and that the devil and God were involved. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder and other related offenses. Defendant did not dispute that he killed Cazan, but relied on the defense of legal insanity.

The trial testimony showed that defendant had developed a set of delusional religious beliefs derived from his interpretation of scripture. According to defendant, he received messages or communications from God while asleep and felt a general obligation to kill sinners who did not comport themselves in accordance with his beliefs about God's expectations, once he explained those expectations to them. Defendant, however, had chosen not to kill family members despite his belief that they were sinners. Both defendant's and the State's expert diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder, which causes hallucinatory experiences and delusional perceptions. Defendant's expert testified that defendant believed that he was supposed to kill Cazan because God was telling him to do it and he had to follow God's word. The State's expert emphasized that defendant admitted to not hearing voices at the time of the killing and opined that defendant was merely acting on his interpretation of what God wanted. According to the State's expert, defendant stated that he only heard the voices when sleeping, that the communications were not actual voices, but were rather subconscious thoughts, and that he had not heard any voices on the night of the incident. The State's expert also opined that other considerations indicated that defendant knew that killing Cazan was wrong, including a history of violence toward woman; that he stabbed Cazan to put her out of her misery; that he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana afterwards; that his forensic evaluation test results indicated that he was trying to make himself look better by claiming that God had him do it; and that he decided to evade police.

The court and all parties agreed to use the Model Jury Charge for the insanity defense. The jury rejected defendant's insanity defense and convicted him of murder and the other charges. In a motion for a new trial, defendant claimed for the first time that the jury should have been provided with the deific-command variant of the insanity-defense jury charge recognized in Worlock. The trial court denied defendant's motion. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial. 418 N.J. Super. 177 (App. Div. 2011). The panel held that defendant had presented sufficient evidence at trial to have required the trial court, sua sponte, to provide a deific-command variant to the jury charge. The Court granted certification. 207 N.J. 188 (2011).

HELD: The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to give, sua sponte, a Worlock charge as part of the insanity-defense jury instruction. The evidence does not clearly indicate defendant killed Cazan as a result of a deific command.

1. In New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1 sets forth the test for legal insanity. Defendant can establish legal insanity if, because of a "disease of the mind," "he did not know what he was doing was wrong." Courts have recognized that the term "wrong" is susceptible to multiple interpretations because "wrong" can encompass legal as well as moral wrong. In Worlock, this Court held that although "wrong" embraces more than legal wrong, because legal and moral wrong are usually coextensive, in the vast majority of cases, if the defendant was capable of understanding that he was acting contrary to law, he would also have sufficient capacity to understand that he was acting contrary to the morals of society. Therefore, the Court held that a jury charge explaining that "wrong" encompasses both legal and moral wrong is almost always unnecessary. But, in the odd case in which a defendant is able to recognize that his actions are legally wrong but is nonetheless incapable of understanding that they are morally wrong, the Court held that a court should instruct the jury that "wrong" encompasses both legal and moral wrong. In order to warrant such a charge, a defendant would have to show that, at the time he committed the crime, he believed that his actions were morally right under prevailing social norms, not just his own idiosyncratic code of morality. The Court observed that there is only one "generally-recognized" situation in which a defendant could justifiably believe that although he acted contrary to law, society would consider his actions to have been morally right, thereby justifying a jury charge defining the term wrong: when "the defendant contends that he or she knowingly killed another in obedience to a command from God." In State v. Winder, 200 N.J. 231 (2009), the Court reemphasized that, outside of the "deific-command delusion," situations in which a defendant could understand that his actions were illegal but be incapable of understanding that society would disapprove of them are exceedingly rare. (pp. 22-31)

2. Stare decisis and other stabilizing principles of the law compel the Court to not abandon Worlock's recognition of a deific-command exception to the general insanity-defense charge. Because defendant failed to object to the use of the model jury charge, the question is whether the trial court erred in not sua sponte providing the Worlock variation of the insanity-defense jury charge, and the plain-error standard applies. A court must only give a jury charge that was not requested when the evidence clearly indicates its appropriateness. (pp. 31-36)

3. Defendant is not entitled to a Worlock charge because the evidence does not clearly indicate that he failed to appreciate that killing Cazan was contrary to society's morals. The Worlock variation is not available to all those who develop idiosyncratic moral compulsions from interpreting religious material. Were that all that was required in order to constitute a deific "command," then acting pursuant to any such personal belief system would qualify as lack of knowledge of having committed "moral" wrong and a defendant would not have to show that he believed that society would not objectively disapprove of the moral wrongness of the action. Defendant's personal belief system was based on his own interpretation of scripture, fortified through dreams in which he believed to receive communications from God. That does not render his belief system in his "right to kill" certain sinners the equivalent of a command from God to kill. Moreover, defendant had demonstrated the ability to exercise his own will and to resist the obligation he perceived from God's teachings by deciding not to kill his family although he viewed them as sinners and to not kill anyone to whom he had not explained his religious beliefs. Defendant's inconsistent application of "God's will" and the concomitant deific desire that he kill sinners indicates his awareness of an objective societal disapproval of his personal religious belief system. (pp. 36-39)

4. Defendant also has failed to demonstrate entitlement to a Worlock charge because the evidence does not clearly indicate that he was acting pursuant to a delusional command at the time of the killing. A Worlock charge is available only when a perceived divine command overcomes a defendant's ability to be conscious of society's law and mores disapproving of that command. There is a necessary temporal proximity between the overbearing of defendant's will by God's command and the action for which a defendant is charged. Here, defendant admitted that he never heard a voice or saw a vision that commanded him to kill Cazan when he committed the murderous act. Isolated references to voices and to communication with God through scripture and in dreams are not the equivalent of a command from God, at the time of the killing, sufficient to demonstrate that it deprived defendant of his ability to appreciate society's disapproval of his action. (pp. 39-42)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the Appellate Division for consideration of defendant's remaining claims of error.

JUSTICE PATTERSON, CONCURRING, joined by CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER, expresses the view that the deific demand concept should not be part of our law because it is neither mandated by the Legislature nor firmly rooted in our jurisprudence.

JUSTICE HOENS, DISSENTING, joined by JUSTICE ALBIN, expresses the view that, in light of the record in this case, the trial court's failure to charge the jury in accordance with Worlock was an error that entitles defendant to a new trial.

JUDGE WEFING (temporarily assigned) joins in JUSTICES LaVECCHIA's opinion. JUSTICE PATTERSON, joined by CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER, filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. JUSTICE HOENS filed a separate, dissenting opinion in which JUSTICE ALBIN joins.

Argued January 31, 2012

JUSTICE LaVECCHIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In New Jersey, we adhere to the general proposition that a defendant who has the mental capacity to know basic societal mores that distinguish objectively between right and wrong is legally responsible for his criminal conduct. See State v. Sikora, 44 N.J. 453, 470 (1965). Mental illness does not in and of itself eliminate moral blameworthiness under the test for criminal insanity enshrined in the Code of Criminal Justice (Code). See N.J.S.A. 2C:4-1. As our Model Jury Charge illuminates for jurors, "[t]he law adopts a standard of its own as a test of criminal responsibility, a standard not always in harmony with the views of psychiatrists." Model Jury Charges (Criminal), § 2C:4-1 Insanity (Oct. 17, 1988). And, moreover, jurors are informed that the law does not require that the defendant actually consider the wrongness of his act when accomplishing the deed. Rather, [t]he 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.


Thus, the test hinges on a defendant's general knowledge of society's mores and objective expectations about behavior. In State v. Worlock, 117 N.J. 596 (1990), a narrow caveat was added for the delusional defendant who, at the time of a homicidal act, affirmatively acts under a direct command from God to kill the victim. This appeal raises an issue concerning Worlock's applicability.

In September 2005, defendant Boyce Singleton Jr. killed his pregnant girlfriend, Michelle Cazan. He was indicted and tried in June 2008, on a charge of first-degree murder and other related offenses, including tampering with evidence and hindering. Defendant has never disputed that he killed Cazan. His defense at trial was keyed to whether he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Afflicted with schizoaffective disorder, defendant had developed the delusional religious belief that he was in a form of communication with God and that he was authorized to kill those who violated "God's word." Defendant's mental illness was the centerpiece of the parties' summations and the trial court included the model charge on the insanity defense, which refers to the defendant's ability to comprehend that his action is wrong, in its instructions to the jury. Defendant interposed no objection to the insanity charge's content.

Defendant's insanity defense proved unsuccessful as the jury convicted him of murder, as well as the other charged offenses. In a motion for a new trial, defendant claimed for the first time that the jury should have been provided with a variant of the insanity-defense jury charge informing the jury that a defendant can be found not guilty by reason of insanity if he lacks the capacity to understand that his actions are morally wrong, even if he understands that they are legally wrong. In Worlock, supra, we recognized in dicta that such a jury charge might be necessary in cases where a defendant claims to have been compelled by a "command from God." 117 N.J. at 611; cf. State v. Winder, 200 N.J. 231 (2009) (rejecting Worlock's applicability to facts of case). Finding no evidence that defendant acted under compulsion of a command from God when he murdered Cazan, the trial court concluded that circumstances warranting a "Worlock" variation to the model charge were not present. The court denied the motion for a new trial and imposed sentence on September 12, 2008.

Defendant appealed and a panel of the Appellate Division reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial based on finding the insanity-defense jury charge to have been incomplete. State v. Singleton, 418 N.J. Super. 177, 204-05 (App. Div. 2011).

The State filed a petition for certification, which was granted. 207 N.J. 188 (2011). We now reverse.

I. A. Background

Defendant's expert in forensic psychology and the State's expert agree that defendant suffers from schizoaffective disorder.*fn1 At trial defendant produced lay witnesses --- five family members and one friend --- and testified on his own behalf to provide insight into his mental illness prior to and during the events related to Cazan's death. That testimony showed that defendant had developed a set of delusional religious beliefs derived from his perspective on scripture. Importantly, he believes that he has an obligation to kill sinners, especially sinners who attempt to deter him from honoring God's word according to his strongly held, personal interpretation of the Bible's Old Testament.

Defendant's mental illness significantly manifested itself during his relatively brief period of attendance at college. In 2003, he turned to religious study for guidance, discipline, and a means of control over his life, but soon developed a preoccupation with the Bible and God and became obsessed with the Old Testament. His interpretation of scripture developed into a delusional system that, the experts agree, distorts his logical reasoning. For example, defendant came to believe that money was the root of all evil because people idolized it, rather than God. On one occasion, his distaste for money led him to choose imprisonment for failure to pay a court fine over violating his belief in the wrongness of using money. His mother obtained his release by paying the fine herself.

According to defendant, over time, he became convinced that he was a "soldier" for God. He testified that he came to believe that God communicates with him, although he does not claim to hear a distinct voice speaking or commanding him. Rather, he receives messages or communications from God while asleep.*fn2 As he explained in his testimony, and in a statement to police after Cazan's death, he felt a general obligation to kill sinners who did not comport themselves in accordance with his beliefs about God's expectations, once he explained those expectations to them. Indeed, in 2005, not long before Cazan's murder, defendant, who had moved back into his parents' home, told his older sister, Lakeisha, "if I didn't love you so much, you would have already been dead, because the voices told me to kill all of you all because you're sinning."

On another occasion, during the spring of 2005, defendant threatened the gay friend of his younger sister Shakia, who was staying at their parents' home. Defendant claimed that he "heard something say to me go downstairs and kill him because he was homosexual." Shakia's friend left the home without being physically harmed, but by July 2005, defendant's beliefs and behaviors had become too extreme for his mother and siblings. Although defendant had not yet acted on his beliefs, he was asked to leave the home.*fn3

On July 27, 2005, he moved in with Michelle Cazan, a friend of Shakia and a participant in the same bible studies group as defendant's mother and Shakia. The relationship became intimate within one week's time and, on September 12, 2005, Cazan told defendant that a home pregnancy test had confirmed that she was pregnant. Defendant killed her the next day. We turn next to the murder and subsequent events.

B. Cazan's murder

On September 13, 2005, while Cazan was at work, defendant went with a friend to an Air Force and Army recruiting center to discuss enlistment, which he explained was motivated by a desire to help his "family," meaning his parents and siblings who were struggling, not Cazan. He claimed that he trusted in God to look after Cazan and the baby that was on the way. Still, he was conflicted about enlisting even to help his parents and siblings because he would be working for money, which would be contrary to his religious beliefs.

That afternoon defendant picked up Cazan from work later than she expected, causing her to miss an appointment she had scheduled with an organization that might have provided a source of employment for defendant. He knew that she was not happy about missing the appointment, but testified that they did not argue about it. However, there was tension between the two and they had a discussion during which he considered leaving Cazan's vehicle, but did not. Instead, he agreed to accompany her on a visit to her hometown of East Rutherford to see places that were important to her, including her brother's gravesite.

During the trip north, the two quarreled over their future. Cazan was concerned about his ability to provide for the baby. As for defendant, he had reached the conclusion that he would not enlist in military service because he was uncomfortable with the idea of serving "a God other than my God" by earning "evil" money. And, he became increasingly disturbed over Cazan's change of heart from earlier discussions in which they had talked about going "into the woods" and living apart from a money-based civilization. He felt she had turned from the religious beliefs and principles he thought they shared.

He grew more upset with Cazan during that conversation because he felt as though she had not fully adopted his religious beliefs and, worse, she was driving a wedge between him and God. He testified that he began to view Cazan "[a]s a prostitute," because "she was prostituting herself to another God." Defendant said he "didn't trust her," and that he "didn't want to be around her . . . [or] with her anymore." Moreover, on arriving in East Rutherford, defendant did not respond favorably as Cazan showed him the area. He said he became "enraged" by her "stories of mob activity" that allegedly had occurred in the vicinity. He regarded her as "bragging" about it, which offended him.

At approximately 10:30 p.m., the two arrived home at Cazan's condominium in Mansfield. Defendant claims that, at this point, he was very upset. After using the first-floor bathroom, he went upstairs to the bedroom where Cazan was and asked her to give him the keys to her BMW. She refused. He admitted at trial that had she given him the keys he would have left. However, when she would not give him the car keys, he pulled a revolver from his waistband and shot her four times, emptying the gun. One bullet went through her face and out behind her ear, another entered her chest and passed through her rib cage, chest cavity, and lungs, exiting through her lower back. Forensic evidence showed that Cazan was shot twice more in the back while on her hands and knees. One bullet traveled through her trachea and exited through her neck. Cazan began to choke on her own blood. Defendant said he "didn't want her to suffer," so he stabbed her, four times, in the chest and abdomen, one of which pierced her lung. The stab wounds were between three and six inches in depth. She died within minutes.

Defendant took the knife, but left behind the handgun, and drove Cazan's car to the home of his friend William Britt, where both William and his brother John were. There he washed his hands of blood and gunshot residue and changed his clothes. During the next few hours, defendant and his friends drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. Although defendant told William and John that he had killed Cazan, neither believed him.

Early the next morning, defendant left Cazan's car around the corner from Britt's home in Trenton and walked to Morrisville, Pennsylvania where his parents lived. Along the way, he threw the knife into a canal. He did so because he said he had learned from "movies" that "you're supposed to get rid of the murder weapon." According to defendant, at that time, he "planned on running" and "kill[ing] everybody . . . until [he] got killed." However, when he arrived in Morrisville at about 2:00 a.m., he met his older sister Lakeisha also arriving home and asked her to drive him to Cazan's house. According to Lakeisha, he told her that he had shot and stabbed Cazan, that she was dead, and that he had left the gun behind at the house. Lakeisha testified that during this trip, defendant had "many rambling conversations" in which he was not talking directly to her: "Whoever he was talking to or whatever he was hearing, he was responding to. But the conversation wasn't for me." At Cazan's home, he asked Lakeisha to let him out in the back of the home and to wait for him in the car.

According to defendant, after determining that no police or others were in or around Cazan's home, he went inside, retrieved his gun, wiped down the door handles, and otherwise attempted to clean the blood splatter. He placed the gun and the cleaning materials he had used in a garbage bag and left, returning to Lakeisha's car. He asked her to take him to Britt's home. Along the way she convinced him to go instead to their parents' home in Morrisville. There he told his father what he had done and fled the area, intending to go to a family member's home in North Carolina, along the way retrieving his duffle bag from Britt's home. In his later statements he explained that the police were his enemy because, if he was captured, he could not serve God. However, when he reached Baltimore, he abandoned his plan and returned home after talking with his mother.

Arriving back at his parents' home, he told his family that he planned to turn himself in but wanted to "hold Cazan" before doing so. So, on September 15, he drove Cazan's BMW to her home. His brother, Damon, rode with him, and Lakeisha and his mother followed in a separate car. Damon testified that during the trip defendant "was talking to someone" other than him. Defendant entered Cazan's home alone, repositioned her body and clothing, and placed a stuffed animal, sprayed with perfume, at her side. Concerned by the amount of time that had elapsed, Damon entered the condo and said that he found defendant holding Cazan's body, "trying to wake her [and] telling her [to] wake up." Meanwhile, defendant's mother had arranged for the police to be contacted by one of Cazan's neighbors.

Mansfield Patrolman Jason Abadia responded and, after backup arrived, he arrested defendant. Abadia testified that defendant stated, "I killed her. I killed her. Don't leave her like that. Cover her up. I killed her." Abadia read defendant his Miranda*fn4 rights and defendant again stated that he had killed Cazan, explaining also what he had done with the knife and gun.

Detective Sergeant Lindsey Cooper of the New Jersey State Police took over the investigation approximately one hour later. To obtain a recorded statement from defendant, Cooper reread the Miranda rights to defendant. During the interrogation, defendant admitted killing Cazan and claimed that he could see a vision of her smiling through the window of the squad car when he was first placed under arrest, and later from the vantage of the room in which he was interrogated. In explaining his killing of Cazan, he stated that he was angry because of "that damn book," which he clarified as referring to the Bible. Defendant told the officers, "I lost it and the devil kept with me, he just kept with me and I lost it . .

. ." When asked if anyone else was involved in Cazan's killing, defendant answered, "No, the devil, god and the devil (inaudible) inside of me, outside of me, all over the place, all over the place."

C. Trial Defendant was charged with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2); second-degree possession of a weapon (handgun) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); third-degree possession of a weapon (knife) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d); third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon (handgun), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); third-degree hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(1); and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1).

At trial, in addition to the family members who testified, Dr. Maureen Santina, a clinical and forensic psychologist, testified as an expert for defendant. She diagnosed defendant with schizoaffective disorder which causes hallucinatory experiences and delusional perceptions.*fn5 She testified that as a result of his delusional system, defendant lost his "ability to regulate his interpretation of the world and his reaction to the world." She explained that defendant became obsessed with his delusions, including his belief that God wanted him to kill sinners, even his own family, and concluded as follows:

I think that he knew that he was killing her but I don't think that he understood the nature of his killing her. In other words, I think that he believed that he was supposed to kill her. Whether he wanted to or not, he was supposed to kill her. And that he was supposed to kill her because God was ordering it.

On redirect, Dr. Santina clarified,

As I said, [defendant] believed that God was telling him to do it. He said, I didn't want to kill her. He in the past, had family members that he had said God was telling him to kill them because he was seeing these people as being bad. And saying I don't want to do it but feeling he had to. He even talked to himself as not having the courage to do what God wanted.

So in that moment when he feels that God wants him to do it he says I have to do it, I'm supposed to do it because God wants me to do it. He believed that he was following God's word. And God as being the supreme authority who has the right to decide what's right or wrong.

The State's expert, Dr. Elliot Atkins, agreed with Dr. Santina's conclusion that defendant suffered from the severe mental illness of schizoaffective disorder. The State's expert further agreed that defendant operated under a delusional system. However, Dr. Atkins disagreed with Dr. Santina's conclusion that defendant was legally insane at the time of the killing. Dr. Atkins emphasized that defendant admitted to not hearing voices at the time of the killing. Rather, Dr. Atkins testified that defendant was merely acting on his interpretation of what God wanted. On direct examination, Dr. Atkins testified:

For example, he said that he only really heard the voices when he was sleeping. He said that most of these were really not voices, but just thoughts in his head. That he wasn't even able to describe the voice. And he said to me it was probably just some subconscious thing going on rather than a voice.

That the last time God had spoken to him was two years before the killing. That although he indicated that the idea that he should hurt someone came from God, he said that that information had never been transmitted to him from any voices. And he ...

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