Insanity Defense Does Not Require Bifurcated Trial
- December 2, 2013
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From the ruling in State v. Khan, 175 N.J. Super. 72 (App.Div. 1980) through the ruling in State v. Handy, a 2004 murder case in Paterson, NJ, the rule was that criminal defendants seeking to employ an insanity defense would have bifurcated trials in which their insanity defense was tried separately from any other defenses they may have. For the foreseeable future, criminal defendants will be forced to make difficult decisions, judges are going to have to give detailed explanations to juries about inconsistent defenses and juries will have to learn to compartmentalize the defenses presented and consider them separately. There is definite reason for concern on the part of defendants given the complexity of this approach for juries and the ease with which a judge may fail to properly instruct a jury. Robert Handy was charged with the January 2004 murder of his uncle Arthur Cooper who died from a single stab with a knife to the heart. Handy had a history of mental illness which included his hospitalization in psychiatric facilities. Handy also made the claim that his uncle was high on cocaine and hit him with a piece of metal pipe maintaining that the stabbing was in self-defense. Passaic County Superior Court Judge Joseph Falcone found that handy was not competent to stand trial after an insanity defense was presented and without being permitted to raise his self-defense claim, Handy was confined to a mental institution. Handy was thereby prevented from presenting the weapon he claimed his uncle used against him, a bloody piece of metal pipe partly hidden under a couch which the uncle was apparently next to when stabbed. The pipe had the words “King Reveal” painted upon it and the same words were tattooed on the uncle’s body. Defendant appealed and sought the opportunity to present his self-defense claim. According to the ruling of NJ Appellate Division, a defendant does not have to raise an insanity defense first subjecting themselves to commitment to a mental institution. Alternatively, however, if defendants opt to utilize an alternate defense initially, they may not then utilize an insanity defense if their first defense fails. In making its ruling, the Appellate Court evaluated Khan in light of our State’s Criminal Code and found it to be in conflict with several aspects. Additionally, the Appellate Division determined Khan to be contrary to the approach used in other states and based upon District of Columbia law that is no longer valid. Serious criminal charges are certain to have a lasting impact on your future. A guilty plea or verdict in a murder case, even to a lesser charge, will change your life forever through incarceration, loss of future opportunities and social stigma. If you are facing criminal charges, you should consult experienced criminal defense counsel immediately to begin preparing your defense. For more information about murder, weapons, drugs (CDS) or other serious criminal charges in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.