Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Judge Should Have Given "Deific Command" Instruction In Murder Trial

In State of New Jersey v. Singleton, (NJ App., Feb. 28, 2011), the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division reversed the conviction of Boyce Singleton who had been found guilty of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, finding the trial judge's instructions on the insanity defense were incomplete.  The court remanded for a new trial at which the judge is to add an instruction on the insanity standard where defendant believes he was commanded by God to act. The court said:
[T]he record contained evidence from which the jury could have found that defendant believed he had received a deific command to murder Michelle. With only the model jury charge as a guide, the jury could have rejected the insanity defense -- even if it found persuasive the deific command evidence -- by finding defendant understood his actions were contrary to law. To avoid that possibility, a judge must provide ... the further explanation that insanity may be found -- even if defendant knew his actions were contrary to law -- if he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he acted pursuant to a delusion of receiving a deific command. In other words, in such an instance, the judge must instruct that the defendant may not be held responsible for his actions "where a delusional command could be objectively recognized to confound the difference between lawful behavior and a moral imperative.
The Trentonian reports on the decision.