August 5, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. HANDY A-0401-09T4 08-04-11


After a bench trial, defendant was found not guilty of murder and other related offenses by reason of insanity. Defendant had preferred and unsuccessfully sought to have a jury trial to seek acquittal on a theory of self-defense. In rejecting defendant's motion to be tried first on his self- defense claim, and instead proceeding solely with the insanity issue, the trial court was guided by State v. Khan, 175 N.J. Super. 72 (App. Div. 1980), which prescribes a bifurcated procedure that gives primacy to the adjudication of an insanity defense.

We decline to adhere to the bifurcation sequence set forth in Khan because that opinion conflicts with several aspects of our State's Criminal Code; relied upon District of Columbia case law that is no longer valid; and is contrary to the approach of other states that have addressed the question.

We instead hold that a defendant who wishes to present a substantive defense based upon at least some evidence, or who otherwise wishes to put the State to its burden of proving the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, should not be required to first submit to a trial restricted to the issue of insanity.

Consequently, we remand for a bifurcated trial in which the insanity defense, if necessary, is tried in a second phase before the same jury, with appropriate cautionary instructions.

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