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NJ Appeal for Murder Conviction

08
May
2011

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. William E. Rivera, – Convictions affirmed.

“Defendant William E. Rivera was convicted of the gruesome mutilation murder of his wife and the desecration of her remains. He did not deny killing his wife; his defense was that he was insane, and therefore should not be held culpable for his actions.

At trial, defendant did not give notice of an intent to rely on diminished capacity as a defense and did not request that the jury be charged in respect thereof. For the first time on appeal, defendant asserted that the trial court had erred in failing to instruct the jury on diminished capacity, that is, that he suffered from a mental disease or defect that would negate the knowing or purposeful state of mind required to be liable for the crimes of which he had been convicted: the knowing or purposeful murder of his wife, and the knowing and unlawful desecration of her remains….

Although we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division [affirming the convictions], we reach that result via a different path, one that lies in parallel with the standard that governs a court’s obligation to charge the jury sua sponte in respect of either lesser-included offenses or defenses. We hold that a trial court’s obligation, on its own motion, to charge the jury in respect of theories that negate responsibility must be grounded in fact, and that duty does not arise unless, without scouring the record, it is clearly indicated or clearly warranted by the evidence adduced.

In this appeal, the psychiatric evidence presented by defendant focused only on his insanity defense and did not address whether defendant suffered from a diminished capacity sufficient to negate the mental state required to impose liability for the crimes of which he then stood charged. For that reason, we conclude that the trial court was not under a sua sponte duty to charge the jury on diminished capacity and, hence, the failure to do so did not constitute error.”

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