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Jury Should Have Been Given “Deific Command” Instruction, NJ Appellate Division Holds

March 18, 2011 | Posted In Recent News - Announcements, Appeals, Criminal Law

A man convicted of murdering his pregnant girlfriend has the right to a new trial, an appeals court has ruled, because the trial judge failed to give complete jury instructions related to the man’s insanity defense.

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division has ruled that during the new trial, the trial judge must add new “deific command” insanity defense instructions.

Case Background

Defendant Boyce Singleton had been convicted of murdering his pregnant girlfriend.  He entered an insanity defense and was found guilty.  In his appeal, he insisted that the court's insanity defense jury instruction failed to distinguish between knowing that an action was legally wrong and knowing that it was morally wrong.  This, he said, deprived him of due process of law and the right to a fair trial. 

His lawyers also argued in the appeal that there was enough evidence that he had not acted knowingly during the crime, and that this knowledge of his diminished capacity necessitated a reversal of his conviction under a new jury trial.  Singleton also claimed several instances of prosecutorial misconduct, and he alleged that the presentation of gruesome photographs of the murdered victim violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.

What the Ruling Means

The Appellate Division has held that there was evidence on the record from which the jury could have gathered that the defendant believed he had received a command from God to murder his girlfriend.  In a new trial, the judge must make clear that a definition of insanity may be found even if the defendant knew that his actions were legally wrong, as long as it could be proved that his actions were driven by a delusion of receiving a deific command.

The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with sex crimes, drug crimes, DWI, murder, assault and other crimes across New Jersey.

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