State v. Ramseur

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtWILENTZ; O'HERN; HANDLER; O'HERN; No other facts were adduced. At the sentencing hearing
Citation106 N.J. 123,524 A.2d 188
Decision Date05 March 1987
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Thomas C. RAMSEUR, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 123

106 N.J. 123
524 A.2d 188
STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Thomas C. RAMSEUR, Defendant-Appellant.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Feb. 4, 1985.
Decided March 5, 1987.

Page 152

[524 A.2d 201] James K. Smith, Jr., Deputy Public Defender, Lois A. DeJulio, First Asst. Deputy Public Defender, and Matthew Astore, Asst. Deputy Public Defender, for defendant-appellant (Thomas S. Smith, Jr., Former Acting Public Defender, attorney; [524 A.2d 202] James K. Smith, Jr., of counsel; Lois A. DeJulio, Matthew Astore, Judith L. Borman, Jane Ellen Haburay, Claudia Van Wyk, and Patricia Kern, Asst. Deputy Public Defenders, on briefs).

George L. Schneider, Former Essex County Pros., and Hilary L. Brunell, Former Asst. County Pros., for plaintiff-respondent

Page 153

(George L. Schneider, attorney; Hilary L. Brunell, Elizabeth A. Duelly, and Marc J. Friedman, Asst. County Pros., on briefs).

Marc Feldman, a member of the Virginia and Maryland bars, for amici curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and NAACP Legal Defense and Educ. Fund, Inc. (Jeffrey E. Fogel, Newark, attorney; Marc Feldman and Robert F. Williams, Collingswood, of counsel and on brief).

Irwin I. Kimmelman, Former Atty. Gen. of New Jersey, and Debra L. Stone, Deputy Atty. Gen., for amicus curiae Atty. Gen. (Irwin I. Kimmelman, attorney; Debra L. Stone and Anne C. Paskow, Deputy Atty. Gen., of counsel).

Daniel Crystal, Saddle Brook, Joseph A. Fortunato, Montclair, Morton Stavis, Hoboken, and William J. Volonte, Madison, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae The National Lawyers Guild, New Jersey Chapter.

Stephen M. Latimer, Mount Holly, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Rutgers University School of Law--Prison Law Clinic.

Leave to rely on the brief submitted on behalf of The National Lawyers Guild was granted to amicus curiae American Friends Service Committee, New Jersey Justice Program (Norgaard & Scher, Englewood, attorneys), and amicus curiae New Jersey Council of Churches, Inc. (Donald L. Drakeman, Clifton, attorney).

 Table of Contents
                 -----------------
                 Introduction ................................................ 202
                 I. The Act ..................................................... 203
                 II. Facts ....................................................... 206
                III. Constitutionality ........................................... 208
                 A. Constitutionality of Death Penalty Per Se ................ 210
                 B. Constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 .................... 216
                 C. Constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c) ............. 224
                 IV. Pretrial Issues ............................................. 232
                 A. Selection of Essex County Juries ......................... 232
                 B. Struck Jury .............................................. 245
                 C. Voir Dire ................................................ 247
                 D. Death Qualification ...................................... 250
                 V. Trial Issues ................................................ 257
                 A. Psychiatric Defense ...................................... 257
                 B. Admissibility of Prior Acts .............................. 259
                 C. Diminished Capacity Instructions ......................... 260
                 VI. Sentencing Issues ........................................... 262
                 A. Use of Non Vult Plea ..................................... 262
                 B. Trial Court Comments on Evidence ......................... 266
                 C. Flight Charge ............................................ 268
                 D. Constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(4)(c) as Applied
                 to Defendant ............................................. 270
                 E. Instructions Concerning Mitigation ....................... 273
                 F. Instructions Concerning Jury Deliberations ............... 277
                 1. Jury Deadlock ........................................ 278
                 2. Jury Coercion ........................................ 280
                 3. Other Errors at Sentencing ........................... 286
                 G. Prosecutorial Misconduct ................................. 288
                 H. Proportionality Review ................................... 291
                 Conclusion .................................................. 294
                

Page 154

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

WILENTZ, C.J.

In this matter and in State v. Biegenwald, 106 N.J. 13, 524 A.2d 130 (1987), also decided today, the defendant has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In their appeals, both defendants attack the constitutionality of this state's capital punishment act (L.1982, c. 111) under the federal and New Jersey Constitutions. They also contend that various trial errors warrant reversal of their convictions and their sentences.

We hold that the capital punishment act is in all respects constitutional. We sustain the verdict of guilty in each case. We conclude, however, that critical portions of the trial courts' instructions in the sentencing proceedings were erroneous. See infra at 277; State v. Biegenwald, supra, 106 N.J. at 190, 524 A.2d 130. We therefore reverse the death sentence in each of these cases and remand them to the respective trial courts. The murder conviction in each case is affirmed.

In State v. Biegenwald, the trial court on remand shall conduct a new sentencing proceeding; in the Ramseur matter, because we have ruled that the death penalty cannot be imposed on remand, the trial court shall sentence the defendant,

Page 155

in accordance with the act, to imprisonment for a specific [524 A.2d 203] term of years with no parole eligibility for thirty years.

We will first describe the death penalty act and the facts of this case. We will then treat the constitutional questions and follow that with a discussion of Ramseur's allegations of trial and sentencing errors. 1

Before doing so, we note that this case and State v. Biegenwald were among the first capital punishment cases tried under the reimposition of the death penalty in this state. Both the difficulty and responsibility involved in being among the first trial judges to preside over a capital cause were great, as were the talents of the two trial judges who met that challenge. Our disagreement with some of their rulings should not in any way detract from the credit to which they are entitled for the quality of their performance. 2

Page 156

I.

The Act

New Jersey's death penalty act (hereafter referred to as "the Act") was passed in 1982 as an amendment to the murder provisions of our Code of Criminal Justice. N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3. Inasmuch as this is the first case to come before this Court challenging the validity of a sentence imposed pursuant to the Act, we will set forth the provisions of the legislation in some detail.

The Act calls for a bifurcated trial in which punishment is determined in a separate proceeding following the establishment of guilt. Sec. c(1). 3 In the guilt phase, the central question is whether the defendant committed murder, i.e., whether he purposely or knowingly caused death or participated in one of a number of crimes during the commission of which death resulted (similar to the former common-law crime of "felony murder"). Sec. a(1), (2), and (3). A defendant is subject to a separate sentencing proceeding, i.e., is "death-eligible," only if he has been found guilty of purposeful and knowing murder and committed the murder by his own hand or paid someone else to do so. Sec. c. "Death-eligible" defendants face either death or at least a thirty-year term of imprisonment without parole, depending on the outcome of the sentencing proceeding. Sec. c(1). Defendants convicted of murder but not "death-eligible" are sentenced to a prison term of at least thirty years without parole. Sec. b.

Page 157

In the sentencing proceeding, ordinarily conducted before the same jury that determined guilt, the State is required to prove, [524 A.2d 204] beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of one or more "aggravating factors" specifically set forth in Section c(4)(a)-(h). The aggravating factors are:

(a) The defendant has previously been convicted of murder;

(b) In the commission of the murder, the defendant purposely or knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim;

(c) The murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery 4 to the victim;

(d) The defendant committed the murder as consideration for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt of any thing of pecuniary value;

(e) The defendant procured the commission of the offense by payment or promise of payment of anything of pecuniary value;

(f) The murder was committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, punishment or confinement for another offense committed by the defendant or another;

(g) The offense was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit robbery, sexual assault, arson, burglary or kidnapping; or

(h) The defendant murdered a public servant, as defined in [ N.J.S.A.] 2C:27-1, while the victim was engaged in the performance of his official duties, or because of the victim's status as a public servant.

Thereafter the defendant may produce evidence of any "mitigating factors" set forth in Section c(5)(a)-(h). The mitigating factors are:

(a) The defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance insufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution;

(b) The victim solicited, participated in or consented to the conduct which resulted in his death;

(c) The age of the defendant at the time of the murder;

(d) The defendant's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was significantly impaired as the result of mental disease or defect or intoxication, but not to a degree sufficient to constitute a defense to prosecution;

(e) The defendant was under unusual and substantial duress insufficient to constitute a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
373 practice notes
  • PHILADELPHIA RESERVE SUPPLY v. Nowalk & Associates, Civ. A. No. 91-0449.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 27, 1994
    ...New Jersey RICO borrows the structure, purpose and remedies of federal RICO. Ball, supra, 632 A.2d at 1235; see also State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188, 228 (1987) (noting that when the New Jersey legislature adopts complex statutes modelled after existing statutes in other jurisd......
  • Ramseur v. Beyer, No. 90-5333
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • December 31, 1992
    ...5, 1987, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed Ramseur's convictions on all counts but reversed his death sentence. See State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188 (1987). Ramseur then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the U.S. District Court for the Di......
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 21, 1999
    ...Blount v. State, 511 A.2d 1030, 1036-37 (Del. 1986); State v. Burchett, 224 Neb. 444, 450-52, 399 N.W.2d 258 (1986); State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 248-54, 524 A.2d 188 (1987); State v. Barts, 316 N.C. 666, 676-78, 343 S.E.2d 828 (1986); State v. Duvigneaud, 99 Or. App. 279, 281, 781 P.2d ......
  • State v. Artis, No. 504A84
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 5, 1989
    ...then the defendant's eighth amendment right to have all such circumstances considered by the sentencer is violated. See State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188 While sympathy for a criminal defendant has no place in the jury's determination of defendant's guilt, it does have a proper [......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
374 cases
  • PHILADELPHIA RESERVE SUPPLY v. Nowalk & Associates, Civ. A. No. 91-0449.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 27, 1994
    ...New Jersey RICO borrows the structure, purpose and remedies of federal RICO. Ball, supra, 632 A.2d at 1235; see also State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188, 228 (1987) (noting that when the New Jersey legislature adopts complex statutes modelled after existing statutes in other jurisd......
  • Ramseur v. Beyer, No. 90-5333
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • December 31, 1992
    ...5, 1987, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed Ramseur's convictions on all counts but reversed his death sentence. See State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188 (1987). Ramseur then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the U.S. District Court for the Di......
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 21, 1999
    ...Blount v. State, 511 A.2d 1030, 1036-37 (Del. 1986); State v. Burchett, 224 Neb. 444, 450-52, 399 N.W.2d 258 (1986); State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 248-54, 524 A.2d 188 (1987); State v. Barts, 316 N.C. 666, 676-78, 343 S.E.2d 828 (1986); State v. Duvigneaud, 99 Or. App. 279, 281, 781 P.2d ......
  • State v. Artis, No. 504A84
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 5, 1989
    ...then the defendant's eighth amendment right to have all such circumstances considered by the sentencer is violated. See State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188 While sympathy for a criminal defendant has no place in the jury's determination of defendant's guilt, it does have a proper [......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT