Competency and Forced Education (Part 1)

by | Feb 3, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On March 15, 2023, Judge Franzblau of the Morris County Superior Court decided the case of State v. J.D. The principal issue before the Court under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-4 concerned whether the State could appoint a guardian to assist the defendant in attaining competence to stand trial.

The Court held in relevant part: Arguably, in this case, allowing the appointment of a Guardian / Guardian Ad Litem for the purpose of securing private educational services for defendant and engaging defendant in involuntary education to assist him in attaining competency may undermine defendant’s due process right to remain free from trial. See Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171 (1975) (recognizing that a defendant has a due process right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial); N.J.S.A. 2C:4-4(a) (recognizing that “no person who lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense shall be tried, convicted or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as such incapacity endures”).

Further, this court recognizes that a trial court should not intrude into a defense attorney’s relationship with his client. State v. Marut (App. Div. 2003). During oral argument, defendant’s attorney specifically objected to the appointment of a Guardian / Guardian Ad Litem, declaring that said appointment for the purpose of engaging defendant in involuntary education so that he can attain competency to stand trial is not in defendant’s legal interest. This court now concludes that appointment of a Guardian / Guardian Ad Litem for the purpose of securing involuntary educational services for defendant to potentially attain competency would intrude on defendant’s relationship with his attorney and the attorney’s legal advice and strategy.

This court further rejects the State’s reliance on Sell v. U.S., (2003), as authority for the appointment of a Guardian / Guardian Ad Litem to arrange for and secure defendant’s participation in involuntary education for the purpose of attaining competency. In Sell, the United States Supreme Court concluded that it was constitutional for a criminal defendant to be involuntarily medicated for the purpose of being restored to competency to stand trial. This court cannot reasonably equate involuntary medication of a defendant for the purpose of restoring competency with the involuntary education of a defendant to attain competency. The former suggests the curing of a transient illness that permits a previously competent defendant to be restored to competency and, as related to this case, the latter implies bringing this defendant to competency–a state that he previously may never have experienced.

This is a rare example of a published Law Division opinion. Such publication usually occurs in the absence of precedent from the New Jersey Appellate Division and Supreme Court. The parties’ citations to federal Supreme Court precedent supports that inference.