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State of Mind Is Relevant to Decision

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Aug 22, 2016 |


Stephen Scharf was convicted of first-degree murder after he pushed his wife off of the Englewood cliffs. The defendant put forth a defense of accidental death, claiming that he and his wife were frequent visitors to the cliffs. During trial, the judge allowed testimony regarding the decedent’s fear of her husband and of her unwillingness to be at the cliffs due to her fear of heights. The Appellate Division reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial, finding that the decedent’s statements were irrelevant, because her state of mind was not at issue. It further stated that even if the statements were relevant, they were so prejudicial that the conviction was unjust. The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the Appellate Division. In a 6-0 opinion, the Court held that when the defendant offers a defense of accidental death, the decedent’s state of mind is put at issue.