Court Mulls Whether Defendant Can Be Too Drunk to Murder
ALBANY - The Court of Appeals has been asked to consider a now-familiar offense to the court—the state of mind required for depraved indifference murder—in the unfamiliar context of fatal motor vehicle accidents.
The seven judges heard arguments for more than an hour in three cases Tuesday about whether drivers can be so impaired by alcohol or other substances as to render a conviction for murder impossible.
Throughout the arguments, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and other members of the court seemed to struggle with the need to enunciate special rules for depraved indifference murder in motor vehicle crashes, and whether it is logical to apply the crime to those kinds of deaths.
Limousine and pickup truck involved in a fatal accident in 2006 in Nassau County in which the limousine driver and a 5-year-old girl were killed returning from a wedding. Newsday
Lippman asked if the court should consider crafting an "overarching rule" about crashes, alcohol and depraved indifference murder.
"I think that if we have a collision, that it must operate under the same premise of the other quintessential examples [of depraved indifference murder]," said Assistant Nassau County District Attorney Maureen McCormick, who argued two of the cases on behalf of the prosecution. "Is there such a great risk of death? Is the behavior that creates that grave risk of death such that any objective person looking at this would say, 'Oh, my God, it's only a miracle that somebody doesn't die?'"
"How does intoxication fit into that equation?" Lippman continued.
"It fits into the equation as a question of fact for the jury," McCormick replied.
For more than a decade, the court has repeatedly distinguished between the mens rea of an intentional homicide and a depraved mind homicide, consistently holding that the two concepts are mutually exclusive and that an act can be either intentional or depraved, but not both (NYLJ, April 26).
The cases before the court Tuesday all concerned particularly horrific car crashes in which drivers were convicted of depraved indifference murder, rather than a lesser charge of manslaughter.