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NY Court of Appeals Says “Too Intoxicated” No Defense to Murder by Reckless Driving

The New York Court of Appeals upheld three murder convictions on Thursday rejecting in each case that being “too intoxicated” to know the threat was a defense to causing murder by acting with “depraved indifference to human life.”

In the instant cases of intoxicated driving, one driver, Taylor, took Ecstasy, marijuana and beer and drove naked down Staten Island’s Forest Avenue, killing a pedestrian. While those in dissent commented she was obviously “mentally impaired,” the majority held it did not grant a license to kill.

In the other cases, Heidgen was so drunk that he drove his truck for miles along the wrong way on Long Island’s Meadowbrook State Parkway and ultimately hit a limousine, killing the driver and a 7-year-old. Five other people suffered injuries.

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McPherson was similarly drunk while hitting a vehicle on a Long Island parkway.

Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote, “Although intoxicated driving cases that present circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life are likely to be few and far between, we find that the evidence in each of these unusually egregious cases was legally sufficient to support the convictions.”

Commenting further, Lippman said, “One who engages in what amounts to a high-speed game of chicken, with complete disregard for the value of the lives that are thereby endangered, is undoubtedly an individual whose culpability is the equivalent of an intentional murderer.”

However, those in dissent held that in case of a murder conviction, there should be a “culpable mental state” and other elements like motive that distinguish a murder from manslaughter.

These murder convictions would be classic illustrations of “utilitarian examples” established more to deter others than for the sake of punishing the guilty.

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