Thursday, December 22, 2005

BREAKING: Court of Appeals hands down important "depraved indifference murder" decision

People v Suarez & People v McPherson __ NY3d __ (available here.)

The Court of Appeals has just handed down a lengthy, in-depth per curiam opinion further dealing with the difference between "depraved indifference" murder in the second degree, "intentional" murder in the second degree, manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the second degree. (See my previous posts on this topic here, here, and here.) This joint appeal involved two defendants who were convicted of "depraved indifference" murder for stabbing their victims to death. The per curiam opinion reverses both convictions, and further clarifies that "depraved indifference" murder is not properly charged in the majority of cases; from the opinion:

The proliferation of the use of depraved indifference murder as a fallback theory under which to charge intentional killers reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the depraved murder statute . . . depraved indifference murder properly applies to only a small, and finite, category of cases where the conduct is at least as morally reprehensible as intentional murder.

(People v Suarez, __ NY3d at __.)

The per curiam goes on to distinguish (at great length) depraved indifference murder from intentional murder and both degrees of manslaughter. Obviously, I will have much more to say about this opinion after a chance to fully digest it. The most interesting bits come from the three-judge concurrence of Judge G.B. Smith, Judge R.S. Smith and Judge Rosenblatt, who "would take a step beyond the per curiam opinion and say what the Court stops short of saying: that Register and Sanchez should be explicitly overruled." (Id. at __.) Judge Read also writes separately to concur, and Judge Graffeo concurs in one case and dissents in the other.

All in all, a monster decision in what was already an eventful week for the Court of Appeals (see my previous post on Goldstein here.)

Plus, the Fourth Department hands down decisions from its November/December term today.