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People v. Register

Court of Appeals of New York
60 N.Y.2d 270 (1983)


Facts

Register (defendant) and his friend, Duval, had been drinking heavily. The two men went to a bar, Register taking a loaded gun with him. After a few hours at the bar, an argument broke out between Duval and Willie Mitchell. Register took the gun out and shot at Mitchell but instead injured Lawrence Evans, who was trying to stop the fight. Register then came forward and shot Mitchell in the stomach. The bar patrons began to leave the bar, some trying to remove Mitchell and bring him to the hospital. At some point Marvin Lindsey, an acquaintance of Register, passed by. Without explanation, Register shot Lindsey, killing him. Register was charged with intentional murder, second-degree murder (also called depraved-mind murder), and two counts of first-degree assault. Register did not deny the shootings, but instead introduced evidence of his severe intoxication on the night of the events. Register asked the court to provide jury instructions on the effect of intoxication. The court did so when discussing the intentional murder and assault counts, but it refused to charge the jury on the intoxication defense in determining whether Register acted “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life” in causing Lindsey’s death. The court reasoned that the mens rea required for depraved-mind murder is recklessness, and the state penal law excludes evidence of intoxication as a defense to recklessness crimes, because a person who creates a risk, but is unaware of it simply because he is voluntarily intoxicated, is also acting recklessly. Register was acquitted of intentional murder, but convicted of depraved-mind murder. The appellate division affirmed the judgment, and Register appealed, arguing that voluntary intoxication is a valid defense to depraved-mind murder, because the crime contains an additional element of mental culpability in the phrase “circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life,” which may be canceled out by evidence of intoxication.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Simons, J.)

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Dissent (Jasen, J.)

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