Depraved indifference is mentioned in many different criminal offenses but is never really discussed in detail as to what it means. There are many cases that discuss depraved indifference and how it is applied to the criminal offenses in which they are named in order to give some definition to the phrase. Offenses that include the depraved indifference phrase include reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and even murder. For a person to be convicted of an offense that involves depraved indifference, it must be proven in court that the actions of the person fall within the definition of the phrase.
Depraved indifference deals with the state of mind of the person committing the overall offense. They would have engaged in conduct that creates an extreme risk of death to another person. When their actions show an utter disregard for the value of human life, they will be said to be exhibiting depraved indifference. This means that they exhibit a willingness to act, not because they intend to cause harm but because they do not care if their actions will result in harm.
In 2006, the Court of Appeals introduced a holding that overruled the previous court opinions on depraved indifference and ruled that depraved indifference is a culpable mental state (People v. Feingold). Culpable mental state are the ways in which a person would be held liable for their mental state while in the act of committing an offense. A person can be deemed to have acted with depraved indifference when they act intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or in a way that is criminally negligent.
Prior to this 2006 decision, the main court case that was used for case law on the matter was decided in 1983 (People v. Register) in which a man had been convicted of second degree murder and two counts of assault in the first. The defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that the murder conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence that he had acted with depraved indifference. His argument was based on the failure to instruct the jury about the possibility of including intoxication evidence to negate the depraved indifference element. The court did not agree with his reasoning and upheld the lower courts decision, broadening the scope of when depraved indifference applies.
The shift in 2006 to depraved indifference being considered a culpable mental state changed how defendants who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol were charged or convicted of offenses that previously would have allowed it to apply. Almost immediately after the Court of Appeals decision, another case held that the defendant’s drug intoxication left him incapable of the mental state required for depraved indifference to apply (People v. Coon).
If you have been charged with an offense that includes a depraved indifference element, our experienced team of New York criminal attorneys can help. Our team of top attorneys can assist in making sure your best interests are being represented in court and work towards getting the best possible outcome for your case.