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More Cases of Depraved Mind Murder: The Problem of Mens Rea

NCJ Number
St. John's Law Review Volume: 64 Issue: 3 Dated: (Spring/Summer 1990) Pages: 429-469
B E Gegan
Date Published
41 pages
The statutory definition of depraved mind murder requires that the accused recklessly create a grave risk of death under circumstances suggesting a depraved indifference to human life.
Where the murder statute speaks of a depraved indifference to human life, the New York Court of Appeals holds that the mental culpability is no different from that of reckless manslaughter. The notion of mens rea as the "vicious will" corresponding to the gravity of the crime has become invisible or lost its identity. While the court acknowledges that murder with depraved indifference is more blameworthy than reckless manslaughter, it accounts for the difference by purely external circumstances. Such reasoning distorts the legislative intent in the depraved mind murder statute. If the concept of depraved indifference to human life means anything at all, it excludes by necessity an actor whose reckless violence was the product of intense passion provoked by sources that reasonably account for his emotional state. The definition of the crime should be rewritten to eliminate the common-law concept of depraved indifference and be replaced with a purely factual description of the mental state along the lines of the Model Penal Code. 126 notes