DUI Murder Appeals: Too Drunk to Be 'Depraved'

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three convicted murderers are arguing on appeal that they were too drunk to be legally convicted for their DUI-related crimes.

Martin Heidgen, Taliyah Taylor, and Franklin McPherson were convicted of murder in three separate cases in New York. But each one claims that prosecutors failed to prove they acted with "depraved indifference to human life."

This question of criminal law is now before New York's highest court.

'Too Intoxicated' to Murder?

The Associated Press reports that the three defendants were responsible for deaths in 2005, 2006, and 2007. In each case, the drivers are arguing that their murder convictions should be overturned because of a lack of "depraved indifference."

Under New York law, a person can be convicted of second degree murder if:

  1. That person's reckless conduct causes the death of another person, and
  2. The circumstances show the offender had a depraved indifference to human life.

In all of three cases, the defendants are not contesting they were guilty of lesser charges, including DUI, reckless driving, and vehicular manslaughter.

The difference between murder and manslaughter in these cases is "depraved indifference," and all three defendants are arguing on appeal that they were far too intoxicated to even know what they were doing.

What Is Depraved Indifference?

Depraved indifference is generally a callous disregard for human life, which can be displayed by a defendant's actions based on the circumstances.

According to the jury instructions for second degree murder in New York, a person with depraved indifference has:

  • An utter disregard for human life;
  • A willingness to act regardless of the unreasonable risk to human life;
  • A wicked, evil, or inhuman state of mind; and/or
  • Acted in a way that is wanton, and displays no moral sense of concern or regard for the lives

Depraved indifference was also one of the factors considered by George Zimmerman's jury in determining whether he was guilty of murder in shooting Trayvon Martin.

Based on the level of intoxication in these cases, the defendants argue they were incapable of having this more twisted form of disregard for human life, and that the prosecution did not prove this element beyond a reasonable doubt.

Far from convinced, one New York prosecutor opined to the AP that there was "no possibility" the defendants weren't aware of the risk and acted anyway, "other people be damned."

New York's highest court, called the Court of Appeals, is expected to rule on this issue by November.

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