Law School Case Brief
People v. Rypinski - 157 A.D.2d 260, 555 N.Y.S.2d 500 (App. Div. 4th Dept. 1990)
The mistake of fact defense is found in N.Y. Penal Law § 15.20(1)(a), which provides that a person is not relieved of criminal liability for conduct because he engages in such conduct under a mistaken belief of fact, unless such factual mistake negatives the culpable mental state required for the commission of an offense. Recklessness is a culpable mental state defined in § 15.05(3). It requires that the actor be aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.
Defendant Roy Rypinski was involved in an argument with the victim at a bar where he had been drinking. The evidence established that defendant, who had been drinking all evening, shot Gordon Ulrich above the left knee in the early morning hours after an argument concerning defendant's girlfriend. Prosecution witnesses testified that, before defendant got a rifle from his car, he threatened to blow the victim's brains out. They also testified that, after the gun discharged, defendant said "I'm sorry, it was an accident. I didn't mean to hurt anybody." Rypinski testified that he thought the rifle was not loaded. The trial court convicted Rypinski of assault in the second degree under N.Y. Penal Law § 15.20, after refusing to instruct the jury on the defense of mistake of fact. Rypinski appealed.
Did the trial court err in refusing to charge the jury that it could consider whether a mistake of fact negated the culpable mental state of recklessness?
The court reversed the conviction and ordered the indictment dismissed, holding that because recklessness was a culpable mental state under § 15.20, Rypinski was entitled to the requested instruction.
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