The defense of "extreme emotional disturbance" has two principal components: (1) the particular defendant must have "acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance," and (2) there must have been "a reasonable explanation or excuse" for such extreme emotional disturbance, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.
A man dated a young woman casually from August until November of 1976, at which time she informed him that she was not falling in love with him. The girls rejection of the man’s advances precipitated a bizarre series of actions on the part of the man which, he asserts, demonstrates the existence of extreme emotional disturbance upon which he predicates his affirmative defense. Aware that his ex girlfriend maintained social relationships with others men, he broke into the apartment below hers on several occasions to eavesdrop. These sessions allegedly caused him to be under great emotional stress. On one occasion he broke into her apartment while she was out. His final visit to the ex girlfriend's apartment occurred on February 28, 1977. He brought several bottles of wine and liquor with him to offer as a gift. Upon the ex girlfriend's rejection of this offering, he produced a steak knife which he had brought with him, stabbed her several times in the throat, dragged her body into the bathroom and submerged it in a bathtub full of water to make sure she was dead. He then appeared at the victim's apartment during the police investigation of her death. While denying any involvement in the murder, he professed a willingness to co-operate in the investigation. The police accepted his offer of co-operation and requested that he accompany them to police headquarters to discuss the matter further. He agreed to be interviewed by the police. During his interview, he was advised of his Miranda rights, which he waived, and in the course of the interview, he confessed to the killing. At the time of the interview, his mother was trying to locate him, and when she learned that he was at the police station, she sent an attorney to speak to him. At trial, however, the defendant raised the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance under N.Y. Penal Law § 125(1)(a). The court found that defendant's emotional reaction at the time of the commission of the crime was so peculiar to him that under the statute, it could not be considered reasonable so as to reduce the conviction to manslaughter in the first degree. Accordingly, the trial court found him guilty of murder in the second degree. The appellate division affirmed the trial courts decision. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.
Did defendant establish his affirmative defense of "extreme emotional disturbance"?
The Court held that the trial court, sitting as the trier of fact, properly applied the statute where it accepted, as a factual matter, that defendant killed his victim while under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, but found that the excuse offered by defendant for this state was so peculiar to him that it was unworthy of mitigation, that is, that the murder was the result of defendant's malevolence rather than an understandable human response deserving of mercy. His emotional reaction could not be considered reasonable so as to reduce the conviction to manslaughter in the first degree. The court also held that defendant's right to counsel was not violated merely because his mother attempted to send an attorney to speak with him during his interview with the police.