People v. Russell

91 N.Y.2d 280, 670 N.Y.S.2d 166, 693 N.E.2d 193 (1998)



A "depraved indifference" murder conviction requires proof that defendant, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, recklessly engaged in conduct creating a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby caused the death of another person. Reckless conduct requires awareness and conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. To constitute "depraved indifference," conduct must be so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so devoid of regard of the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes the death of another.


Defendants were charged with second-degree murder in the death of a bystander who was struck by a bullet fired during a gun battle between defendants. Defendants challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, arguing that each did not possess the necessary intent for a murder conviction.


May the defendants successfully invoke self-defense for intentionally engaging in a gun battle?




The court ruled that defendants' actions in participating in an inherently dangerous activity, with knowledge that their actions would endanger others, was sufficient to establish each defendant's guilt under the crime alleged. Defendants' self-defense claims were rejected because each defendant could have avoided further harm during the gun battle by retreating.

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