People v. Haney – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In People v. Haney (30 NY2d 328, 284 NE2d 564, 333 NYS2d 403 [1972]), the Court of Appeals addressed the distinction between civil liability and criminal culpability in a criminally negligent homicide prosecution.

In Haney, the defendant sped through a red light and struck and killed a pedestrian. The defendant had failed to yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian who was already in the intersection.

In analyzing the sufficiency of the grand jury presentation in support of the indictment for criminally negligent homicide, the Court discussed the difference between reckless homicide, criminally negligent homicide, and civil negligence.

The Court noted "a persistent problem, faced by the courts and legislatures alike, was the formulation of the 'extra' qualities that distinguish unintended homicides, which give rise to criminal liability, from those which, at most, produce civil liability for negligence." (Id. at 331-332.)

A criminally negligent offender's liability is said to arise only from a culpable failure to perceive a risk. "It criminal negligence is, however, appreciably greater than that required for ordinary civil negligence by virtue of the 'substantial and unjustifiable' character of the risk involved and the factor of 'gross deviation' from the ordinary standard of care." (Id. at 333.)

"Criminal negligent homicide, in essence, involves the failure to perceive the risk in a situation where the offender has a legal duty of awareness." (Id. at 334.)