Depraved Indifference to Human Life Definition in New York

In People v. Feingold, 7 N.Y.3d 288, 852 N.E.2d 1163, 819 N.Y.S.2d 691 (2006), the Court of Appeals overruled People v. Register, 60 N.Y.2d 270, 457 N.E.2d 704, 469 N.Y.S.2d 599 (1983), holding that depraved indifference to human life is a culpable mental state, rather than a reference to the factual setting in which a defendant's conduct occurred. Because the factfinder in Feingold, supra, had explicitly stated the defendant had not acted with depraved indifference, its verdict convicting the defendant of a crime which required proof of depraved indifference was therefore supported by legally insufficient evidence. The Court discussed the evolution of the Register rationale, noting that its recent case law on the topic "progressively weakened" the rationale, "so that it would no longer support most depraved indifference murder convictions, particularly one-on-one shootings or stabbings." Feingold, id. at 294. Turning to the Facts before it, the high court noted that Feingold, who had caused a gas explosion in a suicide attempt, could have been found to have been acting with the mens rea of depraved indifference based on the Facts proved at trial. However, the trial court, in announcing its verdict, said that defendant's state of mind was not one of depraved indifference. Thus, the Court reduced his first-degree reckless endangerment conviction to one for second-degree reckless endangerment. Feingold, id. at 295, 297.