People v. Casassa

Court of Appeals of New York, 1980.

49 N.Y.2d 668, 427 N.Y.S.2d 769, 404 N.E.2d 1310.

Dressler, pp. 256-260


Facts: The defendantís girlfriend broke off their relationship.He stalked and later killed her.In a bench trial, the defendant argued the partial excuse of extreme emotional distress.The judge found him guilty of murder.The defendant appealed on the basis that he wasnít allowed the extreme emotional disturbance defense.


Issue: Did the defendant establish the ďextreme emotional disturbanceĒ defense?


Rule: The New York statute, adapted from the Model Penal Code, says that in order to use this defense, the defendant (1) must be found to have acted under extreme emotional disturbance, and (2) that emotional disturbance must be one that the finder of fact can sort of ďsympathizeĒ with.


Analysis: The court says that the statute was properly applied because the trial judge, as the finder of fact, made an effort to empathize and be understanding of the defendantís situation.


Conclusion: The court upheld the trial courtís verdict.


Notes and Questions


1.     The defendant would have to demonstrate that he acted under extreme emotional disturbance and that the emotional disturbance was subjectively reasonable.I think he defendant would have to present evidence that in the milieu of the drug dealer, touching someoneís dinner plate is an incredibly provocative insult.It would be very hard to put the fact finder in a drug dealerís shoes.It would be next to impossible to make a judge or jury sympathetic to the subjective state of mind of the defendant that would cause him to kill another drug dealer over some money and a plate.

2.     I suppose C can get the instruction if he makes the case for this excuse in court, but the jury can only consider the effects of Cís past experiences on his psyche rather than any political or moral beliefs.

3.     According to the Model Penal Code, that evidence should be permissible, because someone from a different culture will subjectively experience emotional disturbance differently.

4.     So the Model Penal Code makes this a broader area of defense with more leeway for the jury.

5.     If someone really has some kind of emotional response that may or may not cause them to commit a crime, why is it important to have a hard and fast rule and notice?Why canít we just go case-by-case?


Special Bonus Question


Arnold is the father of a seventeen-year-old daughter, Betty, whom he loves dearly. Arnold has never committed an act of violence toward any person.  Nor does he generally favor such activities. However, Arnold believes that red-headed males possess an invisible germ that can kill non-[red-headed persons] with whom they have skin-to-skin contact. Arnold observes Betty talking to Carl, a red-headed friend. Carl is touching Betty's hand. Arnold, fearful for his daughter's life, tells Carl to let go of his daughter's hand. Carl does so, looks at Arnold in bewilderment, and says to Betty, "What in the world is bothering your father?" Powerfully enraged by Carl's lack of concern for his daughter's safety, Arnold stabs Carl to death. Of what MPC homicide offense is Arnold guilty?  Would your answer to these questions change if Arnold's odd views related to Carl's race, rather than to hair color?


Based on the plain language of the statute, Arnold would be a candidate for mitigation to manslaughter because he truly believes his daughterís life is in danger and Carl doesnít care.I donít think the answer would change if the weird belief were related to race.The reason we find regular, garden variety racism so despicable is that it reflects a belief that people in a certain group are inferior to my group.Thatís not what Arnold would believe in this hypothetical.Arnold would believe that members of a certain race, presumably not on purpose, are not bad or inferior, but biologically dangerous.We donít like racism in real life, but Arnoldís ďracismĒ would be of a bizarre and very different type that wonít change the answer to this question.


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