Although most jurisdictions have established separate offenses for homicides which occur when a motorist in driving while intoxicated, public pressure demanding more severe sanctions has led some states to use depraved indifference murder as a means of imposing the maximum punishment. The crime of DWI depraved indifference murder is called second degree homicide in New York. Understanding the charge of DWI second degree murder involves knowing about the concept of “mens rea.”

Mens Rea
Every homicide offense contains two elements: (1) conduct that causes the death of another person and (2) the mental state or “mens rea” of the offender. It is the mental state of the offender that addresses the question of guilt in a homicide offense. Mens rea refers to the guilty mind that produces a criminal act. Mens rea refers to a certain mental state, often an element of the offense, which expresses the intent necessary for a particular act to constitute a crime.

DWI Second Degree Murder
In New York, DWI second degree murder (New York Penal Law § 125.25) has a mens rea that involves “depraved indifference.” The concept of depraved indifference murder is rooted in the common law definition of malice aforethought. Malice aforethought can encompass several elements: (1) the intent to kill, (2) the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, (3) extremely reckless indifference to the value of human life or (4) the intent to commit a dangerous felony which leads to guilt under the felony-murder rule. Depraved indifference means that the DWI defendant’s act of causing a death was done with such wanton brutality as to exhibit a general utter disregard for human life.

The immediacy and the severity of the death in a DWI second degree murder case is what distinguishes the crime as involving a mens rea of “depraved indifference.” Depraved indifference mens rea means that the DWI defendant consciously disregarded an imminently dangerous and grave risk to other persons by driving while intoxicated. The mens rea basis for a DWI second degree murder charge is based on the conscious disregard of a severe risk that immediate and severe injury will occur to others as the result of the defendant’s conduct. Proving a case of DWI second degree murder involves the prosecution showing that the level of the DWI defendant’s behavior was extremely dangerous, even though there was no specific intent on the defendant’s part to cause a death. The prosecution in such a case must prove that the DWI defendant acted with a depraved kind of wantonness, and not mere carelessness or recklessness in driving while intoxicated.

It is important to note that in proving a case of DWI second degree murder, the prosecution cannot rely solely on evidence of the defendant’s intoxication to support the concept of depraved indifference. There must be some other egregious conduct present in the DWI defendant’s behavior apart from the defendant’s consumption of alcohol. If a DWI defendant’s conduct involves the creation of an almost certain risk of death to others, a court may find the mens rea to support a case of second degree murder. In a New York case for DWI second degree murder, it must be proven that a DWI defendant willfully or purposely embarked on a course of wrongful conduct likely to cause death to another person.

The attorneys at the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are experienced in handling DWI cases. If you need a lawyer who can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your DWI case, call the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys.

The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.