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Court Rules on Diabetic Hypoglycemia Defense Case


In 1981, a wife was shot and killed at her home by her estranged husband. The defendant husband was charged for murder in the second degree for intentionally causing the death of his wife. At trial, the husband did not deny that he fired the shots which killed his wife; rather, he offered evidence to establish that he did not have the right state of mind to commit intentional murder. Specifically, the husband sought to show that at the time of the shooting he was suffering from hypoglycemia, a condition resulting from his having taken an excessive amount of insulin to control his diabetes, which rendered him, in effect, intoxicated and incapable of forming the requisite intent.

Records revealed that the defendant husband requested to the jury that manslaughter in the second degree and criminal negligence homicide be charged as lesser included offenses of intentional murder. After the County Court denied his request, the husband was found guilty as charged and a term of imprisonment of 25 years to life was imposed. The husband appealed and raised several grounds of error.

Initially, the Penal Law has established a hierarchy of culpable mental states with felonious negligence as the least liable mental state, recklessly as the next highest, and intentionally as the most liable mental state. It is further recognize that the lower mental states are necessarily included in the higher forms of mental liability. A review of the statutory definitions of criminally negligent homicide, reckless manslaughter and intentional murder reveals that these crimes are distinguished only by the degree of their required mental states. Thus, it is impossible to commit the greater crime without concurrently, by the same conduct, committing the lesser crimes. Criminally negligent homicide and reckless manslaughter are, therefore, lesser included offenses of intentional murder.

Accordingly, in determining whether County Court erred in its refusal to charge the lesser included offenses, it is necessary to consider whether a reasonable view of the evidence which were considered favorably to the husband would have permitted the jury to conclude that the husband committed the lesser but not the greater offense. Review of the record concluded that a reasonable view of the evidence favorable to the husband would support a finding that the husband acted recklessly rather than intentionally, and the lesser included offense of reckless manslaughter should have been charged in the alternative to intentional murder.

The record establishes that hypoglycemia is a condition in which the body does not have sufficient sugar to function properly and which can be caused by insulin. There is other evidence that an individual suffering from hypoglycemia could be mistaken for an intoxicated individual. Additionally, the jury could have found from the facts presumed at trial that at the time of the shooting, the defendant, a diabetic, was not following a prescribed course of treatment, had been drinking to excess, had taken an extra dose of insulin to compensate for these transgressions, and was carrying a gun, supposedly for protection. The jury might further have found, consistent with the testimony of the defendant’s medical expert, that he was in a hypoglycemic state from his excessive drinking and insulin injections and did not have the requisite intent for intentional murder at the time of the shooting. Drugs have been recognized as a cause of voluntary intoxication and there is no logical reason why insulin should be treated differently, especially in light of the expert testimony that hypoglycemia, also known as insulin reaction, could produce an intoxicated state. Accordingly, the jury has reasonably concluded that the husband did not act intentionally, the liable mental state required for intentional murder.

Furthermore, the facts reasonably support a conclusion that the defendant acted recklessly and, thus, committed reckless manslaughter. One acts recklessly when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that will occur; and when the risk is of such nature and degree constitutes a gross nonconformity from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. By not following prescribed medical treatment and by taking extra insulin and drinking excessively at a time when he was carrying a gun, the defendant could be found to have consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk of killing another person by using the gun and, thus, to have acted recklessly.

The voluntary intoxication claimed by the defendant is not available to negate the liable mental state. Accordingly, there is a reasonable view of the evidence that the defendant did not act intentionally but acted recklessly and committed reckless manslaughter. A charge on manslaughter in the second degree in the alternative to intentional murder was thus required.

Judgment was reversed, on the law, and matter remitted to the Court of Albany County for a new trial.

Family members should protect each other from any form of harm but when a member does otherwise when they are intoxicated, seeking legal advice is a must. A dedicated team of New York DWI Lawyers at Stephen Bilkis and Associates is always ready to provide you with assistance and sound counseling.

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