People v. Fountain
Court Discusses Whether the Defendant Evinced a Depraved Indifference to Human Life
The defendant was indicted for manslaughter in the second degree and criminal negligent homicide in connection with the deaths of two pedestrians, assault in the first degree in connection with serious physical injuries inflicted upon another pedestrian and driving while intoxicated. At the trial the investigating officer testified that the defendant told him that he was driving thirty miles per hour when he hit the victims. Another officer testified that the defendant had a .23 blood alcohol content and he observed that the defendant had an unsteady on his feet, slurred speech and his breath smelled of alcohol. The surviving witness testified that he was struck by the defendant when he was in the crosswalk with the light in his favor. At the trial, it was brought out that the lighting conditions were good and the defendant car was in proper mechanical condition. Further, autopsy report revealed that victims who died injuries were consistent with being struck by an automobile. The defendant was acquitted of the manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts by the trial judge. The defendant was convicted in the Supreme Court, Queens County, of assault in the first degree and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, DWI, by a jury and driving while intoxicated by a non-jury trial. The defendant appealed.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court reduced the conviction to assault in the third degree and vacated the sentence on assault in the first degree. The case was remitted to the Criminal Term for the defendant to be resentenced on the reduced conviction. Evidence showed that that the defendant acted recklessly while in an intoxicated condition when he drove through an intersection in violation of a traffic signal and that his actions caused physical injury to another. As a result, the evidence was sufficient to show assault in the third degree but was insufficient to show that the reckless conduct occurred under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life and thus did not sustain conviction for assault in the first degree.
The minority however, felt there was sufficient evidence to show that the defendant’s conduct was reckless and evinced a depraved indifference to human life merely because he drove through an intersection in violation of a traffic signal at approximately 30 miles per hour while pedestrians were rightfully crossing the street. DWAI was in play.
Our colleagues in the majority conclude that the People failed to prove that defendant’s conduct evinced a depraved indifference to human life. We feel, however, that under the circumstances of this**816 case, where it was shown that defendant, while intoxicated, drove through an intersection in violation of a traffic signal at approximately 30 miles per hour while pedestrians were rightfully crossing the street, there existed a sufficient basis from which the Trial Justice could conclude, as he did, that defendant’s conduct was reckless and evinced ‘a depraved indifference to human life.’
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