CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. The defendant, Victor Casassa, brutally murdered his victim after she rejected him and was charged with second-degree murder. The sole issue presented at trial was whether the defendant had acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, thereby warranting a reduction of the charge from second degree murder to manslaughter.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The reasonableness of extreme emotional disturbance must be determined from the point of view of a reasonable person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.
In the end, we believe that what the Legislature intended in enacting the statute was to allow the finder of fact the discretionary power to mitigate the penalty when presented with a situation which, under the circumstances, appears to them to have caused an understandable weakness in one of their fellows.View Full Point of Law
The state presented witnesses who testified that the defendant was not under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance within the meaning of the penal law, which provides that “it is an affirmative defense to the crime of murder in the second degree where the defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse”, because his disturbed state was not the product of external factors but rather created from within himself.
At trial, the court held that the defendant’s emotional reaction at the time of the commission of the crime was so peculiar to him that it could not be considered reasonable and therefore did not show adequate provocation. The defendant appeals.
Issue. Did the trial court err in failing to afford the defendant the benefit of the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance? In a broader sense, do all mental infirmities constitute extreme emotional disturbance within the meaning of the statute?
Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
Section 125.25 of the Penal Law, which provides that “it is an affirmative defense to the crime of murder in the second degree where the defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse”, allows but does not require the fact finder the opportunity to find mitigation only upon a finding of extreme emotional disturbance.
According the comments to the Model Penal Code, the defense of extreme emotional disturbance has two main components. First, the particular defendant must have acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance. Second, there must have been a reasonable explanation or excuse for such emotional disturbance. Reasonableness should be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.
Discussion. The Model Penal code broadens the applicability of the common law provocation defense by abandoning the common law formula for provocation for a more flexible Extreme Emotional Defense Doctrine. The New York Court of Appeals held in this case that in determination of whether a “reasonable explanation” for a defendant’s extreme emotional disturbance exists should be subjective. That is, it should be based on the external circumstances as the defendant perceived them, regardless of whether the defendant’s perception is accurate.