Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was charged with and convicted of the second-degree murder of his estranged wife’s boyfriend. Under New York law, the state permits a person to raise an affirmative defense that he “acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance.” The defendant bears the burden of persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence. Appellant sought to invalidate the statutory scheme by claiming it violated due process because it improperly shifted the burden of persuasion from the prosecutor to the defendant.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In a criminal case, the defendant who raises an affirmative defense shall bear the burden of persuasion unless the affirmative defense is a presumed element of the offense under the statute.
Issue. Were the defendant’s due process rights violated when he was required under state law to bear the burden of persuasion for his affirmative defense to the crime of murder?
Held. No. Judgment Affirmed.
In New York, the two elements to the crime of second-degree murder are: (1) “intent to cause the death of another person; and (2) causing the death of such person or of a third person.” Malice aforethought is not an element of the crime.
Additionally, the state permits a person to raise an affirmative defense that he “acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance.” The defendant bears the burden of persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence. New York also recognizes the crime of manslaughter.
Under Maine’s statute in Mullaney, a person accused of murder could rebut the statutory presumption that he committed the offense with malice aforethought by proving he acted in the heat of passion on sudden provocation.
New York’s defense of extreme emotional disturbance is an expanded version of the common law defense of heat of passion. Under the common law, the burden of proving this defense and other affirmative defenses rested on the defendant.
The Court did not conclude that Patterson’s conviction under the New York law deprived him of due process. The death, intent to kill, and causation are the facts that the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The Due Process Clause does require New York to abandon those defenses or undertake the cause of disproving their existence in order to convict a person of a crime which is otherwise within its constitutional powers to sanction by substantial punishment.
Dissent. Justice Powell, Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall dissenting:
In Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975), this Court held that Maine’s requirement that the defendant prove heat of passion was invalid. The Court today ignores the unanimous holding in Mullaney and approves New York’s requirement that the defendant prove extreme emotional disturbance. A constitutional boundary line has been placed through the small space separating Maine’s law from New York’s based on a distinction in language that is formalistic rather than substantive.
In In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970), this Court held that the Due Process Clause “protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.” The Court reasoned in Mullaney that Maine’s statute was invalid because it defined murder as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought, either express or implied” and that Winship was violated only because this “fact” (malice) was “presumed” unless the defendant persuaded the jury otherwise by showing he acted in a heat of passion. The New York statute escapes constitutional scrutiny because it presumes no affirmative “fact” against Patterson even though the effect on the defendant of New York’s placement of the burden of persuasion is exactly the same as Maine’s. The test established today allows a legislature to shift the burden of persuasion with regard to any factor in a criminal case, so long as it does not mention the nonexisten
ce of that factor in the statutory language defining the crime.
New York’s provisions allocating the burden of persuasion as to “extreme emotional disturbance” are unconstitutional. The Due Process Clause requires that the prosecutor bear the burden beyond a reasonable doubt only if the factor at issue makes a substantial difference in punishment and stigma. “Extreme emotional disturbance” is the direct descendant of the “heat of passion” factor considered in Mullaney. The existence or nonexistence of this concept makes an important difference in punishment and stigma. In addition, this element has throughout history distinguished manslaughter from murder. Where a state has chosen to keep the traditional distinction between murder and manslaughter, as have New York and Maine, the burden of persuasion must remain on the prosecution with respect to the distinguishing factor.
Concurrence. Justice Harlan concurring. Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken to eliminate the likelihood of convicting an innocent person. The state is not required to prove the nonexistence of a mitigating circumstance in each case in which the fact is at issue. The state may judge this process too overwhelming, expensive and inaccurate. This viewpoint may cause state legislatures to reallocate burdens of proof by characterizing affirmative defenses as some elements of crimes now defined in statutes. However, states are limited by constitutional boundaries. The difference between the case at hand and the Mullaney case lies in the statutory language. The malice in Mullaney was presumed under the statute and could only be rebutted by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence that he acted with heat of passion upon sudden provocation.
Discussion. Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken to eliminate the likelihood of convicting an innocent person. The effect of the Court’s rule may be to allow legislatures to shift the burden of persuasion with regard to any factor in a criminal case, so long as it does not mention the nonexistence of that factor in the statutory language defining the crime.