Henderson v. Kibbe

United States Supreme Court

431 U.S. 145 (1977)

The definition of recklessness includes an element of causation.

Relevant Facts

Kibbe (the defendant) and his co-defendant saw Stafford (the victim) at a bar, intoxicated and displaying money. The defendants gave the victim a ride with the purpose of robbing him. The defendant slapped the victim, took his money, and made him lower his pants and remove his boots. Afterwards, the defendants abandoned the victim on a dark road in the snow without a coat, shoes, or his glasses. The victim was later hit and killed by a speeding truck. The driver testified he was traveling 10 miles over the speed limit, that he did not understand warnings about the victim from other drivers, and that he saw the victim in the road, but that he failed to swerve or stop before hitting him. The defendants were convicted pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §125.25(2), which provides that a person is guilty of second-degree murder when “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.”

At trial, no jury instruction on causation was requested by either party, and none were given. The trial judge defined “recklessly” as being aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that it only must be shown that the ultimate harm is something that should have been foreseen. Additionally, because the issue was not raised in the trial court, the New York Court of Appeals did not address the defendant’s claim of inadequate jury instructions. The defendant filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, which was rejected. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, finding that failure to instruct on causation created an impermissible risk that the jury did not make the required finding of causation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

December 22, 2020

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Procedural History

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Citations

431 U.S. 145 (1977)