On 18 to 19 October 2007, at around midnight, the defendant went to the Island Rock nightclub in Hempstead with his girlfriend, a friend of his girlfriend and another individual. After drinking alcohol at the nightclub, the defendant and the other individual left and went to a nearby parking lot. At that time, the defendant did not appear intoxicated. According to the girlfriend’s friend, the defendant stated in the parking lot that he lost his shit, presumably referring to drugs, and the defendant became upset. The defendant went into the trunk of his car and searched for something. The defendant then began arguing with his girlfriend. At approximately 3:15 A.M., several witnesses heard gunshots, but no one reported having seen the defendant fire a gun. The defendant then angrily ordered the girlfriend’s friend to leave with his girlfriend, which they did, driving the defendant’s girlfriend home. The defendant and the other individual then entered the defendant’s vehicle, with the defendant driving. When police officers arrived at the parking lot only minutes later, at about 3:20 A.M., the defendant had left, and the officers recovered several 9–millimeter shell casings in the parking lot. At approximately 3:30 A.M., the defendant’s vehicle was seen traveling west in the eastbound lanes of the Southern State Parkway at a speed of 70 to 75 miles per hour. According to numerous witnesses, the defendant’s vehicle traveled in the wrong direction from about exit 19 to exit 13, a distance of approximately five miles. A witness observed the defendant driving directly at him while changing lanes. That witness had to immediately pull his vehicle onto the shoulder to avoid a collision. This long Island witness saw that the defendant continued driving the wrong way, and the witness observed the other vehicles on the parkway split apart in order to get away from the defendant. The witness testified that the defendant was steadily going, not braking, nothing; that he was just going; that he was speeding. Meanwhile, another witness, a Police Sergeant was also driving in the proper direction in the left eastbound lane of the parkway. As the Sergeant passed exit 14, he observed the defendant’s vehicle driving towards him at a very high rate of speed, which caused the Sergeant to violently turn his steering wheel to the right to avoid a collision. The defendant’s car came within inches of the Sergeant’s vehicle. According to the Sergeant, the defendant made absolutely no effort to get out of the way. Near exit 13, the defendant’s vehicle, without ever having slowed down, collided with the victim’s vehicle, killing the victim instantly and incinerating the victim’s vehicle. When emergency services and police arrived on the scene and attempted to remove the defendant from his damaged vehicle, the defendant was agitated and his breath emitted a strong odor of alcohol. Following the defendant’s arrest, a blood sample taken from him at 4:49 A.M., just over an hour after the motor vehicle accident, indicated that his blood alcohol content (hereinafter BAC) was 0.19%. After the defendant was removed from his vehicle, the police began conducting an inventory search of the vehicle. The discovery of several 9–millimeter rounds in the trunk, however, transformed the search from inventory to investigatory, during which the police recovered a 9–millimeter semiautomatic pistol, what was later determined to be .395 grams of cocaine (cocaine possession) beneath the front passenger seat, and 41 rounds of 9–millimeter bullets contained in a partially loaded magazine and a box in the trunk. The gun recovered from the defendant’s vehicle matched the shell casings found in the parking lot near the nightclub.
Consequently, the defendant was arrested and charged. On 16 September 2008, the County Court, Nassau County, found him guilty of murder in the second degree, vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, aggravated driving while intoxicated or DWI, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree.
The defendant filed an omnibus motion to suppress physical evidence which was denied by the court. The defendant then appeals from the said decision of the court.
Under the law, a person is guilty of depraved indifference murder when, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he or she recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.
Here, the testimony of the New York City witnesses who observed the defendant speeding directly at them on the parkway, causing those witnesses to swerve in order to avoid a collision, demonstrates that the defendant’s mental state was one of depraved indifference to human life.
Moreover, the evidence demonstrated that the defendant helped the other individual leave the nightclub. The girlfriend’s friend testified that when the defendant left the nightclub, the defendant looked okay to him, didn’t look like intoxicated, and that the defendant seemed like he could handle himself. Clearly, the evidence did not establish that the defendant was too intoxicated to form the culpable mental state necessary to prove depraved indifference. Thus, the record supports a view of the evidence that the defendant was coherent and able to form the requisite mens rea prior to leaving the parking lot.
Furthermore, the defendant’s action of driving his vehicle towards oncoming traffic on the parkway for approximately five miles constituted reckless conduct which carried with it a grave risk of death and evinced a depraved state of mind. The negation of this intent, by extreme intoxication, is not supported by the record. For instance, the defendant helped the other individual into the car, he searched for his missing drugs, and the girlfriend’s friend testified that the defendant did not appear intoxicated. Thus, the court cannot conclude that the evidence of the defendant’s guilt of murder in the second degree was legally insufficient to support that conviction.
Evidently, the verdict of guilt as to depraved indifference murder was not against the weight of the evidence. The evidence was legally sufficient to establish the defendant’s guilt of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and that the verdict of guilt as to that crime was not against the weight of evidence. The hearing court properly denied that branch of defendant’s omnibus motion which was to suppress the physical evidence seized from his vehicle. The evidence adduced at the suppression hearing demonstrated that the search of the defendant’s vehicle was authorized as a warrantless search falling within the automobile and emergency exceptions to the warrant requirement. In addition, the defendant was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel, as defense counsel provided meaningful representation. The sentence imposed was also not excessive.
In sum, the court finds that the defendant’s contention that the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction of murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree is unpreserved for appellate review. The court finds that it was legally sufficient to establish the defendant’s guilt of those crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, the judgment is affirmed.
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