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People v. Marcy

Supreme Court of Colorado
Mar 9, 1981
628 P.2d 69 (Colo. 1981)

Summary

holding that the statutory definition of extreme indifference murder violated equal protection because it was indistinguishable from the lesser offense of second degree murder

Summary of this case from Dean v. People of Colorado

Opinion

No. 80SA303

Decided March 9, 1981. Rehearing denied May 26, 1981.

Appeal from the District Court of the County of El Paso, Honorable Robert W. Johnson, Judge.

J. D. MacFarlane, Attorney General, Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy, Mary J. Mullarkey, Solicitor General, Kathleen M. Bowers, Assistant Attorney General, for plaintiff-appellee.

J. Gregory Walta, State Public Defender, Thomas M. Van Cleave III, Deputy, Norman R. Mueller, Chief Appellate Deputy, for defendant-appellant.

En Banc.



This appeal challenges the constitutionality of subsection (1)(d) of the first degree murder statute, section 18-3-102, C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), which is commonly referred to as "extreme indifference murder." Ellsworth Fain Marcy (defendant) asserts that his conviction of first degree murder by extreme indifference under section 18-3-102(1)(d) violates equal protection of the laws, U.S. Const. Amend. XIV; Colo. Const. Art. II, Sec. 25, because that crime is not rationally distinguishable from either second degree murder, section 18-3-103(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), or reckless manslaughter, section 18-3-104(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). He also claims that the statutory definition of extreme indifference murder is unconstitutionally vague in violation of due process of law under the United States and Colorado Constitutions. U.S. Const. Amend. XIV; Colo. Const. Art. II, Sec. 25. In addition to these constitutional issues he contends that the trial court erroneously denied his motion to disqualify the trial judge and improperly admitted into evidence a photograph of the deceased taken during an autopsy. We conclude that section 18-3-102(1)(d) violates equal protection of the laws under Article II, Section 25, of the Colorado Constitution because the crime of first degree murder by extreme indifference is not sufficiently distinguishable from second degree murder to warrant the substantial differential in penalty authorized by the statutory scheme. We reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial for that reason. Because of our disposition of this issue, we do not address the other matters raised by this appeal.

The right to equal protection of the laws in included within due process of law under Article II, Section 25, of the Colorado Constitution. E.g., Heninger v. Charnes, 200 Colo. 194, 613 P.2d 884 (1980); Vanderhoof v. People, 152 Colo. 147, 380 P.2d 903 (1963); People v. Max, 70 Colo. 100, 198 P. 150 (1921).

I.

The defendant was charged in an indictment filed in the El Paso County District Court with violation of two alternative subsections of the first degree murder statute: subsection 18-3-102(1)(a), murder after deliberation, and subsection 18-3-102(1)(d), murder by extreme indifference. The charges arose out of the shooting death of the defendant's wife at approximately 4:30 p.m. on December 2, 1978, in the family home. The defendant was employed as a nighttime dispatcher for the Fountain Police Department. For some time he had been experiencing depression over financial problems, his wife's affliction with multiple sclerosis, and the loss of parental control over their four teenage children. He spent the afternoon of the fatal shooting at home consuming a large quantity of beer and wine. During this period of time he contemplated suicide. After building a fire in the fireplace of the basement recreation room he went to the bedroom, removed from a drawer his fully loaded revolver, and returned to the family room where he called to his wife and she joined him there. Thereafter the events can be reconstructed only inferentially.

The defendant testified that he was slipping in and out of a trance-like state shortly before the shooting and last remembers pointing the revolver in his wife's general direction while she told him not to cock the hammer. There was some evidence, albeit circumstantial, that the wife may have gained possession of the revolver before the shooting. The defendant telephoned the sheriff's office to report the incident. A sheriff's officer responding to the scene observed Mrs. Marcy moaning in a recliner chair in the recreation room. Efforts to save her failed and she died of massive internal bleeding due to a gunshot wound through the liver. The defendant admitted the shooting to the sheriff's officers but claimed that he did not intend to shoot and may have put too much pressure on the trigger. A specimen of the defendant's blood indicated that his level of blood alcohol was 0.240 percent.

It was the defendant's theory that to prevent him from committing suicide his wife attempted to take the revolver from him and was accidentally shot in the process. A forensic chemist testified regarding an analysis of Mrs. Marcy's hands which revealed the presence of a sufficient amount of barium and antimony to indicate at least the possibility that she handled the weapon with both hands and fired it with the right hand. However, there was also expert testimony indicating that she probably was in a sitting position and leaning slightly forward when shot. Still other expert testimony opined that Mrs. Marcy was partially reclined when shot with the revolver positioned below her waist at a twenty degree angle upward.

The court instructed the jury and submitted alternative verdicts on first degree murder after deliberation and first degree murder by extreme indifference, as well as the lesser included offenses of second degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The jury returned a verdict of guilty to first degree murder by extreme indifference. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, section 18-1-105(1), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), and this appeal followed:

The defendant also was charged in a separate count with the commission of a crime of violence. Section 16-11-309, C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). The statutory procedures contemplate that upon the return of a verdict on the substantive crime, the jury in connection therewith shall make a special finding as to whether the defendant used a deadly weapon during the commission of that crime. Section 16-11-309(2) includes first degree murder within the list of offenses qualifying as a crime of violence. The jury in this case returned a verdict of not guilty to the crime of violence charge.

II.

The defendant argues that there is no rational distinction between first degree murder by extreme indifference as defined in section 18-3-102(10(d), a class 1 felony punishable by life imprisonment, and second degree murder as defined in section 18-3-103(1)(a), a class 2 felony then punishable by a term of ten to fifty years. The defendant maintains that the lack of any rational basis for distinguishing these offenses, coupled with the significant difference in penalty, renders his conviction of first degree murder by extreme indifference violative of equal protection by subjecting him to a more severe sanction for the identical criminal conduct proscribed by the lesser offense of second degree murder. Before addressing the merits of this claim, we set out some basic propositions of criminal and constitutional law as a predicate for our analysis.

Effective July 1, 1979, the penalty for first degree murder is life imprisonment or death, and the presumptive penalty for second degree murder is 8 to 12 years plus 1 year of parole with provisions for reducing the minimum to 4 years in the case of extraordinary mitigating circumstances and for increasing the maximum to 24 years in the case of extraordinary aggravating circumstances. Section 18-1-105(1)(a) and (6), C.R.S. 1973 (1980 Supp.).

The general purposes of the criminal law are several and include: the adequate definition of the act and mental state of each offense so that fair warning is given to all persons concerning the nature of the proscribed conduct and the penalties therefore, section 18-1-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8); the differentiation on reasonable grounds of the more serious from the less serious criminal conduct, section 18-1-102(1)(c), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8); and the prescription of penalties that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offenses, section 18-1-102(1)(c), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol.). See also Model Penal Code § 1.02(1) and (2) (Tent. Draft No. 2, 1954).

In order to subject a person to criminal liability for his conduct, there generally must be a concurrence of an unlawful act ( actus reus) and a culpable mental state ( mens rea). United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 100 S.Ct. 624, 62 L.Ed.2d 575 (1980); Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952) Kent v. People, 8 Colo. 563, 9 P. 852 (1886). With a few narrow exceptions, the sanctions of the criminal law are not imposed on the blameless. The minimum requirement for the imposition of criminal liability is that the criminal act be performed voluntarily or consciously. Sections 18-1-501(9) and 18-1-502, C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8); Model Penal Code § 2.01, Comment at 119 (tent. Draft No. 4, 1955). While most crimes require a more blameworthy level of culpability — purposely, with specific intent, intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently — the matter of establishing the legal constituents of criminal liability is a uniquely legislative function. E.g., Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977); People v. Ledman, 622 P.2d 534 (Colo. 1981).

It is worth repeating here that "it is not the role of this court to act as overseer of all legislative action and declare statutes unconstitutional merely because we believe they could be better drafted or more fairly applied." People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, 185 Colo. 78, 81, 521 P.2d 1254, 1255 (1974). On the other hand, we cannot disregard our responsibility to the rational and evenhanded application of the law under our state system of criminal justice. Equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is not necessarily the limit of that responsibility. See, e.g., Charnes v. DiGiacomo, 200 Colo. 94, 612 P.2d 1117 (1980); Denver v. Nielson, 194 Colo. 407, 572 P.2d 484 (1977); People v. Hoinville, 191 Colo. 357, 553 P.2d 777 (1976); People ex rel. Juhan v. District Court, 165 Colo. 253, 439 P.2d 741 (1968); See also, Brennan, State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights, 90 Harv. L. Rev. 489 (1977); Howard, State Courts and Constitutional Rights in the Day of the Burger Court, 62 Va. L. Rev. 873 (1976); Note, The New Federalism: Toward a Principled Interpretation of the State Constitution, 29 Stan. L. Rev. 297 (1977).

In United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S. 114, 99 S.Ct. 2198, 60 L.Ed.2d 755 (1979), the United States Supreme Court held that the prosecution and punishment of an accused for criminal conduct (receipt by a convicted felon of a firearm that had traveled in interstate commerce) that was identically defined but differently punished (five year and two year maximums) under separate sections of a statutory scheme did not violate equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The court in Batchelder recognized that selectivity in the enforcement of criminal laws is subject to constitutional restraints. However, it concluded that the prosecutor's decision to proceed under the five year statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(a), did not result in a predetermination of ultimate criminal sanctions but merely enabled the sentencing judge to impose a longer term than authorized by the two year statute, 18 U.S.C. App. § 1202(a). The statutory scheme applicable here differs from that involved in Batchelder by impacting to a much greater extent the major features of the criminal justice system. For example, the lack of any rational basis for distinguishing the substantive elements of the offenses gives rise to problems not merely in prosecutorial choice of penalty but also in prosecutorial selection between substantive crimes not legislatively intended to be interchangeable. Furthermore, where rationality in distinction between offenses is lacking, there is pro tanto a diminution of those intelligible and uniform standards of adjudication essential to the reliability of the fact finding process and the evenhanded application of the law. When viewed from the standpoint of penalty only, the statutory proscriptions in this case differ markedly from those in Batchelder. Here, the penalty scheme creates substantial differences in both the minimum and maximum terms of confinement for the two crimes. On the date of the offense extreme indifference murder was punishable by life imprisonment and second degree murder by a term of ten to fifty years. Section 18-1-105(1), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). Under the penalty scheme that went into effect on July 1, 1979, extreme indifference murder presently is punishable by life imprisonment or death and second degree murder by a presumptive penalty of eight to twelve years, plus one year of parole. Section 18-1-105(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1980 Supp.). When extraordinary mitigating circumstances exist, second degree murder is punishable by a penalty not less than one half the minimum term authorized in the presumptive range, and where extraordinary aggravating circumstances exist by a penalty not more than twice the maximum term in the presumptive range. Section 18-1-105(6), C.R.S. 1973 (1980 Supp.).

In sharp contrast to Batchelder, we have held consistently that equal protection of the laws requires that statutory classifications of crimes be based on differences that are real in fact and reasonably related to the general purposes of criminal legislation. E.g., People v. Bramlett, 194 Colo. 205, 573 P.2d 94 (1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 956, 98 S.Ct. 1590, 55 L.Ed.2d 808 (1978); People v. Czajkowski, 193 Colo. 352, 568 P.2d 23 (1977); People v. Calvaresi, 188 Colo. 277, 534 P.2d 316 (1975).

"Equal protection of the law is a guarantee of like treatment of all those who are similarly situated. Classification of persons under the criminal law must be under legislation that is reasonable and not arbitrary. There must be substantial differences having a reasonable relationship to the persons involved and the public purpose to the achieved." People v. Calvaresi, 188 Colo. at 281-82, 534 P.2d at 318.

Other states in like manner have concluded that duplicative criminal statutes imposing different penalties for identical conduct irrationally discriminate against an accused in violation of equal protection. E.g., State v. Chavez, 77 N.M. 79, 419 P.2d 456 (1966); Spillers v. State, 84 Nev. 23, 436 P.2d 18 (1968); State v. Pirkey, 203 Or. 697, 281 p. 2d 698 (1955); State v. Shondel, 22 Utah 2d 343, 453 P.2d 146 (1969). The requirement of reasonable classification in legislative proscriptions enhances the evenhanded application of the law in the process of judicial adjudication. See generally Comment, Prosecutorial Discretion In the Duplicative States Setting, 42 Colo. L. Rev. 455 (1971); Comment, The Right to Nondiscriminatory Enforcement of State Penal Laws, 61 Colum. L. Rev. 1103 (1961).

Under recent pronouncements of this court equal protection of the laws is violated if different statutes proscribe the same criminal conduct with disparate criminal sanctions. See, e.g., People v. Westrum, 624 P.2d 1302 (Colo. 1981); People v. Taggart, 621 P.2d 1375 (Colo. 1981); People v. Burns, 197 Colo. 284, 593 P.2d 351 (1979); People v. Marshall, 196 Colo. 381, 586 P.2d 41 (1978); People v. Smith, 193 Colo. 357, 566 P.2d 364 (1977); People v. Czajkowski, supra; People v. Hulse, 192 Colo. 302, 557 P.2d 1205 (1976); See also Trueblood v. Tinsley, 148 Colo. 503, 366 P.2d 655 (1961). Similarly, separate statutes proscribing with different penalties what ostensibly might be different acts, but offering no intelligent standard for distinguishing the proscribed conduct, run afoul of equal protection under state constitutional doctrine. See, e.g., People v. Bramlett, supra; People v. Dominquez, 193 Colo. 468, 568 P.2d 54 (1977); People v. Calvaresi, supra. It is within the framework of these principles that we consider the defendant's equal protection claim under Article II, Section 25, of the Colorado Constitution.

III.

Section 18-3-102(1)(d) provides that a person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if:

"Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he knowingly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to a person other than himself, and thereby causes the death of another."

Section 18-3-103(1)(a) states that a person commits the crime of murder in the second degree if "[h]e causes the death of a person knowingly, but not after deliberation." The evil consequence proscribed by extreme indifference murder under section 18-3-102(1)(d) and second degree murder under section 18-3-103(1)(a) is the same — the death of a person. If a valid basis for distinguishing these crimes exists, it must be found in either the culpability elements of each offense or in the added component of acting "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life," which is required for first degree murder under section 18-3-102(2)(d). As originally enacted these crimes were defined in terms of discrete elements of culpability which provided an adequate basis of distinction and permitted a reliable adjudication of criminal responsibility. However, as discussed in Part IV, infra, no such basis exists under the present statutory scheme.

Section 18-3-101(3), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), defines "after deliberation" as meaning "not only intentionally but also that the decision to commit the act has been made after the exercise of reflection and judgment concerning the act. An act committed after deliberation is never one which has been committed in a hasty or impulsive manner." The term "but not after deliberation" in section 18-3-103(1)(a) does not describe the culpable mental state for second degree murder. The term "knowingly" does describe the requisite culpability for that crime. The purpose of the term "but not after deliberation" is undoubtedly to describe what second degree murder is not rather than what it is. See Sawyer v. People, 173 Colo. 351, 478 P.2d 672 (1970).

Both extreme indifference murder and second degree murder were first enacted as part of the Colorado Criminal Code which went into effect on July 1, 1972. As originally enacted both offenses required the culpable mental state of "intentionally". Colo. Sess. Laws 1971, ch. 121, 40-3-102(1)(d) and 40-3-103(1)(a) at 418. Under the Colorado Criminal Code second degree murder was a specific intent crime. People v. Cornelison, 192 Colo. 337, 559 P.2d 1102 (1977). Effective July 1, 1977, the culpability requirements for both offenses were amended to "knowingly". Colo. Sess. Laws 1977, ch. 224, 18-3-102(1)(d) and 18-3-103(1)(a) at 960. The General Assembly made clear the purpose underlying this amendment: "All offenses defined in this code in which the mental culpability is expressed as `knowingly' or `willfully' are declared to be general intent crimes." Section 18-1-501(6), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8).

1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-1-601(6), defined "intentionally" as follows: "A person acts intentionally with respect to a result or to conduct described by a statute defining an offense, when his conscious object is to cause that result or to engage in that conduct or when his actions are such as to give rise to a substantial certainty that such results will be produced."

The statutory definition of "extreme indifference murder" in section 18-3-102(1)(d) is aimed at the same type of death-causing conduct epitomized by what was previously described as "universal malice." At common law murder was the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. O. Warren, Homicide § 63 at 248 (Perm. Ed. 1914); F. Wharton, The Law of Homicide § 2 at 2 (3d ed. 1907). The requisite of malice included not only an intent to kill or endanger a particular person, but also "a wickedness of disposition, hardness of heart, cruelty, recklessness of consequences," and a "general malignity and reckless disregard of human life." O. Warren, supra, § 66 at 268, 271; see also F. Wharton, supra, § 81 at 97-98. Since its early days of statehood Colorado recognized this principle by proscribing as first degree murder any killing "perpetrated by any act greatly dangerous to the lives of others and indicating a depraved mind, regardless of human life." C.R.S. 1963, 40-2-3; see C.R.S. 1953, 40-2-3; 1935 C.A.S., ch. 48, § 32; C.L. 1921, § 6665; C.S.A. 1911, § 1624; R.S. 1908, § 1624; M.A.S. 1891, § 1176.

In Longinotti v. People, 46 Colo. 173, 102 P. 165 (1909), this court considered the type of conduct encompassed by the statutory prohibition in existence prior to the enactment of the Colorado Criminal Code in 1971:

"Every act that results in the death of a person is greatly dangerous to the life of such person, but the statute . . . is intended to include those cases where a person has no deliberate intention to kill any particular person. In other words, when a person kills another by an act which is greatly dangerous to the lives of others, and which shows a depraved mind regardless of human life, he is guilty of murder in the first degree; not because he has atrociously murdered a particular individual, but because his act has evinced universal malice, a malice against mankind in general.

. . .

"We think the legislature . . . intended to raise to the high grade of murder in the first degree those homicides which are the result of what is called `universal malice'. By universal malice, we do not mean a malicious purpose to take the life of all persons. It is that depravity of the human heart, which determines to take life upon slight or insufficient provocation, without knowing or caring who may be the victim." Id. at 176, 180-81, 102 P. at 166, 168.

We first examined extreme indifference murder under the Colorado Criminal Code, 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-102(1)(d), in People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, supra, decided in 1974. The statutory definition at that time corresponded to its present analogue except for the 1977 amendment replacing "intentionally" with "knowingly". Colo. Sess. Laws 1977, ch. 224, § 5 at 960. The issue in People ex rel. Russel was whether extreme indifference murder was void for vagueness as indistinguishable from second degree murder. We distinguished extreme indifference murder from second degree murder by employing an analysis similar to that employed in Longinotti v. People, supra:

"As we read the section in question, the element which distinguishes it from second-degree murder is that the latter degree requires that the perpetrator possess the intent to take the life of a particular person while this first-degree murder statute does not. The element of `extreme indifference to human life,' by definition, does not address itself to the life of the victim, but to human life generally. Conversely, though the statute requires that the conduct which creates a grave risk of death be intentional, the use of `intentionally' here does not necessarily mean that the intent be to take the life of a particular person. Indeed, if such were the case, there would be but little difference between this statute and the other sections of the first-degree murder statute, see 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-102(1)(a). Furthermore, our statutes define `intentionally' as `when his conscious object is to cause that result or to engage in that conduct,' 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-1-601(6), which we read to mean that the conduct creating the grave risk of death be consciously done.

"Again, in contrast, the second-degree murder statute states in part that `he cause the death of a person intentionally, but without premeditation.' 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-102(1)(a). We believe the only construction which that phrase can be given is that the intent be to cause the death of a particular person. Otherwise, there would be no need to distinguish between 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-102(1)(a), which by definition is the premeditated taking of a person's life, and second degree murder." Id. at 83-84, 521 P.2d at 1256-57.

The result in People ex rel. Russel is sound primarily because, under the then existing statutory scheme, second degree murder was a specific intent crime. 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-103(1)(a); Cornelison v. People, supra.

People v. Jones, 193 Colo. 250, 565 P.2d 1333 (1977), appeal dismissed, 434 U.S. 962, 98 S.Ct. 498, 54 L.Ed.2d 447 (1977), extended the scope of extreme indifference murder to a situation where the defendant caused the death of his female acquaintance by what ostensibly was an intentional stabbing. On appeal the defendant contended that "the facts of the case do not evince . . . [a] depraved mind or universal malice" required for murder by extreme indifference. Id. at 250, 565 P.2d at 1336. The Jones opinion rejected this argument and stated that the statutory proscription was not exclusively limited to conduct that greatly endangers many persons but encompasses conduct that creates a grave risk of death to a single person. Although the application of the statute to the disputed facts there present constituted a significant departure from the narrow construction of People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, supra, Jones did acknowledge that the requisite culpability for extreme indifference murder was substantively distinct from the culpability requirements for other criminal homicides.

Under the initial statutory scheme the mens rea for extreme indifference murder — intentionally engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death — was not bottomed in the result of the act but in the conduct. The culpability contemplated by the statutory definition of the crime, 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-102(1)(d), was not a specific intent to kill, but rather consisted of a conscious awareness that the conduct created a life endangering risk to another. People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, supra. Murder in the second degree required a specific intent to kill, that is, a conscious object to cause the death of another. 1971 Perm. Supp., C.R.S. 1963, 40-3-103(1)(a); People v. Cornelison, supra; People ex rel. Russel v. DIstrict Court, supra. First degree murder after deliberation required both a specific intent to kill and a decision to kill "made after the exercise of reflection and judgment concerning the act." Sections 18-3-101(3) and 18-3-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8); Colo. Sess. Laws 1974, ch. 52, 40-3-101(1)(c) and 40-3-102(1)(a) at 251.

Thus, while Jones construed the statutory definition of extreme indifference murder to include conduct that created a grave risk of death "to a single person," the statutory culpability for the crime remained nevertheless categorically distinct from the culpable mental states for other criminal homicides. Statutory discreteness in culpability, however, was significantly altered in 1977 when the mens rea for second degree murder was changed from a specific intent to a general intent — causing "the death of a person knowingly." Section 18-3-103(1)(a), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8).

IV.

By virtue of the 1977 amendment to the Colorado Criminal Code "knowingly" was substituted for "intentionally" in section 18-3-102(1)(d). Colo. Sess. Laws 1977, ch. 224, 18-3-102(1)(d) at 960. The elements of extreme indifference murder, as applicable to this case, are therefore: (1) under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; (2) knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another; and (3) thereby causing the death of another. Second degree murder was likewise reduced to a general intent crime by deleting "intentionally" and substituting "knowingly". Colo. Sess. Laws 1977, ch. 224, 18-3-103(1)(a) at 96. As provided in section 18-3-103(1)(a), second degree murder consists of causing the death of a person knowingly. Section 18-1-501(6), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), defines knowingly or willfully as follows:

"A person acts `knowingly' or `willfully' with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts `knowingly' or `willfully', with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result."

Upon close scrutiny of the culpability elements of each offense, both of which mandate that the death-causing act be done "knowingly", we are unable to find any rational basis of distinction between first degree murder by extreme indifference under section 18-3-102(1)(d) and second degree murder under section 18-3-103(1)(a). Moreover, the added component of section 18-3-102(1)(d) — "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" — adds nothing to the proscribed conduct that renders it reasonably distinguishable from the statutory definition of murder in the second degree.

A.

Under the statutory definition of "knowingly", the culpable mental state for extreme indifference murder is that the offender be aware that his conduct creates a grave risk of death to another. This culpability, however, is certainly no greater than that required for second degree murder. We considered the mens rea of second degree murder in People v. Mingo, 196 Colo. 315, 317, 584 P.2d 632, 633 (1978), and held that under the 1977 amendment "[s]econd-degree murder . . . is a general intent crime which entails being aware that one's actions are practically certain to result in another's death." See also People v. DelGuidice, 199 Colo. 41, 606 P.2d 840 (1979); People v. District Court, Sixth Judicial District, 198 Colo. 70, 595 P.2d 1045 (1979).

While, as a matter of conceptual possibility, one might be aware that his conduct creates a grave risk of death to another, as required for extreme indifference murder, and simultaneously lack that awareness required for second degree murder — that his actions are practically certain to result in another's death — it would be a most bizarre psychological state and certainly not a basis on which to structure momentous variations in sanctions. If, indeed, a person could harbor an awareness of the fatal risk his conduct poses to another, without also being aware of the practical certainty that death to another will result from that conduct, he would on that account be the less blameworthy, lacking as he would an awareness of the practical certainty of death. However, under the statutory scheme governing this case, he would be the more culpable as manifested by the difference in penalties for extreme indifference murder (life imprisonment) and second degree murder (ten to fifty years). Section 18-1-105(1), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). The distinction, if any, between the culpable mental state for the two offenses is one without a sufficiently pragmatic difference to permit an intelligent and uniform application of the law. See People v. Calvaresi, supra. To base a substantial differential in penalty "upon the shifting sands of these semantics does not constitute substantial justice." Id. at 282, 534 P.2d at 319.

B.

The People argue that the conduct or atus reus proscribed by extreme indifference murder is categorically distinct from second degree murder. We find no salvageable distinction in the present statutory scheme.

There is no requirement that the knowing conduct essential to extreme indifference murder and second degree murder be directed against the person actually killed. On the contrary, both offenses are general intent crimes, section 18-1-501(6), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), and as long as the offender knowingly acts in the proscribed manner and causes the death of another, he is guilty of the crime even though the person killed is not the person against whom the criminal conduct was directed. See Henwood v. People, 54 Colo. 188, 129 P. 1010 (1913); Ryan v. People, 50 Colo. 99, 114 P. 306 (1911); section 18-1-104(3), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8) (use of case law authorized as an interpretative aid in construction of Colorado Criminal Code).

Extreme indifference murder involves conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another. "Grave" is commonly understood to mean serious or imminent, or likely to produce great harm or danger. See Webster's New International Dictionary at 1094 (2d ed. 1958). Second degree murder encompasses conduct that is practically certain to cause the death of another. People v. Del Guidice, supra; People v. District Court, Sixth Judicial District, supra; People v. Mingo, supra. "Practical certainty" has been used interchangeably with the term "more than merely a probable result." People v. Del Guidice, supra. In People v. Mingo, supra, it was described as "such a high probability of death that death was practically certain." 196 Colo. at 318, 584 P.2d at 634. In the context of criminal homicide, conduct that is practically certain to cause the death of another is the semantic equivalent of conduct creating a grave risk of death to another. Any difference here is so imperceptible as to vitiate its meaningful application in an adjudicative proceeding.

C.

Finally, it is argued that the presence of "circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" marks the dividing line between extreme indifference murder and second degree murder. We disagree.

The statutory terminology under scrutiny is descriptive of the facts or circumstances under which the death causing conduct occurred. It seems to reflect a judgment that there is a certain indifference that is qualitatively distinct from the conscious disregard required for reckless manslaughter. One commentator has observed that the adjective "extreme" is misplaced because there are no degrees of indifference to a particular result.

"To speak of extreme indifference is pointless, because indifference is itself the ultimate extremity. You may want a thing with diminishing degrees of fervour, but once you have become indifferent to it you have reached the end of the road. You are dead to it." G. Williams, The Mental Element in Crime at 92 (1965).

We do not view the term "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" as without meaning. What it connotes is a heightened awareness and disregard of a fatal risk. People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, supra, noted that "an extreme indifference to human life is clearly a more culpable standard of conduct" than the reckless conduct involved in manslaughter but did not describe that standard. Reckless manslaughter requires a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death. Sections 18-3-104(1)(a) and 18-1-501(8), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). Before a person can consciously disregard a risk, he must be aware of that risk. A level of culpability that is more than reckless, but less than intentional, traditionally has been characterized as willful conduct. E.g. United States v. Bishop, 412 U.S. 346, 93 S.Ct. 2008, 36 L.Ed.2d 941 (1973); United States v. Murdock, 290 U.S. 389, 54 S.Ct. 223, 78 L.Ed. 381 (1933); see also Brown v. Spain, 171 Colo. 205, 466 P.2d 462 (1970); Ferguson v. Hurford, 132 Colo. 507, 590 P.2d 229 (1955); Pettingell v. Moede, 129 Colo. 484, 271 P.2d 1038 (1954). Willful conduct, however, is the equivalent of acting "knowingly" and the criminal code so recognizes by defining these culpable mental states in identical terminology. Section 18-1-501(6), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). In the context of criminal homicide, therefore, acting under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life must mean acting with the awareness that one's actions are practically certain to cause the death of another — in other words, acting knowingly, the very same culpability required for murder in the second degree under the existing statutory scheme. People v. Del Guidice, supra; People v. District Court, Sixth Judicial District, supra; People v. Mingo, supra.

The People rely on People v. Poplis, 30 N.Y.2d 89, 281 N.E.2d 167, 330 N.Y.S.2d 365(1972), for the proposition that extreme indifference murder under section 18-3-102(1)(d) does not violate equal protection of the laws. We find the analogy to Poplis unpersuasive. There the court concluded that New York's statutory "depraved indifference murder," which required a culpability of a depraved indifference to human life and recklessness, was sufficiently distinguishable from reckless manslaughter. In upholding the defendant's conviction for depraved indifference murder arising out of continued acts of brutality toward a child, the court noted that conduct consisting of depraved indifference, plus recklessness, was conduct of graver culpability than mere recklessness alone. The Poplis decision reached a conclusion similar to our decisions in People v. Jones, 193 Colo. 250, 565 P.2d 1333 (1977), and People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, 185 Colo. 78, 521 P.2d 1254 (1974), where we concluded that extreme indifference murder was sufficiently distinguishable from reckless manslaughter. The infirmity in the instant case, however, is that the present statutory definition of extreme indifference murder in section 18-3-102(1)(d) is the psychological equivalent of acting "knowingly" as that term is defined in section 18-1-501(6) and required for second degree murder in section 18-3-103(1)(a). The culpable mental state of acting recklessly, as defined in section 18-1-501(8), does not enter into our resolution of the equal protection issue in this case. Furthermore, neither the Poplis case nor our prior decisions in People ex rel. Russel and Jones considered this issue under a statutory context similar to that present here.

Moreover, any heightened awareness and disregard of fatal risk connoted by the "extreme indifference" terminology of section 18-3-102(1)(d) is already implicit in the other statutory component of the offense: "he knowingly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to a person other than himself." To knowingly engage in conduct that creates a grave risk of death subsumes an awareness that death is practically certain to follow from that conduct. Thus, the "extreme indifference" element of section 18-3-102(1)(d) offers no rational basis for distinguishing that form of first degree murder from second degree murder. The statutory overlap of the elements of criminal responsibility for the two crimes licenses the jury to create its own standard of adjudication in each case, since no more proof is required for a conviction under one statute than under the other.

V.

In summary, we hold that the statutory prohibition of extreme indifference murder in section 18-3-102(1)(d) violates equal protection of the laws, Colo. Const. Art. II, Sec. 25, because it cannot reasonably be distinguished from the lesser offense of second degree murder as defined in section 18-3-103(1)(a). We have carefully considered as an alternative to a declaration of unconstitutionality a construction of extreme indifference murder similar to that set forth in People ex rel. Russel v. District Court, supra. That case, however, was decided under a statutory scheme which provided a discernible difference between the culpability elements of extreme indifference murder and second degree murder. Even with a narrow construction of the scope of section 18-3-102(1)(d), it is clear that any distinction between that proscribed conduct and second degree murder, as presently defined in section 18-3-103(1)(a), would be illusory at best.

By our holding we do not imply that extreme indifference murder may not effectively be proscribed by statute. We emphasize, however, that an evenhanded application of the law turns on reasonably intelligible standards of criminal culpability. Hence any definition of extreme indifference murder must be sufficiently coherent and discrete that a person of average intelligence can reasonably distinguish it from conduct proscribed by other offenses.

The defendant's conviction of extreme indifference murder is reversed. No verdicts were returned on first degree murder after deliberation, nor on the lesser included offenses of second degree murder, reckless manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.

Accordingly, the cause is remanded for a new trial on first degree murder after deliberation and any lesser included offenses that appropriately might be submitted to the jury on retrial.

JUSTICE ROVIRA dissents.


Summaries of

People v. Marcy

Supreme Court of Colorado
Mar 9, 1981
628 P.2d 69 (Colo. 1981)

holding that the statutory definition of extreme indifference murder violated equal protection because it was indistinguishable from the lesser offense of second degree murder

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holding that culpable mental state required under statute prohibiting first-degree murder by extreme indifference was not sufficiently distinguishable from second-degree murder to warrant substantial difference in penalty authorized by statutory scheme

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finding equal protection violation where "the crime of first degree murder by extreme indifference [was] not sufficiently distinguishable from second degree murder to warrant the substantial differential in penalty authorized by the statutory scheme"

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invalidating extreme indifference first degree murder as indistinguishable from second degree murder

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noting that "equal protection of the laws is violated if different statutes proscribe the same criminal conduct with disparate criminal sanctions."

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In Marcy, we equated knowingly engaging in conduct creating a grave risk of death and thereby causing death, even under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, with knowingly causing the death of another, second degree murder.

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In Marcy, 628 P.2d 69, we held that the crime of extreme indifference murder as defined in section 18-3-102(1)(d), 8 C.R.S. (1978), violated equal protection of the laws under the Colorado Constitution because that crime was not sufficiently distinguishable from second degree murder to warrant the substantial differential in penalty authorized by the statutory scheme.

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knowing conduct under Colorado Depraved Indifference Statute

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In People v. Marcy, supra, 628 P.2d at 79, our supreme court stated that "'grave' is commonly understood to mean serious or imminent, or likely to produce great harm or danger."

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reaffirming a pre- Batchelder decision, People v. Calvaresi, 188 Colo. 277, 534 P.2d 316, 318

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refusing to apply the Batchelder analysis

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Case details for

People v. Marcy

Case Details

Full title:The People of the State of Colorado v. Ellsworth Fain Marcy

Court:Supreme Court of Colorado

Date published: Mar 9, 1981

Citations

628 P.2d 69 (Colo. 1981)

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