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Criminal defense may rest on extreme emotional disturbance

A defendant accused of second degree murder will sometimes interject one or more defenses to get the murder charge reduced to manslaughter. In New York, for example, one statutory provision provides that a defendant charged with intentional murder may present an affirmative criminal defense that, at the time of the killing, he suffered from an "extreme emotional disturbance." He or she may then also prove that there is a "reasonable explanation or excuse" for the suspect actions.

The murder defendant would only have to prove the defense by a preponderance of the evidence, according to the New York statute. The rule may be invoked by a criminal defendant who was charged with second degree murder in the killing of a woman on Dec. 5 in his East Flatbush apartment. The police report that they were called to the apartment before 5 p.m. for a domestic disturbance call.

Police say that, when they arrived at the apartment, they found the 33-year-old man inside with plastic bags on his hands and his clothes covered in blood. He tried to flee but was quickly caught and subdued, according to police. At the defendant's apartment, the police reportedly found two knives, a pair of scissors, and the decedent's body naked in the bathroom, tied in bed sheets. The woman was dead from multiple stabs in the neck, back and torso.

Police relate that the woman was trying to leave the apartment before the defendant's wife got home, but for some reason the defendant did not want this and started punching her. The reason for the numerous stabbing wounds was not revealed by the police. The nature of the relationship between the defendant and the dead woman was also not reported. Criminal defense counsel faces a challenging  process that requires a detailed investigation, meticulous case preparation and strong persuasive skills. Defendant may try to prove his lack of criminal intent or malice, but that he was instead suffering from "extreme emotional disturbance" at the time.

Source: The New York Times, "Brooklyn Man Fatally Stabbed Girlfriend as Police Were on Their Way, Officials Say", J. David Goodman, Dec. 6, 2015

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