People v. Flayhart

Decision Date20 December 1988
Citation536 N.Y.S.2d 727,533 N.E.2d 657,72 N.Y.2d 737
Parties, 533 N.E.2d 657 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Richard W. FLAYHART and Beatrice M. Flayhart, Appellants.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
OPINION OF THE COURT

TITONE, Judge.

Defendants Richard and Beatrice Flayhart, who are husband and wife, were charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide on the theory that, acting together and with the requisite culpable mental states, they engaged in conduct that brought about the death of Richard's brother, Terry Flayhart. Terry, who lived with defendants during the last period of his life, was mentally retarded and afflicted with a number of ailments, including cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The People's case against defendants was based on the premise that Terry, who weighed approximately 75 pounds just before his death, had died of neglect while he was living in defendants' home and was totally dependent upon their care.

The medical evidence introduced at defendants' trial showed that Terry had died of malnutrition and inflammation of the lungs, with pneumonia as a complicating factor. There was also evidence that the lung inflammation was the result of Terry's having aspirated food from his stomach which had been ingested some six hours earlier. The other evidence against defendants consisted primarily of their own statements to Sheriff's deputies regarding their care of Terry, some background information relating to Terry's history, proof of a $122,000 trust fund that had been established to pay for Terry's care and proof that Terry had not seen his regular doctor during the last two years of his life.

At the close of the evidence, the trial court submitted the charged counts to the jury, along with an instruction on accomplice liability under Penal Law § 20.00. The jury found defendants guilty of criminally negligent homicide, and each defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The judgments of conviction were affirmed by the Appellate Division, 136 A.D.2d 767, 523 N.Y.S.2d 225. This appeal, taken by permission of a Judge of this court, ensued.

Defendants' primary contention on their appeals to this court is that the convictions cannot be sustained because it is logically impossible to "aid and abet" criminally negligent homicide, an unintentional crime. Specifically, they contend that the crime of which they were convicted is nonexistent because one cannot "intentionally aid" another to "fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk" of death, the requisite mental state for criminally negligent homicide (see, Penal Law § 15.05 § 20.00).

However, Penal Law § 20.00 imposes accessorial liability on an accomplice not for aiding or encouraging another to reach a particular mental state, but rather for intentionally aiding another to engage in conduct which constitutes the charged offense while himself "acting with the mental culpability required for the commission" of that offense. Thus, defendants were convicted because the jury found that each of them, while "failto perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk" of death, intentionally aided the other to engage in certain conduct, such as failure to provide food and medical care, which ultimately brought about Terry Flayhart's death (see, Penal Law § 125.10). There is no logical or conceptual difficulty with such convictions (see, People v. Abbott, 84 A.D.2d 11, 445 N.Y.S.2d 344; see also, Donnino, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons.Laws of N.Y.Book 39, Penal Law art. 125, at 491; cf., People v. Campbell, 72 N.Y.2d 602, 535 N.Y.S.2d 580, 532 N.E.2d 86).

Defendants also make a number of claims relating to the fairness of their trial. Only two of these merit comment.

Defendant Richard Flayhart argues that the trial court committed reversible error when, over timely objection, it permitted the prosecutor to introduce evidence that he was in line to inherit the trust fund that had been established to pay for Terry's care in the event that Terry died. The trust fund evidence was admitted on the theory that it constituted proof of a motive. Defendant contends that the admission of this evidence was improper because it was irrelevant to any material issue in this case involving unintentional crimes.

Contrary to defendant's contention, however, the trust fund evidence was not wholly irrelevant. In addition to the criminally negligent homicide count on which he was ultimately convicted, defendant was charged with reckless manslaughter (Penal Law § 125.15), which includes as an element awareness of and conscious disregard for a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death (Penal Law § 15.05). Although this element is not the same as an "intentional" mental state within the technical meaning of Penal Law § 15.05(1) (having a "conscious objective * * * to cause result or to engage in conduct"), it does suggest some deliberate mental activity--i.e., conscious disregard for a known risk. In this respect, the term "unintentional" crime is something of a misnomer when applied to the crime of reckless manslaughter.

Because reckless manslaughter includes an element of deliberate conduct, the admission of evidence of a motive may be justified in a proper case. In this instance, for example, the jury could have considered the trust fund as some evidence of defendant Richard Flayhart's incentive to disregard the obvious risk that his brother would die if his basic medical and nutritional needs were neglected. Thus, its admission in evidence was not erroneous.

Both defendants also argue that the trial court erred in the manner in which it handled certain photographs of Terry's body that were made available during their trial. The court refused to permit the jury to examine the photographs during either the defense attorney's cross-examination of the People's medical expert or their summations. However, the photographs were marked as exhibits and the jury was permitted to inspect them during its deliberations. Defendants now...

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41 cases
  • Cotto v. Fischer, 09 CV. 9813 (SAS)(MHD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 23 Agosto 2012
    ...Jan. 14, 1999); see also People v. Manini, 79 N.Y.2d 561, 569, 584 N.Y.S.2d 282, 285-86 (1992) (citing People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 741, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727, 727 (1988)). Thus, "to establish accomplice liability for criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree . . . the pr......
  • Howard v. McGinnis, 03-CV-6059 (VEB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • 13 Julio 2009
    ...required for the commission" of that offense, i.e., recklessness ([N.Y. Penal Law] § 20.00; see People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 741 [536 N.Y.S.2d 727, 533 N.E.2d 657 (1988)]). People v. Howard, 294 A.D.2d at 875, 741 N.Y.S.2d 482. Howard raises these same contentions in support of habeas......
  • Epps v. Poole
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 9 Agosto 2012
    ...which constitutes the charged offense while himself “acting with the mental culpability required for the commission” of that offense.72 N.Y.2d 737, 741, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727, 533 N.E.2d 657 (1988) (second emphasis added).6 However, in People v. Hafeez, the New York Court of Appeals stated that ......
  • People v. Steinberg
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • 8 Agosto 1991
    ...his claim that recklessness and negligence are the only mental states applicable to crimes of omission. While People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727, 533 N.E.2d 657 and People v. Henson, supra, involved prosecutions for reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, b......
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9 books & journal articles
  • Photographs, recordings, & x-rays
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2015 Contents
    • 2 Agosto 2015
    ...there was no indication that the photographs were admitted to arouse the jury’s emotions. Inflammatory or prejudicial People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727 (1988); People v. Bell, 63 N.Y.2d 796, 481 N.Y.S.2d 324 (1984). The trial court was within its discretion in admitting “s......
  • Photographs, recordings, & x-rays
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2019 Contents
    • 2 Agosto 2019
    ...demonstrate that defendant was aware of – let alone exercised dominion or control over – the proile page in question. People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727 (1988); People v. Bell, 63 N.Y.2d 796, 481 N.Y.S.2d 324 (1984). he trial court was within its discretion in admitting “st......
  • Photographs, recordings & x-rays
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2021 Contents
    • 2 Agosto 2021
    ...demonstrate that defendant was aware of – let alone exercised dominion or control over – the proile page in question. People v. Flayhart, 72 N.Y.2d 737, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727 (1988); People v. Bell, 63 N.Y.2d 796, 481 N.Y.S.2d 324 (1984). he trial court was within its discretion in admitting “st......
  • Photographs, recordings, & x-rays
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2014 Contents
    • 2 Agosto 2014
    ...was no indication that the photographs were admitted to arouse the jury’s emotions. Inflammatory or prejudicial People v. Flayhart , 72 N.Y.2d 737, 536 N.Y.S.2d 727 (1988); People v. Bell, 63 N.Y.2d 796, 481 N.Y.S.2d 324 (1984). The trial court was within its discretion in admitting “stark”......
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