The Garner Decision: Read the Law

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The criminal courthouse in Staten Island.

Jarrett Murphy

The criminal courthouse in Staten Island.

Oleg Davie and Vasilios Gerazounis don’t have a lot in common. One is a plastic surgeon. The other is a Brooklyn landlord. But they both pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide this year: Odie for his role in the death of a woman in 2012 after a botched liposuction, Gerazounis for the illegal renovations he made that turned a Brooklyn building into a death trap for five immigrants in 2010.

Criminally negligent homicide is one of the charges that some observers that a Staten Island grand jury might have brought against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death last summer of Eric Garner.

Manslaughter in the second degree is the other. A doctor who overprescribed pills and a mother who killed her 8-year-old autistic son were recently convicted of that crime in the city.

The New York State Penal Law defines what those crimes mean.

Criminally negligent homicide occurs when “with criminal negligence, [a person] causes the death of another person.” Elsewhere in the penal law, “criminal negligence” is defined as follows:

A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

Manslaughter in the second degree occurs when someone “recklessly causes the death of another person.” Recklessness is defined elsewhere:

“A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly with respect thereto.”

By contrast, manslaughter in the first degree involves the “intent to cause serious physical injury to another person.”