Mental states are imperative for ascribing blame for most crimes. We care whether someone does something purposefully, knowingly or recklessly. Selling heroin is risky and unlawful behavior. It is, of course, risky because you may get caught and go to prison. But it is fraught with risk to those who buy the drugs. People sometime die from the poison being sold to them.
But what if you are told by others that the heroin you are selling is unusually strong? Suppose further, those drugs eventually causes the death of another person? Is that sufficient evidence of recklessness for a manslaughter conviction?
Apparently not in New York, according to the Court of Appeals in People v. Gaworecki. New York uses the familiar Model Penal Code definition of recklessness, which requires evidence that a person consciously disregards a substantial and unjustified risk. Even though the defendant in Gaworecki was told by another that the heroin he sold was exceptionally potent, the Court finds the fact that “[t]he People presented no evidence that defendant had been told that other people had overdosed or died after using the heroin he had sold them” (slip op. p. 8) as persuasive that that the evidence was insufficient for conviction.