Henderson v. Kibbe

LOCATION: Terminal Railroad Association (where Lovasco allegedly stole the firearms from a mail facility)

DOCKET NO.: 75-1906
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 431 US 145 (1977)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1977
DECIDED: May 16, 1977

Lillian Zeisel Cohen - for petitioner
Sheila Ginsberg - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Henderson v. Kibbe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1977 in Henderson v. Kibbe

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 75-1906, Henderson against Kibbe.

Mrs. Cohen, you may proceed when you are ready.

Lillian Zeisel Cohen:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether a State Court criminal conviction should be set aside as fundamentally unfair, because the Trial Judge did not explain the issue of causation to the jury.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit answered this question in the affirmative “on the limited and singular facts of this case”.

The court held that in this case the jury may not have been aware that they had to decide the issue of causation and alternatively that if the jury was aware of this element the instruction was not detailed enough.

Petitioner believes that the decision below is erroneous.

First, because the issue of causation was focused for the jury throughout the trial by the prosecution and by both defense lawyers.

Second, because the record controverts respondent’s assumption that it would have been to his advantage to if had a detailed instruction on the issue of causation, and third, because the ultimate question that was decided by the court below and upon which its decision rests to wit whether the jury instruction was adequate was essentially a question of state law and not a matter for habeas corpus review.

Respondent and his codefendant were convicted of the crime of murder in the second degree under a section of the New York Penal Law, which provides that a person is guilty of murder when under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life.

He recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person and thereby causes the death of another person.

A defendant is reckless under New York Law when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur.

The facts in this case are essentially undisputed.

On December 30, 1970 in the evening respondent Kibbe and his codefendant Roy Krall met a man named George Stafford in a bar in Rochester, New York.

At that point, Stafford had already been refused service in the bar, because he had had so much to drink.

Kibbe and Krall agreed to give Stafford a ride home when Stafford indicated that he was afraid to drive his own car.

The defendants later admitted that they had already formed the intent to take the money, which Stafford had been flashing in the bar.

First however, the three men went to two more bars, one of which refused Stafford service again.

Kibbe and Krall then drove Stafford to a rural area outside of Rochester.

They took his money.

According to the defendants, Stafford lowered his trousers and took off his boots to show them that he had no more money.

Stafford’s girlfriend testified at the trial however that in fact because of an injury to his leg he could not remove his right boot.

However, Stafford’s state of undress is accounted for.

The fact is that he was left essentially undressed at the side of a two-lane unlit road, which was banked on both sides by snow.

The record establishes that it was four degrees outside.

Stafford was not wearing his jacket or his boots.

These were handed to him by respondent Kibbe with the advice that Stafford get inside so that he not freeze to death.

One essential fact remains, and that is that at this point Kibbe and Krall drove off leaving Stafford on the side of the road having fallen into a snow bank, and they took with them his eyeglasses.

Now there is no dispute.