As reported in this New York Post article, yesterday a Manhattan judge ruled that the attempt by a professional stuntman to parachute off of the Empire State Building didn't constitute reckless endangerment in the first degree (Hat tip: The Legal Reader).
The judge concluded that the defendant's actions did not rise to the level of "depraved indifference":
Justice Michael Ambrecht found that Corliss, who has some 3,000 successful jumps under his belt, was too experienced and too obviously concerned with public safety to have met the "depraved indifference" standard.
Corliss' careful planning - the stuntman had factored in wind conditions and traffic-light patterns to ensure he wouldn't land atop moving cars - precludes a finding of recklessness, the judge ruled.
"The circumstances surrounding this admittedly dangerous stunt suggest that rather than indifference to the risk of harm to others, [Corliss] took affirmative steps to ensure the safety of others," the judge wrote.
Corliss, the judge wrote, "clearly intended to glide safely to the ground below."
I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the judge until I read this comment from a police spokeperson:
"What if his chute didn't open? He could have killed others along with himself," said police spokesman Paul Browne.
That's a good point. But, are potential outcomes sufficient to raise the mental state to one of "depraved indifference"? Perhaps case law would support that conclusion. Alternatively, is the very nature of the reckless act itself sufficient to meet the mens rea of this crime?
I'm inclined to think that it's not and that the judge ruled correctly. But I'm still not entirely convinced.
Unfortunately, the written decision isn't available online, since it sounds like it would be an interesting read.