Patterson v. New York,
432 U.S. 197 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977)

Patterson v. New York

No. 75-1861

Argued March 1, 1977

Decided June 17, 1977

432 U.S. 197


New York law requiring that the defendant in a prosecution for second-degree murder prove by a preponderance of the evidence the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance in order to reduce the crime to manslaughter held not to violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U. S. 684, distinguished. Pp. 432 U. S. 201-216.

(a) Such affirmative defense does not serve to negative any facts of the crime which the State must prove in order to convict, but constitutes a separate issue on which the defendant is required to carry the burden of persuasion. Pp. 432 U. S. 206-207.

(b) The Due Process Clause does not put New York to the choice of abandoning such an affirmative defense or undertaking to disprove its existence in order to convict for a crime which is otherwise within the State's constitutional powers to sanction by substantial punishment. If the State chooses to recognize a factor that mitigates the degree of criminality or punishment, it may assure itself that the fact has been established with reasonable certainty, and to recognize at all a mitigating circumstance does not require the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt its nonexistence in each case in which the fact is put in issue if, in its judgment, this would be too cumbersome, expensive, and inaccurate. Pp. 432 U. S. 207-209.

39 N.Y.2d 288, 347 N.E.2d 898, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 216. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 432 U. S. 198

Primary Holding

The affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance is something that a murder defendant can be required to prove.


Patterson was tried for murder after he killed a man who was with his estranged wife. He argued that the murder charge should be reduced to manslaughter, based on the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance, but he was convicted of murder. On appeal, Patterson claimed that it was unconstitutional to require him to prove extreme emotional disturbance as an affirmative defense.



  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • John Paul Stevens

To be sure, the prosecution must prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If proving a defense is not equated with disproving an element of the crime, however, the defendant may be held accountable for meeting the burden of persuasion. It is permissible in this situation because the lack of emotional disturbance is not an element of murder.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall

States could improperly take advantage of this rule by revising criminal statutes to turn elements of crimes into affirmative defenses.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)

Case Commentary

This decision implicitly overruled an earlier precedent involving a similar rule, showing that the standard of proof in criminal cases does not always apply to affirmative defenses.

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