D met Stafford at a bar. Stafford was intoxicated to the point of being cut off by the bartender. D decided to rob Stafford.
Stafford asked for a ride, D agreed to give him one. First, they went to three other bars (only one would serve Stafford drinks). En route to Stafford's destination, D demanded Stafford's money.
D made Stafford pull down his pants and take off his boots to ensure there was no more money. D then made Stafford get out of his car. It was very cold and snowy that night. D threw Stafford's clothes on the side of the road. Stafford's glasses remained in the car.
Blake was driving on the road (10 mph in excess of speed limit) and saw Stafford sitting in the middle of the road. Blake didn't have time to stop and hit Stafford, killing him.
Stafford's pants were still down, and he was not wearing his other clothes.
D was charged with second degree murder. The jury was not instructed on the issue of causation.
Trial court found D guilty of second degree murder.
Appellate Division affirmed.
US COA 2nd Cir reversed, remanded.
Later, SCOTUS affirmed the conviction.
Must the jury be instructed on causation when the offense contains an element of causation?
How should a court/jury view intervening forces when determining causation?
A jury must be instructed on causation when the offense contains an element of causation.
When the result is produced by an intervening force, the liability of one who put an antecedent force into action will depend on whether the intervening force was a sufficiently independent or supervening cause of death.
A coincidence will break the chain of legal cause unless it was foreseeable.
A response will break the chain of legal cause only if it is abnormal (and also unforeseeable).
The prosecution had to prove the following elements for second degree murder: that the D evinced a depraved indifference, recklessly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk, and caused the death.
Courts have tended to distinguish cases in which the intervening act was a coincidence from those in which it was a response to the D's prior action.
D's act merely put the victim at a certain place at a certain time and because the victim was so located it was possible for him to be acted upon by the intervening cause. (fired on, changed route, struck by lightning)
Coincidence can happen even if the intervening act is human. If A shoots B and leaves him lying in the roadway, resulting in B being struck by C's car. Or where A shoots at B and causes him to take refuge in a park where B is killed by a gang.
An intervening act may be said to be a response to the prior actions of the D when it involves a reaction to the conditions created by the D.
A coincidence will break the chain of legal cause unless it was foreseeable, while a response will do so only if it is abnormal (and also unforeseeable).
The controlling questions are whether the ultimate result was foreseeable to the original actor and whether the victim failed to do something easily within his grasp that would have extricated him from danger.
Other factors in determining proximate causation…
Omissions (possibly a disputed point)
An omission can never act as a superseding intervening cause so as to relieve an earlier wrongdoer of criminal responsibility.
No matter how unforeseeable an omission may be, this negative act will not cut off liability of an earlier positive act.
If an intentional wrongdoer gets what he wanted (the result he wanted in the general way he wanted), he should not escape criminal responsibility even if an unforeseeable event intervened.
Apparent safety doctrine
When a person reaches a position of safety, the original wrongdoer is no longer responsible for any ensuing harm.
Free, deliberate, and informed human intervention
Once an informed and voluntary human action is discovered, the law will not trace back the causal chain any further.
But-for causation is used and must be paired with a mens rea level for culpability.
If the actual result is not within the purpose or contemplation of the actor, the culpability requirement is not satisfied except for the following circumstances…
In cases where I/P or K is necessary…
if the actual result differs from what was envisioned only in that a different person or property was injured or affected.
if actual result involves the same kind of injury but in which the precise injury inflicted was different or occurred in a different way.
(whether the actual result is too remote or accidental in its occurrence to have a just bearing on the actor's liability or the gravity of his offense)
In cases where R or N is necessary…
If the actual result is not within the risk of which the actor was aware (or in N, not within the risk of which he should have been aware), follow same analysis as above