Actual Cause (Cause-In-Fact)
The casebook begins by quoting a part of the opinion we will discuss later in these notes (Velazquez). The biggest thing to take away is that we are looking for the cause of a negative result. For instance, when a person is hit with car, the cause-in-fact is the person driving the car.
“But-for” – the result would not have occurred “but-for” the actions of the defendant. In other words, the person being hit by the car would not have been hit by the car had the driver not swerved in front of them.
“substantial factor” – is when the action of one defendant alone is sufficient to cause a crime, and combined independently with another is substantial enough to result in the desired harm.
Oxendine v. State
Oxendine is a co-defendant. He was convicted of manslaughter in the lower court and appealed, asking for acquittal.
His Oxendine’s actions cause an acceleration of death?
A person is guilty of manslaughter if their actions cause (accelerate) the death of another. “Contribution without acceleration is not sufficient.”
The evidence here is insufficient to provide a conviction for manslaughter but is enough to convict of a lessor crime “assault in the second degree.”
Defendant and his girlfriend engaged in child abuse. The girlfriend inflicted a blow that caused significant injury to the child. The next day Oxendine dealt another blow inflicting injury. Later, on the way to the hospital, the child died. Here, the defendant argues that he was not the cause of death.
The testimony from expert witness varied. There were three doctors
- Both injuries could have caused death.
- Was not asked if the second injury accelerated death
- Injury from the first blow caused death
- Cannot be sure if the second injury accelerated death. “aggravated but unsure if it would accelerate”
Doctor 3: Believing there to be only the one blow (second):
- Second blow would have accelerated death
The evidence from the doctors was too contradictory. The prosecution had the job to show that “but-for” the actions of Oxendine, death would not have accelerated. Because the testimony was in conflict, the courts cannot ascertain that fact. Therefore, he cannot be convicted for manslaughter.
Causation: A contributing cause is an actual cause when demonstrated by acceleration, if death was already inevitable.
Proximate Cause (“Legal” Cause)
People v. Rideout
Defendant convicted of Operating a voter vehicle while intoxicated and thereby causing death. He appealed.
Was there proximate cause?
To be convicted of a crime, there needs to be both actual and proximate cause. Proximate cause is where the chain of causation is not broken by another third party intervention. “Direct or natural result”
There was no proximate cause, therefore, the defendant’s conviction is reversed.
The defendant was intoxicated and driving at 2:00 am. He made a turn and caused an accident which caused the headlights to burn out. The victim was fine, walked out of the car, and checked on the defendant. He then walked back to the car intending to turn on the hazards (knowing that he was putting himself back in danger) when he was hit by another passing car and killed.
Here, the defendant was the actual cause of the death (had he not hit the victim originally, then the second accident could not have occurred). However, he was not able to be guilty of proximate cause. This is because the victim had reached a point of “apparent safety” and then, by his own choosing, determined to put himself in harms way resulting in his death. Foreseeability isn’t an issue here because he could not have foreseen that another vehicle would have hit him. Therefore, the jury was wrong to give the instruction, and the conviction is overturned.
Later this case was appealed and the Supreme Court said that said that his actions could have been foreseeable and therefore the jury should determine that fact (foreseeability of other harm does not negate proximate causation).
Need both actual and proximate causation. It is quite possible to have actual but not be proximate. A proximate causation chain is broken if a third party interferes with the causation unless that interference could be foreseen by a reasonable jury.
There are only two factors considered in this case, however, there are six, here thy are:
- De minimis contribution to the harm
- Intended-consequences doctrine (if the intention result occurred, even if it didn’t happen the way they expected)
- Apparent Safety
- Voluntary human intervention
Velazquez v. State
561 So. 2d 347 (Fl. 1990)
Velazquez lost in trial and appealed.
Can a person be convicted for liability of a death when their only action was participating in a different event resulting in that death?
There should be no liability where (1) the defendant’s conduct is beyond any fair assessment of the danger created or (2) it would be unjust, based on fairness, to hold the defendant criminally liable.
There was no proximate cause, case dismissed.
Late at night, victim challenged defendant to a drag race. After the race was over, the victim turned around and raced back to the starting line going 123 mph. He was unable to brake, crashed through a guardrail and killed. The defendant was charged with vehicular homicide.
Although there was an actual cause, there was no proximate cause. This is because the defendant did not cause the victim to go as fast as he did, drive back after the race was over, etc. The victim made that choice by himself, therefore, there was no proximate cause.
Concurrence of the Elements
State v. Rose
112 R.I. 402 (1973).
Rose is the defendant. He was charged with manslaughter and fleeing the scene. He was found guilty and appealed.
Did the trial court error in neglecting to provide a directed verdict for manslaughter?
If the person was killed on impact, then it is not manslaughter. State has the burden of proof to show that it was not.
Can’t proof it beyond a reasonable doubt, the failure to receive a directed verdict was wrong.
There was a pedestrian crossing the street when they were struck by a car who paused briefly then kept driving. A witness looked for the body and couldn’t find it. Turns out that the body was wedged underneath the car and the individual had passed. The defendant was found guilty of manslaughter and fleeing the scene.
Here, the defendant asked for a directed verdict to dismiss because there was not enough evidence to meet the requirements of manslaughter. The victim would have needed to be found alive on impact and died later as a result of being dragged. So, if he was killed on impact, then this would not be manslaughter. The court agrees and says that the state had not proved above a reasonable doubt that the victim was not killed on impact. Therefore that count should be dropped but the count of fleeing the scene stands.
Here, the court says that there was no negligence in the driving. We are only looking to see if there is negligence in driving away. The social harm of the event must occur when there was the mens rea. So, if the person died in the initial impact, there is no negligence yet.
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.