Citation. 534 F.2d 493, 1976 U.S. App. 11890.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Defendant Kibbe was convicted by jury of manslaughter after the intoxicated victim, George Stafford, was struck and killed by a motorist after he was left by the Defendant and a friend, Roy Krall, on the side of the road
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person is the proximate cause of another’s death where his actions set in motion the death but do not actually cause the death. If the actual cause of death is a foreseeable consequence of the original actor’s conduct, then he is liable for the victim’s death.
The Defendant and Krall met the victim in a bar. The victim had been drinking heavily, and eventually, the bartender refused to serve him any more drinks. The victim caught the Defendant’s eye because the victim had attempted to pay the bartender with a one hundred dollar bill. At some point, the victim attempted to procure a ride to Canandaigua, and the Defendant and Krall, having agreed to rob the victim, offered him a ride. The three left the bar and attempted to drink at another bar, but the victim was refused service at the second establishment. The three then visited a third bar, and the victim was served alcohol there. The three individuals then started for Canandaigua. During the trip, as Krall was driving, the Defendant demanded the victim’s money. The Defendant then forced the victim to drop his pants and remove his boots to prove he had no more money. The Defendant and Krall then abandoned the victim on an unlit, rural highway. It was a very cold night, and strong w
inds were blowing recently fallen snow across the roadway. Approximately a half an hour after the victim was abandoned, Michael Blake, a college student, struck the victim with his truck. Blake stated that he saw the victim sitting in the middle of the highway, but he did not have time to react to seeing him there. The Defendant died of massive head and body injuries.
Did the trial court err in not instructing the jury on proximate causation?
To prove second-degree murder, the state must prove that the Defendant evinced a depraved indifference to the victim’s life, recklessly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk of the victim’s death, and thereby caused the victim’s death.
The court instructed the jury on several definitions but causation was not among them. Omitting the definition of causation allowed the jury to conclude that the issue was not before them or that causation could be inferred from the circumstances. Even if the jury believed it needed to determine causation, the court’s instructions were inadequate.
The legal standard is complex. To wit, a person is the proximate cause of another’s death where his actions set in motion the death but do not actually cause the death. If the actual cause of death is a foreseeable consequence of the original actor’s conduct, then he is liable for the victim’s death. Thus, since the jury was improperly instructed, the defendant’s conviction was set aside.
Proximate cause is a tricky concept, but essentially, one is the proximate cause of death if his actions do not directly cause death but rather begin a foreseeable chain of events leading to another’s death. This is much like the proximate cause concept from tort law.