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Velazquez v. State

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Velazquez (Defendant), was prosecuted for vehicular homicide in connection with his drag racing with the victim on a public road.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Even where a defendant’s conduct is a cause-in-fact of a prohibited result, courts throughout the country have for good reason declined to impose criminal liability: (1) where the prohibited result of the defendant’s conduct is beyond the scope of any fair assessment of the danger created by the defendant’s conduct, or (2) where it would otherwise be unjust, based on fairness and policy considerations, to hold the defendant criminally responsible for the prohibited result.

    Facts. After the Defendant and the victim finished driving the course of the drag race, the victim unexpectedly turned his car around and drove at a speed estimated at 123 m.p.h. back toward the starting line, with the Defendant following behind at a similar rate of speed. As both drivers reached the starting point, the victim was unable to stop his car. The victim subsequently dies when his car hurtled through a guardrail near the starting point for the race.

    Issue. Can the actions of the Defendant be found to be a proximate cause of the victim’s untimely death?

    Held. Although the court found that the Defendant’s actions might have been a substantial factor in bringing about the death of the victim, public policy and fairness considerations should lead to the conclusion that criminal liability is unjust in this case.

    Discussion. The court spent a great deal of their decision examining both the “but-for” and “substantial factor” tests for causation. However, although the court implied that the Defendant might have been a substantial factor in bringing about the death of the victim, the court declined to impose criminal liability because the Defendant’s conduct, on its own, did not create the situation that lead to the victim’s death. Upon examination of the record, the facts show that the victim was the one who reversed course and drove at a high rate of speed toward the starting line. Further, it was the deceased whose faulty brakes failed him. Both of these factors, together, would, for public policy reasons, make it patently unfair to place criminal liability onto the Defendant.


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