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Commonwealth v. Atencio

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendants, Atencio and another individual (Defendants), were convicted of manslaughter arising out of the death of their companion who fatally shot himself in the head during a game of “Russian roulette.”

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person is criminally liable for the death of another where he cooperates in a reckless activity that brings about the death of another participant.

    Facts. The decedent was killed when he put a gun to his head and fired during a game of “Russian roulette” with the Defendants. Prior to Defendants’ fatal action, both Defendants had themselves pulled the trigger of the gun against their own heads, but were not harmed because the single bullet in the gun had not been in the chamber.

    Issue. Is a defendant criminally liable for the death of another person merely as a result of participating in a reckless activity in concert with the decedent?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    There was a duty incumbent upon the Defendants not to cooperate with the decedent in playing a reckless “game” that would likely result in someone’s death. Though Defendants did not force decedent to fire a loaded gun at his head, there was without question mutual encouragement in a joint enterprise that ran the risk of death as a probable consequence. Defendants were more than merely present at a crime.


    Discussion. In this case, the court holds mutual participation in a reckless enterprise is enough to hold any one participant criminally responsible for the death of any other participant arising out of the reckless conduct required by the enterprise.


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