Brief Fact Summary. Appellants were convicted of robbery and second-degree murder. Appellants argued that an intervening or supervening cause of death occurred and that the jury was not given proper jury instructions regarding this.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To determine whether there is an intervening or supervening force that would be responsible for the death is whether the 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.
Issue. Whether there was an intervening or supervening force that was responsible for the victim’s death.
Held. Reversed, the jury needs to be given proper instruction regarding intervening/supervening forces.
The omission of any direction on the meaning of causation allowed the jury to conclude that the issue was not before them or that causation could be inferred merely from the fact that the death succeeded his abandonment.
When death is produced by an intervening force, such as the operation of a car by another, the liability of one who put an antecedent force into action will depend on the difficult determination of whether the intervening force was a sufficiently independent or supervening cause of death.
The ultimate question is whether the ultimate result was foreseeable to the original actor and whether Victim failed to do something easily within his grasp that would have extricated him from danger.
Dissent. The dissent argued that the jury instruction was constitutionally mandated and that the jury did not have the issue before them anyways. The dissent stated that the jury was instructed to find whether Appellants’ conduct was the cause of Victim’s death. This was sufficient instruction and the dissent further noted that Appellant never submitted a draft instruction on intervening force.
Discussion. The Court ruled that the jury was not made aware of the proper jury instruction. Because there was no instruction given with respect to intervening or supervening forces, the Court ruled that the jury did not think they had that issue before them and that they could in effect assume that Appellant’s actions as long as they contributed to the death were the only cause of Victim’s death. Even if the jury was aware of the need to determine causation, they did not have the tools to make the proper analysis.