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State v. Govan

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant, Govan, was indicted for second degree murder after shooting a victim who died while in a coma.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    If a criminal defendant’s wrongful or illegal acts are the proximate cause of a victim’s death, they can be held criminally liable for that death.

    Facts.

    Govan and Sharon Keeble lived in a home together and had a rocky relationship, arguing with regularity. Keeble proceeded to accuse Govan of molesting her daughter and attempted shoot him, but missed. Govan left and returned with a hand gun and fired the gun in the direction of Keeble, hitting her in the neck. The gunshot caused Keeble to become paralyzed. However, while Keeble was in the hospital, herself and Govan reconciled their differences and became married. Due to the paralysis, five years later, Keeble died from pneumonia, which she opted not to seek treatment for. Govan was charged with second degree murder. At trial, several experts testified that the reason Keeble contracted the pneumonia was due to the paralysis, which in turn was caused by the gun shot wound. Govan was charged with manslaughter and argued that the gun shot wound was not the cause of Keeble’s death.

    Issue.

    If a criminal defendant’s wrongful or illegal acts are the proximate cause of a victim’s death, they can be held criminally liable for that death.

    Held.

    Yes. If a criminal defendants wrongful or illegal acts are the proximate cause of a victim’s death, they can be held criminally liable for that death.

    Concurrence.

    None

    Discussion.

    The defendant’s wrongful or illegal acts cannot serve as the proximate cause for a victims death if there is any intervening act and the intervening act was unforeseeable, but if not the defendant can still be criminally liable. A defendant can still face criminal culpability even if the victim is the one who harms herself, if she harmed herself because of the defendant’s illegal conduct. Here, experts testified that the reason Keeble contracted pneumonia was due to the paralysis and the paralysis stemmed from the gunshot wound. While Govan argues that the gunshot wound was not the cause of the death, the evidence presented is sufficient to show that it in fact was. While it is true that Keeble did not seek treatment for the pneumonia and thus harmed herself, she would not have been in pain and sought to harm herself but for the gun shot wound and subsequent paralysis. Thus, the chain of causation is not broken.


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