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January 27, 2005

Crim Law Hypothetical

This is fun. I found this at Irritant #4, a law blog. How would you answer? Go read the comments. They're a riot.

Hypothetical A: Two men (Crab and Goyle) shoot one man (Potter) with their "Magic Wand" 12mm pistols. Crab shoots Potter in the head and Goyle shoots Potter in the heart. Both men fire at exactly the same time. Both men's actions would kill Potter on their own. Who is guilty of the murder?

Hypothetical B: Crab and Goyle both shoot at Potter simultaneously. Crab and Goyle both intend on killing Potter, but Goyle misses. Both men's actions would kill Potter if performed correctly. Potter dies. How do we assign guilt?

Hypothetical C: Crab and Goyle both shoot at Potter simultaneously. Crab has a silencer on his weapon. Crab intends to kill Potter. Goyle has a loud pistol, but intends to miss: Goyle is trying to scare Potter. Both miss Potter. Potter, reeling from the loud recoil, backs into a railing on the interstate bridge. The railing is poorly constructed and breaks away as Potter lightly bumps into it. Potter falls down a hill and onto the interstate. Driver Snape is driving an 18 wheeler while mildly intoxicated. As Potter hits the highway, Snape hits his breaks as quickly as possible considering his mild intoxication. The anti-lock breaks, which are poorly constructed, lock out and the truck slides into an embankment, crashing as Snape turns the wheel to miss Potter. Snape is paralyzed and hideously burned in the crash. As a result of the crash, six Siberian Tigers which are unregistered and being illegally transported, break out from the 18-wheeler's cargo hold and maul Potter to death. How do we assign criminal guilt and how do we assign damages in civil courts?

My answers are the following:

Hypothetical A: Both are guilty of murder.

Hypothetical B: Crab is guilty of murder. Goyle is guilty of attempted murder.

Hypothetical C: I have no idea - it sounds too much like an Elmore Leonard novel - but I bet Malfoy was behind the illegal tigers. He has to be guilty of something.

Posted on January 27, 2005 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


in hypo c, both crab and goyle are guilty of felony-murder (felony-murder is when your actions cause the death of someone during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony (like attempted murder, in the case of crab, or assault, in the case of goyle). even if you didn't intend to kill the victim, it is treated as murder)

snape is guilty of manslaughter (negligent homocide), for driving drunk with a bunch of siberian tigers in his truck what caused potter's death

harry's heirs have a civil wrongful death claim against crab, goyle, snape, the highway authority, the manufacturer of the guard rail, and the manufacturer of snape's anti-lock brakes., and the mechanic who installed the brakes

snape has a tort claim against crab, goyle, the highway authority, the manufacturer of the guard rail, the manufacturer of his anti-lock breaks, the mechanic who installed them, harry's estate, the bar owner where he got drunk, and the guy who sold him those tigers saying they were just extra-large housecats

basically, you learn in law school to sue everyone even remotely connected and let the courts sort it out.

Posted by: upyernoz at Jan 28, 2005 12:26:59 PM

Excellent, upyernoz!

My only possible quibble is felony murder for Crab (who is surely guilty of attempted murder). I haven't looked at felony murder since law school (a long time ago), but doesn't there have to be some causal connection between the felony and the death, even if remote and unforseeable? If I were robbing the hot dog stand at a Pistons game when when a player goes into the stands and kills a fan, is it really felony murder? How is that distinguishable from this situation? (I'm assuming no concert of action between Crab and Goyle.)

Posted by: Fred Vincy at Jan 28, 2005 12:55:30 PM

I'm no lawyer, so I didn't even know how to begin to tackle Hypothetical C. I know that Crab and Goyle never act on their own. They always take orders from Malfoy. So, if Malfoy had ordered a hit on Potter, resulting in his death, what kind of charge would be slapped on Malfoy? Conspiracy to commit murder? Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Jan 28, 2005 1:24:18 PM


Add that fact and then I'd say: (a) Crab is back on the hook for felony murder, since his co-conspirator's actions caused the death; and (b) yes, Malfoy would be guilty of conspiracy to commit murder (conspiracy punishes an illegal agreement combined with some overt action in furtherance of the agreement). Not sure whether you could also get Malfoy on felony murder, since he wasn't at the scene; I know there are some fleeing the scene cases where felony murder is applied to folks pretty far from this scene, but this isn't exactly the same since Malfoy was never at the scene. Maybe upyernoz or someone else has an answer....

Posted by: Fred Vincy at Jan 28, 2005 3:23:14 PM

What if Snape knew about the hit? He hates Potter, and Malfoy confides in him. What kind of liability would Snape have in Potter's death if he knew about the hit and said nothing?

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Jan 28, 2005 3:32:07 PM

Would that be "reckless disregard for human life"?

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Jan 28, 2005 3:33:14 PM

fred, you could be right. because crab used a silencer, maybe you can only get him for attempted murder. but i don't think there's a strict causality requirement for felony murder. if you rob a bank and one of the guards shoots at you but misses, killing a bank customer, you are guilty of felony murder even though causal chains are normally broken by the actions of other people. once you start committing a dangerous felony, i think it's almost a strict liability standard. your intent to commit the dangerous felony plus the death of someone is enough to convert the whole deal to murder, regardless of how exactly it happens.

but i could be wrong. i'm no criminal lawyer and my crim law class in law school is a fading memory.

as for the malfoy issue, if you can find another predicate crime, i'm pretty sure we could get malfoy for a RICO action. as a labor lawyer that, unfortunately, is something i know a little bit about.

Posted by: upyernoz at Jan 28, 2005 4:20:08 PM

What kind of liability would Snape have in Potter's death if he knew about the hit and said nothing?

normally, there is no affirmative duty to stop a crime. unless you could get snape as a co-conspirator (and that would require that he took some affirmative step to advance the conspiracy), snape is probably off the hook (except for the manslaughter thing as i said above)

Posted by: upyernoz at Jan 28, 2005 4:22:11 PM

Agree with upyernoz on Trish's new hypothetical, except that if we're still assuming that Snape is Potter's teacher (and perhaps even Malfoy's) he may well have a duty to Potter and thus at least civil and possibly even criminal liability. My guess is that is an issue that could vary a great deal from state to state -- and all bets off in the UK of course.

I think this is different from the bank guard case because here there are, in effect, two different crimes going on at once.

RICO -- now there's one I would not have thought of!

Posted by: Fred Vincy at Jan 28, 2005 11:34:04 PM

Trish, excellent responses to my hypothetical. I think my older sister said it best: find out whose got insurance, and sue them!

Posted by: Walker at Feb 6, 2005 12:38:27 AM