The notion of social harm is based upon the common law belief that when a person’s conduct falls below prescribed legal and moral standards, not only does the victim suffer, but society as a whole has also been harmed. The offender has breached the general agreement that citizens will conform their conduct to the moral dictates of the criminal law. Society, then, through the office of the government prosecutor, must express its legal and moral condemnation of the conduct and redress this harm by bringing the offender to justice.
In most statutes, the social harm is quite clear. For example, with theft crimes, society suffers a harm when an offender interferes with an owner’s private property interests without the owner’s consent. Similarly, in sexual assault cases, the physical and emotional harm visited upon victims is a trauma that reverberates throughout society. If you have been charged with a crime, speak to an experienced Tooele Utah criminal defense lawyer.
Causation and Expert Testimony
The element of causation is crucial in every criminal case because it is the critical link that ties the defendant directly to the unlawful conduct. The causal connection is even more important in homicide cases, when the stakes are usually quite high for the defendant. Once the prosecutor proves that a death occurred and that it occurred by wrongful conduct, then he or she must prove that the death and wrongful conduct are directly attributable to the defendant. Again, because of the gravity of the consequences for the defendant, this causal link must be clear and direct.
At common law, when medical science was not nearly as advanced as it is today, the “year-and-a-day” rule was developed to help determine criminal responsibility. This rule was an artificial mechanism for linking a wrongful death to the defendant’s behavior. Pursuant to the year-and-a-day rule, a defendant could be charged with criminal homicide for the death of a victim only if the death occurred within a year and a day of the infliction of the fatal wound. If the death occurred beyond a year and a day, the defendant could not be prosecuted because there was too much uncertainty and the causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the death was deemed broken.
With the advances in medical science, the year-and-a-day rule has been abolished in most jurisdictions. This means that a defendant may be prosecuted for a victim’s death without regard to the length of time between the defendant’s conduct and the victim’s demise. Of course, there must still be proof that the defendant’s conduct caused the victim’s death. As a practical matter, the more time that elapses between the wrongful conduct and the death, the greater the likelihood that the defendant can mount a strong defense to the causation element of the crime, even without the assistance of the year-and-a-day rule. Under Utah law, there is no statute of limitation for most major crimes like murder, homicide, etc.
Causation can also play a pivotal role in cases when there has not been a significant amount of time between the defendant’s conduct and the victim’s death. Since causation is a fundamental component of any criminal case, the prosecutor in the Woodward case had the burden of proving that there was a wrongful death and that Louise Woodward caused that death. In other words, the baby’s death must be directly linked to her unlawful conduct. It is not enough for purposes of the criminal law to simply prove that the baby was left alone in her care and subsequently died. The causal link must be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.
At common law, murder was considered one of the most heinous offenses and, as such, was punishable by death. Murder is broadly defined as an “unlawful killing with malice aforethought.” Historically, this meant that the unlawful killing was performed with an evil, wicked motive or intent or performed as a deliberate, cruel act without provocation. However, as the law gradually evolved, the term malice aforethought shifted away from its common law meaning and came to embrace four mental states that would transform an unlawful killing into murder. The four mental states are intent to kill, intent to do serious bodily harm, extreme reckless disregard and felony murder. Thus, an unlawful killing is performed with “malice” aforethought” (often referred to as simply “malice” in most statutes) if the defendant causes a death while acting with one of these four mental states.
Generally those who commit murder with intent to kill are considered very dangerous because they act with a conscious purpose to cause the death of another. Typically (although not always), a person who acts with the intent to kill also engages in premeditation and deliberation. What this means is that the person thinks about the idea of killing (premeditation) and also considers the consequences of committing the murder (deliberation). If, after this period of premeditation and deliberation, the person goes forward with the intent to kill, then first-degree murder has been committed according to the criminal statutes in most jurisdictions. Additionally, in those jurisdictions that have the death penalty, this defendant would be highly likely to receive such a punishment. The premeditated, deliberate murderer is usually subjected to the harshest punishment available under the law in the jurisdiction. The rationale for this is that a person who thinks about and considers the potential consequences of committing a murder prior to actually committing it is, in theory, the most dangerous type of criminal and therefore deserving of the most severe punishment available.
In cases of premeditated and deliberate murder, the government, in addition to proving the voluntary act and the mental state (intent to kill), must also prove that the defendant premeditated and deliberated. It is important to understand that premeditation and deliberation are not mental states for the crime of murder, but are instead aggravating factors surrounding the mental state of intent to kill. Premeditation and deliberation can take place over a short period of time (e.g., one or two minutes) or a longer period of time (e.g., one year). However, the closer in time these factors occur to the actual commission of the crime, the more difficult it becomes for the government to prove that the defendant actually had the time to think about committing the crime and to consider the consequences.
To be convicted of murder in instances when the defendant intends to do serious bodily harm, the defendant’s conduct must be of a life-threatening nature such that death is a natural and foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct, even though he does not intend to kill. The rationale for classifying the defendant’s conduct as murder is that a person who intentionally engages in life-threatening conduct should be morally blameworthy for the natural and foreseeable consequences of that conduct.
What are natural and foreseeable consequences? Generally, if the defendant’s intentional life-threatening conduct could set into motion a chain of events that make it highly likely that a death will occur as a result of that conduct, then the death is considered natural and foreseeable.
Extreme Reckless Disregard
A defendant can be charged with murder even though he did not intend to kill or do serious bodily harm to the victim. Instead, liability may be imposed if the defendant intentionally engages in conduct that creates an extremely high risk that death will occur.
Murder committed while the defendant is acting with extreme reckless disregard for the value of human life is sometimes referred to as “universal malice” or “depraved heart” murder. These terms indicate that the defendant consciously engages in extremely risky, life-threatening conduct, although not intending to harm any particular person. To assess whether the defendant is engaging in conscious risk taking, it is important to determine what the defendant knows about the circumstances at the time of his conduct.
Although a person may not intend to kill or do serious bodily harm or engage in conscious risk taking, he may nevertheless be charged with murder if he intentionally causes a death during the course of and in furtherance of a felony.
The rationale for transferring the felonious intent is that people will be deterred from engaging in life-endangering felonies if there is a strong likelihood that they will face murder charges should a death result from their felonious conduct.The law of felony murder has undergone considerable change over the last two decades. Because felony murder imposes liability (often for first- degree murder) for a death that is caused unintentionally, there was a growing concern in many jurisdictions that, in some instances, the results of applying the felony murder doctrine were unduly harsh.
The crime of manslaughter, as distinguished from murder, involves causing the unlawful death of another without malice aforethought. This means that the defendant unlawfully caused a death but did not possess any of the four mental states required for malice aforethought.
Historically, the crime of voluntary manslaughter was known as a “heat of passion” crime. The traditional example of a “heat of passion” killing involved a husband who arrived home early to discover his wife in a “compromising position” with another man and became so enraged that he killed one or both of them. The resulting crime(s) were considered manslaughter and not murder because the husband’s “passions” were so inflamed by the circumstances that he acted in a morally blameworthy manner before he had sufficient time to cool off and consider the consequences of his actions.
Thus, although criminally responsible for the deaths, the husband who acted in the heat of passion was considered less blameworthy than someone whose actions derived from malice or “cold blood.” This is because society recognizes that human beings have certain frailties that make it particularly difficult to act in a morally responsible manner under certain circumstances. In recognition of these frailties, the criminal law has established a compromise: A defendant whose actions result from “heat of passion” is criminally responsible for any resulting death. However, criminal liability will be based upon theories of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder, which means that the defendant, if convicted, will incur a less severe penalty. When examining the facts surrounding cases of voluntary manslaughter, many of them closely resemble cases of intentional murder, that is, it looks as if the defendant intended to kill and acted upon that intent. For example, if we consider again the husband who discovers his wife in a “compromising position” and immediately decides to kill her, these circumstances closely resemble intentional murder since the husband clearly intends to kill his wife. What is it then that takes this conduct out of the realm of intentional murder and places it into the category of voluntary manslaughter?
To be classified as voluntary manslaughter, the defendant must be “adequately provoked” and not have an opportunity to calm down prior to causing the death. Furthermore, the defendant’s conduct must comport with that of a reasonable person under the circumstances. Thus, to determine if conduct meets the criteria for voluntary manslaughter, four questions must be considered:
• Was the defendant provoked?
• Would a reasonable person have been provoked under the circumstances?
• Did the defendant actually “cool off” or calm down prior to the killing?
• Would a reasonable person have cooled off under the circumstances?
If the defendant was not actually provoked or had, in fact, cooled off prior to causing the death, then there is no need to consider what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances because the defendant himself does not meet the criteria for “heat of passion.” However, if it is determined that the defendant was provoked and did not cool off prior to causing the death, then the conduct of the reasonable person under the circumstances must be considered. When applying the reasonable person standard, the judge or jury is asked to consider what would have constituted reasonable conduct given all of the surrounding circumstances.
More than simply hiring a known criminal law defense attorney, a defendant should try to hire an attorney whose experience is in the courthouse where the defendant’s case is pending. Though the same laws may be in effect throughout a state, procedures vary from one courthouse to another. Defendants should prefer attorneys experienced in local procedures and personnel. Hire the best – hire an experienced Tooele Utah criminal defense lawyer.
Tooele Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Free Consultation
When you need legal help to defend against criminal charges against you in Tooele Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We can help you with murder charges. Involuntary Manslaughter. Sex Crimes. Drug Crimes. Theft Crimes. And Much More. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506