Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glee: Beware of Flying Mailmen

Facts: To help him concentrate on the road while driving, Finn likes to think about unusual things, such as dead cats. While he's out practicing his driving skills with his mother, Finn is distracted by such thoughts and runs into the local mail carrier, who is severely injured by the collision.

Issue: Did Finn commit a crime even though he accidentally struck the mail carrier?

Law: A battery is an intentional, harmful, nonconsensual touching of another. An assault is either an attempted battery or a negligent injury of another with a deadly weapon.

Analysis: This example highlights the (often confusing) differences between assault and battery. While a battery is always intentionally, the law of assault developed to address behavior that was just shy of a battery. In Finn's case, he likely did not intentionally strike the mail carrier, so he couldn't have committed a battery. But he was rather negligent in not paying attention to the road, so at a minimum he committed an assault as a car has been treated as a deadly weapon.

Bonus: As you can see, there are basic problems with the common law crimes in the context of this case, which is why most states have separate statutes dealing with striking people with vehicles. For example, in Finn's Ohio, they have a vehicular assault law that would likely apply in this situation.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

90210: I Know What You Did Last Summer

90210: To New Beginnings
(originally aired Sept. 8, 2009)

Facts: At an end of the school year party, Naomi (wrongly) accuses Annie of sleeping with Naomi's boyfriend, Liam. Annie, who's been drinking, denies the allegation but Naomi continues to berate Annie in front of everyone. Annie calls the police on the party and runs out in tears.

While driving home, Annie is still emotionally distraught and driving erratically. Because of poor lighting, she does not see someone walking in the road and she runs him over. She knows she hit someone but does not stop. Instead, she heads home and hides in her bedroom all summer checking news stories about a comatose man (John Doe) who was the victim of a hit and run.

Right before the school year starts, Mr. Doe dies as a result of the accident.

Issue: Did Annie murder John Doe?

Law: Murder is the intentional killing of another person. Involuntary manslaughter---a lesser-included offense to murder---is the unintentional killing for another person due to the actor's reckless conduct.

Analysis: Looks like Annie might be graduating from high school into a correctional facility. While Annie likely did not intentionally hit Mr. Doe, her hitting him with her car was the proximate cause of his death, and her behavior that night was reckless: driving after drinking, swerving on the road, and in an extreme emotional state. This is a classic case of involuntary manslaughter.

There aren't enough facts to know if Annie was intoxicated but even if she were intoxicated, it's not a defense to manslaughter because manslaughter is not a specific intent offense. Recall that the defense of voluntary intoxication can only negate the intent in specific intent offenses, and voluntary intoxication is all Annie could argue because it appears she knowingly consumed alcohol before driving.

Bonus: Most states also make it a crime to leave the scene of an accident (i.e., a hit and run). According to California Vehicle Code § 20,000 (which applies in the 90210 zip code), a driver who leaves the scene of an accident that results in serious injury or death of another faces imprisonment "in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not less than 90 days nor more than one year," as well as a possible fine of $1,000 to $10,000. But the judge can, "in the interests of justice," reduce or eliminate the confinement.