Criminal Law, Pages 564–567

Bailey v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia, 1985

Facts:

Defendant and Murdock were drunk one evening and arguing with and threatening each other on their CB radios. Defendant knew that Murdock was legally blind, intoxicated and that he would scare off people his handgun. Defendant tried to make Murdock angrier by calling both him and his hero, General Patton, gay. Defendant then demanded that Murdock arm himself and wait on his porch for defendant to come and attack him. Murdock agreed and continued threatening defendant. Defendant then called the police on Murdock.

After Murdock was not there, he talked to each party again and got the police to come upon Murdock on his porch. The police, not knowing that Murdock was drunk or upset and only one officer knowing that he had some level of vision impairment, approached Murdock and told him to come down from his porch without the gun. Murdock cursed at the officer, grabbed the gun, walked towards the police, and fired shots at them. The police then shot Murdock. Murdock said several times, "I didn't know you was the police," and then died.

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Issue:

Can defendant be convicted of involuntary manslaughter when the victim was killed by police in his absence?

Rule:

LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 566, Paragraph 4

[O]ne who effects a criminal act through an innocent or unwitting agent is a principal in the first degree.

Defendant's Argument:

Defendant cannot be held criminally liable unless Murdock's death was the natural and probable result of his conduct. Either Murdock's or the police's conduct was an independent, intervening cause breaking the causal chain and absolving defendant of guilt.

Reasoning:

Defendant, knowing Murdock was drunk, nearly blind, and agitated, orchestrated a scenario bound to cause harm to Murdock. It is clear that defendant intended the police to go to Murdock's house as his unwitting agents. The jury determined that Murdock's death could reasonably have been foreseen. An intervening act which is reasonably foreseeable does not break the chain of causal connection between an act and the subsequent injury. As this was reasonably foreseeable, Murdock's death was the result of B's misconduct.

Holding:

Yes, defendant can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter when it is reasonably foreseeable that his actions would cause an innocent party to kill another.


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