Criminal Law, Pages 221–226

State v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2007

Facts:

Defendant got into an argument with his neighbor because he was encouraging children to fight and swearing at them. The victim Biser approached and asked everyone to calm down. Defendant did not calm down, but instead yelled obscenities at Biser and punched him in the head. Biser did not try to defend himself and fell down from the blow, hitting his head against a parked car and then the pavement. Defendant taunted the unconscious man while another neighbor called 911.

At the hospital, Biser regained consciousness and noted that he was diabetic. Biser was coherent, and although the doctor found his blood-glucose level to be high, he refused treatment for both his injuries and his diabetes, as he had insulin at home and did not want to buy more. Biser was discharged and went home.

Biser's neighbors came to check on him later that day, but he was confused and did not remember being hit. He instead thought he had been singing karaoke. The next day, they returned and Biser said he felt sick to his stomach and asked to be left alone. His cousin visited, and he said he took his insulin, which she saw he had. Three days later he was found unconscious on his floor and he later died from severe diabetic ketoacidosis due to not taking his insulin.

However, doctors also did a CAT scan and noticed that he had a skull fracture and brain injury. The injury would ordinarily make a person unable to function and would have affected Biser's cognitive ability. This impairment would have affected Biser's ability to look after himself and likely caused him to not take his insulin.

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted of felonious assault and involuntary manslaughter.

Issue:

Was defendant punching Biser the proximate cause of his death?

Defendant's Argument:

Defendant may be the cause in fact, but he was not the proximate cause because it was unforeseeable that the victim would be diabetic and refuse the recommended tests and insulin at the emergency room.

Rules:

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 225

    When dealing with claims of intervening causation, the proper analysis starts with a determination of whether the intervening act was a mere coincidence or alternatively, a response to the accused's prior conduct. An intervening cause is a coincidence when the defendant's act merely places the victim at a certain place at a certain time, thus subjecting the victim to the vagaries of the intervening cause. . . . An intervening act is a response to the prior acts of the defendant where it involves reaction to the condition created by the defendant.

  • The accused takes the victim as he find him.

Reasoning:

It does not matter that defendant did not know that Biser was diabetic because the accused takes his victim as he finds him. This then does not break the chain of causation.

Biser's conduct must be viewed as a response to defendant's. He became apathetic directly because of the head injury sustained from defendant. This response was furthermore not abnormal and unforeseeable. It was in fact neither. A person suffering brain injuries like Biser would not function normally. This is a foreseeable result of the injuries sustained by Biser. An accused does not need to foresee the precise consequences of his conduct; the result must only be within the natural and logical scope of risk created thereby. Self-inflicted harm due to a victim's weakened conditions are nromal and do not break the causal chain. Thus, Biser's failure to medicate and seek treatment is not abnormal and unforeseeable or an intervening cause.

Holding:

Yes, defendant's punch proximately caused Biser's death. Affirmed.

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