Criminal Law Midterm

Actual Causation :

The defendant’s act must have been the “cause in fact” of the victim’s death. Without the defendant’s actions, the victim would not have died.

“But for” Doug shooting and killing Tom, he would not have died.

Proximate Causation:

A defendant’s actions are the proximate cause of the victim’s death if the result occurs as a consequence of the defendant’s act. There is no other casually connected act. The defendant’s conduct is the direct cause of the harm.

Doug was the sole causal agent, and he brought about Tom’s death by shooting and killing him. Therefore, Doug was the proximate cause of Tom’s death.


Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is the intention to cause the death of, or grievous bodily harm to, a human being.

Because Doug shot and killed Tom he will be charged with murder. Because Doug went to a nearby drawer to grab a gun, and then shot Dan, there was malice aforethought.

First Degree Murder:

First degree murder is murder where there was premeditation, deliberation, and then willful killing.

Doug was “fearing for his life” and did not have premeditation or deliberation. Doug will not be convicted of first degree murder.

Second Degree Murder:

Second degree murder is murder where there is malice aforethought but it was not premeditated.

Because Doug did commit murder but did not premeditate, his charge will be second degree murder.

Voluntary Manslaughter:

Voluntary manslaughter is a killing done “on a sudden”, in the “heat of passion”, after “adequate provocation”. The Model Penal Code declares that a killing “which otherwise would be murder” is manslaughter under certain conditions.

Because Tom threatened to “beat Doug badly”, and Doug then feared for his life, there was legally adequate provocation. Doug will argue that the killing was done in the “heat of passion”. Under the Model Penal Code, the killing would be considered committed under extreme emotional or mental disturbance .Because there was no “cooling off” period brought on by the sudden provocation, at a time when reason was disturbed, so there was no mens rea.

Doug will be eligible for reduction to voluntary manslaughter.

Self Defense:

Self defense is a general right to defend oneself against the use of unlawful force. One may defend oneself with deadly force only if the attacker threatens him with serious bodily harm.

Doug will contend that Tom threatened to “beat him badly”, and he was defending himself from serious bodily harm. Doug believed that he was in imminent danger, had no way to retreat, and that the use of deadly force was necessary to protect himself.

The Jury will have to decide if Doug’s deadly force was excessive. Tom’s words carry a threat of serious bodily harm, but there was no unlawful force taken. Also, the jury will have to decide if Doug was the initial aggressor.

Defense of Property:

Use of force to defend one’s property or one’s self from harm is justified. A homeowner generally cannot use deadly force to defend his property. This is based on the judgment that human life is more valuable than property.

Doug will argue that he was defending himself and his property and was acting in self defense.

Doug should be able to mitigate a charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter. Because there was no unlawful force against Doug, self defense will most likely not be attainable.