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Law School Case Brief

People v. Acosta - 232 Cal. App. 3d 1375, 284 Cal. Rptr. 117 (1991)


The threshold question in examining causation is whether the defendant's act was an "actual cause" of the victim's injury. It is a sine qua non test: But for defendant's act would the injury have occurred? Unless an act is an actual cause of the injury, it will not be considered a proximate cause.


Defendant Vincent William Acosta led local police officers in an extended high-speed pursuit after Acosta was suspected of driving a stolen car. During the chase, two police helicopters assisted in the pursuit from the air. Ultimately, the two helicopters collided; three occupants in one helicopter died as a result of the collision. After a trial in California state court, Acosta was of convicted of three counts of second degree murder under California Penal Code and one count of unlawfully driving another's vehicle without consent pursuant to California Vehicle Code. Acosta appealed, alleging that there was insufficient evidence to support a second degree murder conviction, that the jury was erroneously instructed on implied malice, that his post-arrest statements were inadmissible, and that his sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.


Was the evidence sufficient to support Acosta's conviction for second degree murder?




The appellate court reversed Acosta's conviction for second degree murder, holding that insufficient evidence existed to support a finding that he acted with actual malice. Acosta's conduct did not create a high probability of death to the helicopter's occupants in pursuit, and there was no evidence to show that Acosta knew the risk to those occupants or acted with a conscious disregard for that risk.

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