Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
If the eventual victim's death is not the natural and probable consequence of a defendant's act, then liability cannot attach.
Larry Roberts stabbed a fellow prison inmate in a hallway, and the wounded inmate, before he died, pursued his attackers and fatally stabbed a prison guard. Roberts was convicted of the first degree murders of both the inmate and the guard (Pen. Code, § 187), conspiracy to commit murder (Pen. Code, § 182), assault by a life prisoner resulting in death (Pen. Code, § 4500), and possession of a weapon by an inmate (Pen. Code, § 4502). The jury found true special-circumstance allegations that Roberts had previously been convicted of first degree murder (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(2)), that he had committed multiple murders (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(3)), and that he had lain in wait to kill the inmate (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(15)). Roberts was sentenced to death for the murder of the inmate and the violation of Pen. Code, § 4500, and to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for the murder of the guard.
Was there sufficient evidence of proximate cause for any criminal liability to attach to Roberts for the guard’s death?
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of conviction as to the first-degree murder of the guard and set aside the multiple-murder special circumstance, but otherwise affirmed the judgment. The court held that the conviction for the first degree murder of the guard was erroneous, since there was no evidence that it was premeditated and deliberate. The court also held that although there was sufficient evidence by which the jury could have determined that defendant's acts were the proximate cause of the guard's death, the trial court erred in instructing the jury that if it found the victim killed the guard while in an unconscious state as a direct result of defendant's acts, it should disregard whether the guard's death was foreseeable. The court held, however, that its reversal of the conviction did not require remand for a new penalty trial on defendant's remaining murder conviction. The court also held that the trial court did not err in admitting evidence or testimony regarding defendant's prison gang membership. The trial court did not err, the court held, in ruling that the Department of Corrections's rules requiring Roberts to be shackled precluded the trial court from making a contrary ruling concerning his shackling during a jury view of the crime scene at the prison. The prosecutor, the court held, was entitled to comment on his own testimony at trial. The court held that the trial court's instructions regarding the proximate cause of the inmate's death were adequate, given the lack of evidence that the supervening cause of death was grossly improper medical treatment. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's instructions regarding lying in wait (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(15)), even though there was no evidence that defendant physically concealed himself before attacking the inmate. The court held that there was no prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct or instructional error at the penalty phase, and that the 1978 death penalty law is constitutional.