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Neither the language of the Tennessee statute defining the criminally negligent homicide offense, nor the language of any other Tennessee statute mandates recognition of a co-perpetrator rule, which bars convictions for criminally negligent homicide.
Defendant was drag racing. The other driver lost control of his car on a curve and crashed. The driver of that car and his passenger were killed. Additionally, the drivers of two oncoming vehicles were injured in the crash. Defendant left the accident scene. Defendant was convicted of two counts of criminally negligent homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, one count of drag racing, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident involving death or injury. The defendant appealed.
Did the Tennessee law recognize a co-perpetrator rule which bars the defendant’s convictions for criminally negligent homicide on the basis that the victims were co-participants in the drag race?
The court held that no rule of Tennessee law barred the defendant's convictions for criminally negligent homicide as a matter of law. According to the court, causation in criminal cases generally was a question of fact for a properly instructed jury, that a victim's contributory negligence was not a complete defense but may be considered in determining whether or not the defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause of death, and that a jury's determination of the causation issue will be reviewed on appeal under the familiar sufficiency of the evidence standard and not disturbed so long as the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s determination. Because the trial court in this case failed to provide the jury with an instruction on proximate causation, an essential element of the offense, and because the jury was erroneously provided an instruction as to criminal responsibility, the defendant’s convictions for criminally negligent homicide must be reversed.