Commonwealth v. Root

403 Pa. 571, 170 A.2d 310 (1961)

 

RULE:

The tort liability concept of proximate cause is not a proper criterion of causation in a criminal homicide case sufficient for a defendant to avoid responsibility by claiming that the victim's reckless conduct barred his conviction where both parties voluntarily created a dangerous condition.

FACTS:

Defendant appealed his conviction for involuntary manslaughter following the death of his competitor in an automobile race on a public highway. Leave was granted by the court to consider whether defendant's unlawful and reckless conduct was a sufficiently direct cause of death to warrant a charge of criminal homicide. Decedent knew of the danger created by defendant's reckless conduct in driving his automobile at an excessive rate of speed along the highway, and chose to pass defendant by recklessly swerving his car to the left. In so doing, decedent swerved into the path of an oncoming truck, causing a head-on collision and resulting in his own death.

ISSUE:

Can the reckless conduct of the defendant be considered a sufficiently direct cause to the death of the deceased to make him criminally liable therefor?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

In the case now before us, the deceased was aware of the dangerous condition created by the defendant's reckless conduct in driving his automobile at an excessive rate of speed along the highway but, despite such knowledge, he recklessly chose to swerve his car to the left and into the path of an oncoming truck, thereby bringing about the head-on collision which caused his own death. The tort liability concept of proximate cause has no proper place in prosecutions for criminal homicide and more direct casual connection is required for conviction. In the instant case, the defendant's reckless conduct was not a sufficiently direct cause of the competing driver's death to make him criminally liable therefor.

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