State v. Garcia

616 N.W.2d 594

 

RULE:

A defendant can be relieved of criminal responsibility if an intervening act breaks the chain of causal connection between the defendant's actions and the victim's death. However, for an intervening act to relieve a defendant of criminal responsibility for homicide, the intervening act must be the sole proximate cause of death. In deciding whether medical treatments are superseding causes, the Iowa Supreme Court has stated that the intervention of a force which is a normal consequence of a situation created by the actor's negligent conduct is not a superseding cause of harm which such conduct has been a substantial factor in bringing about.

FACTS:

Garcia, defendant, shot Gonzales, the deceased, 4 four times. The victim was immediately taken to a hospital. Two bullets had struck him in the leg and were not life threatening. The other two wounds would have been fatal without immediate medical attention. One bullet had entered his abdomen and pierced his stomach, liver, and left lung, coming to rest just outside his rib cage. Dr. Francis Garrity, the Polk County Medical Examiner, characterized this wound as "very serious" and would have resulted in the victim's death if not treated. The other wound was from a bullet that grazed the victim's aorta and perforated both lungs. This wound would also have resulted in death if not treated. The victim was placed on a ventilator when he was no longer able to breathe on his own. As part of his treatment, he was also placed on a large quantity of fluids, causing him to develop severe swelling. Prior to his death, the victim's condition was steadily and rapidly deteriorating, with a number of organ systems failing. While the victim was hospitalized and while he was being shaved by a hospital employee, a tracheotomy tube used to connect him to the ventilator was nicked, and the attending physician decided to change the tube to increase the efficiency of the oxygen getting into the lungs. Due to the victim's swollen neck, as the tube was being changed, his airway closed and the attending physician was unable to replace the tube. As a result, the victim asphyxiated. One doctor believed the victim would have died anyway, notwithstanding the tube change, within three or four days. It was this doctor's opinion that the gunshot wounds were the proximate cause of the victim's death and that the medical decisions relating to treatment were part of a chain of events set in motion by the wounds. Garcia and the others were charged with first-degree murder. Prior to trial, Garcia moved to suppress a letter purportedly written by him while in jail. The letter, written by Garcia to the brother of one of Garcia's codefendants, was intercepted by the codefendant's mother, who gave it to her son's attorney. The letter ultimately reached the State. Garcia moved unsuccessfully to suppress the letter.

ISSUE:

Did the trial court err in ruling that the evidence of malpractice was inadmissible?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The court concluded that trial court properly ruled that evidence of malpractice, even if it was "outrageous" as defendant's witness testified, was inadmissible. No reasonable fact finder could have concluded the medical treatment was the sole proximate cause of death. Trial court properly denied defendant's motion in limine, as the attorney in question was not defendant's attorney. Appellate court's judgment vacated was vacated.

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