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October 5, 2016

Four interesting examples of Ohio criminal cases in which causation was a debated issue

To finish our review of the "general part" of the criminal law, we will dig further into the law of causation.  In that review, I will note that Ohio tends to adopt a more "common law" approach to causation doctrines than an MPC approach, but I will also explain why this is a distinction that does not really make much of a difference in all but the rarest of cases.  Still, I thought it might be useful here to note the facts of a couple of the rarest of Ohio criminal cases in which causation doctrines were discussed.  So, if you want to take a deep dive into some notable Ohio causation cases, consider checking out:

1.  Ohio v Lovelace, 137 Ohio App. 3d 206 (1st Dist. App. 1999), gets started this way:

The issue in this appeal is whether a person who leads police on a high-speed car chase can be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter when one of the police cruisers in pursuit runs a stop sign and collides with another vehicle, killing the driver. The answer turns on whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that the defendant-appellant, Paul Wayne Lovelace, should have foreseen the fatal accident as a consequence of his own reckless behavior. At the time of the accident, Lovelace was driving a stolen car and had already led Ohio and Kentucky police on a multi-car chase that reached speeds of one hundred miles per hour, crossed back and forth over the Ohio River, and caused several collisions and near collisions in both states.

Lovelace argues that he cannot be guilty of involuntary manslaughter because he could not possibly have foreseen that the officer would disregard the stop sign — although he had done so himself only moments before.  In his view, the police officer's failure to stop was an intervening cause of the accident, absolving him of criminal responsibility.  Lovelace also contends that his trial was unfair because the trial court's evidentiary rulings deprived him of the opportunity to present crucial evidence, and because the jury instructions misled the jury on the critical issue of proximate cause.

2.  Ohio v Voland, 716 N.E.2d 299 (Ohio Com. Pl. 1999), involves these essential facts:

[T]he defendant, while under administrative license suspension growing out of her arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, drove her vehicle from the western side of Hamilton County to the Cincinnati Sand Volleyball Courts ... accompanied on that drive and at the courts by her daughter, Alexandria, age four, and a cousin, Ashley Weaver, age twelve.... At some point after her arrival at the Cincinnati Sand Volleyball Courts, Voland was approached by her cousin, Ashley Weaver, who complained that she was hot and bored. Ashley Weaver was watching Voland’s daughter, Alexandria.

At that time, the defendant gave her twelve-year-old cousin the keys to her car so that Ashley could get in and start the car to permit the air conditioning to work, allowing Ashley and Alexandria to cool off and wait while defendant played volleyball.  The two children got into the car, started the car, turned on the air conditioning, and listened to the radio. They played in the car while the engine was running, in excess of ninety minutes unattended, with the exception of one visit by defendant. During the one visit, defendant did not notice any attempts to move the vehicle.

At approximately 8:10 p.m., with the two girls playing in the automobile and the engine running, the car lurched forward, over a parking block six to eight inches in height, across a short, grassy area of four to six feet, where the auto struck a fence. The fence, approximately six to eight feet in height, had a four-by-four post nailed vertically to it, apparently to seam two sections of the fence together. This fence post cracked and fell to the ground on the inside of the fence, striking Steven Smith in the head, causing injuries that resulted in his death.

3. Ohio v Dixon, 2002 WL 191582 (6th Dist. App. 2002), involves these essential facts:

Defendant Christopher Dixon, appeals from his conviction and sentence for felony murder [resulting from] Dixon and his cousin Sherman Lightfoot [making] plans to rob the Jiffy Lube located at 3931 Salem Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. In preparation for the robbery, Dixon and Lightfoot obtained latex gloves and “Jason” masks, which were popularized in the movie, “Friday the 13th.” At approximately 6:15 p.m., the two men drove a blue Camaro to the Jiffy Lube, parking it across the street. Dixon was wearing an orange-colored hooded sweatshirt, while Lightfoot was wearing a white hooded sweatshirt.

Dixon and Lightfoot entered the Jiffy Lube and Dixon grabbed one of the employees, Gregory Anderson. Lightfoot pointed a gun in Anderson's face, and the two robbers demanded to know where the money was located. Anderson told them it was in the office. Dixon and Lightfoot then took Anderson to the office. Anderson told them that only the manager had the key to the drawer where the money was kept. Lightfoot instructed Anderson to call for the manager. Anderson complied and the store manager, Michael McDonald, came to the office. At that point Lightfoot pointed the gun in McDonald's face.

McDonald began struggling with Lightfoot over the gun. During the struggle, the gun fired once. When Lightfoot momentarily stumbled and fell backward during the struggle, McDonald gained control over the gun.  Lightfoot immediately regained his balance, and both he and Dixon ran out of the store. McDonald fired several shots in the direction of the fleeing suspects. Dixon ran back to the Camaro, got in and sped away.  Lightfoot fell to the ground in the parking lot as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. Lightfoot subsequently died at Good Samaritan Hospital.

4. Ohio v Wilson, 182 Ohio App. 3d 171 (1st Dist. App. 2009), gets started this way:

Defendant-appellant Eric Wilson ... was charged with murder [and other counts based on activities] on September 1, 2006, [when] Wilson, a drug trafficker, was in his car driving around the area of East 59th Street and Francis Avenue selling drugs.  He stopped his car to meet with some buyers when James Yhonquea walked up, pulled out his gun, and put it against Wilson's head.  Yhonquea took Wilson's drugs, money, and cell phone and started to run down East 59th Street. Wilson jumped out of his car and started to run after Yhonquea. Wilson began shooting at Yhonquea and fired off eight rounds, hitting a parked car and a house.  Yhonquea returned fire, hitting Wilson's car.

Asteve (“Cookie”) Thomas, a 12–year old girl who lived in the neighborhood, was walking home from the corner store with her friends when one of the bullets shot from Yhonquea's gun struck her in the chest. She managed to walk to a neighbor's house, collapsed, and died approximately 30 minutes later.

October 5, 2016 in Notable real cases | Permalink

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