September 21, 2017
Looking back at omissions and forward to causation
I just came across this recent article, headlined "Why It’s Hard to Punish ‘Bad Samaritans’," that starts with a report on a recent real case from Florida that, sadly, sounds like my drowning Josephine hypo. Here is how the article starts and a bit of a review of laws that you all now know a bit about:
In the video, Jamel Dunn can be seen flailing in the middle of a Florida pond, his head sinking deeper in the water with every gasping breath. In the background, teenagers are laughing and mocking him. “Ain’t nobody’s gonna help you,” one yells. Seconds later, Dunn, 31, drowns.
Months after the July episode, which was posted online and seen by millions, the teens have faced public outrage, but no legal action. While many agree that what they did was immoral, it wasn’t illegal.... There is no law in Florida — or in most states — that requires someone to act when they see someone else in grave danger. There is no duty to attempt a rescue, or even to call for help.
That’s unconscionable for many who watched Dunn’s drowning, including lawmakers in Arizona and Florida who are now drafting proposals that would make it illegal to sit idly by if you see someone in grave danger. The laws would impose either a duty to rescue or duty to call 911 or otherwise alert authorities during emergencies. Only a handful of states have similar, broad “bad Samaritan laws,” which apply to any bystander who witnesses an emergency or crime.....
Three states — Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont — impose a broad duty to rescue others in an emergency, and three others — Hawaii, Washington and Wisconsin — impose a broad duty to report crimes to authorities. Other states have similar laws, but they’re more specific, and apply only to medical professionals or people who witness certain criminal acts such as child abuse. People are rarely, if ever, prosecuted or sued for breaking these laws, said Christopher Roberts, an associate law professor at the University of Minnesota.
In addition to highlighting for you how some issues we have previously discussed are in the news, I also wanted to flag for you some recent Supreme Court cases dealing with some causation issues we will be discussing. You are NOT required or even expected to read these cases, but you might still find it interesting to see the settings in which SCOTUS can confront issues that we are reviewing. Here are links to the rulings, along with the start of the Court's opinion in each case:
Burrage v. United States: "The Controlled Substances Act imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence on a defendant who unlawfully distributes a Schedule I or II drug, when 'death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance.' 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)–(C) (2012 ed.). We consider whether the mandatory-minimum provision applies when use of a covered drug supplied by the defendant contributes to, but is not a but-for cause of, the victim’s death or injury."
Paroline v. United States: "This case presents the question of how to determine the amount of restitution a possessor of child pornography must pay to the victim whose childhood abuse appears in the pornographic materials possessed. The relevant statutory provisions are set forth at 18 U.S.C. §2259. Enacted as a component of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, §2259 requires district courts to award restitution for certain federal criminal offenses, including child-pornography possession.
"Petitioner Doyle Randall Paroline pleaded guilty to such an offense. He admitted to possessing between 150 and 300 images of child pornography, which included two that depicted the sexual exploitation of a young girl, now a young woman, who goes by the pseudonym “Amy” for this litigation. The question is what causal relationship must be established between the defendant’s conduct and a victim’s losses for purposes of determining the right to, and the amount of, restitution under §2259."
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