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September 26, 2018

A few Ohio cases with contested causation

As I mentioned in class, Ohio tends to adopt "common law" approach to causation doctrines.  In this post on this blog a few years ago, I flagged four of the very rare Ohio criminal cases in which causation doctrines are discussed.  Here are two of those cases I consider the most interesting on the facts, and I will here just provide the cites and facts.  You will have to look up the cases if you want to see how they worked 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.

Any students eager to earn extra credit should feel free to use their new Lexis skills to look for, and report in the comments, more recent interesting causation cases from Ohio courts.

September 26, 2018 in Course materials and schedule, Notable real cases | Permalink


State v. Dykas, 185 Ohio App.3d 763 (8th Dist. App. 2010)

Defendant Dykas is appealing his conviction of involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault. Dykas was visiting Cleveland from Michigan and was at the same bar as deceased, Hockey. The two got into an argument at the bar. A bar employee noticed that Hockey was drunk and asked him to leave. Hockey was still outside of the bar when Dykas left sometime later. The two argued again. (Supposedly, over the clothes that they were wearing) Dykas punched Hockey. Witnesses (including Dykas) testified that Hockey slumped to the ground after getting hit. Hockey was unresponsive but his friends were able to get him home. One stayed with him for a few hours, believing he had a concussion. Hockey died in his sleep. The coroner testified that the cause of death was epidural hematoma caused by a blunt impact. Further, the coroner testified that such an impact was unlikely to be caused by a punch, but the “subsequent fall creating contact between the skull and a hard object, such as a sidewalk.”

Dykas argued that his convictions were against the “manifest weight of the evidence” because his punch did not cause Hockey’s death. The court determined that the Ohio legislature had intended to adopt the proximate cause theory of criminal liability. The court held that when a person “sets in motion a sequence of events . . . ” which was known or should have been known at the time, criminal liability exists for the “direct, proximate and reasonably inevitable consequences of death” resulting from such acts.

The court determined that it is a foreseeable consequence for someone to fall to the ground after being punched. It also held that it was not necessary for the defendant to foresee the precise consequences of such an act, only that such consequences were natural and logical within the scope of risk that such conduct created. The court affirmed the convictions.

Posted by: Mike Callahan | Sep 26, 2018 7:44:51 PM

While listening to the new season of the Serial podcast, which follows the day to day routines of those in the Cleveland criminal courts, I learned of a recent case where a police officer was found not guilty on a "but for" ground.

In 2012, a Cleveland police chase ended with 13 officers shooting 137 bullets into the car of two unarmed suspects. Both suspects died. One officer, Michael Brelo, shot 49 of those 137 bullets and was later charged with involuntary manslaughter. No other officers were criminally charged. A common pleas judge decided that there was not enough evidence to prove that "but for" the 49 bullets that the officer shot into the car, the victims would still be alive. Because of this, Brelo was found not guilty.


Posted by: Caitlin Langfitt | Oct 3, 2018 10:30:54 AM

You rock, Caitlin!!

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 3, 2018 12:44:39 PM

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