Posted on 11/6/17

Texas state trial courtrooms are no strangers to homicide prosecutions. In fact, the state of Texas Department of Corrections currently houses over141,000 inmates in the prison system, many of those due to homicides. Texas has long had the reputation of having a large population sitting on death row.

It is well known that the standard of proof during a criminal trial in general and a homicide trial in particular is beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that if doubt about the defendant’s actions remain, provided that such doubt is reasonable, then a jury should find the defendant not guilty.

When trying a case regarding multiple causes of death in a homicide case, the prosecutor often lacks the ability to pinpoint the cause of death, thereby leaving reasonable doubt about the connection between the defendant’s actions and the death of the victim. In general, legal analysis applies the ‘but for’ test when determining causation of the crime. Sometimes, though, applying ‘but for’ with respect to causation is murky.

Examples of ‘But For’ Issues

The application of the ‘but’ for test usually works well. Ask the question, “But for the action of the defendant, would the victim have died?” If yes, then the defendant is guilty.

However, suppose A caused injury to the victim and B caused injury to the victim and the victim dies. In isolation, neither A’s actions alone nor B’s actions alone would have killed B. If we apply the ‘but for’ test in its purest form, but for A’s actions and but for B’s actions, the victim would not have died. Thus, even though both A and B together intended to kill the victim, both A and B, through the application of the ‘but for’ test, are not guilty.

When dealing with such a case, the law uses the “joint action” analysis. Because both defendants are acting in concert, the analysis applies the actions of both defendants jointly and, based on their joint actions, the ‘but for’ analysis is applied.

Take a similar case. A mortally wounds the victim, causing the victim severe bleeding. The bleeding is so severe that the victim would be dead within the hour. Shortly after A commits his act, B takes a shotgun and fires it straight at the victim’s head, killing the victim instantly. It could be said that the victim would not have died but for A’s actions because B ended the victim’s life and there is no but for for B’s actions because B shot a man who was basically dead. The analysis of this case is the substantial factor test, wherein both A and B are substantial factors in the death of the victim. Therefore, under the law, both A and B can be responsible for the victim’s death.

During such situations, both A and B would need to defend themselves from murder charges. If you are facing murder charges, you need a lawyer who will vigorously advocate on your behalf. Contact the law firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Yeshi Kangrang)


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