Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts ruled on a defendant’s appeal involving an attempted robbery and homicide. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Disagreeing with the defendant, the court affirmed the original conviction.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant and his accomplice got into a taxicab around 1:00am in August 2018. The two passengers took a short ride in the taxi, then when they arrived at their destination, the taxi driver informed them that the ride would cost five dollars. The defendant and his accomplice first asked for change for a fifty-dollar bill, then appeared to shuffle their hands in their pockets as if they were looking for money.
Suddenly, the accomplice reached over the driver’s seat and wrapped both arms around the driver’s neck in a chokehold. The accomplice and the defendant both told the driver to hand over his money. At the same time, the defendant pulled out a three-inch tactical-style knife and pressed the blade against the driver’s body. The defendant and his accomplice exchanged words with each other such as, “just stab him” and “kill him.”
The taxi driver managed to escape the front seat, at which point he pulled out a previously concealed handgun. Because the driver feared that the accomplice was armed and could not see the accomplice’s hands, the driver fired into the rear of the taxicab and hit the accomplice. The defendant immediately ran away, and when emergency responders came to the scene, the accomplice was dead from the gunshot wounds.
A few days later, the defendant was found. He was charged with and eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Per Massachusetts , individuals can be held criminally liable for homicide offenses that arise when the person resisting the individual’s crime was the person who killed the decedent. Here, for example, the lower court determined that the defendant could be held criminally liable for his accomplice’s death because the taxi driver was resisting a crime committed by the defendant himself. Thus, the defendant’s criminal activity in some way caused the death of the accomplice.
For this law to apply, there must exist a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm to another person would result from the defendant’s criminal activity. On appeal, the defendant argued that this standard was not met; in other words, there was no way for him to know that there was a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm to any of the individuals involved in the altercation. Thus, the defendant argued, he should not have been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The court considered this argument but disagreed. The defendant had to realize, said the court, that the taxi driver was at risk during the incident because he was being choked and because he had a knife against his body. The combined attack by both individuals created an extremely dangerous situation, and it was reasonable to think that the driver might have retaliated with violence. Thus, the standard of “a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm would result” was met, and the defendant should have known that the situation was incredibly dangerous for all involved.
With that, the court denied the defendant’s appeal.
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