Puzzles of Criminal Causation

How should society be organised, if at all?

Moderators: AMod, iMod

User avatar
Lawrence Crocker
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:44 pm
Location: Eastman, NH
Contact:

Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

In the, perhaps unlikely event, that any of you are interested in the causation component of criminal liability, I have a couple of shortish pieces looking at the problems of independent malefactors who, without knowledge of the other, give poisons that may be partial antidotes one of the other. In the same family of puzzles, I take on the bad guy who puts salt (or poison) in the desert hiker's water bottle, followed by the miscreant who steals the water bottle, not knowing it was salt filled or poisoned and anticipating that the hiker will die of thirst in the desert, which he, obligingly, does.

Roughly stated, I think interacting poisons cases should be decided by our best science with legal/common sense norms applied to cut off liability in cases where a malefactor makes only a very small contribution to the harm. The concepts of “but for cause,” “sufficient cause,” “hastening or postponing death,” and “bleeding from both wounds” are not of much help unless judiciously selected in light of the science and our normative common sense.

In the doomed desert hiker variations, I contend that neither the contents tamperer nor the water bottle thief is liable for more than attempted murder except that the thief is liable if the poison were so slow acting that the hiker died sooner of dehydration than he would have died of the poison. I take on the apparent paradox that someone could be killed as the result of the acts of two intending murderers without either of them being liable for murder. See http://www.LawrenceCrocker.blogspot.com.
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

Re the hiker thought experiment, I wouldn't say that anyone is liable for his death. The fault lies with the hiker in this case. He hiked far enough without checking his water that he couldn't survive once he discovered he had no water. "Natural" problems or accidents could have eliminated (the potability of) his water prior to that point (for example, something in his pack could have punctured the water container). He wasn't well-prepared, including that he was hiking in an area where water-availability was crucial, and he either didn't know how to obtain water from natural sources or there weren't any available (if he was hiking in a desert, for example).

(I'm an avid hiker/backpacker by the way. ;-))

Re the poisons, it would simply depend on the physical evidence in my view. There's either evidence that the poison(s) killed him or not, and either evidence of one poison killing him or not. If there's no clear evidence of either poison killing him, either alone or in conjunction with each other, I'd not hold either poisoner liable for murder.
User avatar
Lawrence Crocker
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:44 pm
Location: Eastman, NH
Contact:

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

Re the hiker thought experiment, I wouldn't say that anyone is liable for his death. The fault lies with the hiker in this case.
There is certainly plenty to blame in the hiker's conduct, and we might well say that it was his own fault. But this sort of fault does not usually cut off criminal liability in another.

Suppose that A tells B that A will shoot B if B comes to the party. B understands that this was a serious threat, but B is a macho sort, and he goes to the party anyway. A shoots and kills B. A's lawyer can argue as cogently as can be and will not get a "contributory fault" instruction from the judge. Indeed, if A's lawyer even hints that B's utter stupidity in going to the party knowing that it was very likely A would shoot, the judge will give an instruction to the jury that B's stupidity, even a death wish on B's part, is not to be considered in assessing A's guilt. I think the judge would be morally in the right about this.

The criminal law does, and I think should, protect even very reckless victims.
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:Suppose that A tells B that A will shoot B if B comes to the party. B understands that this was a serious threat, but B is a macho sort, and he goes to the party anyway. A shoots and kills B. A's lawyer can argue as cogently as can be and will not get a "contributory fault" instruction from the judge. Indeed, if A's lawyer even hints that B's utter stupidity in going to the party knowing that it was very likely A would shoot, the judge will give an instruction to the jury that B's stupidity, even a death wish on B's part, is not to be considered in assessing A's guilt. I think the judge would be morally in the right about this.
In that case, shooting B is a direct action that caused his death. The threat is irrelevant in my opinion.

That's not analogous to the hiker scenario in my opinion.

Also, that's why I brought up the fact that the hiker could be without water due to natural situations (for example, unknowingly, some natural contaminant made the water not potable as the hiker traveled) or accidents (something puncturing the water bottle). In the scenario above, there's no possibility that B is going to be shot "naturally" (since the idea of that is incoherent), and we're not talking about something where it could in an alternate scenario be the case that it was accidental either (otherwise we'd be talking about manslaughter at most).
User avatar
TSBU
Posts: 824
Joined: Wed Sep 14, 2016 5:46 pm

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by TSBU »

In my country, killing a person at night is worse, killing a person being drunk is better.

Criminal law is a joke, and a lie, to keep people thinking that the world isn't what it is.

One guy, A, does something "bad", other person, B, MUST catch him, even if he doesn't think that A action was bad. Other person, C, MUST lie and give a defence to A, even if he thinks that A is a bad person who should be punished worse than what is written in the law. Another person, D, look at a lot of books, in theory, trying to see what punishment is the one for that bad action. (Something like... you kill one person, 3 years, you kill 2, 6 years... we are years :D), that book was written in theory by other people, but in this example it will be a person, E. Everybody, at least a lot of people, think that E isn't honest, that he is a bad person, he also say when should people go to what they call "war", kill a lot of people that they don't know. He didn't write the book anyway.
You are F, you, with millions of people, choose that guy that you don't know, and so, no matter how many people you put in your chain, you, are the one who is choosing when and how will be some people punished, even though you don't know one of them, and you don't know a shit about laws. Everybody or a lot of people think that it's correct, so it's correct.

Z writes in a forum and has forgotten how to talk. He sais that everybody is crazy, but in the end, people like their lives, they like wars, they like hipocrisy, they like stealing, they love lies, so he is a crazy attention seeker.
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

There's a lot of stuff to discuss in your post, TSBU, but let's look at one thing at a time:
TSBU wrote:One guy, A, does something "bad", other person, B, MUST catch him, even if he doesn't think that A action was bad.
Presumably you feel there's a problem with this.

The alternative would be if we were to allow police to let people go just in case they don't personally feel that what someone did should be illegal.

If we were to take that approach, how do you suggest that we should hire police? Should they have to tell us what they would and wouldn't personally arrest someone for, and then we elect them or not based on that? Should they have to sign a contract about what they would and wouldn't personally arrest someone for (because otherwise maybe they'd fall short of what they promised in their campaigns to be elected--we'd be turning them into politicians of a sort)? Would we have to advertise what the police in a particular locale will arrest people for, so that travelers could take precautions? Otherwise, someone might have to think, "Geez, I hope the police in Springfield will agree with arresting someone just in case they rape me. Maybe I'd better not visit there since I don't know if most of the police there agree with that law."
User avatar
TSBU
Posts: 824
Joined: Wed Sep 14, 2016 5:46 pm

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by TSBU »

Terrapin Station wrote:There's a lot of stuff to discuss in your post, TSBU, but let's look at one thing at a time:
TSBU wrote:One guy, A, does something "bad", other person, B, MUST catch him, even if he doesn't think that A action was bad.
Presumably you feel there's a problem with this.

The alternative would be if we were to allow police to let people go just in case they don't personally feel that what someone did should be illegal.

If we were to take that approach, how do you suggest that we should hire police? Should they have to tell us what they would and wouldn't personally arrest someone for, and then we elect them or not based on that? Should they have to sign a contract about what they would and wouldn't personally arrest someone for (because otherwise maybe they'd fall short of what they promised in their campaigns to be elected--we'd be turning them into politicians of a sort)? Would we have to advertise what the police in a particular locale will arrest people for, so that travelers could take precautions? Otherwise, someone might have to think, "Geez, I hope the police in Springfield will agree with arresting someone just in case they rape me. Maybe I'd better not visit there since I don't know if most of the police there agree with that law."
You don't allow or stop anything, you don't use violence. You don't choose who is going to be police either. And those citizens you call police, are doing that right now. Just hope they aren't doing "more". I've been with lots of soldiers and police, many of them are there because they want to hold a gun and "be the law" (take controll), I think there isn't a country in the world where most police isn't known by being stupid people. You are from USA, aren't you? well, it's well known all overthe world how a lot of policeman are with black people, and the image is a fat man eating donuts. If we start talking about Colombia, Mexico, Brasil, Venezuela... they are known by being worse than any other criminal organization. In my country, they are known by being brutal emptyheads. That doesn't say that every policeman is like that, that onluy says that a lot of them are like that. I've seen corruptioneverywere. If you think that people who make justice doesn't need to feel that they are doing justice, that they don't need to have values, they just need to obey when you say "pull the trigger" (Or think that everything the boss said is morally right) I know you are wrong. And, above all, I know that you can't controll that anyway.

I don't talk in "we" terms, you can hire people like you want, to use violence when you want them to do that, if you feel that you need it. I know what I do. As I said, I'm not going to argue about this. You look smart enough to see that politicians, all of them are a joke. C'mon, suppose that Trump is a president, and you still say that it's right? Why do you want to be in the same group?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m4a-bl4alo
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

TSBU, yes or no, do you feel that police should be officially allowed to selectively enforce laws per their personal views?
User avatar
Hobbes' Choice
Posts: 8364
Joined: Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:45 am

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Hobbes' Choice »

I think hypothetical are not always very productive for the analysis of ideas, especially when they are particularly incredible.
If a person poisons a water bottle knowing a person is likely to die then that is attempted murder.
If a person steals the bottle that is theft. If he does so with the intention of killing then that is also attempted murder.
If the person dies of poison, person one is guilty of murder.
If he dies of thirst that is man slaughter through wilful neglect, or murder by intent by the thief. The poison is of no importance. Yet the fact of the poison points to attempted murder regardless.
If the thief dies from drinking the poison then that is hard luck, but also points to liability of the person who poisoned the water in the first place, who intentionally thought to kill the other person; killing the thief is no less criminal.

Obviously the case is unusual, but intention is the key to understanding the problem. Attempted murder is tantamount to murder, and though the law might offer a lesser punishment, the law, as always is an ass.
Once again we are faced with an uncertain purpose to punishment. Is it done to protect the public, to seek vengeance or is its purpose to rehabilitate and correct behaviour. Depending on what your view of these three things is shall determine the severity and type of action a court would take.
User avatar
Lawrence Crocker
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:44 pm
Location: Eastman, NH
Contact:

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

Terrapin Station wrote:]In that case, shooting B is a direct action that caused his death. The threat is irrelevant in my opinion.

That's not analogous to the hiker scenario in my opinion.
We are in agreement that even the most egregious fault on the part of the victim is not always a "contributory negligence" like defense in criminal law.

If I understand you, you think it should be in at least some cases where the criminal action is not "direct." "Direct" has entered into criminal law doctrine in disqualifying as proximate causation a causal chain that is too indirect (too many moving parts). With intent to kill A, B throws a hatchet at his head, which misses, but hits a water tank, the water tank leaks indetectably, saturating the plaster ceiling a a room on the floor below which A happens to be in 5 hours later, recounting to a friend his close escape from A's hatchet, (A having long since been arrested for attempt). At that moment, the ceiling gives way killing B. Few prosecutors would charge murder because the causal chain is too long and accidental. Generally, however, intentionally depriving someone of what he needs for survival, would not be considered too indirect in this sort of way.

If there were an exception for "indirect" causes in the way that stealing something essential for life is indirect, how negligent would the victim have to be to give the perpetrator a defense? Suppose that the thief was a sleight of hand expert, who substituted a sand filled water bottle for the original, right in front of the victim and a room full of others -- the others being astonished when the whole story came out a few days later about the substitution and death of the victim. The victim checked a couple of times before heading into the desert, that there was a full water bottle, right where it was supposed to be. My own final inventory has never included checking an obviously full water bottle, right where I put it in my pack, to be sure it was not full of something other than what I put in it. .

My view would be that in stolen water bottle cases we should not draw a line separating cases where the thief is liable for the death because the victim was just careful enough and cases where the thief is not liable because the victim was not quite careful enough.
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:If there were an exception for "indirect" causes in the way that stealing something essential for life is indirect, how negligent would the victim have to be to give the perpetrator a defense? Suppose that the thief was a sleight of hand expert, who substituted a sand filled water bottle for the original, right in front of the victim and a room full of others -- the others being astonished when the whole story came out a few days later about the substitution and death of the victim. The victim checked a couple of times before heading into the desert, that there was a full water bottle, right where it was supposed to be. My own final inventory has never included checking an obviously full water bottle, right where I put it in my pack, to be sure it was not full of something other than what I put in it.
That would be the same thing in my opinon--the sleight-of-hand party would not be responsible. Who would hike far enough without drinking any water that they couldn't hike back without dying from dehydration? The person would have to hike for at least a day without taking a drink of water.
User avatar
TSBU
Posts: 824
Joined: Wed Sep 14, 2016 5:46 pm

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by TSBU »

Terrapin Station wrote:TSBU, yes or no, do you feel that police should be officially allowed to selectively enforce laws per their personal views?
For every statement that star by "should be officially" my answer is "That doesn't mean anything in my head, call it oficiall if you want".
User avatar
Lawrence Crocker
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:44 pm
Location: Eastman, NH
Contact:

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

Terrapin Station wrote:That would be the same thing in my opinon--the sleight-of-hand party would not be responsible. Who would hike far enough without drinking any water that they couldn't hike back without dying from dehydration? The person would have to hike for at least a day without taking a drink of water.
I have been on non-reversible routes (Yosemite, Royal Arches) where I might well not have taken a first drink until after the no return point (a pendulum). Perhaps this is not common on desert hikes, but I think our hiker could have been at fault very little, yet still died, if the manipulated water bottle had been the second large bottle of two -- giving our friend plenty of time to get deep into the desert.

But I would like to focus on the legal and moral concepts more than the hiking details. It must be that there will be cases of "indirect" causes in the way stealing a life essential is "indirect" that will involve a whole range of victim fault possibilities from very faulty to having no fault at all. Will you be comfortable in drawing a line across that spectrum? Is it going to foreclose criminal liability if there is more than the slightest victim fault? If there is very great fault or nearly so? Somewhere in "the middle"?

The more important issue is the definition of "indirect," as you grant that if a cause is direct then no amount of victim fault negatives liability. On your view stealing an essential for life (water, medicine, the map to get out of the cave) is "indirect". What if one shoots the water, medicine, or map resulting in its loss?

Theft is normally considered an active invasion of the victim's rights, and I have doubts that a satisfactory distinction of "directness" can be made between shooting and stealing that will work with the morality behind the criminal law.
User avatar
HexHammer
Posts: 3353
Joined: Sat May 14, 2011 8:19 pm
Location: Denmark

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by HexHammer »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:In the, perhaps unlikely event, that any of you are interested in the causation component of criminal liability, I have a couple of shortish pieces looking at the problems of independent malefactors who, without knowledge of the other, give poisons that may be partial antidotes one of the other. In the same family of puzzles, I take on the bad guy who puts salt (or poison) in the desert hiker's water bottle, followed by the miscreant who steals the water bottle, not knowing it was salt filled or poisoned and anticipating that the hiker will die of thirst in the desert, which he, obligingly, does.

Roughly stated, I think interacting poisons cases should be decided by our best science with legal/common sense norms applied to cut off liability in cases where a malefactor makes only a very small contribution to the harm. The concepts of “but for cause,” “sufficient cause,” “hastening or postponing death,” and “bleeding from both wounds” are not of much help unless judiciously selected in light of the science and our normative common sense.

In the doomed desert hiker variations, I contend that neither the contents tamperer nor the water bottle thief is liable for more than attempted murder except that the thief is liable if the poison were so slow acting that the hiker died sooner of dehydration than he would have died of the poison. I take on the apparent paradox that someone could be killed as the result of the acts of two intending murderers without either of them being liable for murder. See http://www.LawrenceCrocker.blogspot.com.
Please go elsewhere for shameless self promotion!
Besides it's a silly scenario, it's hard to know the true intent and situational causation of a crime scene, cut down on the fancy wording ..keep it simple.

If I have understood it right, it's inconsequential in every scenario and aspect, because they died anyways, so I don't see your deeper point.
User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 1808
Joined: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:18 pm
Location: NYC Man

Re: Puzzles of Criminal Causation

Post by Terrapin Station »

duplicate
Last edited by Terrapin Station on Sat Sep 24, 2016 2:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post Reply