DC

DC

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hypothetical

  • Company owns a two-room warehouse from which it runs its operations. 
  • Warehouse has a single entrance in the front, which leads directly into a lone hallway which dissects the building. 
  • On the left side of the hallway is the door to Room 1; on the right side, the door to Room 2.
  •  Company employs 8 workers who at any given time are divided equally between the two rooms.  Employees in one room are generally unaware of happenings in the other room.
  • On January 1st, the only people in the building are the 8 workers.
  • Later that day, a man enters the building through the front door.  He never leaves.  He's found strangled in the hallway at 5:00.
  • All eight workers are interviewed by police; none claim ever to have seen the man.
  • Prosecutor rules death a homicide; brings murder charges against all 8 workers.  No other charges are filed.  Each employee is tried separately. 
  •  Man's family brings civil suit against the company.
 
1.    What result would you anticipate from the criminal trials?
 
2.     What result would you expect from the civil trial?

19 comments:

  1. I would expect a hung jury on the criminal trial, or dismissals. No evidence against any of the 8 so no beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The civil trial would,probably be
    Omg and drawn out, and result in a settlement by the insurance company, to make it end, no admission of guilt, just done.

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  2. wtf did Matlock hack this blog??

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  3. All criminal trials would result in the failure for the prosecution to prove any charge beyond a reasonable doubt (queue in Law&Order DAAA-DING!!!!)

    The civil trial would attempt to lay 1/8th of the blame evenly across the eight suspects. The burden of proof is lower in the civil trial but there is a chance that a small fractional award is presented to the claimant.

    It is curious that the day in question is New Year's Day and these 8 people are all at "work"? Or... are these two "businesses" actually fronts for criminal operations?

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  4. After rereading the specs on this hypothetical I believe the key element is that four people in one room all vouche that none of them are the killer and that happens in both rooms. If either room has the killer and you don't know which room the killer is in you only have a 50% chance of being right. The 50% chance of being right does fly in civil suits where fractional awards are possible. In the criminal court that setting the bar at 50% in no way, shape or form comes close to meeting "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden of proof. Factor in that the criminal cases each have only one defendant and that further erodes the 4 people in two rooms all tell the cops none of them did the crime.

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    Replies
    1. This hypo was my "knee jerk" reaction to the public outcry over Freddie Gray in Baltimore. To me, that situation is similar. How did the prosecutors office ever expect to get a criminal conviction under the circumstances? This is true even if the medical examiner is 100% certain the cause of death is homicide. There simply is no basis to convict any one (or more officers) beyond reasonable doubt.

      The civil suit against the city, however, is another story. The city is in charge and legally responsible of its officers acting within the scope of their duties. Where, as here, the only way the death could have occurred is by wrongdoing, proof of the exact means/cause of death or officers involved is not necessary.

      In short, a civil settlement and absence of criminal conviction is clearly the legally correct (albeit unpopular) result.

      Delete
    2. I thought you were trolling for a new paralegal assistant.

      Delete
  5. The guy died during autoerotic asphyxiation.

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  6. What do you think about the the Chandra Levy case?

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    Replies
    1. I think it's highly likely somebody killed her!

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    2. Who done it?

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  7. P3:

    If I understand the Freddie Gray case, the death was from spinal injuries that were determined to occur during transport; their was a policy in place that proscribed securing the prisoner during transport and this policy was not followed.

    If the facts above are accurate (?), wouldn't the responsibility lay with the officer charged with securing the prisoner? If so, this seems distinct from the scenario in your blog, where individual responsibility would be impossible to determine.

    Also, I think you meant "bisects" rather than "dissects" in the second bullet ;-)

    s.i.

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    Replies
    1. doh! meant "there", not "their" in first paragraph.

      s.i.

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    2. If those facts are accurate, it would change the fact pattern from the hypothetical. However, you'd still have an issue of proof of intent. Criminal charges require mens rea (culpable mind frame). Failure to secure the prisoner, with out proof of more, would not support criminal charges.

      Delete
    3. I preface this by stating I haven't considered criminal law since I was interviewing for the Manhattan DA's office almost 20 years ago. So, most of this is coming from watching Suits on USANetwork . . .

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  8. P3, I shared the text of the above at the Ace of Spades' blog Overnight Thread tonight, and gave you credit. Great piece and thanks.

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  9. Whether anyone actually killed Mr Grey or he fell and died during transport (or even he was wounded during his apprehension and the effects didn't show until after he was driven around awhile) it really won't matter in the civil trial. He was alive when the City took him into custody and he was dead when he arrived at the jail. Once he was cuffed he became the responsibility of the City and they will be paying this civil suit.

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