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Criminal Jury Instructions

Criminal Jury Instructions Home

2.6-1  Proximate Cause

Revised to December 1, 2007

The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant proximately caused the (death of / injuries to) <insert name of decedent / person injured>.  Proximate cause does not necessarily mean the last act or cause, or the act in point of time nearest to the (death / injuries).  The concept of proximate cause incorporates the principle that an accused may be charged with a criminal offense even though (his/her) acts were not the immediate cause of the (death / injuries).

An act or omission to act is a proximate cause of the (death / injuries) when it substantially and materially contributes, in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by an efficient, intervening cause, to the (death / injuries).  It is a cause without which the (death / injuries) would not have occurred.  It is a predominating cause, a substantial factor from which the (death / injuries) follow[s] as a natural, direct and immediate consequence.1

[<Include if appropriate:>  It does not matter whether the particular kind of harm that results from the defendant's act be intended by the defendant.]2  When the result is a foreseeable and natural result of the defendant's conduct, the law considers the chain of legal causation unbroken and holds the defendant criminally responsible. 

[<If defendant claims an intervening cause:>3

The defendant claims that (his/her) conduct was not the proximate cause of <insert name of decedent or complainant>'s (death / injuries) because there was an intervening cause that was the cause of the (death / injuries).  The doctrine of intervening cause applies in a situation in which the defendant's conduct is a cause and factor of the (death / injuries), that is, <insert name of decedent or complainant> would not have (died / been injured) but for the defendant's conduct, but nonetheless something else subsequently occurs -- which may be an act of the (decedent/person injured), the act of some other person, or some nonhuman force -- that does more than supply a concurring or contributing cause of the injury.  An intervening cause is unforeseeable and sufficiently powerful in its effect that it serves to relieve the defendant of criminal responsibility for (his/her) conduct.  In such a case, the defendant's conduct is not the proximate cause of <insert name of decedent or complainant>'s (death / injuries).

The doctrine of intervening cause serves as a dividing line between two closely related factual situations:  1) when two or more acts or forces, one of which was set in motion by the defendant, combine to cause a person's (death / injuries), the doctrine of intervening cause will not relieve the defendant of criminal responsibility, and 2) when an unforeseeable act and force intervenes in such a powerful way as to become the proximate cause of the (death / injuries), the doctrine of intervening cause will relieve a defendant from criminal responsibility, even though his or her conduct contributed, in fact, to the (death / injuries).

In other words, when more than one factor contributes, in a chain of events, to cause (death / injuries), in order to be the proximate cause of that (death / injury), the defendant's conduct must have been a cause that necessarily set in operation the factors that accomplished the (death / injury).  When the other circumstance constitutes a concurring or contributing cause of the (death / injuries), the defendant will be held responsible.  When the other circumstance constitutes an intervening cause of the (death / injuries), the defendant will not be held responsible. 

This is a question of fact for you, as jurors, to determine.  Keep in mind, however, that the defendant does not have any burden to prove an intervening cause.  The burden rests on the state to prove that the defendant's conduct was the proximate cause of <insert name of decedent or complainant>'s (death / injuries).]

[<If decedent had a pre-existing medical condition:>4

The defendant's criminal liability is not lessened because of a pre-existing medical condition of <insert name of decedent>.  It is sufficient that the defendant's conduct set in motion a chain of events that ultimately produced the death.  If the defendant's conduct inflicted upon <insert name of decedent> physical or emotional injury or stress or trauma that was in this sense the proximate cause of (his/her) death, then the defendant's conduct, under the circumstances, caused the death, even though <insert name of decedent> had already been enfeebled by poor physical condition and the physical or emotional stress or trauma were not the only cause of (his/her) death.  This is so even though it is probable that a person in sound physical condition would not have died from the effects of the defendant's conduct.  It does not matter that the defendant's conduct may have only hastened the death, or that <insert name of decedent> would have died soon thereafter from another cause or causes.  As long as (his/her) admittedly and recognizable predisposition of <describe pre-existing condition> was not the only substantial factor in bringing on (his/her) death, that condition does not operate to prevent the defendant's responsibility for (his/her) conduct having caused <insert name of decedent>'s death.  If the defendant's unlawful conduct set in motion factors that led to <insert name of decedent>'s death, such conduct establishes the defendant's guilt even though (his/her) conduct or the factors (he/she) set in motion were not the only cause of <insert name of decedent>'s death.]
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1 State v. Griffin, 251 Conn. 671, 712-13 n. 17 (1999).

2 Use only when the defendant may have intended one type of harm but caused another.  For example, when an accused, "with the intent to cause death by shooting, shoots the victim, who, as a result, falls from a rooftop and is killed by the fall rather than the bullet.  That would be a particular kind of harm not intended by the accused.  It nevertheless would sustain a charge of murder if the accused intended to cause death and the fall was the direct result of the action taken to effectuate that intent."  State v. Boles, 223 Conn. 535, 542 n.5 (1992).

3  See State v. Munoz, 233 Conn. 106, 124 (1995), and State v. Hannon, 56 Conn. App. 581, 586-87 (2000), cert. denied, 274 Conn. 911 (2005).

4 Use if the defendant is claiming that a pre-existing medical condition of the decedent was an intervening cause.  See State v. Spates, 176 Conn. 227, 235 n.5 (1978) (defendant's actions during a robbery precipitated the victim's heart attack which led to his death); State v. Dorans, 261 Conn. 730, 736-44 (2002) (victim had a pre-existing nervous system disorder).  Do not use the language that "[a] defendant takes a victim as he finds him."  Id., 261 Conn. 744 n.16.

Commentary

When causation is an element of the crime, but not at issue, the first three paragraphs of this instruction should be given.  See State v. Collins, 100 Conn. App. 833, 848, cert. denied, 284 Conn. 916 (2007).  Whenever the facts and evidence presented require that causation be determined by the jury, the additional sections should be included as appropriate.

For discussions of the law of proximate cause, see State v. Munoz, 233 Conn. 106, 114-27 (1995); State v. Wassil, 233 Conn. 174, 181-82 (1995); State v. Leroy, 232 Conn. 1 (1995); State v. Boles, 223 Conn. 535, 540-42 (1992); State v. Spates, 176 Conn. 227, 233-35 (1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 922, 99 S. Ct. 1248, 59 L. Ed. 2d 475 (1979).

"[A] jury instruction with respect to proximate cause must contain, at a minimum, the following elements: (1) an indication that the defendant's conduct must contribute substantially and materially, in a direct manner, to the victim's injuries; and (2) an indication that the defendant's conduct cannot have been superseded by an efficient, intervening cause that produced the injuries."  State v. Leroy, supra, 232 Conn. 13; see also State v. Griffin, 251 Conn. 671, 712-16 (1999); State v. Hannon, 56 Conn. App. 581, 591 (2000), cert. denied, 274 Conn. 911 (2005). 

Intervening cause
For a discussion of the doctrine of efficient, intervening cause, see State v. Munoz, 233 Conn. 106, 124-27 (1995).  The court in Munoz also stated that a third party's conduct in inflicting an additional stab wound might be so significant that it amounts to an efficient, intervening cause.  Id., 122.  The court has now disavowed this statement because it is contrary to the doctrine of proximate cause in criminal cases that every person be held responsible for the consequences of his or her acts, regardless of other causes that contributed to produce the result.  State v. Shabazz, 246 Conn. 746, 754 n.5 (1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1179, 119 S. Ct. 1116, 143 L. Ed. 2d 111 (1999).  The court has also emphasized that Munoz "rested primarily on the fact that the jury reasonably could have inferred from the evidence that the intervening criminal conduct was the sole proximate cause of the victim's death."  (Emphasis in original.)  Id., 755.

An instruction regarding an efficient, intervening cause is not always required.  State v. Munoz, supra, 233 Conn. 121 n.8.  The need for such an instruction "arises in those cases in which the evidence could support a finding by the jury that the defendant's conduct was overcome by an efficient, intervening cause, or in which the evidence regarding proximate causation was such that, based on the doctrine of efficient, intervening cause, the jury could have a reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt.  Thus, in the general run of cases, in which the evidence is susceptible of a finding of only one cause of harm contemplated by the statute, a statement in the jury instruction referring to an efficient, intervening cause might well be unnecessary."  Id.  See also State v. Delgado, 50 Conn. App. 159, 173 (1998) (insufficient evidence that actions of emergency medical personnel may have been a sufficient intervening cause); State v. Guess, 44 Conn. App. 790, 798 (1997), aff'd, 244 Conn. 761 (1998) (victim's family's decision to terminate life support was not intervening cause). 

Inconsistent with accessorial liability
When two parties act in concert, it is immaterial which of the two accomplices inflict the fatal blow.  If one of them is charged only as an accomplice, that person cannot claim that the acts of the principal were an intervening cause relieving him or her of liability.  State v. Fruean, 63 Conn. App. 466, 475, cert. denied, 257 Conn. 908 (2001) (court properly refused defendant's request to instruct on proximate cause and intervening cause).

 

 

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