Causation in Criminal Law

Crimes such as homicide, where the result of the defendant’s conduct is a necessary aspect of the crime, may require a causation analysis. The causation analysis will require that the defendant’s conduct be the actual cause and proximate cause in order to find the defendant liable. (See Warner-Lambert holding that the court must find a causal link first before determining whether defendant acted at reckless.)

The defendant’s conduct is the actual cause if “but for” the defendant’s conduct, the result would not have occurred. In order to find proximate cause: (1) the defendant’s conduct must be closely connected to the result, (2) the defendant’s conduct has a significant connection to the result, and (3) the law is justified in imposing liability.

The MPC Section 2.03 states that “conduct is the cause of a result when:

a. It is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred; and
b. The relationship between the conduct and result satisfies any additional causal requirements imposed by the Code or by the law defining the offense.”

The MPC looks at the cause in fact and then the mens rea. In other words, a court should ask “What was the mens rea towards the actual result?” The MPC does not talk about causation in terms of foreseeability but in terms of remoteness. If the result was too remote or too accidental [MPC Section 2.03(2)(b)], the defendant will not be held liable (looks backwards).

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