‘Rise to the Level of Criminality’ Is Not a Legal Standard
Lots of people on TV like to shout at one another. That is not my style, but I must say that in the involuntary manslaughter case against Conrad Murray, I feel like I have a reason to shout. It is not the defendant, it is not the witnesses, not the judge, not even the defense attorneys who are tempting me to raise my voice. It is my colleagues in the legal profession commenting on this trial.
“Does it rise to the level of criminality?” is not a legal standard to be applied in this case or any other. My kindergarten teacher used “warm fuzzies” and “cold pricklies” to convey whether her students’ actions were good or bad. Sensations of that nature have no place in the law. Whether specific actions feel like a crime makes no difference. Instead, attorneys, judges, and juries look to the elements of a law to assess criminality.
The elements of involuntary manslaughter under California criminal law, as applied to the Conrad Murray case, are as follows:
- The commission of a lawful act involving a high risk of death or bodily harm;
- Done without the caution an ordinarily prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances;
- Causing the death of another person.
On the third element, causation, my attorney colleagues also like to refer frequently to “proximate cause” in this case. They state that the defense theory that Michael Jackson self-administered lorazepam or propofol could have constituted an intervening act negating the essential element of causation, thereby justifying an acquittal. They are not correct.
Proximate causation in California involuntary manslaughter requires that the death of another was a reasonably foreseeable, probable consequence of the defendant’s act. This element is satisfied if the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor contributing to the result.
Three medical experts have testified that Conrad Murray committed up to 17 discrete acts, and the reasonably foreseeable result of each one was the death of Michael Jackson.
I have made these points on CNN’s Headline News (HLN), leaving my attorney colleagues hard pressed to defend their subjective “rise to the level of criminality” approaches to the law. I am not so concerned about them, though.
MR. COOLEY, MR. WALGREN, and MS. BRAZIL, CAN YOU HEAR ME?!