Defective causation & Intervening cause
A defendant can only be criminally responsible for a loss if the defendant’s act or omission caused the loss. There must be a direct link between the defendant’s behavior and the loss so that the behavior is both the cause in fact and the proximate or immediate cause of the loss
The accused’s act may be “proximate” even if it is not the sole or latest cause. In United States v. Moglia, 3 M.J. 216 (C.M.A. 1977), in a case where the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the Court determined that the defendant’s negligent act of transferring heroin to the victim directly affected the victim. In United States v. Taylor, 44 M.J. 254 (C.A.A.F. 1996), the Military Court concluded that the defendant could present evidence of the negligent medical care provided by the paramedics to the victim, even though the negligence of the paramedics was not the sole reason for the victim’s death. On the other hand, in United States v. Reveles, 41 M.J. 388 (C.A.A.F. 1995), the Court found that any negligence on the part of medical staff was not significant enough to be a proximate cause of the victim’s death, compared to the act of the defendant.
A person is not responsible for a loss or injury unless his or her act was a “major” or “material” cause of the loss. In United States v. Moglia, 3 M.J. 216 (C.M.A. 1977), the Court found that the defendant’s act of selling heroin to the victim played a “major role” in the victim’s overdose death. Similarly, in the United States v. Romero, 1 M.J. 227 (C.M.A. 1975), the Court found that when the defendant assisted the victim in inserting the syringe, the defendant’s act played a “material role” in the victim’s death.
Where a defendant had a duty to act, but failed to, the defendant is not criminally responsible for the loss or injury unless the defendant’s failure to act was a “substantial factor,” in producing the loss. In United States v. Day, 23 C.M.R. 651 (N.B.R. 1957), the Military Court concluded that the proximate cause of the ship ground was the commander’s failure to keep the engines in readiness.
A defendant is not criminally responsible for the crime if the loss or injury was the result of an unforeseeable, independent, intervening cause.
New and wholly independent
In United States v. Eddy, 26 C.M.R. 718 (A.B.R. 1958), the Court held that in order for an act to be intervening cause to a homicide, the act must be completely new and independent cause of death.
The intervening cause must not be foreseeable. In United States v. Varraso, 21M.J. 129 (C.M.A. 1985), the Court found that the victim’s actions in hanging were foreseeable where the defendant help the victim take steps to hang herself. Therefore, the victim’s act were not an intervening cause.
Intervening cause must intrude between the original act and the injury to produce a result which would not otherwise have followed. In United States v. Riley, 58 M.J. 305 (C.A.A.F. 2003), the Court found that no intervening act was present. The defendant gave birth to a baby in the latrine and the baby died from blunt force trauma. The defendant unsuccessfully argued that the physicians’ failure to discover her pregnancy was an intervening cause in the baby’s death because the doctors did not intervene between the birth of the baby and the ultimate death.