If My Actions Cause An Unforseeable Death

Hi guys- I’m still quite new around here, so forgive me if I am posting this in the wrong room.

Not much to say as an introduction; these scenarios speak for themselves.

  1. I approach a man on the street and say “excuse me sir, do you have the time?”. He looks at me and gets spooked for some reason, runs into the street, and is run over by a bus and killed.

  2. I approach a man on the street in anger and threaten to beat him up. He gets spooked and runs into the street, where he is run over by a bus and killed.

  3. I approach a man with photographic proof of his infidelity and threaten to divulge the photos to his family. The man becomes despondent, walks into the street, and commits suicide by stepping in front of a bus.

I’m not so concerned with the moral implications of my actions, but I’m curious about the legal implications.

In the case of #2, I was threatening assault. Can I be charged with contributing to this death? Even if I didn’t touch him? If I was charged, I could just tell the cops that I was merely joking.

In #3, I wasn’t making any demands, I just didn’t like the person and wanted to embarass him. Can I be charged with contributing to his suicide if I knew that my actions would cause him grief?


In #3 you should be fine. Ruling otherwise would mean that even telling the truth to the concerned parties about someone’s immoral actions could get you into legal trouble if they off themselves, which is just stupid.

I always wonder if I stopped a person to ask the time, delaying them for 2-3 seconds, which causes them to be run down in an intersection which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t slowed them down, if I would be morally responsible and go to hell for eternity.

If I had gotten drunk the night before and with a hangover I forgot my watch that morning.

People have been convicted of manslaughter for this very thing. A 1986 incident in Howard Beach, Queens, New York resulted in the death of one man when he was run over by a car on the Belt Parkway while fleeing a group of youths armed with bats. At least three of the assailants were convicted of manslaughter and received lengthy prison sentences.

Or maybe you delay him for 2-3 seconds, causing him to narrowly miss being run down, and end up saving his life.

Or he stops while crossing the street to tell you the time. :frowning:
I’d imagine intent has a lot to do with it. Hence, number 2 is bad, while 1 isn’t and 3 is probably legal as well.

Hmm, #1 is neutral morally - shit happens.

#2 might get you a prison sentence, like Saintly Loser’s example. It’s definitely not as neutral morally, in any case - you were actively trying to harm someone.

#3 is also not morally neutral, but in more of a “two wrongs don’t make a right” kind of way. Again, you were trying to harm someone.

Do you also feel it is morally wrong to turn a criminal in to the police, or to tell them that you will if they don’t do it themselves?

I’d say it’s a moral good. Not only are you ensuring that the spouse learns something they deserve to know, you are giving the responsible party the opportunity to try to soften the blow.

IANAL, but i do research on related topics.
1.) You’re in the clear.
2.) See the felony murder rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony_murder_rule . Probably 2 isn’t severe enough to trigger it but, depending on jurisdiction, there are probably lower level equivalents. Certainly assault with a deadly weapon (baseball bats) would be enough.
3.) I think you’re in the clear, unless there is some evidence of intent to blackmail.

In this case, you would not be “threatening assault” but actually assaulting him. Touching is not required to be guilty of assault. It can be the reasonable threat of harm, which you do have here. Battery is offensive or unauthorized physical contact. If you assault someone and he runs and is killed, the “unforeseeable” factor may not be met, as it is conceivable that he could have an accident running away from you. And even if you say you were “joking,” if the man reasonably believed he was in immediate danger, you would lose that argument.

And you can tell the cops anything you want (but it’s not a good idea); they are not the ones who decide whether or not to charge you (or what to charge you with) or who decides if you’re guilty or not.

No, not really.

But as the OP said, he was doing it to be a jerk to the cheater.