Criminal Law Practice Question 2

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Criminal Law: Homicide

An editor and a publisher work at two desks near each other in the same office. They have always been friendly with each other, but now they are competing for a promotion within the office. While snooping in the publisher’s day planner, the editor saw that she has an important meeting with their boss tomorrow. The editor, upset that he was not also invited and that the publisher did not tell him about the meeting, began planning how he could sabotage the publisher’s chances for the promotion.

An hour later, the editor walked by the publisher’s desk with a large cup of hot coffee. The editor pretended to trip and spilled the coffee on the publisher’s laptop, hoping to destroy any important documents the publisher needed for the meeting the next day. However, the coffee immediately connected with a power source and caused a shock which electrocuted the publisher, killing her instantly.

What is the most serious degree of criminal homicide of which the editor can legally be convicted?

A: Murder.

B: Voluntary manslaughter.

C: Involuntary manslaughter.

D: No degree of criminal homicide.

Answer and Explanation

A is correct. Attempt consists of the specific intent to commit the crime and an overt act in furtherance of the intent beyond mere preparation. Here the man took a substantial step toward killing his brother-in-law when he aimed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. Attempt also requires a specific intent. Attempted murder requires the specific intent to kill another person, even if the mens rea for murder itself does not necessarily require a specific intent to kill.

B is incorrect. Attempt requires a specific intent to commit the crime. In this case, attempted murder requires a specific intent to kill. Therefore, mere recklessness would not be enough to convict the man.

C is incorrect. The defense of factual impossibility does not apply. It is no defense that the substantive crime is incapable of completion due to some physical or factual condition unknown to the defendant. In this case, it is not a defense that the gun was loaded with blanks, making it impossible for the man to actually kill his brother-in-law. When the man pulled the trigger, he did not know it was loaded with blanks and still possessed the intent to kill his brother-in-law.

D is incorrect. A killing may be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter by the existence of adequate provocation, also known as a heat of passion killing. For provocation to be adequate, it must be a sudden and intense passion so as to cause an ordinary person to lose control without sufficient time for the person to cool off. Adequate provocation is most frequently recognized in cases of serious battery, threats of deadly force, and discovering a cheating spouse. In this case, a sports team losing an important game would not qualify as adequate provocation.

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