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

C is correct. Although the editor did not intend to kill the publisher, he did act with criminal negligence sufficient to convict for involuntary manslaughter. By intentionally spilling coffee on the publisher’s laptop, the editor was grossly negligent toward her safety, which amounts to criminal negligence.

A is incorrect. The mens rea required for murder is intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. Although the editor intended to spill coffee on the publisher’s laptop, he did not intend to kill her or to inflict any bodily harm.

B is incorrect. Voluntary manslaughter requires all the elements of murder but also adequate provocation from the victim. Provocation is characterized by a sudden and intense passion causing the perpetrator to lose control without time for an adequate cooling off period. Neither the intent to kill nor provocation is apparent in this fact pattern. Although the editor was upset when he learned about the publisher’s meeting, his anger would not rise to the level necessary to constitute adequate provocation.

D is incorrect. Despite lacking the intent to kill, the editor’s actions were criminal and did result in the publisher’s death.

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