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I have a crime, but what kind of charges will suspect face?

  1. Sep 2, 2010 #1
    Scene in my book, in the United States.

    So some guy wants to maybe shoot someone, maybe just scare someone, whatever. But at some point the gun goes off and kills a bystander. Would this be involuntary homicide? Involuntary manslaughter? Any other charges a prosecutor might add?

    The Wikipedia entry doesn't help me because, as I mentioned, the suspect is ambivalent and thus intentions are hard to establish. How does this affect the choice of charges?

    The situation in the story is referenced in the past, so the issue is what the suspect was convicted of.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2010 #2


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    That can get pretty complicated. A lot of cases like that get plea-bargained down to a lesser charge in return for a guaranteed conviction (ie: suspect pleads guilty to avoid a lengthy trial).
    I'm not from the US, though, so am not qualified to help you. It probably even varies from state to state.
  4. Sep 2, 2010 #3
    That's fine enough. Just as long as it looks reasonably believable. I suppose more importantly I'm trying to avoid using a charge that would not obviously be applicable.
  5. Sep 2, 2010 #4


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    2nd degree murder


  6. Sep 2, 2010 #5


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    Negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter most likley. If the gun discharges during a felony or attempted felony, the charges are usually harsher. Office Shredder's example is of intentionally attempting murder and hitting the wrong target.
  7. Sep 2, 2010 #6


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    I'd say if there was no intent, no motive, it is still an involuntary manslaughter, but if you had the motive to kill someone, or acted in aggravated matter and caused death to someone even if you did not mean it, but had the motive to do so and the opportunity, then it is some degree of murder.
  8. Sep 2, 2010 #7
    The problem with the scenario is that you never shoot to scare, you shoot to kill. If you are in a situation where you feel a need to defend yourself by scaring someone, then it better be a situation where it is defendable to shoot kill them.

    That is what creates the problem. If you have time to think about whether you should scare them or kill them, then you have the time to form intent. Self-defense is a defense, but only if you don't have a choice.

    That is the problem with the scenario. The person really was not in a situation where self-defense is a defense. Not by the law.

    It would probably be 2nd degree murder. It really would depend on which state and the exact circumstances.

    Drugs involved or a in the commission of a crime, murder1.

    It will also depend on the prosecuting attorney. They might deal it down to voluntary manslaughter.

    Lighter charges probably not. A person with a gun or any deadly weapon knows that they could cause harm, so even if the intent does not exist there is still the notion that a resonable person should know that they could injure or kill someone.

    The level of it really comes down to malice and intent.

    The difference with intent is built into the laws of each state. Also another big caveat is the situation. If the person was on their own property, or defending their property, then some states give the right to defend the property. Even with lethal force. So if you accidentially shoot a bystander when defending your property would not be as severe.

    Some states even allow you to shoot your spouse if you catch them cheating.

    Some states allow you to shoot someone trying to steal your car.
  9. Sep 2, 2010 #8
    I had to take criminal justice courses as part of the computer security thing.

    One more point. It also matters how many times you shoot. One shot is an accident. Two shots is not.
  10. Sep 2, 2010 #9
  11. Sep 2, 2010 #10
    Well, which is it? There's a huge difference between these two. We may not be able to know what was on the shooter's mind, but the intended victim may well testify that murder was the intent and then where would the shooter be?
  12. Sep 2, 2010 #11
    More specifically, suspect isn't really sure what he wanted to do. There is a struggle to get the gun and in that struggle the gun goes off, killing someone off in the distance.
  13. Sep 2, 2010 #12
    The issue is that you are too broad. Subtle changes in circumstances change whether it was intent. A person having a gun is not a problem, especially if they are at their house. But if they took a gun to another persons house to scare them, that is a problem. Pulling a gun on a person is a big problem if it is not on your property and you cannot make the case that you felt it was a threatening situation.

    If you are writing this, why don't you post what you want the outcome to be. What point of view are you trying to convey?
  14. Sep 2, 2010 #13
    By the way. I usually carry a gun.
  15. Sep 2, 2010 #14
    This is nice. I found the state code and looks like Evo nailed it. But I wouldn't have known what direction to look for, so thank you Evo!

    And thanks everyone!
  16. Sep 2, 2010 #15
    This could be manslaughter, but the prosecutor could make a case for Depraved Heart/Indifference, if they feel that it can be proven that the perpetrator had a total disregard for the well being of bystanders when brandishing the firearm. Generally, this is used to bump up from manslaughter to 2nd degree in cases of someone discharging a weapon wildly in a crowd, or some such. In the end, in practice, this would almost CERTAINLY be plead out, and never see a courtroom; the defense wouldn't want to risk it, and the prosecution can give up a few years to avoid the time and cost of a trial.
  17. Sep 3, 2010 #16


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    I think there's an elephant being missed here. If the character wanted to shoot someone and accidentally shot a bystander in the process, I can not imagine any DA that has this knowledge not pushing for an attempted murder charge in addition to the 2nd degree/manslaughter charges.
  18. Sep 3, 2010 #17
  19. Sep 3, 2010 #18


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    That was addressed earlier, if the gun was accidently fired during an attempted felony, the penalty would be harsher.
  20. Sep 3, 2010 #19


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    I'd like to see a reference for that.
  21. Sep 3, 2010 #20
  22. Sep 3, 2010 #21
    oh hahaha.
    That incident was quite similar to your case. The murder wanted to scare off some kids, but he killed the innocent 8-yrs old boy, who just got off the school bus.
  23. Sep 3, 2010 #22
    Approximtely six weeks ago, a man who was irate at some folks who were frequenting an apartment complex pool after hours (like 2 or 3 in the morning) walked up to them and fired a shot in the air. He realized that what he'd done was wrong, so he calmly laid his firearm down and called 911 himself.

    Thankfully, no one was hurt, but he was initially charged with illegally discharging a firearm and felony menacing. I'm unsure of the outcome.

    It's the felony menacing part I haven't seen mentioned here. It's similar to brandishing, though it packs more punch in court. Proper firearm safety says "keep it holstered unless you use it what it's intended to be used for," and firing off shots to scare kids or intimidate or threaten others just doesn't cut it. It's not an acceptable use of a firearm.
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