Wrongful-Aspect Overdetermination: The Scope-of-the-Risk Requirement in Drunk-Driving Homicide

44 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2013 Last revised: 28 Jul 2013

Eric Alan Johnson

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: April 2, 2013

Abstract

Tort law’s scope-of-the-risk rule says that a defendant is liable for another person’s injury only if the injury resulted from the very risks that made the defendant’s conduct wrongful. Criminal law scholars have neglected the question whether the scope-of-the risk rule (or its wrongful-aspect variant) also applies in criminal cases. The courts have not, however. In drunk-driving homicide cases, the courts appear to have split roughly equally on the question whether the law requires a causal nexus between the defendant’s intoxication — the wrongful-aspect of his conduct — and the fatal accident. In this Article, I will argue that courts on both sides of this seeming divide have recognized intuitively: (1) that the scope-of-the-risk rule does apply to drunk-driving homicide cases; but (2) that what is required by way of a causal nexus between the defendant’s intoxication and the fatal accident is something less than but-for causation. What is required, specifically, is that the intoxication contribute incrementally to the causal mechanism behind the fatal accident. In effect, the courts have recognized intuitively that most drunk-driving homicide cases are causal-overdetermination cases.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Causation, Tort, Scope of Risk

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Eric Alan, Wrongful-Aspect Overdetermination: The Scope-of-the-Risk Requirement in Drunk-Driving Homicide (April 2, 2013). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 46, 2013, Forthcoming; Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 13-39. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2243796

Eric Alan Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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