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mastermindreader
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A "simple" question for those who believe they understand the law. It is the only question I remember in detail from when I took the bar exam. You may have some fun with it.

I'd ask that the lawyers or law school graduates on the forum not answer the question just yet. I want to see how a laymen would answer based on what he/she believes and/or knows about the law.

The following scenario takes place in Blackacre, a common law jurisdiction.

Mr. Jones believed that his wife was cheating on him and he decided to give her the scare of her life. His son agreed to help, because he didn't like her much either.

Jones proceeded to load his revolver with blanks and told his son that when his wife came home he'd confront her and fire a shot at her.

What Mr. Jones didn't know was that his son hated his mother even more than he did. When Jones briefly left the room, his son replaced the blanks in the gun with real ammunition.

Mrs. Jones came home. Mr. Jones confronted her, pointed the gun at her head and shot. She fell to the ground, blood spurting from her head.

Jones was shocked. He didn't mean to kill her and thought that he must have accidentally loaded a live shell into the revolver.

His son suggested that they better cover up the crime scene and the both decided, not being too bright, that the best way would be to burn the house down.

So they did. The fire department and the police arrived.

Mr. Jones confessed to shooting his wife. But an autopsy revealed that the bullet had only grazed her skull and rendered her unconscious. The cause of death was found to be asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation.

What crimes were committed and by whom?
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What most people probably don't know is that it's pretty much the type of question that an entire first year's semester grade in criminal law would rest on. No turned in home work, no quizzes, no nothing. Just go to class for 16 weeks, then spend a couple of hours answering this, and that's your grade. The only difference is that your question would be 1(a), and 1(b) would be, "What defenses would likely be raised, and with what likelihood of success?"
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arthur stead
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Bob, in my experiences with the law, I have found only one truism: "It all depends on how much justice you can afford."

So based on that, your question is irrelevant. Because even if a person has committed a crime, they could be found innocent in a court of law. Providing of course that they can hire the best attorney.
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mastermindreader
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Arthur, the question is not whether they would be found innocent or not. It simply asks what crimes were committed assuming that all of the facts presented are true. It is simply a test of what you learned in law school and actually has little bearing on what actually occurs in court rooms. You will note for example, that the scenario takes place in a mythical common law jurisdiction, indicating that correct answers will reveal your understanding of common law.

Lobo is right, though. The question is far more complex than it appears and the answer(s) could well be used to determine a pass or fail in criminal law. And he is also correct that the second part of the question would go to how you would defend the case after you knew what the charges were.

In the bar examination questions like these also give an insight into the applicants skill in legal reasoning. You just don't give a list for an answer, but you're required to include the rationale behind every element of it.
mastermindreader
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Quote:
On May 25, 2015, mastermindreader wrote:
Arthur, the question is not whether they would be found innocent or not. It simply asks what crimes were committed assuming that all of the facts presented are true. It is simply a test of what you learned in law school and actually has little bearing on what actually occurs in court rooms. You will note for example, that the scenario takes place in a mythical common law jurisdiction, indicating that correct answers will reveal your understanding of common law. Note also that the scenario contains "traps" for the unwary. such as those who learned the law by watching Perry Mason instead of attending lectures and learning the case law.

Lobo is right, though. The question is far more complex than it appears and the answer(s) could well be used to determine a pass or fail in criminal law. And he is also correct that the second part of the question would go to how you would defend the case after you knew what the charges were.

In the bar examination questions like these also give an insight into the applicants skill in legal reasoning. You just don't give a list for an answer, but you're required to include the rationale behind every element of it.
mastermindreader
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Here's an example of one of the "traps" in the scenario: If you included arson as one of the crimes committed you would lose some major points from your total score. At common law arson was defined as the burning of the business or dwelling place of another. In this case they burned down their own house. At common law, the name of that offense, if done with criminal intent, was simply "house burning." A complete explanation of that difference would, on the other hand, significantly add to your score, more so than if you just listed "house burning."

Take a shot. What crimes do you think were committed?
Dannydoyle
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This reminds me of the guy falling out the window and a gun being discharged and shooting him on his way down question.

My answer is arrest everyone and let the D.A. sort it out!
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mastermindreader
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LOL. If you were taking a police officer examination, that answer would arguably be correct. Here you have to answer it the way the DA and defense attorney would.

One of the main reasons I posted this was to demonstrate what legal reasoning entails and what it means to "think like a lawyer."
stoneunhinged
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I'll take a shot.

1) There would probably be some kind of conspiracy charge, since two were involved. Conspiracy to frighten somebody? Smile OK, maybe not. Howsabout "conspiracy to pull off a stupid prank." Right. Forget the conspiracy charge.

2) There should be some kind of manslaughter charge, because regardless of their intentions, their actions resulted in the death of someone.

3) Shouldn't their be something like an "obstruction of justice" charge for attempting a cover-up?

4) You eliminated any arson charge.

I mean, this is especially hard because you set the scenario up with common law, so even if we know somebody who knew somebody and possess some kind of anecdotal information, it probably wouldn't apply here. (Obstruction, for example, probably isn't a common law concept.)

Seems to me that this is hardly different from fraternity hazing going wrong. Hazing deaths are always tragic, but the only way to combat them legally is to make anti-hazing laws. Stupidity isn't illegal, either in common law or any of the fifty states.

So my guess is that no charges would be filed.
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Here's what my layman's gut tells me.

Since the father spawned the idea of shooting his wife, whether with blanks or not, this was the seed that created the subsequent events. Not sure how the law treats the blanks in the gun changed out for real bullets. But the father's original intent to scare his wife caused her death. The son, in my world, also bears blame for putting bullets in the gun indicative of his intent, which was to kill his mother. Which "intent" bears the most weight? I think the murderous intent does. As for the house burning being the actual cause of death, it wouldn't have happened without the setup and changing to bullets. In my world again, the son's intent to murder carries the weight in charges.

So, again, in my layman's world, here are the charges:

Son: Premeditated first degree murder because of reasons stated above. Add to that whatever charge(s) are related to the willful setting the house ablaze. It may not be arson, but I have to believe it's a felony of some sort.

Father: Felony murder, based on his participation in the scheme and the sunbsequent felony (see Son above) of his involvement in setting the house ablaze. Add to that whatever charge(s) are related to the willful setting the house ablaze.

Interesting thread Bob, am anxious to see how my logic fared. (I'll admit I looked up the legal murder charges because I didn't think the father was guilty of 1st or 2nd degree murder, but he was a party to his wife's murder. I didn't know about felony murder, but it seemed to fit the case.)

Might you PM the actual charges and justification? Smile
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Salguod Nairb
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The son would be charged with Murder in the 2nd, the father with manslaughter, and both with felony covering up a crime (whatever it is called, you hear the cop shows say it all the time). I suppose you could add desecration of a corpse too.

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mastermindreader
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Good answers so far, but here are a few issues you might consider:

Brian- There was certainly an intent to desecrate a corpse, even to completely destroy it. A problem, though, is that the victim wasn't actually a corpse when they started the fire. It was the fire that killed her. But given that the intent existed, how does it apply in a situation in which the crime being attempted is impossible to accomplish? Also, does impossibility of commission have any effect on a conspiracy? (Here's where test takers would have to explain their reasoning and cite relevant case law either way, or better yet, both ways.)

Bob- Felony murder does not apply. Once again, Blackacre is a common law jurisdiction and felony murder is a statutory creation that did not exist under common law. (That was one of the other "traps" built into the scenario.) But you get one point back for showing that you are aware of the felony murder concept.

The fact that the son secretly loaded the gun could be interpreted as what's called an intervening cause following the father's attempt to scare his wife, thus possibly exonerating him because he had no intent to kill. There's no question, however, that he is guilty of an assault. (At common law, an assault only requires putting the victim in fear of imminent bodily harm, as distinguished from a battery, which is simply an unauthorized touching or striking.)

Jeff- Given that assault is simply putting someone in imminent fear of bodily harm, was there not a conspiracy to commit the felony of assault with a deadly weapon? Or can there be a conspiracy if there is no common understanding between the conspirators? In this case, both father and son had different intents and perceptions of the conspiracy's purpose. And the son's intent went far beyond assault with a deadly weapon. But it seems that both would have agreed, at least, that the gun would be pointed at the victim and its trigger pulled.

It might also be considered that the penalty for a conspiracy to commit a felony can be the same, or even worse, than it would be for the crime itself.

The scenario raises many other similar problems of interpretation and analysis.

Try focusing separately on the father and the son and look at their individual intents and perceptions.

But oversll, the answers so far are pretty good for laymen.
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Why not forget the possible crimes and get on with the important business of suing the gun manufacturer and the ammo maker and the house builder -- all obviously guilty of something.
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tommy
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That is some question that is Bob.

I would say the son has committed murder and the old man manslaughter.
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I guess that both men are guilty of murder. The son because he was attempting a criminal act and had the killing done through the use of an accomplice. Morally, his actions are no different from using a hit man. The father is guilty of murder because he caused the death of another person while committing a planned criminal activity.

I think that both would be guilty of murder had the bullet killed her, on much the same grounds.
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Although I am pis*ing against the wind, this is a good example of why we should have "common sense" law rather than common or statutory.

The husband had no intent to commit murder so that is not on the table. He is guilty of trying to cover up a crime, whether perceived or not, and possibly some insurance fraud relative to setting his (my assumption) property on fire. The son is guilty of murder no matter how the mother died because that was his intent and it came to pass regardless of the circumstances. He is also guilty of covering up a crime and also getting another person to participate unwittingly. The father gets a jail term, the son the death penalty, and the property or proceeds go to a charitable organization because they were used in the committal of a crime.
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mastermindreader
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On May 26, 2015, tommy wrote:
That is some question that is Bob.

I would say the son has committed murder and the old man manslaughter.


There are many other crimes involved, but I would agree that those would be two of them.
mastermindreader
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On May 26, 2015, Magnus Eisengrim wrote:
The father is guilty of murder because he caused the death of another person while committing a planned criminal activity.


Magnus. Under the felony murder rule that would be a possible charge, but as I noted earler, felony murder did not exist in common law and, therefore, doesn't apply to this scenario.

But here's another important question that no one has addressed- how old was the son and what effect would his age have on the possible crimes committed? Did everyone just presume he was an adult?
Magnus Eisengrim
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Both Mr. Jones and his son could conceivably be minors...
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
mastermindreader
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Highly unlikely.
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