A man jumps off a building…

This is the classic first year criminal law exercise. Who is liable? What is the extent of their culpability? For those who don’t know, the story goes like this:

A man, intending to commit suicide, jumps off a building. As he free falls, he passes a window on the seventh floor. Just as he passes that window, a shot rings out and a bullet strikes him, killing him. Neither he nor the shooter was aware that there was a safety net constructed just below the sixth floor, which would have prevented him from dying had there been no fatal shot.

Turns out, the shooter was this man’s father, who was in the habit of waving his unloaded rifle at his wife. In another one of their arguments, he had waved the gun at her, this time it was loaded (unbeknown to either one) and went off, going through the window and striking his son.

It is further revealed that the gun, which was usually unloaded, was loaded by the son weeks prior, because he wanted his father to kill his mother.

The urban legend has this concluding as a case of suicide. Does the law support this? What would any of the participants be charged with in your jurisdiction?

The son, obviously, could be charged with some form of attempted homicide. It would be pointless, however, since he is dead. The father, on the other hand, could normally have been charged with recklessness, but it is unforseeable that a man jumping out a window would get shot by him. Or would it suffice that he attempted to shoot his wife, even though he always kept the gun unloaded?

I think this might have been on my crim law final.

12 thoughts on “A man jumps off a building…

  1. SaucyVixen


    I found the screenplay and have included the pertinent parts. For the movie’s answer to the question, I direct your attention to the final paragraph:

    Seventeen year old Sydney Barringer. In the city of Los Angeles on March 23, 1958.

    The coroner ruled that the unsuccessful suicide had suddenly become a successful homicide. To explain: The suicide was confirmed by a note, left in the breast pocket of Sydney Barringer — At the same time young Sydney stood on the ledge of this nine story building, an argument swelled three stories below. And it was not uncommon for them to threaten each other with a shotgun or one of the many handguns kept in the house. Added to this, the two tenants turned out to be: Fay and Arthur Barringer. Sydney’s mother and Sydney’s father.

    When confronted with the charge, which took some figuring out for the officers on the scene of the crime, Fay Barringer swore that she did not know that the gun was loaded.

    A young boy who lived in the building, sometimes a vistor and friend to Sydney Barringer said that he had seen, six days prior the loading of the shotgun. It seems that the arguing and the fighting and all of the violence was far too much for Sydney Barringer and knowing his mother and father’s tendency to fight, he decided to do something.

    CAMERA reveals that it is Sydney Barringer who is loading
    the shotgun. The YOUNG BOY is sitting nearby, watching Sydney
    mumble to himself as he loads shells into the shotgun.

    Sydney Barringer jumps from the ninth floor rooftop — His parents argue three stories below — Her accidental shotgun blast hits Sydney in the stomach as he passes the arguing sixth floor window — He is killed instantly but continues to fall — only to find, three stories below — a safety net installed three days prior for a set of window washers that would have broken his fall and saved his life if not for the hole in his stomach.

    So Fay Barringer was charged with the murder of her son and Sydney Barringer noted as an accomplice in his own death…

  2. Gideon Post author

    I don’t remember crim law all too well, but I think an important question would be whether transferred intent includes foreseeability. If it does, then perhaps the charge of murder is improper. If it does not (and think of the possibilities!), then she could properly be charged with murder.

    I’ll go take a look at LaFave.

  3. Gideon Post author

    This is what the MPC says:

    A.L.I., Model Penal Code and Commentaries (1985) § 2.03 provides in relevant part: “(2) When purposely or knowingly causing a particular result is an element of an offense, the element is not established if the actual result is not within the purpose or the contemplation of the actor unless:

    “(a) the actual result differs from that designed or contemplated, as the case may be, only in the respect that a different person or different property is injured or affected or that the injury or harm designed or contemplated would have been more serious or more extensive than that caused; or

    “(b) the actual result involves the same kind of injury or harm as that designed or contemplated and is not too remote or accidental in its occurrence to have a [just] bearing on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.

    Is it too remote or accidental that a man jumping off a building at exactly the same time as the shot was fired would get killed? Probably.

  4. SWD

    Isn’t it, under the common law, involuntary manslaughter? A misdemeanor resulting in the death of another? Or perhaps it is felony murder — the brandishing of the rifle is undoubtedly a felony. Under either theory, I don’t think that intent enters into the equation.

  5. SaucyVixen

    Okay, it’s not murder. Even if transferred intent applied, Mom had no intent to kill Dad. Indeed, she didn’t keep the rifle loaded. Both parties knew that she just liked to threaten him with an unloaded firearm. Therefore, no specific intent, no murder. (Yay first year crim law!)

    As for felony murder… I don’t see a felony here, at least not under Massachusetts law. At first I thought of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, which *is* a felony. And that’s the first theory of assault: assault as a threat (as opposed to assault as an attempted battery (i.e., unconsented to touching). But if both parties knew the gun wasn’t loaded, then there’s no reasonable apprehension on the part of Dad. Thus, no assault.

    But let’s go further. Let’s say that Mom was threatening Dad with the gun in a manner other than its intended use. Like she was pointing the gun at him, and threatening to pistol (rifle?) whip him. We don’t know if she did that, as the scenario has a dearth of facts in its exposition. But if Mom was threatening to pistol whip or throw the rifle at Dad, then you could have the ADW to wit: rifle of Dad and the felony murder of Son.

    OR… and this gets even better… What if Mom pointed the gun at Dad and backed him into the wall, whereby he touched the wall in some manner? Yes! We have a felony for the felony murder predicate. We have Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon, to wit: Wall. (They really do charge this; I’m not making it up. In fact, I’ve seen ABDW: false teeth and ABDW: cake before.)

    Barring any of the above circumstances, I don’t see a felony murder charge sticking. And so, we are left with involuntary manslaughter. As for the predicate misdemeanor? Eh, I’m sure they’d come up with something.

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