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Causation in a Florida Homicide

In a recent Florida appellate decision, the court considered a case in which a burglar hit an 80-year-old man in the head and badly beat him up such that he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The old man was released before the hemorrhage resolved, and he died in his home. The defendant was charged and convicted of first-degree murder. He appealed on the grounds that the prosecution hadn’t proven that his own actions caused the death of the old man. If you have been charged with a homicide, it is important to have a knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney by your side throughout the process.

The case arose when the 80-year-old victim came home after a day shopping with his adult daughter. When he and his daughter got out of their car in their garage, the defendant attacked the old man. The victim collapsed and then the defendant sat on him and kept beating him up before running away.

At the hospital, the victim underwent a CT scan. The staff found there was no bleeding in the brain. He was discharged. After he was released from the hospital, his CT scan was reviewed again, with the doctor finding there was a little bit of bleeding. He came back to the hospital again the next day and underwent more scans. The doctor found the bleeding had resolved, but after being discharged, the victim collapsed on his bed at home and passed away.

The prosecutor charged the defendant. At trial, two medical examiners were presented as witnesses. One was an examiner for Palm Beach County and the other was an examiner for Miami-Dade County. A colleague of the former had performed the autopsy but wasn’t working at the office. The latter had reviewed his former colleague’s findings and summarized that there was quite a bit of bleeding on the brain’s surface.

Often subdural hematomas like the one suffered by the victim are caused by trauma to the head. The examiner concluded that homicide was the cause of death, but he admitted that after the victim was released and before he died, something else could have happened to him or he could have suffered a rebleed. He explained that in an autopsy, the examiner only needs to conclude what the cause of death is by a preponderance of the evidence.

The other examiner was of the opinion that the hospital’s reading of the first CT scan was incorrect. He reviewed the CT scan and realized that the victim had suffered a subdural hematoma. When comparing the scans performed, he reasoned that the blood was still present and had worsened over the course of the scans. The scans showed that the bleeding had evolved and that the area was continuing to bleed. He believed that the cause of death was blunt head injury by homicide. But he also believed that if the hospital didn’t discharge the man and kept monitoring him, he wouldn’t have died.

The defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal on the murder count. He argued that gross negligence was an intervening and superseding cause of death, which was the actual cause of the victim’s death. The defendant argued that the state hadn’t proven his actions rather than another occurrence had caused the victim’s death. The appellate court reasoned that the record didn’t show any evidence that the initial injury wasn’t life-threatening and the hospital’s negligence was the only cause of death. For this and other reasons, the court affirmed the verdict.

If you are charged with murder or first-degree burglary in Miami, you should be aware that you may be sentenced to prison time. It is crucial to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call The Hoffman Law Firm at (305) 928-1669, or contact us via our online form.

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