People v. Acosta
284 Cal.Rptr. 117 (1991)

  • The Police spotted Acosta in a stolen car. He sped off like a maniac leading the police on a high speed chase.
  • As part of the chase, the police employed several helicopters to track Acosta. Two of the helicopters crashed into each other, and three people were killed.
    • The crash was mostly likely due to negligent flying on the part of one of the pilots.
  • Acosta was arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the death of the pilots.
    • Acosta argued that while he may have been culpable for anyone who was hurt due to his maniacal driving, he had nothing to do with the helicopters and therefore he did not have malice, nor was there proximate cause.
  • The Trial Court convicted Acosta of second-degree murder. He appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that in order for there to be proximate cause, the prosecutor would have to show that the helicopter crash was foreseeable.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that it was foreseeable that there could be a helicopter crash as a result of Acosta’s police chase, even if such events were rare. Therefore there was proximate cause.
    • However, the Court found that there was no evidence to show that Acosta consciously disregarded the risk to the helicopter pilots, so there wasn’t sufficient evidence of malice.
      • Had Acosta caused a car crash, he would be culpable for that because he was consciously disregarding the risk to other drivers by fleeing like a maniac.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the pilots were not within the ‘zone of danger’ created by the defendant, and that Acosta couldn’t have caused the helicopters to crash if he tried. Therefore there was no proximate cause.
  • Model Penal Code §2.03(2)(b) asks whether the result is “too remote or accidental in its occurrence to have a just bearing on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.”