Proximate Cause in a Murder Case in California

People v. Cervantes (2001) 26 Cal.4th 860, suggests that when a court is deciding whether no rational trier of fact could find the needed nexus, the policy limitations which proximate causation principles impose upon the broad field of actual causation are based in part upon notions of fairness and justice. (Id. at pp. 871-872.) In Cervantes, supra, 26 Cal.4th 860, our Supreme Court decided a proximate cause issue in a "provocative act" murder case. The court decided that a member of a street gang who committed a nonfatal shooting that provoked a revenge killing by members of an opposing gang was not guilty of murder. (Id. at pp. 862-863.) Cervantes also discussed People v. Lewis (1889) 124 Cal. 551 and stated, "we held Lewis was properly convicted of manslaughter because the victim's response, though suicidal, was natural and understandable; hence it was not an independent intervening cause of death. Even 'if the deceased did die from the effect of the knife wound alone, no doubt the defendant would be responsible, if it was made to appear, and the jury could have found from the evidence, that the knife wound was caused by the wound inflicted by the defendant in the natural course of events.' (Lewis, supra, 124 Cal. at p. 555.) By contrast, we posed, 'Suppose one assaults and wounds another intending to take life, but the wound, though painful, is not even dangerous, and the wounded man knows that it is not mortal, and yet takes his own life to escape pain, would it not be suicide only?' (Id. at p. 556.) The answer would be yes, and there would be no homicide liability, if 'the wound induced the suicide, but the wound was not, in the usual course of things, the cause of the suicide' (ibid.)." (Cervantes, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 869.)