Is the Participant In An Illegal Drag Race Responsible for the Death of a Co-Participant ?

Velazquez v. State, 561 So. 2d 347 (Fla. 3d DCA) was a prosecution for vehicular homicide based on the defendant's participation in an illegal drag race, in which the co-participant was killed in a single car accident. The trial court denied a motion to dismiss, finding that it was a question of fact for the jury as to whether the defendant's participation in the "drag race" was a sufficient legal cause of the co-participant's death so as to support a conviction for vehicular homicide. On appeal, the Third District agreed that the defendant could not be found guilty of vehicular homicide, relying on principles of proximate causation. The court accepted the concept that the defendant's conduct was a "cause in fact" of his co-participant's death, noting that causation embraces both the situation where the death would not have occurred "but for" the defendant's conduct and where the defendant's conduct was a "substantial factor" in the result. However, the court still declined to allow the prosecution, noting that in some situations public policy and fairness considerations preclude the imposition of criminal liability even if the defendant's conduct is deemed to be a "cause in fact" of the prohibited result. Id. at 351. The court held that the case before it was one of those cases in which policy considerations precluded the defendant from being found to be a "legal cause" of his co-participant's death. The court concluded: In our judgment, it is simply unfair, unjust, and just plain wrong to say that the defendant in the instant case is criminally responsible for the death of the deceased when it is undisputed that the deceased, in effect, killed himself. No one forced this young man to participate in the subject "drag race"; no one forced him to whirl around and proceed back toward the canal after the race was apparently over; no one forced him to travel 123 m.p.h., vault a canal, and kill himself upon impact. He did all these things himself, and was, accordingly, the major cause of his own death. We are constrained by law to construe criminal statutes strictly in favor of the accused, 775.021(1), Fla.Stat. (1989), and, given this salutary principle of statutory construction, we are unwilling to construe our vehicular homicide statute to impose criminal liability on the defendant under the circumstances of this case. Id. at 353-354.