This is an audio case brief of State v. Lane, 444 S.E. 2d 233 (N.C. Ct. App. 1994). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
On the evening of September 17,1990, nineteen-year-old John Lane, and his two cousins, Steve Coor and Rodney Coor, left Lane’s home in Goldsboro, North Carolina and walked around the corner to a Jet Service Station to purchase some beer. On their way home, Lane and Steve Coor turned around to observe Rodney walking with. and talking to a highly intoxicated white male. The white male was staggering along Grantham Street, a four-lane highway otherwise known as Business Route 70.
Steve Coor testified that he told the white male, who was with Rodney to be careful in the street. The man responded by swearing and making gestures. Steve and Rodney saw Lane swing at the man, and saw the man fall on the cement on the edge of Grantham Street. Lane, Rodney and Steve continued to walk home.
At 9:48 p.m., Sergeant M.A. Cruthirds of the Goldsboro Police Department responded to a call regarding a white male lying in the road at one corner of Grantham Street. The white male was later identified to be Gregory Linton. Sergeant Cruthirds discovered Gregory Linton lying in the road, three feet from the curb. Two women were kneeling on either side of Linton. One of the women told Cruthirds that Linton’s signs were good. Rescue personnel arrived at the scene. Cruthirds applied pressure behind Linton’s ear to which Linton responded by trying to remove Cruthirds’ hand. After determining that there was no sign of injury, and that Linton was only intoxicated, the rescue team left, and Sergeant Cruthirds took Linton into custody and placed him in the Wayne County jail for public drunkenness.
The following day around 4:30 pm, Linton was taken to the hospital. He was unconscious. He had a blood alcohol concentration level of .34 percent on the breathalyzer scale at the approximate time of his arrival at the hospital. Linton died at 6:30 p.m. two days later. An autopsy revealed no external injuries, but did reveal a subdural hematoma on the right side of the brain, a swollen brain, brain contusions or bruises, pneumonia on the lungs, and fatty change of the liver, which is most commonly caused by alcohol abuse. In the medical examiner’s opinion, Linton died as a result of blunt force injury to the head.
Lane was indicted and tried for involuntary manslaughter. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. After finding the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, Lane received the maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment.
Lane appealed his conviction.
The issue before the court is whether Lane’s punch to Linton’s head was the cause in fact Linton’s death.
Cause in fact requires the government to prove that but for the actions of the defendant the result would not have happened when it happened.
To apply this rule to the facts of this case, the court begun its analysis by determining whether Lane’s punch to Linton’s head was the cause in fact of Linton’s death.
There, the court found that there is evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could find that defendant’s punch was the actual cause of the blunt force injury to the head, leading directly to Linton’s death.
Lane argued in his brief to the court that the State’s theory was that as a result of his punch, Linton banged his head on the pavement, yet the evidence showed Linton did not fall on his head, or bang it against the pavement as a result of being hit by him.
But the court disagreed with him.
And here is why,
The court stated that the State’s theory was not limited to whether Linton’s head struck the pavement. Therefore, while it appears from the record that Linton’s head did not strike the pavement, it can still be reasonably inferred that defendant’s punch was the cause-in-fact of decedent’s death based on the evidence presented. Steve Coor testified that he saw defendant swing at Linton “around the head.” The medical examiner testified that the decedent’s swollen brain could have been a response to either a blow to the head or a response to the head striking some object. This is reasonable evidence to support the conclusion that defendant’s punch to the head was a cause-in-fact of decedent’s death.
Lane’s second argument was that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the trauma which triggered the decedent’s brain hemorrhage was defendant’s punch, and not some other factor which could have occurred either before or after the incident.
The court found this argument to be speculative because there was no evidence in the record to substantiate the suggestion thatLinton may have lost his balance sometime before he encountered defendant, that he may have fallen again sometime after he was hit, or that he may have fallen in his jail cell.
The court held that a jury could have found that Lane’s blow to Linton’s head was the cause in fact of his death.