On the evening of May 18 1985, the defendant and his friend Peter Maskorich were drinking. They left the bar at around midnight. In the early morning hours, the defendant and Maskorich wound up racing the defendant’s boat in Sacramento River. There were no floatation devices in the boat. At 3am, Gary Bingham heard noise and he went outside and saw a boat with two people inside at the bend in the river. Rodney and Susan Logan who were fishing also saw an aluminium boat with two men in it. The boat had no running lights and it was being operated at a fast pace.
The defendant went to James Snook’s house and reported that he had flipped the boat and lost his buddy. He said at first he and his buddy were hanging on the side and the victim decided to swim. Authorities were called and they tried to locate the body. The defendant said that he was operating the boat fast and that he had warned his buddy. He was arrested and informed of his right to be silent which he wavered.
The issue to be determined in this case was violation of the Harbor and Navigation Code and the neglect of duty imposed by that code causing the death of the victim. The court held that the defendant did an act that was forbidden by law. The evidence establishes that he operated the boat while intoxicated at a high speed. He did it in a reckless and negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of other persons. This is in contravention of Harbor and Navigation code section 655. The defendant’s negligent act led to the death of the victim.
The defendant stated that his actions were not the proximate cause of the death of the victim hence he should not be held liable. For a person to be held liable, the act and omission must be the proximate cause of the injury suffered by the victim. He said that he had warned the victim.
The court held that the defendant through his misconduct placed an intoxicated victim in the middle of the dangerous river clinging to an overturned boat. The fact that the victim tried to swim was not an abnormal reaction. He would not have drowned in the first place had the defendant not put him in the danger. The court therefore held that the victim could not be blamed and that the reckless and negligent act of the defendant caused the death of the victim.
The defendant contended that the corpus delicti was not established. The corpus delicti means the facts and circumstances constituting a breach of a law. The defendant stated that the extrajudicial confessions should not be used. The court held that there was ample evidence to prove corpus delicti. The defendant and the victim were seen leaving the bar intoxicated, there were witnesses who claimed the boat was operated at a high speed and the defendant reported the incident while he was still intoxicated. The court reasoned that it was immaterial as to who was operating the boat.
The court reasoned that the defendant’s guilt need not to be established beyond reasonable doubt but prima facie case of the defendant’s negligence should be established. The fact that the boat belonged to the defendant was an indication that he had a responsibility. The court did not take into consideration that the victim put himself in danger and that he had been warned hence it is a case of contributory negligence.
The Court was unanimous
In my opinion the defendant got a harsh punishment. The court should have considered all the circumstances of the case before a decision was made.
leagle.com. (2013). People v Armitage. Retrieved from The leagle: http://www.leagle.com/decision/1987599194CalApp3d405_1570