July 18, 2019 By Wallin & Klarich

The California Supreme Court has issued a decision which strictly limits a prosecutor’s ability to convict a defendant of attempted murder based on a “kill zone” theory of liability. In cases where defendants are charged with attempted murder under the kill zone theory, prosecutors have been able to argue a defendant’s intent to kill each member within a group of individuals when the defendant’s actions placed the potential victim(s) within in a zone of harm. For instance, a defendant who places an explosive device on a bus could be charged with attempted murder for each passenger who could have been harmed by the explosion.  

In an appeal brought by defendants, Michael Canizales, and KeAndre Windfield, the California Supreme Court limited the use of the kill zone theory to cases where the prosecutor could prove that the defendant specifically intended to kill each of the potential victims, rather than simply place them in harm.

Canizales and Windfield, were both gang members who had fired gunshots at a rival gang member. The gunshots missed their intended target, as well as another gang member who was nearby, but hit and killed an innocent bystander. The defendants were charged with murder for the death of the bystander and also attempted murder for both the intended target and the other gang member who was in the area under the “kill zone” theory.

The Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the defendants intended to kill people that were within the area of their intended target, and that the kill zone theory should only be applied in cases where: “the only reasonable inference is that the defendant intended to kill everyone in the area in order to ensure the primary target’s death.” Given the difficulty in proving this, in effect, the Court has limited the use of the kill zone theory.

Wallin & Klarich Would Like To Hear From You

Do you think the state was justified in limiting the use of the kill zone theory in most prosecutions? Do you think it’s fair to the defendants who did not necessarily intend to harm someone that was in the wrong place at the wrong time? We want to hear what you have to say. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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