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I am looking (searches so far not successful) for a term that describes this type of scenario:

A teen puts a nail against the tire of a parked car as a prank. It leads to an accident that results in a death, and is prosecuted for this.

A person pulls a knife on a victim and a passerby fires a gun to help out. The bullet misses, but kills a bystander, and the knife thief is the one charged with murder.

In other words, the term for prosecution based on being the one that set in motion a series of events, even if not the one finally responsible, here, neither the driver, nor the shooter.

  • "felony murder" in the specific case of death – George White Jan 12 at 0:22
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The term for prosecution is prosecution, regardless of the offense(s) that prompted the proceedings. Based on the pair of examples you sketched, you might be referring to involuntary manslaughter.

Black's Law Dictionary defines manslaughter as "[t]he unlawful killing of another without malice, either express or implied; which may be either voluntarily, upon a sudden heat, or involuntarily, but in the commission of some unlawful act". This unpublished opinion reflects an example of variant of this definition under California law (see references to section 192).

Both of the examples you outline involve an unlawful act: putting the nail against the tire of a car, pulling a knife on a victim, and maybe the passerby's act of shooting.

There is no all-encompassing term for all other acts which trigger series of events not involving the death of a person. This would depend on the tort or violation and the mental state attributed to it: involuntary, [grossly] negligent, reckless, intentional, malicious, and so forth.

kills a bystander, and the knife thief is the one charged with murder.

That will not be necessarily the case. The prosecutor's task is to assess the circumstances and preliminary evidence in order to decide who to charge and for what.

  • Yes to everything you wrote. I am just looking for a term I'd heard but forgotten, which references the series of events set in motion. Not so much the term for prosecution. I'm re-reading my question to see if an edit would make it more clear. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jan 11 at 14:59
  • @JTP-ApologisetoMonica Are you thinking of "factual causation" as opposed to "proximate cause"? Hope this helps. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 11 at 15:06
  • I think Proximate cause may be it, or at least close. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jan 11 at 15:10
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An answer, only for the case involving a death, is felony murder. This will only apply if the intent of the original action was a felony. Someone killed in a bank robbery - yes, but not someone killed due to action initiated by a minor shoplifting incident. Or a nail leaned against a tire.

From Wikipedia

The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdictions that broadens the crime of murder: when an offender kills (regardless of intent to kill) in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime (called a felony in some jurisdictions), the offender, and also the offender's accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder.

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