Bob is walking down the street when he slips on a banana peel. He bumps his head on the pavement and starts convulsing. Given the seriousness of his concussion, it seems that he's about to die.

Bob's ex girlfriend Alice happens to be walking nearby. She comes to his aid and gives him water. However, she secretly spikes the water with arsenic. Bob drinks the poisoned water and dies.

Is Alice guilty for Bob's death?

Edit: A similar question was asked here. My question is a bit different since I'm asking whether it is legal to harm, and not kill, a person who is dying.

  • I'm the vignette above it's not clear whether it was Alice or the concussion that killed Bob. Sep 15, 2020 at 5:32
  • Suggestion: pick a poison more likely to be a cause of death, given one swallowable dose. You could make it be a sedative whereupon he goes to sleep and dies because he didn't seek medical treatment.
    – user6726
    Sep 15, 2020 at 15:33
  • Suggestion taken. Sep 15, 2020 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


Does he die from the poison or from the head injury?

If it's from the poison, yes, Alice is guilty of murder. If it's from the head injury, Alice is guilty of attempted murder.

If Bob dies from a combination of the head injury and the poison, Alice is likely guilty of murder. The general common law rule is that when there are two causes of death, liability attaches when the defendant's actions were a "substantial factor" in causing the death.

  • He dies from both. Sep 15, 2020 at 5:32
  • 1
    You can't die twice, so you can't die from two totally different things. You might be dying from one and finally killed by another, but that's not the same thing.
    – user4657
    Sep 15, 2020 at 6:09
  • 2
    It's perfectly possible to die from a combination of two causes, neither of which would have been sufficient to cause death independently. See, e.g., COVID-19.
    – bdb484
    Sep 15, 2020 at 6:12
  • 1
    Murder is not always instantaneous. It is possible to injure someone very severely, but they survive in hospital for a year and then die from their injuries; it’s still murder. In that year there is plenty of opportunity for someone to kill the helpless victim in hospital.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 15, 2020 at 9:54
  • 3
    I don't know that I'd call this a deeply philosophical legal debate. There's one answer and it's pretty well established.
    – bdb484
    Sep 16, 2020 at 1:52

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