What criminal charges could be issued against the two men in the following scenario?
An elderly woman resisted a purse snatcing near her home and was knocked to the pavement. The two purse snatchers escaped with $15 in the purse. The woman was taken to a hospital where surgery was performed after a blood clot developed. The woman lapsed into a coma within hours of the purse snatching and died six weeks later.
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The men could be charged with robbery and murder. It is possible that the murder charge would be reduced to manslaughter, but prosecutors would inevitably pursue the former. Death caused by an unlawful act such as robbery constitutes murder, as one is presumed to intend the consequences of his actions. The act of stealing the purse constitutes strong arm robbery--not as severe as armed robbery, but not a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions. Had the woman lived, they would be charged with assault and battery, but because she died, and the robbery was the direct and proximate cause of her death, a charge of murder would lie. The amount taken is immaterial.
Clearly, the first charge that could be issued against these two men would be a charge of robbery. The two clearly took money from the old woman through the use of force. That charge is essentially indisputable.
A charge of murder could be brought, though that one would be harder to prove. The basic issue would be whether the men could reasonably have foreseen that their actions (which were clearly illegal) would lead to the death of the woman. A prosecutor could clearly make a case that the men should have known this. It is reasonable to assume that knocking an old woman (depending on how old and frail she looked) to the pavement could well lead to her death. However, the defense would surely argue that the men could not have intended or foreseen her death and could not, therefore, be guilty of murder.
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