May 31, 2016 Articles

Assaults and Life

When the victim of an assault dies from the strike, only the homicide remains. Courts that disregard this rule violate the prohibition against judicial creation of crimes.

By Kele Onyejekwe

The purpose of assault law is to protect the integrity of the person. At common law, if the victim does not survive, the assault merges into the homicide and no longer has an independent existence. See 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries *204–17 (11th ed. 1791). Assault with intent to commit murder is the most serious assault at common law. Id. Criminal statutes, such as those in the United States Code, follow the common law. See, e.g., Rosemond v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1240 (2014) (common-law principles continue to govern aiding and abetting law under 18 U.S.C. § 2). Unless a specific statute calls for it, a court creates a crime if it convicts a defendant for an assault when death results.

After two trials, Richie Fontaine was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter. Fontaine v. People, 2015 V.I. Supreme LEXIS, at *14 (V.I. 2015). He was found guilty of assault with intent to commit murder. Id. But, of course, the victim died from this assault, according to the prosecution. The defendant argued on appeal that an assault does not lie when death results. But the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands affirmed the conviction, rejecting his argument. Id. Focusing on Virgin Islands assault provisions, I review the grave implications of an assault conviction being upheld when the victim died.

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