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Criminal Law Spring 2016 (WU)

VI.A. Causation

While much of our study of criminal law has focused on two elements of a crime—actus reus and mens rea—criminal law also concerns itself with the resulting harm. Causation, the subject of this section, focuses on how the harm comes about. Attempt, the subject of the next section, considers criminal liability when the result of the crime does not occur at all. In most criminal cases, causation does not pose very difficult problems. As in other areas of law such as torts, causation requires a showing of both the “but-for cause,” or cause in fact, and “proximate” or legal cause. The cases in this section examine causation by looking at scenarios in which the but-for cause can be difficult to ascertain, or when the proximate cause becomes too strained or remote. Consider why the courts find causation in some cases and not others. What rules, beyond a sense of moral culpability, govern causation?