Friday, April 19, 2013

Criminal Homicide, Negligence Research

Two very different deadly explosions this week, one in Texas and one in Massachusetts, have probably left many people with the desire to seek retribution. Prosecutors in both states will have to decide whether criminal charges can and should be brought in both instances, and plaintiffs' counsel will need to research the law to determine what, if any, claims can be brought by their clients.

In the Massachusetts case, it seems increasingly clear that jurisdiction will be a big issue---the two suspects may not be U.S. citizens, it certainly seems the federal government has asserted jurisdiction over criminal matters, but what about any private citizens pursuing tort claims against the suspects (or other entities)?

In Texas, one of the biggest legal questions is whether (or how), under Texas law, a corporation can be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Perhaps the fertilizer company is not at fault; at this stage, however, any attorneys looking to resolve claims (wither civilly or criminally) have quite a few legal issues to work through.

If you're in this position, where would you start? How would you research an area with which you are unfamiliar? First, you could look for similar cases. You might start with news stories about similar incidents so that you can track down docket numbers and party names, then review those files to determine the claims brought in those cases and whether they are applicable in your situation. Bloomberg Law is a great resource available to you for free at law school to research dockets.

You might also look for an article, a great treatise, or other book. For Texas, try these:
For Massachusetts, it's a little trickier. You could start your search with specifics---is there a private cause of action against alleged terrorists? (For a possible answer, try Terrorism Law: Materials, Cases, Comments.) If that's too specific, go back to basics and research ordinary criminal liability for bombings. Sometimes understanding the framework of the crime itself is the best first step before you dig into the more complicated questions.