In May 2012, 27-year-old Eric Charlton accidently shot and killed his younger brother. While drinking on a camping trip in Utah, Charlton’s handgun accidently fired, striking his brother, Cameron, in the temple. Because Charlton had not loaded a live round in the gun after replacing the bullet clip, he rightfully believed the chamber was empty. Likewise, Charlton had no intention of shooting his brother. Charlton was initially charged with second-degree felony manslaughter despite his lack of intention to kill, though this charge was later reduced to misdemeanor negligent homicide.
Under the rules of strict liability, legal responsibility is determined by wrongful intention combined with wrongful action. Intention includes actions that are done purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. Reckless and negligent actions are included because the person is considered responsible for knowing the possible ramifications of a particular action. In the case of Eric Charlton, none of these applied because he had every reason to think the gun chamber was empty. Therefore, I believe Charlton should not be held legally responsible for his brother’s death. Though he was the cause of his brother’s accidental murder, he should not be culpable for the inadvertent loading and firing of the bullet that killed Cameron. It is an extremely tragic and sad situation, which Charlton will constantly be reminded of throughout his life. Charlton had no desire to kill his brother. He loved and cared about his brother dearly, and the coming life of trauma from this experience will serve as ample punishment for Charlton. To punish Charlton with legal sanctions on top of this is excessive and does not consider the pain he is already experiencing as a result of his brother’s death.
The purpose of legal sanctions is to discourage future crime and to serve as retribution for those who have committed crimes, along with preventing risks to society. Eric Charlton has not perpetuated criminal activity by his accidental murder of his brother, and there is no need to exacerbate his guilt and pain with legal retribution. This does not eliminate Charlton’s responsibility in his brother’s death; it simply acknowledges that he is already experiencing the grave consequences of his actions.
In conclusion, I believe intention is extremely important in determining legal and moral responsibility. When there is no criminal intent, legal sanctions should not be imposed, as trauma and guilt serve as sufficient punishments. If Charlton had accidently killed someone else who was not related to him, I think civil court fines would be appropriate, but he still should not receive jail time for such a mistake.