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§ 125.075(1), Procuring Alcohol for Minor Resulting in Death – Jury Instructions: Causation

State v. Ronald L. Wille, 2007 WI App 27, PFR filed 2/28/07
For Wille: Jerome A. Maeder, Benjamin Welch

Issue/Holding: 

¶24   Wille claims the trial court erred in instructing jurors that, to find Wille guilty of the charged crime, Meshak’s consumption of alcohol provided by Wille was required to be “a” substantial factor in causing Meshak’s death, instead of “the” substantial factor, as Wille requested. Alternatively, he contends the court should have also instructed jurors that, to be “a substantial factor,” the death had to be “a natural and probable consequence” of Wille’s conduct. [6] We are not persuaded that the trial court erred in instructing jurors that Wille could be found guilty if Meshak’s consumption of alcohol provided by Wille was “a substantial factor” in causing Meshak’s death, or that it erroneously exercised its discretion by refusing to insert the additional language Wille requested.

¶26   … (T)he trial court correctly instructed jurors that Wis. Stat. § 125.075(1) requires a showing that Meshak’s consumption of the provided alcohol needed to be “a substantial factor in causing [Meshak’s] death.”

¶27   We further conclude that the court did not err in refusing to add to the instruction that Meshak’s death must be shown to have been “the natural and probable consequence of the accused’s conduct,” which is the language Wille requested the trial court to insert. As the supreme court explained in Serebin, the phrase “a substantial factor” is the equivalent of “the natural and probable consequence of the accused’s conduct.” Serebin, 119 Wis.  2d at 849. We agree with the State that it is not an erroneous exercise of discretion for a trial court to decline to provide jurors with alternative language that communicates the same concept as other language already included in the instruction.

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