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Mutual Combat: Criminal liability, hand of one, innocent bystander, transferred intent

In a recent S.C. Supreme Court case, the court held that "mutual combat can properly serve as the basis for a murder charge for the death of a non-combatant under the 'hand of one is the hand of all' theory of accomplice liability." In this case, two men were shooting at another man throughout a neighborhood. The shootout and "cat and mouse" game went on for several hours and spanned several blocks with all three men shooting at each other. In the end, the two men were driving away from the other man when he fired at their car. He missed the car and killed an innocent bystander.

All three men were charged with murder. The issue of this case is whether or not the two men could be charged for murder when they did not fire the shot and were driving away. The court upheld their conviction under the mutual combat theory. Mutual combat usually applies in self-defense cases and bars a defendant from claiming self-defense because he mutually agreed to fight the other person and was not without fault (in a brief nutshell).

In this case, the court agreed with the trial court that all three men were in a mutual combat situation and thus were liable for the actions and consequences of each individual in combat. The court had to look to outside jurisdictions to determine if a combatant could be held liable for the death of a non-combatant (innocent bystander). The court held that under the theory of mutual combat and "hand of one, hand of all" all three individuals were liable for the actions of each other during their combat.

This case also involves the legal doctrine of transferred intent because the defendant who actually killed the innocent bystander wanted to kill the other men. So this intent was transferred from one human to another.

Mutual combatants may withdraw:

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