California’s “Provocative Act doctrine” states that an individual can be held responsible for a murder if they have provoked someone else into killing another person. Sound complicated? It is. Yet, this is only one of several different ways in which one person can be found guilty of a murder that someone else committed (self defense when a victim fears for their life, when an innocent bystander is accidentally killed, or when an accomplice is killed). However, in 2009, the California Supreme Court added a qualification to that doctrine, that the act of provocation must be premeditated and that every person who participates in the crime must be acting deliberately and willfully.
When 41-year-old Alameda resident and his accomplice of Oakland (names withheld for privacy) walked into the Bonfare Market on High Street in Alameda, there is no question that they intended to rob the store. What they didn’t know was that an off-duty Sherriff’s deputy (and member of the SWAT team) was sitting in that very market reading the paper. They also weren’t aware that this officer would decide to take matters into his own hands and shoot both of them with his police weapon, ending in one of their deaths. Now, the survivor faces life in prison at the very least and the death penalty at worst.
Here is the question that should be on everyone’s mind: not how, but why is it that one should be held responsible for the other’s death? What was the off-duty Sheriff’s deputy’s responsibility in all of this? The simple fact is that both entered the Bonfare Market with the intention of committing a robbery, how is one person now more responsible for the other’s death than himself? Though this particular legal doctrine is, to be sure, meant to deter such crimes, is it really in the best interest of the public or of justice to see the survivor punished for a murder he did not actually commit and to see the deputy go completely free?