[Posted August 19, 2008] The Court of Appeals today addresses for the first time a novel and interesting question about the doctrine of transferred intent in a criminal case. Today’s ruling comes in Blow v. Commonwealth, which must have made some news last year in the Richmond area.

November 26, 2007 was a nightmarish day for the Blow family. Jerry Lemone Blow Sr. got into an argument with his wife that turned violent; the man attacked his wife with a kitchen knife, stabbing her several times. Worse, this all happened in full view of the couple’s daughter (whose age is never mentioned in the opinion, but I infer she is a juvenile). The daughter came to aid of the mother, jumping on her father’s back and trying to grab the knife. In the process, the daughter’s hand was sliced open.

Blow fled the home and eventually led police (from three different jurisdictions) on a 100 mph chase on Interstate highways in the greater Richmond area. The chase eventually ended when Blow ran his car into a trooper’s vehicle at 60 mph, causing a collision in which the trooper was injured.

Prosecutors stacked charges against Blow like so much cordwood. He was eventually convicted of malicious wounding of his wife and eluding a law enforcement officer, plus malicious wounding of his daughter and unlawful wounding of a law enforcement officer. The former two convictions were not appealed, and today’s opinion only addresses the latter two.

The issues relating to the unlawful wounding conviction are straightforward, and the Court of Appeals decides it by applying well-established precedent, including a rolling roadblock case from a 2000 decision. The court finds that the Commonwealth proved that Blow had an intention to injure the officer when he rammed into him, causing the collision. But that’s not why today’s ruling is published.

This is a published decision because of the ruling on the conviction of malicious wounding of the daughter. Malicious wounding requires intent, and Blow argued that he never meant to hurt his daughter. The prosecution convinced the trial court to apply the doctrine of transferred intent, which provides that if you try to injure Person A, and inadvertently thereby injury Person B, then your intent is transferred to B. Otherwise, some assailants would get off scot-free simply because their aim was bad.

But Blow had an ingenious argument in response to that. He contended that the rationale for applying the transferred intent doctrine, as expressed above, doesn’t apply where the assailant actually succeeds in injuring his intended victim, as happened here. This is a point on which courts in other jurisdictions have split: Some find that the doctrine should not be applied, to avoid converting one crime into two, while others apply it, believing that the assailant should be responsible for “collateral damage” in a situation like this.

Today, the Court of Appeals sides with what it describes as the majority view, and holds that the trial court properly applied the doctrine to this case. In doing so, it cites one particularly pithy quote from a Connecticut decision; that quote is worth repeating here:

“Human beings are not fungible. Therefore, a separate injury to each constitutes a separate crime, and the law does not give the defendant a discount on the second and subsequent victims of his intentional conduct.”