Joe decides that he’s had enough of Tom’s body odor and fires an unjustified and murderous shot at Tom with the full intent of unlawfully killing him. Joe, however, is a bad shot and misses Tom. Instead, the round hits and kills Harry, against whom Joe had no murderous intent. Can Joe be charged with the intentional murder of Harry?
One might argue that Joe never had any intent to murder Harry (only to murder Tom), so he ought not be criminally liable for having intentionally murdered Harry. The doctrine of transferred intent, however, holds that the murderous intent Joe possessed towards Tom has transferred to Harry, and so Joe can indeed by tried for the intentional murder of Harry.
This same doctrine of transferred intent also applies in a positive sense, however. That is, if Joe had instead fired the shot at Tom in lawful self-defense, he had good (not bad) intent in firing that shot. If Joe misses and instead kills Harry, Joe’s good intent at firing the shot towards Tom is transferred to Harry, and thus Harry’s killing is lawful self-defense–even though Joe never intended to shoot Harry and Harry never presented any threat towards Joe.
I should be posting Andrew’s articles more often because they are quite illuminating and has no problem slaughtering sacred cows. In fact, bringing you the reality of the law and not what we wish the law would say and do is his specialty.
Don’t follow his articles at your own risk.