Brandon Miller is in the news and for all the wrong reasons.
Yesterday new information was made public at the preliminary hearing for Darius Miles (former Tide basketball player) and Michael Davis, both of whom are charged with the murder of Jamea Harris. Law enforcement testimony shed further light on the situation, notably that Brandon Miller was involved in the events leading up to the death of Ms. Harris.
There is a national debate today about what the University of Alabama should do, whether Miller should be suspended, and whether coach Nate Oats deserves some type of reprimand. But what does Alabama law say about the Brandon Miller situation?
While we don’t know all of the evidence, here are a few legal issues to consider:
Is Brandon Miller an Accessory to Murder?
Alabama Code Section 13A-2-23 is the statue that defines whether someone is an accessory to a crime. That statute says:
A person is accountable for the behavior of another constituting an offense if, with the intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense:
(1) He/she procures, induces or causes the other person to commit the offense;
(2) He/she aids or abets the other person in committing the offense; [or]
(3) Having a legal duty to prevent the commission of the offense, he/she fails to make an effort he/she is legally required to make.
So how does this statute apply to the facts as we currently know them?
The major issue that an attorney spots immediately is the “intent to promote or assist” requirement found in the first sentence of the statute. Currently, there is no direct evidence that Brandon Miller knew that anyone would use the gun.
Of course, common sense will tell you that bringing a gun to someone in the early morning hours after a night of partying is certainly a terrible idea. However, without evidence that Brandon Miller intended to assist in a murder, Brandon Miller cannot be guilty of being an accessory to murder.
Did Miller Act in a Conspiracy to Commit Murder?
Alabama Code Section 13A-4-3 defines criminal conspiracy. The statute says, in pertinent part:
(a) A person is guilty of criminal conspiracy if, with the intent that conduct constituting an offense be performed, he agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct, and any one or more of such persons does an overt act to effect an objective of the agreement.
Similar to the statute defining “accessory,” it would be difficult to prove that Brandon Miller entered into a criminal conspiracy to commit murder. There is insufficient evidence (as of now) that he had the intent for someone to die.
Does Miller Face Any Civil Liability?
Putting aside how the incident affects his NBA future, civil liability is likely the most concerning legal issue Brandon Miller may face. Brandon Miller could face a wrongful death civil lawsuit for what occurred.
But what would have to be proven by the lawyer who filed such a lawsuit?
In order to win a wrongful death lawsuit in Alabama, the estate of the deceased must show that the defendant was “negligent.” Negligent conduct is conduct that is less egregious than any criminal activity. To prove negligence, an attorney must reasonably satisfy a judge and jury that:
- There was a legal duty to refrain from bringing the gun to the scene;
- There was a failure to abide by that duty;
- The failure to abide by the duty was the direct and proximate cause of the shooting; and
- Death of the victim.
Two legal issues immediately jump to mind. First, did Miller have a legal duty to refrain from bringing the gun to the scene?
Whether someone has a legal duty to do or not do something is a question of law that is to be answered by a judge instead of a jury. Arguments could be made on both sides and there is no clear, definitive answer to this question. However, Alabama case law precedent found in Stanford v. Wal-Mart instructs a judge to consider the following factors when determining whether there was a “legal duty” to act or refrain from acting:
- The inherent dangers of the conduct;
- The relationships between the parties involved;
- the nature of the defendant’s activities; and
- the type of harm threatened by the conduct.
The second issue that bears discussion is the “proximate cause” requirement. Proximate cause is defined by the Supreme Court of Alabama in Jones v. General Motors as:
The proximate cause of an injury is that cause which in the natural and probable sequence of events, and without the intervention of any new or independent, produces the injury and without which such injury would not have occurred.
If a wrongful death lawsuit was filed, Miller’s attorney would argue that Miles’s and Davis’s conduct was an intervening or independent cause that broke the causal chain between Miller’s conduct and Ms. Harris’s death. Attorneys for the family of Ms. Harris would argue that bringing a gun to the scene given all the circumstances about that evening would foreseeably lead to harmful conduct.
In Alabama, the question of proximate cause is usually a decision made by a jury as opposed to a judge. It is uncertain how a jury of Miller’s peers would decide the issue of proximate cause.
What’s Next for Brandon Miller?
Brandon Miller’s NBA future may have taken a hit. His public image will likely suffer. However, do not expect this incident to derail his career.
Nevertheless, it would not be surprising to see him named as a defendant in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. The statute of limitations for such a civil lawsuit is two years from the date of Ms. Harris’s death.