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FINAL EXAM FALL 1998
Bob Blasta has been involved with fireworks almost all of his life. His parents operated a fireworks stand, and when he was old enough, he got involved in the family business. He loves fireworks displays and provides many of the hard-to-get fireworks for the pyrotechs in the area who put on the big shows. He also enjoys providing the smaller fireworks for families who want to celebrate the Fourth together. Late June to early July is his favorite time of the year, because that is when the fireworks business really "heats up."
Blasta’s love for fireworks had not been without difficulties. More than ten years ago, just after new laws had been passed regulating fireworks much more closely than in the past, Blasta sold some fireworks in a manner that violated the new statute. He was convicted of a misdemeanor and lost his license for a year. Since that time, he has generally been very careful with his business, trying to make sure that he followed all the rules carefully. He was aware that, in light of his prior conviction, if he were convicted of any fireworks offense in the future it would be very serious and he could lose his license permanently. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of new competition in the fireworks business recently and it is not nearly as profitable as in past years. But Bob worked hard to stay in business because he enjoyed it so much, and, as a result, he was always looking for ways to cut costs and increase profits.
Last Spring, Bob was talking with Frank Frend, one of his friends in another city who also dealt in fireworks. Bob was lamenting about the high cost of fireworks. Frank asked him if he had used any of the new suppliers that had appeared on the Internet. When Bob indicated that he was unaware of what Frank was talking about, Frank explained that several new companies had begun selling to small retailers like them via the Internet. Frank indicated that he had dealt with Pyroteknica, a small but growing company, and that he had received high quality products at lower cost than with his previous supplier. He encouraged Bob to give the company a try.
Bob thought this sounded like a good idea, so he signed on to the Internet and began his search for the company’s website. After some unsuccessful efforts to find it (Bob was not terribly computer literate), Bob came across a website for a company called Pyrotekka. Initially, he wasn’t sure this was the place Frank was referring to, but once he began looking at their products and prices, he became excited and realized what Frank meant. The company listed many of the products he purchased from the larger manufacturers and jobbers, but offered them at significantly reduced prices. Bob decided to look into buying some of his product from this company.
Bob called the phone number listed on the site in order to check out a few things. He wanted to make sure that the fireworks they supplied met the legal requirements in his state. Like most states, his state required that all fireworks sold within the jurisdiction be Class "C" fireworks approved by the United States Department of Transportation. He also wanted to check on some of the prices and specifications. When he called, a man with a heavy accent answered the phone. Bob indicated that he was a licensed retail fireworks dealer and was interested in purchasing a large supply of fireworks. He asked if all of the fireworks they supplied were approved Class "C". The man replied, "Yes, classy, all classy fireworks." Bob reiterated, so they are all Class "C," and the man responded "Yes." The conversation then turned to price, and Bob was pleasantly surprised with what he heard. Based on the information the man provided, Bob calculated that he could save thousands of dollars by buying most of his product from Pyrotekka. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Bob, this was not the company his friend Frank had been talking about.
Bob placed an order with Pyrotekka for a large supply of fireworks. He was somewhat surprised that they didn’t check on his license like the previous suppliers had, but he figured they must have other ways of checking him out. Within six weeks, his order was delivered, and Bob began to set up for the fireworks season. As Bob unpacked the shipment, he was a bit disappointed with the order. Some of the packages appeared flimsy and the packaging was not as attractive as he was used to. On the other hand, the pricing of the order was very favorable and the selection was broader than he had with his prior supplier. Bob was anxious to try some of the fireworks, and as a licensed dealer, he was entitled to do so.
Bob and some of his friends took some of the fireworks to a field he owned and set them off. He was happy with some of the rockets and fountains, but others seemed to burn hotter than expected. He noticed that many of the fireworks had shorter fuses than he was used to and lit very easily. He was pleasantly surprised with how loud some of the fireworks were, although he seemed concerned that this might be because they contained more pyrotechnic composition than they should. When he expressed some of these concerns to his friends, they reminded him of the money he was saving. Bob thought about calling Pyrotekka and double-checking to make sure the fireworks met legal specs, but he realized that he didn’t have enough time to replace them if there was a problem, and he decided the differences were probably just due to difference in manufacturers.
On June 20th, the day sales are legally allowed to begin, Bob opened his fireworks stand. He moved most of his supply of fireworks from his permanent storage facility to the tents he used for retail sales. As was his past practice, Bob hired a college student, this time Steve Soph, to act as a "security guard" for the fireworks operation. Bob set up a trailer about twenty yards from the tents and had Steve stay in the trailer overnight to prevent theft and vandalism. Bob was able to sell his fireworks at a cheaper price than in past years, and business was good for the first few days. He had several customers come back for returns or exchanges, claiming that the fireworks were of poor quality. Although the number of such customers was higher than usual, Bob wasn’t too concerned since most of the customers were willing to take new product in exchange.
As the Fourth of July approached, business picked up even more. Bob had a steady stream of customers and had several people working for him. He was selling a lot of fireworks and making quite a bit of money. He was pleased with how things were going until one of his regular customers came to see him. The customer was very upset because some of the fireworks he had purchased apparently ignited on their own in the back of his pickup. He had left them sitting out in the sun, and apparently the heat had ignited one of the fuses. Luckily, only a few items were left in the truck, so there was not much damage, but he requested a refund and told Bob he would buy his fireworks elsewhere in the future. Bob was somewhat upset about this. He wondered whether there was something about these new fireworks that caused the summer heat to set them off or whether, instead, maybe the customer might have done something to trigger the ignition. He thought about checking some more of the fireworks to see if they might be defective or below standards, but got busy and didn’t have the chance.
That night, Bob saw a story on the news about a small explosion that had occurred in a neighboring town. Apparently, some fireworks that had been left out on a back porch had spontaneously ignited in the unseasonably warm summer heat, causing damage to the owner’s home. The police were investigating the matter. Bob knew he had sold fireworks to several people from that town and was concerned that maybe they were the ones that had exploded, but he figured if they were, he would hear about it soon enough.
The next day was the hottest day of the year. Bob was quite busy for most of the day, but business slowed up as closing time approached. As a result, he sent his employees home and planned to finish up himself. Just as he was about to leave, a large group of teenagers arrived. Bob hoped they would make their purchases quickly because he had an appointment to go to. He knew, however, that sales to young people tended to take longer because they could never decide what they wanted, they always chose more than they had money for, and he had to check that they were only buying items they were legally permitted to buy. In addition, Bob had to keep an eye on the young people to make sure they didn’t take anything without paying.
One by one, the teenagers approached the cash register with their purchases. Bob asked each of the young people for their age and ID, and most were either eighteen or nineteen. According to law, they were able to purchase Class 1 or Class 2 fireworks on their own. There were a few teenagers who were only fifteen. They could only buy Class 1 fireworks unless they were accompanied by a parent. These younger teenagers were aware of this restriction and had only selected appropriate items to purchase.
One particularly obnoxious sixteen-year old, Tommy Tawnter, insisted that he had a right to purchase firecrackers (which are a Class 2 firework). Bob advised him that he could only do so if he were accompanied by an adult. The boy told Bob that he was, since several of the people he was with were over 18. With all that was going on, Bob couldn’t seem to remember if the age for an adult under that part of the law was 18 or 21, and he started to say he had to check when he noticed two boys messing around with some particularly flammable items. He went over to get them to stop. By this point he was becoming quite frazzled. He needed to finish with this group and get to his appointment. When he returned to finish up with Tommy, he mentally went through the law and concluded that it was OK to sell the firecrackers to him as long as he was accompanied by a person over 18. He took Tommy’s money and sold him the firecrackers. Tommy and the other young men then left the tent.
As Bob was closing up the tents and preparing to leave, he heard a loud noise outside. He saw several fireworks explode a few feet from the tent. They had apparently been dropped there by someone. Initially, Bob became very concerned, thinking that the fireworks may have ignited on their own. If that were the case, it would have presented a very dangerous situation. He then remembered that some of the boys who just left had been clowning around, and he concluded that they must have done something to cause the ignition. Bob thought he’d better check this out, especially since the forecast was for even hotter weather, but, since he needed to get to his appointment, he decided to worry about it tomorrow. At about the same time, Steve arrived for the "evening shift" and Bob left for his appointment.
After the group of boys left the stand, they dropped Tommy off at his home. Tommy lived down the street from Earl Elder, an elderly man whose wife had recently passed away. Tommy was a neighborhood trouble-maker who had never gotten along with Earl. Tommy had insulted both Earl and his wife on a regular basis and enjoyed playing loud music that disturbed the Elders. Tommy had always been mean to the Elder’s dog. He knew it hated loud noises, and he often taunted it and frightened it with loud sounds. This had always angered Earl, and did so even more now that he had become even more attached to the dog after his wife died.
Tommy decided to see how the dog would respond to the sound of the firecrackers he had just bought. He rode his bike over to Earl’s house and stood just outside his fenced yard. Earl was half asleep in his rocking chair on the porch and the dog was asleep at his feet. Tommy lit a rack of firecrackers and threw them just a few feet from Earl and the dog. The noise woke Earl and startled the dog, who began to whimper and ran to hide. Tommy sat on his bike laughing and held up several more strips of firecrackers. "I’ll be back", he yelled. Earl glanced over and saw the dog trembling, then saw the smile on Tommy’s face. He had had enough, and he picked up a large rock from the rock garden in his front yard and flung it directly at Tommy, who had just started to ride away. The rock hit Tommy in the head and knocked him off his bike. He died as a result of the blow to his head coupled with the fall.
Meanwhile, several miles away, another explosion was occurring. Apparently, the fireworks that Bob had purchased from Pyrotekka were not, in fact, Class "C" approved fireworks but were instead cheaply made, dangerous fireworks imported from a manufacturer who did not follow required safety standards. Many of these fireworks could not withstand the heat in this part of the country and were capable of igniting on their own. This was the hottest day of the year so far, and heat had built up in the enclosed tent area. About a half hour after Bob left his stand, the heat buildup in the tent area caused some of the fireworks to explode. This caused a huge chain reaction explosion. Unfortunately, Steve, who was in the trailer at the time, was killed instantly by the force of the explosion.
Discuss the potential criminal liability of Bob and Earl under the following statutes only. Analyze § 220.200 under Common Law and Model Penal Code. Analyze § 220.450 and all homicide offenses under Common Law only.
Mok. G.L. § 220.200
Whoever knowingly sells or transfers at retail any fireworks as defined in sections 220.010 through 220.090 without being licensed to do so; or, being licensed under this chapter to sell at retail, sells or transfers any fireworks not approved as Class "C" fireworks by the United States Department of Transportation, shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, unless such person shall have previously been convicted of a fireworks offense, in which case they shall be guilty of a Class D felony.
Mok. G.L. § 220.450
Whoever, being a retail seller, sells or transfers any
a) Class 1 fireworks to any person who is under the age of 14, or
b) Class 2 fireworks to any person who is under the age of 14, or to any person aged 14 or 15 who is not accompanied by a parent, or to any person aged 16 or 17 who is not accompanied by an adult, or
c) Class 3 fireworks to any person who is under the age of 18
shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.
Mok. G.L. .§ 500.100 Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice.
Mok. G.L. .§ 500.110 Murder in the First Degree
Murder is murder in the first degree if committed with premeditation and deliberation, or if the actor is engaged in the preparation for, commission of, or flight from, a felony.
Mok. G.L. .§ 500.120 Murder in the Second Degree
All other murder is murder in the second degree.
Mok. G.L. § 500.200 Manslaughter
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.
Mok. G.L. § 500.210 Voluntary Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter is a killing upon sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
Mok. G.L. § 500.220 Involuntary Manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another by the commission of an unlawful act not a felony or a lawful act in a grossly negligent manner.
NOTE: Bob is licensed under the terms of chapter 220 to sell fireworks at retail. Selling at retail is defined in the statute as selling at a set location on more than three days during the year. There are penalty provisions in other statutes under this chapter that authorize minor fines for people who transfer small amounts of fireworks improperly on a casual basis.
Bob’s conclusion that an adult for purposes of § 220.450 is a person over the age of 18 is incorrect. In fact, the statute (in § 220.000, the definitions section for the chapter) defines an adult for these purposes as a person over the age of 21.