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Dick Cheney's potential legal exposure

In light of Tuesday's revelation that lawyer Harry Whittington has suffered a heart attack as a consequence of being shot by Vice President Dick Cheney during a hunting tgrip, questions have arisen regarding the legal consequences Mr. Cheney might confront as a result of the incident.

Here's an assessment of the potential legal exposure the vice-president could face -- from a Texas prosecutor, a former federal prosecutor, and western states defense lawyers who have handled hunting accident cases, based on the facts as we now know them.

If Mr. Whittington were to die as a result of the shooting, these legal authorities believe Cheney would probably not be prosecuted.  But if the local district attorney decided to pursue charges, the most likely would be either manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.  Texas no longer has an involuntary manslaughter statute.

Manslaughter, the more serious of the two, requires proof of recklessness -- consciously disregarding a known risk which is likely to cause harm.  These legal experts say the facts of this accident don't meet that test.  Many said it would require evidence of something as serious as a hunter knowing another hunter was in the potential line of fire and shooting anyway.  (Recklessness would be something like Saddam Hussein shooting weapons into the air, one lawyer said.  Another said it would take an action like a scene in a movie when the bad guy shoots at another guy to make him "dance.")

The less serious charge would be criminally negligent homicide.  While in some states that's a misdemeanor, it's the lowest-range felony in Texas, punishable by up to two years' confinement. The required element is proof of gross negligence -- a total failure to be mindful of potential consequences. 

However, all these experts agreed that Cheney could almost certainly face civil liability, if the Whittingtons decided to sue.  The standard here is much lower -- simple negligence.  The question would then be, what would a careful hunter do in a similar situation.  He could potentially be sued whether or not Mr. Whittington dies.

Lawyers in western states who have handled fatal hunting accidents said authorities often decline to bring criminal charges.  One even defended a man who mistakenly shot and killed his own son.  But these experts also say this is very much the call of the local prosecutor, who, if the authorities were to decide to proceed, would take the case to a local grand jury.

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COMMENTS

A Fundamental Question:

If (as Scooter Libby has asserted in court papers and VP Cheney suggested in the Fox interview yesterday), CP Cheney effectively declassified the covert status of Valerie Plame, why did Prseident Bush waste taxpayer funds by appointing a special prosecutor needlessly? The time line simply doesn't make sense. Could it be another example of the Administration making up creating ex post facto justifications for inappropriate actions? Is this they way they want to keep Scooter Libby out of jail?

This is just another example of the current administrations perception that they are above the law. Why was not he issued a citation for not having the proper hunting license, anyone else in the U.S would. But, not him he is above the law. Where is Ted Nugent and Charleton Heston standing up with the N.R.A. defending Cheneys' constitutional rights to have a gun and shoot it at anytime at anything or Ted Nugent on T.V. telling us how spiritual it is to kill an innocent little bird. Maybe Ted can have Cheney on his show Wanted Ted or Alive to demonstrate the proper way to shoot your friend, leave the scene, not have the proper hunting license and get away with it scott free. Once and for all why don't that make hunting animals a real sport, give the animals guns and let them shoot back. When are we as a so called civilized society going to realize there are more than enough guns in the world and stop selling them. Who in our country that is not a convicted felon does not have a gun that wants one. Someone should exlain to Cheney about gun safety, don't shoot a gun when you don't know that your hunting partner is in front of you. How do you step out of a vehicle and start shooting, most states have laws against you can't shoot from a roadway.

MILLIONS OF AMERICANS DID NOT WANT CHENEY TO BE THE VP OF AMERICA,I AM ONE. WE DO NOT LIKE HIS POLITICS. THE INAPPROPRIATE HANDLING OF THIS INCIDENT BY HIM IS ANOTHER REASON WHY MILLIONS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HE REPRESENTS RESENTS HIM AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. I KEEP THINKING OF HIS WIFE MAKING THE REMARK THAT SHE THOUGHT JOHN KERRY WAS CRUEL BECAUSE HE REFERRED TO THEIR DAUGHTERS APPARENT LESBIANISM. SOMETIMES THE TRUTH AND REALITY HURTS, THAT DOES NOT ALWAYS MAKE THE PERSON SPEAKING IT CRUEL. THE FACT IS- DICK CHENEY, THE VP OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHOT HIS FRIEND AND DID NOT HAVE THE DECENCY TO COME FORWARD AT THE TIME AND MAKE A STATEMENT OF REGRET TO THE PEOPLE HE REPRESENTS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'S CITIZENS. NO WONDER THE WORLD WONDERS ABOUT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE USA.THE MEDIA, MAKES A DIFFERENCE. I WISH HIS FRIEND A SPEEDY RECOVERY.

I have been wondering when this irresponsible, mindless,mean spirited thug was going to reveal himself for all of us who have eyes to see. This is really pathetic. Ordinarily I would chalk it up to alcohol, but in this case I believe Chaney was simply doing what he always does, make reckless choices,employ aggressive measures to get his outcome, to hell with the rules, and hide behind the shield of his party and office. Oh sure, let's just "move past this" as the White House has proposed. Let's just forget that this loose cannon is making our policy and putting our soldiers out in harms way. The worst day of his life , what a joke. I feel soooo sorry for him, don't you?

Who will pay for the medical care the attorney received? We, the taxpayers? Or, Mr Cheney, as his actions were definately outside the official actions of his office.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - Can we move on now to something besides a stupid accident? Let the parties involved resolve any remaining issues.

This has NOTHING to do with the fate of the nation, with the integrity or "correctness" of politics (either party), or even with the "liberal media" and the "distorted rights of the rich and powerful." The fact that so much time and energy is being wasted on something so trivial to anyone except those directly involved says there are too many people with too much time on their hands.

Or, in the words of one of my favorite songs,
"GET OVER IT!"

The Vice President IS accountable to us lowly taxpayers. And why; we pay his salary! He works for us (supposedly). Everyone keeps saying, "it was JUST an accident". But an accident with a powerful firearm is serious. I'd be willing to bet if Mr. Whittington had fired the "accidental" shot, he'd be somewhere being interrogated by the Secret Service, rich lawyer or not. And it IS a big deal; Mr. Cheney is not just Joe Schmoe, he is the second most powerful man in the country. To act like this incident is "nothing" is irresponsible.

What the difference does it matter if they guy was shot at 30 yds. or 20 yds, etc.?

Most of these posts are extremely childish!
Get a life folks...accidents happen in all types of activities, e.g. a golf ball blinding some one who got konked.

So. . . shooting someone *is* legal.

Hmmm, where can I buy a gun?

WHO CARES!! Has anyone checked to see if the Speaker of the House has disclosed that he has an ingrown toenail? The media's rush to find "sensationalism" has hit an all time low.

My husband used to hunt. He tells me that you are supposed to shoot a bird after it's way up in the air, not level with the ground or at the height of a man. How tall was Mr. Whittington anyway? My husband no longer hunts. Hopefully, Mr. Cheney will stop hunting too.

From the looks of the shot pattern on the victim that was in the news, I would have to say he was shot at a MUCH closer range than 30 yards. It does look more like 10 to 15 yards. A 28 Ga. shotgun used for quail has usually an "open" or modified choke on th barrel.

In some states it is a crime for any hunter to shoot and wound another--no matter the circumstances

Was Cheney drunk? If he were Joe Schmo, the authorities would have trotted out the breathalyzer immediately. Was there a lag in reporting the incident because Cheney needed to sober up?

Why is everyone trying to make this a partisan issue? Do any of you recall the message, "Judge not least ye be judged"? For all of you pointing fingers, remember there are always 3 fingers pointing back at you! An old indian saying comes to mind, goes something like- Never judge a man until you have walked three miles in his moccassins.

The Cheney shooting is a perfect metaphor for the performance of this entire administration.

impeach him he made us all look bad around this world and he needs to resign asap

George W. has once again shown he sure knows how to pick them. How many times can this administration shoot themselves in the foot and get away with it.

I've known many, many, hunters most notably my Uncle Walt. Walt has hunted for over 65 years. Once, when he took me hunting while in my teens, Walt told me the biggest rule of hunting is to "never take the shot if you can't see the whole hunting party and the dogs". Uncle Walt has never shot anybody. Ever. Responsible hunters don't take the shot without verifying the safety of it. You're responsible for the shot when it leaves the gun. You can't "unshoot" it. I fervently believe that alcohol WAS a factor in the accident. If the accident was that, an ACCIDENT, there should have been no reason for Cheney not to be interviewed immediately following Whittington's removal to the hospital. Think about it---in an auto accident with a severe injury, would Mr. Cheney have been allowed to delay his interview with authorities as long as this incident went uninvestigated?

Had the situation been reversed, and Dick Cheney had been the one who was shot, NBC could not have cared less about this story. The local police and medical officials knew about this immediately. Why would the press corps need the information any sooner?

Where was the media concern when there was a 30 hour delay in Hillary Clinton releasing the late White House counsel Vincent Foster's suicide note to authorities and her own husband. Not to mention the permanent delay of Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick "accident" where a young women was drowned. Kennedy made 20 phone calls to various people before reporting any of this to any authorities.

i am amazed by all this hulabaloo. As a hunter in Texas I find that this is not a particulary big issue. The fact that an upland game stamp was not purchased is common this year. It is the first year that it was required and I have had numerous friends "warned" because they did nto have that endorsement on their license. As well, I have spent many years hunting quali and other game in Texas and have other friends who have been accidentally shot (not by me). I have never heard of there ever being immediate and in-depth investigations where everyone was questionned immediately after it happened. Any questionning that is done usually occurs several hours after the event. It's not like someone being shot on the sidewalk or outside a convenience store where there is a police car only minutes away (if you're lucky). These events occur in rural areas in which there are not large police forces. If the report indicates that a minor accident occured with no deaths and no immediate threat to other life or property then is no reason for the sherrif to interrupt his dinner and rush to the scene. New York minutes do not have the same value in parts of Texas that they do in other places.

I know this has already been said but it bears repeating. Cheney is a political animal. He has to know that not interviewing with the police till the next day has the appearance of a cover up. Any political animal would avoid this appearance unless it had basis in fact, in which case he has predictably and skillfully avoiding the more serious issue, whatever it may be.

The concern that the everyday citizen would be treated differently is a valid one. One could liken it to the situation early in the Clinton presidency, when a Vanderbilt University student was held by the Secret Service (during a visit to Nashville by the President) muttered, "Somebody ought to shoot him," but a week later, when Jesse Helms stated in front of a camera that the president "better not come to (North Carolina). He just might get a bullet in his head," there was no reaction by anyone at all.

When did national politicians become immune to the laws the rest of us have to abide?

Ignoring the inevitable conspiracy nonsense, the facts of this incident leave little room for suspicion of negligence or criminal action on Cheney's part. If it had been anyone else, the results would have been the same, but without this media circus. Frankly, had it been someone more popular with the larger media outlets, this would have been a minor incident.

Yo, David Gregory - When & if the VP finally comes out of hiding to answer for this, you have to gather the press corps (prior) and have all the reporters duck and hide behind their seats when 'Pass the Blaimey' prioceeds to the podium! It would be classic and hilarious.

I just can't imagine anyone here in Leon County, Florida telling the Sheriff's office that they would talk to them in the morning after an accidental shooting of ANY kind. Of course, I could be wrong as both Jeb Bush and Bobby Bowden call Leon County home.

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