Involuntary Manslaughter Cases | Case Summaries

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INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER CASES

1. AN UNLAWFUL ACT

R v Franklin (1883) 15 Cox CC 163

The defendant while walking along a pier, took up a “good sized

box” from a stall and threw it into the sea where it struck a swimmer and

killed him. The defendant was guilty of manslaughter as death arose from an

unlawful act, ie taking another’s property and throwing it into the sea.

R v Lamb [1967] 2 QB 981

The defendant pointed a loaded gun at his friend in jest. He did not intend

to injure or alarm the victim and the victim was not alarmed. There were two

bullets in the chambers but neither was in the chamber opposite the barrel.

Because they did not understand how a revolver works, both thought there was no

danger in pulling the trigger. But when the defendant did so, the barrel rotated

placing a bullet opposite the firing pin and the victim was killed. The

defendant was not guilty of a criminal assault or battery because he did not

foresee that his victim would be alarmed or injured.

R v Arobieke [1988] Crim LR 314

The defendant had been convicted of manslaughter on the basis that his

presence at a railway station had caused the victim, whom he knew to be

terrified of him, to attempt an escape by crossing the railway tracks, with the

result that he was electrocuted. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction on

the ground that there had been no criminal act by the defendant, as the evidence

did not show that the defendant had physically threatened or chased the

deceased.

R v Cato [1976] 1 WLR 110

The defendant and the victim agreed to inject each other with heroin. The

victim had consented to a number of such injections during the course of an

evening. The following morning he was found to have died from the effects of the

drug-taking. The defendant was convicted of maliciously administering a noxious

substance contrary to s23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and of

manslaughter, either on the basis that his unlawful act had caused death, or on

the basis that he had recklessly caused the victim’s death.

The Court of Appeal held that the defendant had been properly convicted. Lord

Widgery CJ stated that heroin was a noxious substance on the basis that it was

likely to injure in common use, and that the defendant had administered it

knowing of its noxious qualities. The victim’s consent to suffer harm of this

nature could never relieve the defendant of his liability, or destroy the

unlawfulness of the defendant’s act.

2. THE ACT MUST BE DANGEROUS

R v Church [1966] 1 QB 59

The defendant had gone to his van with a woman for sexual purposes. She

mocked his impotence and he had attacked her, knocking her out. The defendant

panicked, and wrongfully thinking he had killed her, threw her unconscious body

into a river, where she drowned. The defendant was convicted of manslaughter. He

had acted unlawfully towards the victim in a way that sober and reasonable

people would appreciate involved risk of injury to the victim.

Edmund-Davies J provided a definition of dangerousness when he stated: “…

the unlawful act must be such as all sober and reasonable people would

inevitably recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of

some harm resulting therefrom, albeit not serious harm…”

R v Dawson (1985) 81 Cr App R 150

The defendant and two other men carried out an attempted robbery at a petrol

station. The cashier at the petrol station was a 60 year old man who, unknown to

the defendants, suffered from a heart disease. Dawson had pointed a replica

handgun at the victim and his partner had banged a pick-axe handle on the

counter. Money was demanded, but the victim pressed the alarm button and the

defendants fled empty handed. Shortly afterwards the victim collapsed and died

from a heart attack.

The defendants were convicted and successfully appealed to the Court of

Appeal, following a misdirection by the trial judge. Watkins LJ held that

(a) if the jury acted upon the basis that emotional disturbance was enough to

constitute harm then, they would have done so upon a misdirection. A proper

direction would have been that the requisite harm is caused if the unlawful act

so shocks the victim as to cause him physical injury. (b) Regarding the test for

determining whether or not the unlawful act was dangerous, he stated: “This

test can only be undertaken upon the basis of the knowledge gained by a sober

and reasonable man as though he were present at the scene of the crime and

watched the unlawful act being performed … he has the same knowledge as the

man attempting to rob and no more.”

Thus, the reasonable man must be taken to know only the facts and

circumstances which the defendant knew. It was never suggested that any of the

defendants knew that their victim had a bad heart; therefore the reasonable man

would not know this.

R v Watson [1989] 1 WLR 684

The defendant had burgled a house occupied by an 87 year old man who suffered

from a heart condition. The defendant disturbed the victim, and verbally abused

him, but made off without stealing anything. The police were called shortly

afterwards, and a local council workman arrived to repair the windows broken by

the defendant in gaining entry. An hour and a half after the burglary the victim

had a heart attack and died. The defendant was convicted of manslaughter but

appealed successfully on the issue of causation (as to which see below).

As to the nature of the unlawful act however, the Court of Appeal recognised

that, following Dawson and applying the test established by Watkins LJ, the

unlawful act had to be dangerous in the sense that all sober and reasonable

persons would foresee that it created a risk of some physical harm occurring to

the victim, but added that in applying this test, the reasonable person was to

be imbued with all the knowledge that the defendant had gained throughout his

burglarious trespass (ie his realisation of the victim’s frailty) and not just

the defendant’s limited or non-existent knowledge at the moment he first entered

the property.

Note: On this basis therefore, the burglary did constitute a dangerous

unlawful act, but only because the court assumed that the defendant, during the

course of the unlawful act, must have become aware of the frailty of the victim.

R v Ball [1989] Crim LR 730

The defendant had been involved in a dispute with his neighbour, the victim,

over her parking her vehicle on his land. The victim, accompanied by two men,

called on the defendant to investigate the disappearance of her vehicle. An

argument developed which culminated in the defendant grabbing a handful of

cartridges, loading his shotgun, and firing at the victim. The victim was killed

in the attack. The defendant was acquitted of murder, on the basis that he had

honestly believed that he had loaded the gun with blank cartridges and had only

intended to frighten the victim, but was convicted of manslaughter.

The defendant appealed on the basis that the trial judge had erred in

directing the jury as to how they should have assessed the ‘dangerousness’ of

his unlawful act, in that they had not been told to bear in mind the defendant’s

mistaken belief, that he was firing blanks, when applying the Dawson test. In

dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal held that once it was established

that the defendant had intentionally committed an unlawful act, the question of

its dangerousness was to be decided by applying the objective test (as in Dawson). The court refused to impute to the reasonable man the defendant’s

mistake of fact, ie believing the live cartridges to be blanks.

3. SUBSTANTIAL CAUSE OF DEATH

R v Dalby [1982] 1 WLR 425

The defendant was a drug addict who lawfully obtained drugs on prescription.

He gave some of the tablets to the victim, also known to be a drug addict. The

victim had consumed a large quantity of the drug in one session, and

subsequently injected himself with other substances. The following morning he

was found to have died of a drug overdose.

The defendant was convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, based on his

unlawful supply of the controlled drug, and he appealed on the basis that his

supply of the drug was not a dangerous act which had operated as the direct

cause of death. He contended that the death was due to the victim’s act in

consuming such a large dose of the drug in such a short space of time. The Court

of Appeal allowed the appeal, Waller LJ holding that the defendant’s act had not

in any event been the direct cause of death, but had merely made it possible for

the victim to kill himself. His Lordship stated that where manslaughter was

based on an unlawful and dangerous act, it had to be an act directed at the

victim which was likely to cause immediate injury, albeit slight.

R v Mitchell [1983] 2 WLR 938

The defendant, having become involved in an argument whilst queuing in a post

office, pushed an elderly man, causing him to fall accidentally on the deceased,

an elderly woman, who subsequently died in hospital from her injuries. The

defendant was convicted of unlawful act manslaughter. He unsuccessfully appealed

on the ground that his unlawful act had not been directed at the victim.

Staughton J held that although there was no direct between the

defendant and the victim, she was injured as a direct and immediate result of

his act. Thereafter her death occurred. The only question was one of causation

and the jury had concluded that the victim’s death was caused by the defendant’s

act. The actions of the elderly man in falling on the victim were entirely

foreseeable and did not break the chain of causation between the defendant’s

assault and the victim’s death. Dalby was distinguishable on its facts as a case

where the victim was not injured as a direct and immediate result of the

defendant’s act. In addition, the court saw no reason of policy for holding that

an act calculated to harm A cannot be manslaughter if it in fact kills B: see Latimer (1886).

R v Goodfellow (1986) 83 Cr App R 23

The defendant had deliberately fire bombed his own council house in the hope

that he would be rehoused by the council. His wife and children, who had been in

the house, were killed in the ensuing blaze. He appealed against his conviction

for manslaughter on the ground that his unlawful act (criminal damage) had not

been directed at the victims as required by Dalby. The Court of Appeal held that Dalby should not be construed as requiring proof of an intention on the part of

the defendant to harm the victims. It was to be viewed as an authority on

causation, in that the prosecution had to establish that there had been no fresh

intervening cause between the defendant’s act and the death.

R v Watson [1989] 1 WLR 684

(For facts see above.) The defendant appealed successfully on the ground that

his counsel had been denied a sufficient opportunity to address the jury on the

issue of whether the excitement caused by the arrival of the police and the

council workman could have taken over as the operating and substantial cause of

death. (Note: But did this predictable event break the chain of causation?)

4. MENS REA

DPP v Newbury and Jones [1976] AC 500

The defendants, both teenage boys, had thrown a piece of paving stone from a

railway bridge onto a train which had been passing beneath them. The object

struck and killed the guard who had been sitting in the driver’s compartment.

The defendants were convicted of manslaughter, and unsuccessfully appealed, on

the ground that they had not foreseen that their actions might cause harm to any

other person. Lord Salmon explained that a defendant was guilty of manslaughter

if it was proved that he intentionally did an act which was unlawful and

dangerous and that act caused death, and that it was unnecessary that the

defendant had known that the act in question was unlawful or dangerous.

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