R v Crutchley (1837) 7 C & P 814

Murder – Unborn child – child still attached by umbilical cord

Facts

Ann Crutchley (AC) strangled her newborn baby. The two surgeons testifying in the case stated that the strangling had taken place before the umbilical cord had been cut between the mother and the newborn, and thus before the baby had been fully delivered.

Issue

The issue in this case followed on from the case of R v Poulton (1832) 5 C & P 329 which held that is not possible to kill an unborn child and that murder is only possible after the child has been fully delivered alive from the mother’s body. AC claimed that for there to be a conviction of murder a child must have been ‘born alive’ and therefore have complete independent circulation and be wholly detached from the mother when the mother killed it.  The issue in question was thus whether a child which is strangled intentionally while still connected with the mother by the umbilical cord, but after it was wholly produced into the world, constituted murder.

Held

A murder conviction is only possible where the whole body of the child has been delivered from the mother when the mother killed it. The jury acquitted AC, finding that the child was not wholly born as when it was killed as it was still attached to the mother by the umbilical cord. However, the judge in obiter dictum stated that if the jury was of the opinion that the mother intentionally killed the child, albeit while still connected by the umbilical cord, but after it was wholly born, it would be murder.