The perfect crime I

I’m sure we’ve all wondered if it is possible to commit the perfect crime, and while the term itself belongs firmly within the pages of book or a novel and has little or no practical application or implication it is worth considering some the many possibilities, if anything, just for the sake of argument.

Before we go further it is in reality difficult to commit the perfect crime because of the advances made in the field of science, in the medical field and in the field of forensics – which many people find interesting because it is essentially the field of crime solving that involves the use of modern day equipment and while the super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes relied on the powers of deduction and observation, the modern crime solver is more reliant on computers and is more at home in a lab than he or she is at a crime scene.

Our accused is the battered wife. There are various moral questions that need to be raised and I think it is fairly obvious to most people that wife abuse or partner abuse, despite the stricter or sterner rules that have been implemented in recent times, is still prevalent and it is spurred on by two factors, the first being that women are physically weaker and the second factor is that women are still very much economically reliant on their husbands or partners especially in relationships where there are children involved and as such there is the general fallacy that a certain level of abuse is acceptable or tolerable.

Wife abuse or partner abuse happens at all levels of society and it is not limited to a certain category or class of people. It really depends on the characteristics of the male partner. However it is more prevalent in minority communities and this is a factor that appears to be constant across the board.

To begin with, the abuse must be something that has been consistent. One off incidences can of course result in the wife killing the husband, especially if there has been clear inciteful provocation but that won’t draw the sympathy of the jury and hence what is required is for the defense to show that there is visible and tangible evidence of wife abuse for example scars, bruises, cuts etc and that the abuse was constant and consistent. Whether there was or there wasn’t is an entirely different matter, but in order to win the jury over that is the type of evidence that the defense needs to adduce or produce.

Abuse needn’t always be physical it can also be verbal and depending on the accused’s personality or characteristics, it may have the same affect i.e. it puts the accused in fear of her life.

Having set the scene, let’s now look at three cases to determine the type of defense that the accused is going to raise once she has committed the crime. We’ll look at R v Duffy (1949), R v Ahluwalia (1993) and R v Thornton (1996).

In R v Duffy (1949) the accused killed her husband with a hammer and a hatchet while he was asleep. Her husband had been abusive towards her and she had been subjected to abuse all throughout her marriage. The accused was arrested and convicted. The accused appealed on the grounds of provocation.

It was decided that provocation was an act or a series of acts that were done that would cause the accused to suddenly lose control or react at the heat of the moment. An accused who had time to think and plan could not raise the defense of provocation and if anything, the fact that the accused had time to reason implies that there was intent, which is a prerequisite to convict for murder. The accused was found to be guilty.

In addition to that provocation generally implies a certain strength of character i.e. the accused is bold enough to react in the heat of the moment and it doesn’t fit the personality of the battered wife.

In R v Ahluwalia (1993), the accused was constantly abused by her husband. The type of abuse included beating her daily and taking her money. In addition to that he was also having an affair with another woman. On the night of the incident, after subjecting his wife to verbal abuse, the victim threatened to beat her up the following morning.

That night, once the victim was asleep the accused doused her husband with petrol and set him alight. The accused was arrested and tried for murder. She raised the defense of provocation but the defense of provocation in line with the decision in R v Duffy (1949) was denied.

The accused was convicted for murder and the accused appealed raising the defense of diminished responsibility. The appeal was allowed on the grounds of diminished responsibility but the judge did stress that under normal circumstances both defenses should be raised in the first instance otherwise the defense might exhaust one defense before attempting another. It was decided that the accused was not guilty of murder and a retrial was ordered.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Othello syndrome and a crime of passion

The Othello Syndrome takes its name after the Shakespearean play Othello where Othello kills his beautiful wife Desdemona because he believed that she was unfaithful. In the play Desdemona never cheats on Othello but he thinks that she has and he murders her. The phrase in modern day crime is used in reference to husbands and male partners who kill their wives or partners, often in a fit of rage, because they believe them to be either unfaithful or disloyal.

Does the Othello Syndrome differ from a crime of passion? The answer in short is yes. In a crime of passion the accused can kill either his or her spouse or his or her partner or the person that he or she is with. Both men and women can commit a crime of passion.

The case of R v Cunningham (1981) tells us that the accused can claim that he or she committed a crime of passion in the hope of mitigating the crime or being given a lesser sentence.

The defense, not that it is a recognized defense in the normal sense of the word, is usually raised in cases with regards to spouses and partners where one partner suspects that his or her other half is having an adulterous affair with someone else and kills either the partner or the person who he or she is having an affair with. In order to have any measure of success it has to be spontaneous and the act must lack the element of premeditation or intent.

In R v Cunningham (1981) the accused entered a pub and confronted his victim a man who he believed was having an affair with his fiancée. He pushed the victim down and hit him over the head numerous times with a barstool. The man died and the accused was arrested and convicted for murder.

In R v Davies (1975) the accused was jealous of his wife’s association with a former lover and he became infuriated when he saw him walking with her and in the scuffle that followed he killed his wife’s former lover. The court decided that the act of the accused’s wife walking with her former lover could amount to provocation. We have to keep in mind however that the relationship in R v Davies (1975) was still alive and they were husband and wife – not that it helps by much of course.

However it is sometimes impossible to differentiate between what may or may not have been a crime of passion and murder. In R v Weller (2003) we are once again confronted with the situation where a male partner kills his female partner in anger. The accused and the victim had an argument which prompted the victim to end her 12-month relationship with the accused.

When the victim went over to their flat to collect her belongings, another argument ensued and the accused in anger strangled the victim to death.

The accused was charged and convicted for murder. The accused appealed on the grounds of provocation. During the trial, it became evident that the accused was extremely jealous and possessive and the accused contended that the judge should have directed the jury accordingly. The appeal was quashed.

As for the Othello Syndrome, like the term implies, it is limited to the killing of the wife or the female partner. In R v Vinagre (1979) the accused suspected that his wife was having an affair with a plainclothes policeman though there was no evidence to suggest that they were having an affair and in a fit of jealousy the accused stabbed his wife 34 times thereby killing her.

The accused was charged and the trial judge accepted the plea of diminished responsibility and hence his life imprisonment was reduced to 7 years. Overall however unfounded jealousy is not a defense and it only becomes a defense under diminished responsibility when it creates a clear mental imbalance. It is this category or type of jealousy i.e. that which has caused a mental imbalance and prompts the accused to kill his wife or partner that is classed or categorized as the Othello Syndrome.

Both the Othello Syndrome and a crime of passion are a result of a sudden uncontrollable fit of rage and the explosive anger that results causes the accused to kill. In most instances, the crime scene would not be pretty, and we are looking at multiple stabbings or multiple blows delivered until the accused has unleashed all his pent up rage.

Then again it is also possible, theoretically anyway, to stab someone in a fit of anger and then suddenly realize what has happened. It is difficult to say. Physiatrists put it down to a mental illness while judges don’t and that is simply because to do so or to recognize some of these illnesses would make women more vulnerable.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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