Crime XIX – Manslaughter I

Manslaughter is divided into voluntary manslaughter i.e. when the act of the accused results in the death of another but the accused claims that he or she did not have the intention to kill as in instances when the crime is a result of passion or when the accused is provoked or the defense of diminished responsibility is raised. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when death results from acts of gross negligence.

In order for a conviction for murder to be reduced to that of manslaughter it must be established that the circumstances had forced or compelled the accused to lose control.

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.

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. The accused was found to be guilty.

The Homicide Act 1957 gives us further examples of when a charge for murder can be reduced to manslaughter and it is especially important when the accused raises the defense of diminished responsibility.

S.2 (1) – A person (“D”) who kills or is a party to the killing of another is not to be convicted of murder if D was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning which –

(a) arose from a recognized medical condition,

(b) substantially impaired D’s ability to do one or more of the things mentioned in subsection (1A), and

(c) provides an explanation for D’s acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

(1A) Those things are –

(a) to understand the nature of D’s conduct;

(b) to form a rational judgment;

(c) to exercise self-control.

(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), an abnormality of mental functioning provides an explanation for D’s conduct if it causes, or is a significant contributory factor in causing, D to carry out that conduct.

(2) On a charge of murder, it shall be for the defense to prove that the person charged is by virtue of this section not liable to be convicted of murder.

The act of provoking the accused need not always be confrontational and it suffices that the act was provocative regardless of how innocent it may have been. In R v Davies (1975) the accused was jealous of his wife’s association with a former lover and he was aggravated when he saw him walking with her. It was decided that the act of the accused’s wife walking with her former lover could amount to provocation but this type of provocation tends to lean more towards a crime of passion (crime passionnel)

The age of the accused also plays a factor in deciding if whether the victim is convicted for murder or otherwise. In DPP v Camplin (1978) the accused was a 15-year-old boy who had been sexually assaulted, albeit seriously by the victim, a middle-aged man, and once the act was complete, the man laughed at the accused at which point the accused lost all control and grabbed a chapatti pan that was close to him and hit the victim over the head with it thereby killing him. The accused was charged and convicted. At the trial, the judge directed the jury in the following manner: – should they find that a reasonable man would not have acted in the manner that the accused did, they should convict.

The jury accordingly convicted the boy for murder and the accused appeal. On appeal, it was decided that the trial judge had erred in his direction and that the jury ought to have taken into account the accused’s age. The conviction was reduced to that of manslaughter.

The provocative act must be related to the accused’s permanent condition and not to something that is temporary, a phase that the accused is going through or something that may soon pass. In R v Newell (1980), the accused was an alcoholic with a drug problem who was recovering from an overdose at the time of the incident. He’s girlfriend had recently left him and the victim a male friend made sexual advances at him. The accused in response hit him over the head with a metal ashtray thereby killing him. The accused was charged and convicted for murder. The accused appealed and raised the defense of provocation.

On appeal, it was decided that the accused’s condition was temporary and not something which was permanent and therefore the accused was denied the defense of provocation.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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