A jury cannot infer that there was an intention to kill or cause serious bodily harm unless they are sure that death was a virtual certainty. In acts of gross negligence or recklessness the jury can only convict for murder if there is a very high degree or a very high probability that death would result from the actions of the accused.
In R v Nedrick (1986) the accused had a longstanding grudge against the victim and decided to get his own back. One night he decided to get even and popped over to the victim’s house and poured paraffin through her letterbox and set it alight. A child died in the fire that resulted.
The facts are similar to Hyam v DPP (1974) and it is worth mentioning that letterboxes are not always detached from the main house and in some houses especially those of an older design, letterboxes are simply a slit in the door that allows the postman to slip letters through and with these type of letterboxes it is more than foreseeable that if someone poured flammable liquid or inserted flammable material through the slit and then set the flammable liquid or material alight, that someone in the house may be hurt or injured and the resultant fire might spread to other parts of the house.
The very fact that the act is done suggests or implies some degree of malice, there could be no other reason for anyone to do it, and it also implies that the act was done to cause some degree or measure of harm to the victim regardless of that fact that the damage or harm that resulted wasn’t what was intended.
The accused was charged with murder and convicted. The accused appealed. While the House of Lords upheld the conviction for murder by a majority of 3 to 2 in Hyam v DPP (1974), the Court of Appeal in R v Nedrick (1986), substituted the conviction of murder for manslaughter finding that the accused lacked the intention to kill.
No doubt he intended some damage but it was not possible to say with any degree of certainty that the accused intended to kill and therefore the verdict was that of the lesser crime of manslaughter.
When the accused acts in self-defense, the accused can use as much force as he or she believes is sufficient to protect himself or herself in the given scenario.
In Beckford v R (1988) the accused was a police officer. The police received a phone call from someone claiming to be the victim’s sister stating that the victim was armed with a gun and was holding his mother hostage. The police in response sent an armed unit to investigate and as the police officers entered the house, the accused saw someone running out the back door.
The accused followed and the victim turned around holding what appeared to be a gun and pointed it at him. The accused retaliated by opening fire and the victim was killed. As it turned out the victim was not holding a gun and no gun was ever found. The accused was charged with murder.
At the trial, the judge directed the jury that the accused in instances of self-defense is only entitled to use reasonable force as opposed to excessive force and if the force that is used is excessive then the accused can be convicted for murder. The jury found that the force that was used was excessive and accordingly convicted the accused for murder.
The accused appealed. The conviction was quashed and it was decided that the jury were misdirected. The accused in cases of self-defense is entitled to use as much force as he or she honestly believes is appropriate in the given circumstances. In this particular instance because the accused honestly believed that the victim was holding a gun he was deemed to be acting in self-defense when he opened fire and therefore adjudged to be not guilty.
The defense of self-defense is raised when the actions of the accused kills or injures the victim but in instances of self-defense the accused is not the perpetrator.
The accused is someone who reacts to a given situation and in such instances the accused is entitled to take measures that are appropriate to protect himself or herself from harm. The level of fear depends on the accused, some may be more timid then others and may in fact use force that may deemed to be excessive. It is subjective and we have to look at the state of mind of the accused at the time he or she committed the act.
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward