Crime XXXVI – Diminished Responsibility V

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 accused threatened to beat her up the following morning.

Once the victim was asleep the accused doused her husband with petrol and set him alight. She 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 however 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.

In R v Sanderson (1994) the accused hit his girlfriend over the head with a wooden stave. At the trial the defense adduced evidence to show that the accused suffered from acute paranoia, in addition to being a drug user, and the paranoia coupled with the drugs had prompted the accused to kill his girlfriend. The accused was tried and it was held that the accused was guilty only of manslaughter and despite the fact that he was on drugs the accused’s abnormality of mind was inherent and something that he had suffered from as a child and regardless of the fact whether he was on drugs or not, the abnormality of mind, under the circumstances, would have most likely have caused him to act or react in the manner that he did.

In R v Hobson (1997) we once again consider the implications of BWS or Battered Women’s Syndrome. At the initial trial the accused was charged with killing her husband. Her husband was an alcoholic and he often abused his wife while he was drunk. The accused stabbed him with a knife and during her trial she raised the defense of provocation and self-defense. The defense of provocation was rejected as was the defense of self defense and the accused was convicted of murder.

The initial trial was in 1992. In 1994 BWS or Battered Women’s Syndrome was recognized as a mental illness in Britain and the accused appealed. Her appeal was successful. A retrial was ordered and the accused’s conviction for murder was substituted with that of manslaughter.

Where the accused commits murder because of the side-effects of drug taking the accused cannot rely on the defense of diminished responsibility. In instances where the accused suffers from a mental illness or an impairment of the mind and further aggravates the situation by taking drugs and other illegal substances the situation is similar to that of the accused who suffers from a mental illness and then goes on to kill another while he or she is drunk see R v Connell (1997).

The question that is to be asked is if the mental illness was sufficient to constitute an abnormality of the mind without taking into account the fact that the defendant had been drinking and would that abnormality of mind have driven the accused to kill without the influence of alcohol? see R v Egans (1992).

The test in R v Egans (1992) however was reversed in R v Dietschmann (2003). The accused who was very close to his aunt received news that she had died while he was in prison. He reacted badly to the news and attempted suicide and was put on medication. Following his release from prison, still unable to come to terms with his aunt’s death he started drinking heavily and two weeks after his release he was drinking with some friends when an argument broke out and the accused rather brutally kicked the victim, one of the friends who was drinking with him, to death. The accused was charged and convicted for murder. The accused appealed.

It was held that being drunk does not give rise to the defense of diminished responsibility and it only does so if the alcohol has caused some sort of permanent damage to the mind. However, it is also possible to say that the defendant would not have killed had it not been for the alcohol and while alcohol does not cause an abnormality of the mind unless there is permanent damage done as a result of excessive drinking, it does alter the characteristics of the accused. The appeal was allowed and a retrial was ordered.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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