Crime XXXVIII – Involuntary Manslaughter I

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when death results from the overtly negligent or careless act of the accused i.e. the accused kills another without the intention to kill or lacks the mens rea for murder i.e. premeditation or intent and it normally occurs when death results from an act that is callous and reckless.

In R v Walker (1824) the accused was driving his horse drawn cart down a street recklessly calling out to the pedestrians as he did so to get out of the way. The cart ran over a passerby, who died as a result and the accused was arrested and tried.

Because the accused lacked the mens rea to kill, his act though careless and reckless was not done with the intent to kill and therefore lacked the prerequisite for murder. The accused was convicted of manslaughter instead.

Similarly, in R v Martin (1827) where the accused had given a child a wrong drink or a drink that was not suitable for the child, as a result of which, the child died, the accused was convicted of manslaughter. Clearly the accused did not intend to kill the child despite that being the end result of an extremely careless act.

In R v Rigmaidon (1833) the accused neglected to securely fasten a cask to the back of a cart and the ropes that were holding the cask in place became undone during the journey. The cask fell off the back of the cart and killed two women and the accused was convicted of manslaughter.

Likewise, in R v Mastin (1834) the accused was galloping down a street and his horse crashed into the victim, who was seated on another horse, presumably his own, and the resultant crash caused the victim his life. The accused was convicted of manslaughter.

From the cases that we have seen so far, it is fair to surmise that reckless manslaughter occurs when the overtly careless act of the accused results in the death of another. In all the above cases, the element of premeditation or the intent to kill or bring about the death of another isn’t there as opposed to when the accused walks down the street with a knife in his hand with the intention to kill someone or the first person that he comes across see R v Hendy (2006).

In both instances, the victims are strangers i.e. someone the accused does not know or is not related or connected to the accused in any way. However, it is not the intention of the accused to bring about death of another, despite that being the consequence of his or her actions, in the former. In the latter, the accused intends to bring about the death of another regardless of who it is and the comparison clearly allows us to distinguish between murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

A negligent act done while the accused is drunk can also give rise to a conviction of involuntary manslaughter provided that there was no intention to kill or the prosecution cannot establish an intention to kill.

In R v Walters (1834), both the accused and the victim were drunk. The accused was standing on the deck of a ship and the victim was standing on a boat and the accused and the victim had an argument. The accused kicked the boat with his foot and as a result the victim lost his balance and fell into the water and subsequently drowned. The defendant was convicted of manslaughter.

To some extent it is also possible to say that reckless manslaughter, in the absence of any other inherent reasons that caused the accused to act in the way or manner that he or she did, is the result of an act that the accused could have done without.

Driving down the street for example is something that can be done with care and caution and if one adopts the attitude of defensive driving i.e. not only driving with care but driving while trying to anticipate the mistakes of other road users, it would certainly reduce the number of convictions for reckless manslaughter.

In R v Timmins (1836) we are once again confronted with a situation where death has resulted from the reckless driving of the accused. The accused in the case drove his carriage exceedingly fast, competing with another driver and as a result he lost control of the carriage. The carriage overturned and an innocent passenger was killed. The accused was convicted of manslaughter.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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