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Essential elements of involuntary manslaughter

What is Involuntary manslaughter? Explain.

Involuntary manslaughter means any kind or form of killing in which “mens rea” for murder is not present. This means that death is caused by an act of “gross criminal negligence” Manslaughter leading to an “unlawful act” is also known as “constructive manslaughter This essay describes the essential elements of involuntary manslaughter along with the types of involuntary manslaughter and a case study to illustrate them. Additionally, this essay also describes the applicability of gross negligence manslaughter to the case study that is provided and the potential criminal liability of each of the party involved in the case of Kitty.

 In order to constitute a crime of involuntary manslaughter the following two elements should be present:

  • An unlawful act that is committed by the defendant that leads to death of some other person.
  • The unlawful act should involve a danger that someone else would be harmed.

A majority of the cases that is involved in the area involuntary manslaughter is related to assisting people who take drugs. However, there have been many cases in which the Courts have not held the dealer liable for deaths that have been caused by drugs. In the case of “R. v Dalby”, the Court did not hold the dealer liable as they held that dealer does not owe duty of care towards the customers who buy drugs from them. One important factor that is to be considered here is the link or causation that is between the act and the death of the person. In the case of “R v. Kennedy”, the injured party asked the defendant to give him something so that he is able to sleep. The defendant injected him with heroin and due to overdose of heroin, the victim died. The defendant in this case was held liable for manslaughter. In the case of “R v. Rogers”, the defendant held a tourniquet around the victim’s arm so that the victim could inject themselves of drugs. The Court held the defendant liable for manslaughter, as he was involved in the injection process. Additionally, it is also important to determine the risk involved in involuntary manslaughter. This means that if a reasonable person who is watching the act will be able to identify the risk that is involved. The harm that is related to the unlawful act of the defendant should be linked with each other. The harm caused should be physical in nature.

There are three types of “involuntary manslaughter”:

  • “Gross negligence manslaughter”
  • “Reckless manslaughter”
  • “Unlawful act manslaughter”

Gross negligence manslaughter:  In this kind of “involuntary manslaughter”, the defendant is apparently acting legally. This type of manslaughter arises in cases where the defendant has caused death; however, he did not intend to cause the death of the victim. Hence, we may conclude that in this type of manslaughter, there is absence of mens rea. To prove gross negligence, it is important that an unlawful act was committed. Gross negligence is applicable in cases where the defendant has acted lawfully however; his action in some way or the other became criminal in nature. 

Types of involuntary manslaughter

The following elements should be present in order to make a person liable for gross negligence manslaughter:

  • Existence of a duty of care
  • Violation of duty of care
  • Breach of duty of care leads to death of the person
  • Jury decides the criminality of the negligence

In the case of R.v. Adomoko, appellant was an anaesthetist who was unsuccessful in identifying that the tube was disconnected from the ventilator of the patient. Resultantly, the patient underwent a cardiac arrest and died. The appellant was convicted for “manslaughter” and the Court stated that in cases of “gross negligence manslaughter”, ordinary principles of negligence shall be applied to notice if there has been breach of duty of care or not. In gross negligence manslaughter the duty of act includes, statutory, contractual and common law duty. In the case of, “R v. Bateman”, the doctor was held liable for “manslaughter”, as he was negligent with his treatment of women in childbirth. The doctor owed duty of care towards his patient, which he failed to exercise. Likewise, in the case of R v. Misra and Srivastava, the Court held that to constitute an offence of gross negligence, where the risk of life is associated, and the defendant owes duty of care and contravention of the duty of care has taken place.

Reckless Manslaughter: In this type of manslaughter, the defendant is generally conscious of the degree of risk that is likely to cause injury to the injured party and still chooses to disregard it or remains unresponsive to it. In the case R v. Lidar, the defendant was driving the car while he was in a conversation with the victim. The rear wheel of the car crushed the head of the defendant. The defendant was held liable for reckless manslaughter. The reason behind this is that the defendant was aware of the seriousness of the harm that was related to his action.

Unlawful Act: This type of manslaughter means that the unlawful act of the defendant has causes death of the plaintiff. The unlawful act of the defendant should be dangerous and there should be a causal link between the action of the defendant and the death of the plaintiff. Such an act is termed as unlawful act. In the case of “DPP v. Newbury and Jones”, the House of Lords held that the plaintiff should prove that the defendant had the objective to act unlawfully however; there is no prerequisite for the defendant to foresee that the act has the likelihood of causing death.

In the given case, Gary was dealer in heroin, who supplied Jenny and Kitty with heroin. Kitty was only sixteen years old. Garry equipped the syringe of heroin for Jenny and Kitty. Jenny injected herself with the heroin and also injected Kitty. Jenny and Kitty went to their mother’s house, Sandra. Subsequently, Kitty started showing symptoms of heroin overdose and she needed immediate assistance. Jenny and Sandra ignored her symptoms, as they were worried that the police would be involved in this case. Resultantly, Kitty dies due to drug overdose. Based on the facts, the issue that arises here is that, what is the possible criminal liability of Jenny, Sandra and Gary.

Gross negligence manslaughter

Gary, Jenny and Sandra may be held liable for gross negligence manslaughter for Kitty’s death. The liability of each one of them is discussed as follows:

Gary was the heroin dealer and he was the one who provided Jenny and Kitty with heroin. He was aware of the fact that Kitty is a minor and that she should not be provided with the drug. However, Gary ignored the factor of considering her age and despite of that he prepared syringes for them, which the children injected into themselves in his presence. In the case of “R v. Khan and Khan”, the issue in question was about two appellants who supplied heroin to a child who was 15 years old in their house. The appellants left her in the flat and due to overdose of heroin; she went into coma and died. The plaintiff filed a suit against the appellants for gross negligence. The appeal was allowed because the trial Judge failed to direct the Jury on questions relating to law and that the facts of the case were sufficient to give rise to duty of care on the part of the dealer. It was further held that, where a matter comes before Jury for gross negligence the Jury should consider the following points:

  • Whether the defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff
  • Whether the defendant contravened the duty of care
  • Did the breach lead to loss of life of the plaintiff?
  • Did the breach lead to a criminal act thus amounting to gross negligence?

For determining the liability of Gary, we first need to evaluate whether he owed duty of care towards Kitty or not. Ideally, dealers are not held liable for the death of people who die due to drugs overdose. However, since the decision of R v. Khan and Khan, where the mistake of Jury was identified, dealers are also held responsible for owing duty of care towards their customers. In this case, Kitty was a minor that is below the age of 18 years. Gary should have exercised his duty of care and should have refused providing heroin to a minor. However, he did not do so. Consequently, we may conclude that Gary breached his duty of care towards Kitty that ultimately led to her death. Thus, there was a causal link between the breach of duty of care and the result due to the breach of duty. Additionally, the breach of duty of care on the part of Gary made him commit a criminal act amounting to gross negligence. Thus, we may conclude on the part of Gary that he may be liable for gross negligence.

            Jenny was Kitty’s sister and she was elder to Kitty. Kitty was only 16 years old while Jenny was 19 years old. Jenny injected Kitty with the syringe while Kitty was shaking and was unable to take to inject herself. This is the first breach of duty of care on the part of Jenny. After they took the injection, they went to their mother’s house where Kitty was showing signs of heroin overdose.  However, Jenny ignored the symptoms of heroin overdose in fear of police getting involved in this case. This was the second breach of duty on the part of Jenny. In the case of, Rv. Evans, the appellant was convicted of “gross negligence manslaughter” along with her mother for the death of a 17 years old girl named Carly. Carly died of drug overdose. The appellant was about eight years elder to Carly. The appellant bought heroin from a drug dealer and gave the drug to Carly. Carly injected the drug, however, soon after sometime she was showing signs of drug overdose, which the appellant from her own experience was able to understand. Both the appellant and her mother thought of not seeking medical help in fear of getting into trouble. Resultantly, Carly died. The Judge held that the duty of care on the part of the appellant arose not from her action of assisting Carly but from providing her with heroin. The appellant created a situation so dangerous in nature and additionally failed to take action to decrease the risk of calling assistance, which could have ideally saved her. The Judge made the appellant liable for not having a familial relationship with her but for breaching her basic duty of care. Had there been any other person in place of her sister, she would still be made liable for breach of duty of care, as the basic level of care is expected out of every individual. Similarly, in the given case study as well, Jenny can be held liable for “gross negligence manslaughter” as she failed to exercise her duty of care towards Kitty by supplying her with heroin and secondly by not providing her appropriate medical assistance at the time when she urgently needed it. Hence, Jenny committed two breaches of duty of care, which can make her liable for “gross negligence manslaughter.”

Reckless manslaughter

            Hence, to make a person liable for gross negligence it is not only confined to cases to familial relationship between the plaintiff and the deceased. Nevertheless, creation of a state of issues in which the defendant should have utilised his basic duty of care however, he failed to use the duty leading to creation of circumstances that is life threatening also leads to breach of duty of care. Additionally, breach of duty of care is also committed where it is expected out of a reasonable man to take steps for prevention of a situation that may lead to death of the person. If the person fails to use this duty, he may be held liable for breach of duty. Thus, Jenny is liable for “gross negligence manslaughter.”

Sandra was Kitty’s mother and after injecting themselves with syringe, they went to her house. It was at Sandra’s house that Kitty started showing signs of heroin overdose. Both Jenny and Sandra ignored her medical condition in fear of police case because of which Kitty died. In this case, though Sandra was not involved in providing Kitty with heroin, however, she may still be liable for gross negligence manslaughter as she ignored her child when she was in need of medical assistance. In the case of R v. Gibbins and Proctor, parents were liable due to their wretched behaviour towards their child for starving them to death. Both the husband and the wife failed to understand the consequences of starvation because of which the child died. The husband was the biological and the legal father of the child and the mother was the common law wife to feed the child. While it was the responsibility of the father to take care of his child, the man’s common law wife was also held liable as she received money for food from her husband. The relationship that exists between the mother and the child can give rise to a very special relationship. In a relationship that exists between mother and the child, one does not necessarily need to direct the mother about her duties towards her child. In this case, Sandra failed to exercise her duty of care towards her child. Jenny’s apprehension can be understood, as she was afraid of getting the police involved in this matter, however, Sandra’s apprehension was not making sense as she was not even part of providing drugs to Kitty. As a parent, she should have utilised her duty of care obediently by providing medical assistance to Kitty the moment she was showing symptoms of drug overdose. She should have saved the life of her daughter instead of acting wretched. Hence, Sandra can also be held liable for gross negligence manslaughter as she breached her duty of care towards her daughter.

Unlawful Act

Conclusively, it may be stated that gross negligence manslaughter is one of the most common criminal acts in the United Kingdom in relation to consumption of drugs and drugs overdose. It has been noted that young people die an early death because of drug overdose and people who are convicted of gross negligence manslaughter are often parents, siblings or relatives of such people. The high level of intoxication restricts them from applying their basic duty of care and this consequently creates a problem for them in the form of conviction of gross negligence manslaughter. There is a need for creation of strict laws in the United Kingdom regarding consumption of drugs amongst young people and this will lessen conviction of gross negligence manslaughter.

References:

Adomako, R v (1994) HL

Crump, David. "UNINTENTIONAL KILLINGS (NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE, INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER, DEPRAVED-HEART AND FELONY MURDER): SHOULD WE HAVE DIFFERENT VIEWS OF FELONY MURDER, DEPENDING ON THE GOVERNING STATUTE?." Tex. Tech L. Rev. 47 (2014): 113-939.

Field, Sarah, and Lucy Jones. "Is the Net of Corporate Criminal Liability under the Corporate Homicide and Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 Expanding?." Business Law Review 36.6 (2015): 216-219.

Finch, Emily, and Stefan Fafinski. Law Express: Criminal Law (Revision Guide). Pearson Higher Ed, 2014.

Finch, Emily, and Stefan Fafinski. Law Express: Criminal Law. Pearson Higher Ed, 2016.

O'Malley, Shaun. "Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007: Implications for healthcare providers." Journal of Management & Marketing in Healthcare (2013).

Prendergast, David. "Gross negligence manslaughter in Irish law." Dublin ULJ 37 (2014): 267.

R v Bateman 19 Cr App R 8

R v Dalby (1982) 74 Cr App R 348 

R v Evans [2009] 2 Cr App R 10

R v Khan and Khan [1998] EWCA Crim 971

R v Lidar [1999]

R v (1883). Gibbins and Proctor

Sanders, Andrew, and Danielle Griffiths. "Following the Law or Using the Law? Decision-Making in Medical Manslaughter." Exploring the'Legal'in Socio-Legal Studies (2015): 225.

Soothill, Keith, and Brian Francis. "Homicide in England and Wales."Handbook of European Homicide Research. Springer New York, 2012. 287-300.

Vaughan, Jenny. "Gross negligence manslaughter and the healthcare professional." The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 98.2 (2016): 60-62.

Woodley, Mick. "Bargaining over Corporate Manslaughter-What Price a Life."J. Crim. L. 77 (2013): 33.

Crump, David. "UNINTENTIONAL KILLINGS (NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE, INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER, DEPRAVED-HEART AND FELONY MURDER): SHOULD WE HAVE DIFFERENT VIEWS OF FELONY MURDER, DEPENDING ON THE GOVERNING STATUTE?." Tex. Tech L. Rev. 47 (2014): 113-939.

O'Malley, Shaun. "Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007: Implications for healthcare providers." Journal of Management & Marketing in Healthcare (2013).

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