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Explain the difference between murder, and voluntary manslaughter, unlawful act manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.

What is unlawful act manslaughter?

Criminal law is founded on the principle called the Actus Reus and mens rea. This means that an act makes a person not guilty unless mind is guilty as well. An individual is also guilty when proven culpable or blameworthy in both action and thought. This is the general distinction between manslaughter and murder. Manslaughter is whereby an individual hits and kills another while driving without an intention to kill the person. An unlawful manslaughter is also called constructive manslaughter. It is a kind of involuntary manslaughter because an unlawful killing has occurred whereby defendant lacks murder’s mens rea (Leigh 2016). 

The constructive manslaughter takes place when a defendant commits an unlawful dangerous acts leading to death.  The constructive manslaughter requirements include: (i) there has to be an unlawful act; (ii) the unlawful act has to be dangerous; and (iii) the unlawful dangerous act has to cause death. No conviction for constructive manslaughter if any of the elements of unlawful act is not present. The unlawful act manslaughter is the unlawful act manslaughter. This takes place in the course of commission/attempted commission of misdemeanor.

It is completely rejected by the Model Penal Code. A great proportion of states that prohibit this type solely include such misdemeanors that are dangerous inherently to life in criminal statute with exclusion of strict liability type or malum prohibition crimes.  The defendant is only required to possess criminal intent for misdemeanor to be guilty of killing. In this paper, I hold the view that criminalization of unlawful act manslaughter violates the legal principle of ‘no act is guilty unless the mind is guilty’.

In my view, there must be mens rea or guilty mind before criminalizing. One must have an intention to commit a crime or have knowledge that his action or lack of it would lead to a crime to be committed. Where it is criminalized, I hold the view that the common law standard test of criminal liability of act not being culpable unless mind is guilty is violated. Moreover, the criminalization goes against the due process which requires both actus reus (guilty act) and mens rea for a defendant to be proven guilty of crime. Moreover, it is going against the general rule principle which hold that an individual that acted in absence of mental fault is never liable in criminal law.  

To support my view, the following example showcases that it is wrong to criminalize unlawful act manslaughter. In a case where Roberta points an unloaded gun at Joy to scare her into breaking with Roberta’s ex-boyfriend. Such a crime is known as brandishing a weapon and hence classified as misdemeanor. Joy then suffers a heart attack at the sight of a gun and dies. Here, Roberta has most probably committed misdemeanor manslaughter. Brandishing a weapon is never always dangerous inherently to life. Nevertheless, if Joy has a heart attack and subsequently dies due to Roberta’s misdemeanor offence commissioning, under criminalization, Roberta is still criminally liable for misdemeanor manslaughter. However, in my view, Roberta had no intention to kill Joy and his mind was never guilty. Making Roberta liable criminal for unlawful act manslaughter in my view, would, in this case be a typical case of the violation of the legal principle of ‘no act is guilty unless the mind is guilty’

Requirements for Constructive Manslaughter

 Another example where criminalization is could be right in my view is reckless or negligent involuntary manslaughter. In many states, negligent or reckless involuntary manslaughter stays common type of manslaughter than demeanor. Whereas reckless or negligent involuntary manslaughter can be criminalized, it would be wrong to criminalize unlawful act manslaughter. This is because whereas reckless or negligent type defendant stays aware of the risk of death but still proceeds to act anyway. This is a type of killing that is supported by criminal intent of negligence. This is where the defendant ought to be aware pf the risk of death but fails to do so. This category warrants criminalization unlike unlawful act manslaughter since it includes various accidental deaths like that triggered by firearms and explosives.

Like in the first example where Roberta just held the unloaded gun which the led to Jot heart attack hence causing death, it would be unlawful in my view to convict Roberta based on legal causation. By using the proximate cause rule in this case, Roberta could be held liable wrongly. This is because it makes legally liable cause to hinge on the person closest to the incident and this can cause wrong conviction. This a need for intervening causes to remove liability in this scenario (Glantz 2016). Where a person is injured by a gun shot, and subsequently struck by lightning in ambulance for example, it is unlawful in my view to convict such a person based on the argument that shooter is liable utilizing the “but-for” test.  The rule should remain where the shooter would never be legally liable for injuries or death sustained via the lightning strike. It was ruled, for example, in R v Cheshire (1991) that medical negligence amounted to causation chain break, unless it stood ‘so standalone’ of defendant or “so potent” in triggering death. Thus, in my view, this should remain applicable in the case of unlawful manslaughter and that due process should ensure to affirm the intention.

The intention remains imperative since it stays as the mens rea requirement for such serious offences as murder. Both direct and oblique intent remain essential and needs to be probed to affirm whether the mind of the defendant was guilty to uphold the principle of one not guilty until it is proven that the mind was as well guilty. For example, the direct type remains comparatively straightforward and is connected to the aim and purpose of the defendant hence it should really be affirmed before conviction. Oblique intent takes place where the defendant never desired consequences, yet he were sure to take place. This must also be ascertained before convicting any person for the rule of mind being guilty to hold (Leigh 2017).

Criminalization of Unlawful Act Manslaughter Violates Legal Principle

For example, in R v Maloney (1985), the jury were moved to consider 2 queries: was murder or serious injury a natural aftermath of defendant act? The other question was whether the defendant foresee such consequence as being a natural consequence of their act. These two questions, in my view, should still apply to the case of unlawful manslaughter because only when they are both “yes” would the crime be intentional (Storey 2017). Thus without them be affirmed by merely criminalizing any unlawful act manslaughter, would automatically not serve the principle of guilty mind. Thus I would denounce the classification of the unlawful act manslaughter under the strict liability as this goes against the principle of being innocent unless the mind is proven guilty. Thus in my view, the mens rea must always be present and affirmed prior to any conviction (Storey 2015).

Based on the need to probe and affirm intent, the actus reus must be present as one must be proven to have had the desire to commit an act. It must also be affirmed that the defendant had specific intent or besides his desire to bring about actus reus, the defendant must have also desired to do something further. For example, in Thacker v. Commonwealth where shots were fired via tent; and the defendant was charged with attempted murder should apply even in the case of unlawful act manslaughter (Field and Jones 2017). The decision by the Supreme Court that the defendant must have specific intent, to kill in this context tends to serve the rule of the “mind being guilty” as well. This is because despite the defendant intended to shoot his gun towards the tent; it is reasonable as said by the court that one cannot transfer intent, and hence it must be an intent to kill. The court must only take the defendant stated purpose at face value to shoot the light in deciding such a case. In my view, this should remain the principle rule to be applied in the cases of the unlawful act manslaughter.

Another supporting example is the State v. Nastoff whereby it was held that he never personally changed the chainsaw, yet knew about it being modified. Thus, maliciousness has to be connected to the prohibition in statute relating to destroys and injures. In this case, the intent to utilize the illegally modified saw was affirmed, however, he had never intended to set the fire. Thus, it was held by the court that using the theory advanced by the state would offer a theory of negligence and hence would still not let the state to convert the intentional wrong with unintentional wrong (Blake and Tarrant 2015). In my view, therefore, criminalizing the unlawful act manslaughter should never be allowed if justice were to be served because it is apparent from my discussion that it legal principle of ‘no act is guilty unless the mind is guilty’.

References

Blake, M. and Tarrant, S., 2015. The violation of principle and perpetuation of gender bias in the Western Australian assault causing death offence. UW Austl. L. Rev., 40, p.415.

Field, S. and Jones, L., 2017. When Business Kills: The Emerging Crime of Corporate Manslaughter. Business Expert Press.

Glantz, S., 2016. Mary Lou Cornella v. Churchill County, et al., 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 58 (August 12, 2016).

Leigh, G., 2017. Deconstructing Unlawful Act Manslaughter. The Journal of Criminal Law, 81(2), pp.112-124.

Leigh, G.D., 2016. Moral responsibility and criminal liability for unforeseen death: reconstructing unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter (Doctoral dissertation, Kingston University).

Storey, T., 2015. ‘Dangerousness’ in Unlawful Act Manslaughter: R v F & E [2015] EWCA Crim 351. The Journal of Criminal Law, 79(4), pp.234-237.

Storey, T., 2017. Unlawful and Dangerous: A Comparative Analysis of Unlawful Act Manslaughter in English, Australian and Canadian Law. The Journal of Criminal Law, 81(2), pp.143-160.

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