On 12th July 2019, Mr. Walker Ross and his friend Mr. Andrew McBroom were driving to a shopping mall to get groceries. They were discussing the ongoing England football matches and the likelihood of teams winning. Their discussion became heated and it resulted into an altercation. Mr. Ross was of the opinion that Liverpool Fc would win whereas Mr. McBroom was of the opinion that Manchester City would win. During the altercation, Mr. Ross pushed Mr. McBroom out of the car. The door had not been locked properly so Mr. McBroom fell and sustained some serious injuries. Mr. McBroom was rushed to Portland Hospital and was admitted at 5.00pm on the same day. Unknown to Mr. Ross, Mc. McBroom had fatal heart disease. The doctors diagnosed that he acquired serious injuries to his heart muscle that disrupted his rhythmic beating, making his heartbeats too slow and irregular. Three days later, the doctors examined him and reported that he was responding slowly to medication. On 16th July he succumbed to the fatal injuries suffered on his heart muscle.
Mr. Ross was charged with the murder of Mc. McBroom because of his actions of pushing Mc. McBroom out of his vehicle. However, Mr. Ross claimed that he did not intend to kill his friend, he was merely arguing with him and he accidentally pushed him out of the vehicle. Also, he claimed that he did not possess knowledge of Mr. McBroom’s heart disease. He claimed that he was not criminally liable for his friend’s death; he died because of the heart disease.
To establish whether a defendant is criminally liable for murder, to elements must be satisfied: ‘actus reus’ and ‘mens rea’(R v Smith, 1959). The two elements can be classified as factual causation and legal causation.
To establish factual causation the ‘but for test’ is applied (E Law Sources UK, 2020). This test is applied in that the courts ask, if ‘but for the defendant’s acts or omissions, the death could have occurred if the answer is yes then the defendant is not held liable (R v White, 1910). The defendant in the R v White case was not held liable despite putting poison in his mother’s milk. The mother died as a result of a heart attack while sleeping and not because of the poison put in the milk.In this case if the ‘but for test’ is applied the answer would be no. The actions of Mr. Ross made Mr. McBroom sustain injuries which led to his death. Therefore, Mr. Ross possesses factual causation required for commission of a crime.
After actus reus, the prosecution must establish mens rea. To prove mens rea, it is required that the defendant has a guilty mind (Merriam- Webstar, 2016). In addition to commission of the act itself, the mental state of the offender is examined for the intent to commit the act. Intent is further categorized into general and specific intent (Regina v Tolson, 1889). Specific intent requires the defendant to willingly commit an act and intend for a particular result (United States v Blair, 1995) whereas general intent is a requirement for commission of all crimes, it occurs where the general intent to commit a crime happens at the same time as the actus reus (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008). In this case, Mr. Ross did not possess specific intent rather he had general intent required for the commission of a crime. Mr. Ross will be held guilty of manslaughter because he did possess specific intent to kill.
To establish legal causation, it requires the injury to result from a blameworthy act. The defendant’s actions need not be the sole cause of the injury(R v Dalloway, 1847). The defendant can be criminally liable if his/her actions were more than a minimal cause. In this case scenario, Mr. McBroom died as a result of injuries he sustained from Mr. Ross’ push. As much as Mr. Ross claims he is not culpable because his friend died from heart disease; his actions caused serious injuries which led to his death.
In instances where the defendant claims he lacked knowledge of the victim’s underlying conditions, the egg shell skull rule is applied (E Law Sources UK, 2020). This rule states that the offender must take his victim as he/she finds him. If the victim was vulnerable, the defendant will be held liable for the implications to them regardless of whether a normal (ordinary) person would not have suffered such serious implications (R v Hayward, 1908). In the Hayward case, the defendant was held liable for his wife’s death although he did not have knowledge of the wife’s thyroid condition which could cause death if physical force was accompanied by fright and panic. The judge in Hayward held that the rule applies despite the offender’s knowledge of the pre-existing condition. In this case, Mr. Ross claims that he did not possess knowledge of the victim’s heart disease and therefore he is not criminally liable. The egg shell skull rule will apply. Although Mr. Ross did not know of the Mr. McBroom’s heart disease, his actions occasioned the death of the victim.
To establish legal causation, a novus actus interveniens must not exist. A novus actus interveniens is a fresh intervening deed which interferes with the chain of causation (R v Pagget, 1983). Medical intervention can be regarded as a novus actus interveninens. Medical intervention excludes liability if it is so independent of the offender’s act or omission and so effective in causing death. Cases of medical intervention are decided on a case to case basis depending on the facts of a case. In R v Chesire, the actions of the defendant of shooting the victim in the thigh and stomach were held to significant despite the death of the victim being caused by breathing difficulties arising from tracheotomy (R v Chesire, 1991). If the defendant’s actions are held to be insignificant then one is excluded from liability. In this case, the actions of Mr. Ross were significant and medical intervention from doctors at Portland hospital did not cause death. Mr. Ross is criminally liable.
General Intent. West’s Encylopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). Retrieved October 6, 2020 from https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/General+Intent
Mens rea. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com
R v. Chesire, (1991) 1 WLR 844
R v. Dalloway, (1847) 2 Cox 273
R v. Hayward, (1908) 21 Cox CC 962
R v. Pagget, (1983) 76 Cr App R 279
R v. Smith, (1959) 2 QB 35
R v. White, (1910) 2 KB 124
Regina v. Tolson, 23 Q.B.D 168 (1889)
United States v Blair, 54 F 3d 639 (10th Cr. 1995)
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