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Crime IV - Actus Reus IV

Updated on August 2, 2017

Whether an accused is convicted of murder, manslaughter, or otherwise depends of the nature of the crime. The more serious the crime the higher the chances of the accused being convicted of murder or manslaughter despite the fact that there were intervening events that may have exacerbated or aggravated the victim’s injuries.

While the courts are reluctant to convict where the harm that was inflicted was not fatal or non-fatal, the courts are more than prepared to find the accused guilty of either murder or manslaughter when the injury would most likely have been fatal despite the fact that there may have been intervening events that might have either exacerbated or aggravated the injury.

The cardinal principle of English criminal law has always been “it is better to let ten guilty persons escape than to let one innocent man suffer” – Sir William Blackstone (1765) and it is worth keeping the principle in mind during our journey through crime.

There may be instances where the decisions that have been handed out may seem unjust but rest assured in most instances or circumstances, a conviction for murder or manslaughter is not handed out lightly and more often than not it is based on convincing or overwhelming evidence.

In R v Cheshire (1991) the accused shot his victim in the stomach and thigh and during surgery the victim developed breathing difficulties and had to have a tube inserted down his throat to help him breath or to help facilitate breathing.

After the surgery, his condition was prognosed as being no longer life threatening and he was, from all accounts, on the road to recovery. However, he developed post-surgical complications because of the tracheotomy and died as a result.

During the trial, the accused put forward the argument that his actions were not the sole cause of death and the defendant was on the road to recovery but it was the tracheotomy that had precipitated death.

If the case were to be decided along the lines of R v Jordan (1956), the accused might not have been found guilty of murder but the court decided that in this instance the accused was guilty. It was his actions that had put his victim in a situation where he had to seek medical attention or treatment and had he not fired the shots or pulled the trigger the defendant would not have been in a situation where he would have had to seek medical treatment.

Furthermore, there is a vast difference between a stabbing and a shooting and the latter by far is the more serious offence. While it is more with regards to intent or mens rea, earlier on, in tort, we looked at examples of protective armor worn by members of the emergency services during a fire and we argued that the level of risk that firefighters agreed to accept, when they signed on, was the level of risk that their body armor or protective gear allowed them to take.

The body armor that is worn by members of the protective services is not infallible and there are certain areas where they are still vulnerable especially the chest area and the head. If the accused fires a shot, in a riot, that hits the chest, and the accused than argues that it was a stray shot or he had no intent to kill that argument would not hold water because the probability of a stray shot hitting the victim in the chest is almost negligible. If a bullet hits a member of the protective services in the part of the body where his or her protective armor is most vulnerable then the chances are very, very high that the shot was fired with the intent to kill and the chances are also very high that the shot was fired by someone who was adept at the use of firearms or someone who was capable of directing the shot towards any part of the body that he or she intended.

Similarly, in R v Cheshire (1991) despite the fact that it was the surgery or the follow on from the surgery that had caused the death, the chances are high that the accused intended to kill and given a chance to kill, he would have done so had the opportunity presented itself.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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