Homicide – (Murder & Manslaughter)
Homicide is the term for killing a human being unlawfully. There are two types of homicide, Murder and manslaughter. The actus reus is the same in any homicide; an unlawful act or omission that causes the death of another human being. The mens rea for murder is known as malice aforethought, which can either be express malice (an intention to kill) or implied malice (an intention to cause really serious injury with or without the foresight of causing death). There are two types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. The mens rea is the same for murder and voluntary manslaughter. The absence of intention in the mens rea is what makes the difference between murder/voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Murder
Murder is not defined in statute, but has developed through judges decisions on murder cases. The accepted definition of murder is that of the seventeenth century judge, Lord Coke: “Murder is the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being and under the king’s (or Queen’s) Peace with malice aforethought, express or implied” Actus reus of Murder and manslaughter
The actus reus of murder and manslaughter are the same. The important elements are to cause the death by the unlawful killing of a human being whilst under the Queen’s peace. i. Cause: it is important that the action of the defendant is the cause of the victim’s death. It is easy to establish this fact in straight forward cases were the defendant directly stabs, shoots or poisons the victim and they die immediately. However if in the course of the defendants act the intended victim takes avoiding action or someone else intervenes or the victim has characteristics that leave them prone to injury or death, the result may be what is known as a break in the chain of causation. The prosecution must prove the factual and legal causation. ‘Two things must be proven to establish factual causation;’ 1. the ‘but for’ test is used. This asks the question ‘but for the defendants actions would the thing (death) had happened. A key case for the ‘but for’ test is White  the Defendant poisoned his mother who subsequently died. The medical examiner established that the defendant had not used enough poison and that the victim died from heart failure. It was held that the chain of causation had been broken by her heart failure and the defendant was thus not responsible for the victim’s death. 2. ‘that the original injury arising from the defendants’ conduct was more than a minimal cause of the victims’ death.’ This is known as the de minimis rule. This is illustrated in R v Armstrong  the victim had already consumed a lethal amount of alcohol, was supplied with heroin by the defendant and subsequently died shortly afterwards. There was no evidence that the heroin contributed to accelerating the victims’ death, it could not therefore be held as a legal cause of death. Legal causation can be proven in one or any combination of the following three ways; 1. The original act was an operative and significant cause of death. In R v Smith a solider was stabbed and died but before receiving inappropriate and harmful medical treatment, he had a long delay and was dropped twice accidently. The defendant was convicted of murder. The original injury was the ‘operating and substantial cause of death’. 2. The intervening act was reasonably foreseeable. As in R v Pagett the defendant was attempting to escape from armed police whilst using the victim as a human shield he shot at the police and they returned fire in self defence. The defendant was convicted of the victims murder as it was reasonably foreseeable that the police would fire back and the victim might be hit. 3. Defendant must take the victim as he finds them. This is also known as the ‘thin skull’ test. It means that if a defendant hit someone with a blow that would not normally kill most people and the...
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