Involuntary manslaughter is when
the defendant (D) has the actus reus of murder (unlawful killing) but does not
satisfy the mens rea (intention to kill or cause GBH)1.
There are four ways involuntary manslaughter can be determined; Unlawful
dangerous act manslaughter (UAM), Gross Negligence Manslaughter (GNM), reckless
manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. UAM is when the defendant causes the
victim’s death whilst carrying out a criminal act that is deemed to be
dangerous. To prove that a defendant has committed UAM2,
it is necessary to prove that the D has committed an intentional, unlawful,
dangerous and fatal act, see Larkin 19443.
In order to satisfy GNM there must be a duty of care, breach of duty, causing
death and appropriate for criminal liability (Adomako 19944).
Reckless manslaughter fills the gap between UMA and GNM. Finally, just like a
natural person a corporation has a legal personality and can be criminally
liable, this is known as Corporate manslaughter. This also requires the
elements of GNM to be established. This essay will discuss the relevant issues
in relation to Unlawful Act Manslaughter based on the scenario given.
Keith could be charged with the Involuntary
Unlawful Act Manslaughter of Janis. Sometimes known as Constructive Manslaughter
and occurs when D causes victim’s death whilst carrying out a criminal act that
is deemed to be dangerous. There is no statutory citation for this
First, the prosecution must prove
that the act of Keith was unlawful. In essence, this must be a criminal
offence and cannot be an omission. In Cato5
the act of injecting the Farmer was “an unlawful ac of administering a
noxious thing that that act had caused death.” We are told that Keith “injected
the heroin into her arm” which clearly amounts to an unlawful act and probably
falls under the ambit of Actual Bodily Harm6
(ABH) by virtue of S.47 OAPA 18617. Cato8 also
established that “the injection of others was a criminal offence and that
active participation in injuring others should not, as a matter of public
policy, be condoned”. At this stage, it
is submitted there is no dispute on the actus reus nor mens rea and therefore
both have been fulfilled.
Next the Prosecution will have to
show that the act of Keith was dangerous. Edmund Davis LJ9
in Church10 stated that “the
unlawful act must be such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably
recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of some harm
resulting there from, albeit not serious harm.” It is clear that the acts of Keith would satisfy the test laid
down in Church11
as injecting someone with heroin would subject a victim to some harm and all
sober and reasonable people would no doubt recognise this. The actions of
Keith must have the substantial cause of death in respect of Janis. Here,
the ordinary principles of causation apply name factual causation (preliminary
link and the ‘but for’ test) as well as legal causation (operating and
the court held that the injuries suffered by the victim were a mere COINCIDENCE
and not a CONSEQUENCE of the unlawful act. It is argued that there is no dispute in terms of factual
causation in that a preliminary link is established between Keith’s actions and
the death of Janis and that but for Kieth’s actions Janis would not have died. A rather more problematic
area is that of legal causation in that Kurt could argue that the actions of Keith
broke the chain of causation. Here acts of
third parties will break the chain if their actions were not reasonably foreseeable.
However, it is unlikely that Keith would succeed with such a ‘defence’ in that as
he is clearly ‘a’ cause of her death and his actions would satisfy the de
minimis test, see Smith13.
Therefore, though prompt medical treatment might have saved Janis’s life, her
death was entirely the result of the injecting heroin inflicted by Keith.
Finally, the prosecution will
need to show Keith had the mens rea for the crime. Here, it is only the
unlawful act itself must have been intentional and must have been accompanied
by the mens rea to commit that act, see Newbury and Jones14.
It is contended that Keith was at least reckless in committing the offence of
Moving forward, Keith could also
be charged with involuntary unlawful act manslaughter for Kurt. Once again, the
prosecution has to prove whether Keith’s act was unlawful. As stated above,
this must be a criminal offence and cannot be an omission.
Secondly, the prosecution needs to
prove whether Keith’s action was dangerous. At this stage, it is clear that Keith’s
action was dangerous, as a reasonable person is aware that supplying or taking
illegal drug is dangerous.
Thirdly, the prosecution needs to
prove if Keith intentionally commits an unlawful act which can lead to the
possible harm of the victim, this must be a criminal offence and at this stage
this has been fulfilled as heroin is illegal and Keith did “prepares a syringe
of heroin” and “passed a syringe to each of them.” At this stage Keith knows
that heroin is a dangerous/ illegal drug (Misuse of Drug Act 197115)
and it is clear that this could potentially lead to some harm or serious harm
to the victim. However, Keith did not have the mens rea for the death of Kurt
as he didn’t know the drug was poisoned.
Furthermore to Keith’s charge,
the prosecution needs to confirm that Keith’s action was a fatal act. It Is
clear the Kurt died due to the use of drug however the unlawful supply of
heroin did not cause the death of Kurt. Kurt made a voluntary decision to take
the drug and inject himself.
However, Kurt may be able to
claim the general defence of intoxication. Intoxication can be either voluntary
or involuntary. In general, where the intoxication is voluntary, a person will
not be excused from the consequence of their action unless their actions amount
to a specific intent crime. Voluntary intoxication is where the defendant takes
the drink or drug of his own free will. As a rule of thumb, involuntary
intoxication will be available for both specific and basic intent crimes. This is
where a person does not know he was taking alcohol or an intoxicating drug. In such
cases, there will only be a defence if the mens rea for a crime was not formed,
although it is not always easy to prove that it has not been formed, see
On the fact that Kurt has been intoxicated voluntarily, he has committed a
basic intent crime and therefore where Kurt does not realise the strength of
the drug he has taken, it does not make the intoxication involuntary, see Allen17.