Jones v. U.S. (1962)

US Criminal Law

Jones v. U.S.
‘Hungry Child’ by Vinayak Deshmukh

Duty of care for the purposes of a criminal conviction must always be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and so when two women are tried for the neglect and subsequent death of the younger of two siblings, the court is left wanting in the face of an appeal that exploits the absence of legal obligation and contractual structure, along with fresh evidence of a judicial error.

In 1957, a young single girl fell pregnant with a boy whose birth resulted in her asking that the appellant take the child and care for it in exchange for monthly payments, to which the appellant agreed, only for the same mother to fall pregnant again some months later with another boy, who on this occasion fell sick and was forced to remain hospitalised for a determinate period.

Upon his discharge, the mother and second child then lived with the appellant for a a number of weeks, before she left to return home with her parents, thereby leaving the appellant to raise and care for the two children unaided and now unpaid.

Following a number of doctor visits concerning bronchial infections and treatment for diarrhoea, it was mentioned by the physician that the younger child was to be taken to hospital to receive much needed medical care, however the appellant ignored the request and continued to care for the boys alone.

This arrangement continued uninterrupted until two utility debt collectors noticed the boys in a downstairs basement and reported their findings to the local police, who investigated the matter, only to find one of the children living in what could best be described a wire mesh chicken coup, while the youngest child was living in a bassinet, however both boys were found to covered in cockroaches and showing visible signs of malnutrition, at which point they were both removed and placed into urgent hospital care.

Unfortunately some thirty-four hours after his admission, the youngest of the children died from the effects of prolonged malnutrition, and so both women were indicted before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on charges of abuse, maltreatment and involuntary manslaughter, the latter of which only the appellant was found guilty and convicted accordingly.

Having challenged the judgment before the Columbia District Court of Appeals, the appellant argued that the jury had found insufficient evidence to support a finding of legal or even contractual duty of care when providing food and water to the deceased, whereupon the court referred to People v. Beardsley, in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that:

“[U]nder some circumstances the omission of a duty owed by one individual to another, where such omission results in the death of the one to whom the duty is owing, will make the other chargeable with manslaughter.”

However the caveat to this precedent was that it must be equally proven that a legal, contractual but not moral obligation underpinned the duties, and further that a failure to execute them would result in the immediate and direct cause of death and nothing less.

In addition to this, it was also argued that the trial court had failed to adequately instruct the jury to look for any evidence of a legal duty, and that while the jury had retired to deliberate a decision, the judge had communicated with the jury by way of a hand-written note, yet failed to notify the appellant’s counsel, thus the verdict was now automatically unsound, at which point the appeal court reversed the previous judgment and remanded the case back to the district court while holding that:

“Proper procedure requires that a jury be instructed in the courtroom in the presence of counsel and the defendant, and that counsel be given opportunity to except to the additional instruction.”

R v Adomako (1994)

English Criminal Law

R v Adomako
‘The First Operation with Ether’ by Robert Cutler Hinckley

The difference between criminal negligence and manslaughter is discussed in a case that showcased the immense vulnerability with which we place our care, and therefore our lives, in the hands of medical professionals on any given day.

Having been summoned to serve as a locum anaesthetist at Mayday Hospital, London, during a routine eye operation, the appellant was alerted by an alarm on the Dinamap machine, whereupon he immediately administered two intravenous doses of atropine on the assumption that the patient was having what he thought was an ocular cardia reflex, even though the actual cause of the alarm had resulted from a disconnection of the endotracheal tube providing oxygen to the patient, some four and a half minutes earlier.

In fact, it wasn’t until the appellant noticed how the patient had begun to turn blue, that he attempted to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which proved ultimately futile when the patient then suffered a cardiac arrest and died, all of which resulted in the appellant appearing before the Central Criminal Court on charges of manslaughter, wherein the jury found him guilty.

Having challenged the judgment in the Court of Appeals, the appellant argued that while a failure to notice the disconnection was short of the duty of care prescribed him, his actions following his discovery were reasonable given the circumstances, and that the court ought to have found him culpable only of misdiagnosis and not criminal negligence, or even manslaughter as convicted.

However with consideration of the proportional trial direction, the court explained that when attempting to determine involuntary manslaughter, a jury must first establish (i) the existence of a duty, (ii) a breach of that duty that amounts to a death, and (iii) negligence sufficient enough to warrant a criminal conviction, and so having deliberated upon the facts presented, the court held that:

“It was in our view clearly open to the jury to conclude that the appellant’s failure to perform his essential and in effect sole duty to see that his patient was breathing satisfactorily and to cope with the breathing emergency which should have been obvious to him, justified a verdict of guilty. They were entitled to conclude his failure was more than mere inadvertence and constituted gross negligence of the degree necessary for manslaughter.”

Whereupon the appellant’s case was presented to the House of Lords on the question as to whether in cases of manslaughter the jury ought to be guided by the test first used in R v Lawrence and now commonly applied in motor vehicle related deaths, or by those principles used in the trial court.

Here the House first turned to R v Bateman, in which the Court of Appeal had held that:

“[I]n order to establish criminal liability the facts must be such that, in the opinion of the jury, the negligence of the accused went beyond a mere matter of compensation between subjects and showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the state and conduct deserving punishment.”

 While the House noted that in Andrews v Director of Public Prosecutions it had similarly held that:

“Simple lack of care such as will constitute civil liability is not enough: for purposes of the criminal law there are degrees of negligence: and a very high degree of negligence is required to be proved before the felony is established.”

However in Lawrence the test for recklessness was reliant upon the fact:

(i) “[T]hat the defendant was in fact driving the vehicle in such a manner as to create an obvious and serious risk of causing physical injury to some other person who might happen to be using the road or of doing substantial damage to property…”

And:

(ii) “[T]hat in driving in that manner the defendant did so without having given any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or, having recognised that there was some risk involved, had nonetheless gone on to take it.”

Thus the House held that when ascertaining liability for manslaughter, the courts ought only to rely upon the  Bateman and Andrews tests in order to simplify their application and assist a jury, although should the judge feel so compelled, he might also consider the Lawrence test where wholly applicable, upon which the court dismissed the appeal in full, while holding that:

“To make it obligatory on trial judges to give directions in law which are so elaborate that the ordinary member of the jury will have great difficulty in following them, and even greater difficulty in retaining them in his memory for the purpose of application in the jury room, is no service to the cause of justice.” 

 

R v Jordan (1956)

English Criminal Law

R v Jordan
‘Jury’ by Norman Rockwell

Jury conviction beyond any reasonable doubt can often prove protracted and not without its tenuous merits, however on this occasion the determination that murder was the unequivocal cause of death is brought into stark controversy, when the introduction of alternate medical evidence casts serious doubts upon exactly what happened in the time prior to the victim’s death.

In May 1956, the appellant American Serviceman and three other men were embroiled in a fracas when during the disagreement, the appellant stabbed one of those involved, after which the victim later died of broncho-pneumonia whilst recovering in hospital, and upon which the appellant was indicted for murder and found guilty in Leeds Assizes before being sentenced to death.

Under appeal, an investigation by the American authorities revealed new evidence put forward by two highly reputable medical doctors, and which cited that the cause of death was actually related to the administration of terramycin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic that on this occasion, had triggered and allergic reaction that in turn led to diarrhoea, and which was further exacerbated through its continued administration, despite immediate instructions to cease its use.

In addition to this, hospital staff had also intravenously introduced disproportionate doses of saline, which likewise resulted in a pulmonary oedema through waterlogged lungs, a condition that left untreated, causes broncho-pneumonia, and upon which it had been established as the direct cause of death, while the stab wound itself had since been shown to have healed with no known complications.

Faced with such weighty and compelling testimony, the Criminal Court of Appeal turned to a number of distinguishable cases before relying upon R v Harding, in which it had earlier held that:

“Acquittal must follow if the evidence is such as to cause a reasonable doubt, because that is only another way of saying that the prosecution have failed to establish the case.”

Therefore when giving consideration to the effect that this information would have upon a criminal jury, the court deliberated in saying that when faced with such acute medical facts they saw no reason to suspect that the murder conviction would have been rendered unsustainable, and so with little more to debate the appeal was allowed and the conviction set aside in full, while the court reminded the parties that under normal circumstances:

“[D]eath resulting from any normal treatment employed to deal with a felonious injury may be regarded as caused by the felonious injury.”  

Brown v. Kendall (1850)

US Tort Law

Brown v. Kendall
‘Dog Fight’ by Vladimir I

Burden of proof in an action for trespass and assault and battery falls subject to examination when after a fight between two dogs, the plaintiff is left seriously injured and in want of redress.

In 1850, the two parties were caught up in a vicious dog fight involving their respective animals, and while the now deceased defendant took deliberate steps to separate them, the plaintiff was accidentally struck in the eye by the defendant’s walking stick, as he stepped backwards during the melee.

In response, the plaintiff commenced a suit for tortious damages for trespass vi et armis (trespass by force and arms) on the supposition that the injurious blow was a deliberate act, and that the carelessness and neglect of the defendant was the cause, and not the location of the plaintiff when the stick was drawn back.

As was common at the time of litigation, Chapter 93 § 7 of the Massachusetts Revised Statutes allowed clams for assault and battery to stand, despite the death of the accused, and so following his passing, the defendant was represented by his executrix, whereupon the district court judge instructed the jury to decide upon the principle that:

“If the jury believe, that it was the duty of the defendant to interfere, then the burden of proving negligence on the part of the defendant, and ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on the plaintiff. If the jury believe, that the act of interference in the fight was unnecessary, then the burden of proving extraordinary care on the part of the defendant, or want of ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on defendant.”

On this occasion, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff, while the executrix sought to challenge the finding in the Massachusetts Supreme Court, on the insistence that the injury was accidental and potentially unavoidable on the part of her late husband.

Here, the court relied upon Powers v. Russell, in which Shaw CJ had held that in instances:

“[W]here the party having the burden of proof gives competent and prima facie evidence of a fact, and the adverse party, instead of producing proof which would go to negative the same proposition of fact, proposes to show another and a distinct proposition which avoids the effect of it, there the burden of proof shifts, and rests upon the party proposing to show the latter fact.”

Which indicated that unless the plaintiff could show sound reasoning why the injury arose through negligence, there was insufficient grounds for a jury to decide with confidence, thus the court was now convinced that when choosing to separate the two animals, the deceased was, by virtue of his avoiding potential harm to his dog, acting lawfully and within his rights as an owner, and so while moving backwards with his fullest attentions on the fight, it was held by the court that:

“If the act of hitting the plaintiff was unintentional, on the part of the defendant, and done in the doing of a lawful act, then the defendant was not liable, unless it was done in the want of exercise of due care adapted to the exigency of the case, and therefore such want of due care became part of the plaintiff’s case, and the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to establish it.”

Upon which the previous verdict was dismissed and a new trial ordered on the pretence that unless irrefutable evidence could provide that the defendant had been wilfully negligent in an act of carelessness, there was simply no legal basis for recovery by the plaintiff.

Adams v. People (1884)

US Criminal Law

Adams v. People
Image: ‘Railway Carriages’ by Vincent Van Gogh

Conspiracy to rob and the causation of death, while both separate in their context, are brought together to when a jury determines a sustainable conviction, despite the absence of witnesses and minimal evidence with which to rely upon.

In 1883, four men were found guilty of wanton killing after colluding in their pursuit of depriving strangers of their personal belongings on a train carriage in Madison county, Indiana. This criminal activity ultimately resulted in the death of a single victim, which while itself was exempt from first-hand witness testimony, nonetheless left the jury satisfied enough to pass a verdict for murder.

In response, two of the defendants sought a continuance of proceedings for the unheard testimony of two key witnesses who had failed to show on the day of the trial. Having been presented to the Supreme Court of Illinois, the judge recounted the events preceding the victim’s death, while noting the defendants contention with previous jury instructions.

While the defendants had robbed two individuals at gunpoint, the first of them had been forced to jump from the moving rail carriage, after which he came across the body of the second victim further along the rail lines. His death had been caused through the crushing of his skull, but there was nothing to otherwise indicate exactly how he had died, except by an assumption that once robbed, he too had been forced to jump from the carriage, or had been murdered and thrown, neither of which could be proven first-hand.

When instructing the jury, the trial judge had remarked that:

“[I]f defendants did, by threats of violence to the person, intimidation, or by displaying deadly weapons in a threatening manner, cause the said Patrick Knight to leap or jump from the car while in motion….and thereby he was killed, as charged in the indictment, and if the jury so believe, from the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that such are the facts, they should find the defendants guilty.”

Further adding:

“[T]hat if the defendants conspired to rob Patrick Knight, and with the intent to conceal said crime of robbery did force him to jump….they should find the defendants guilty.”

Here, the defendants argued that there was a lack of evidence upon which to determine that the men charged were guilty of the crime both alleged and now convicted, and thus pleaded for a continuance, so as to enable the depositions of the witnesses unrepresented.

With reference to the charge, the court explained that under Illinois statute the definition of murder was:

“The unlawful killing of a human being, in the peace of the people, with malice aforethought, either express or implied. Malice shall be implied where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

And that:

“Provided, always, that where such involuntary killing shall happen in the commission of an unlawful act, which, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent, the offence shall be deemed and adjudged to be murder.”

While in regard to the victims expulsion from the carriage, s.142 of ‘Greenleaf on Evidence’ stressed that:

“Forcing a person to do an act which causes his death, renders the death the guilty deed of him who compelled the deceased to do the act.”

While s.147 added that:

“Malice may be proved by evidence of gross recklessness of human life, where, in any manner, the life of another is knowingly, cruelly and grossly endangered, whether by actual violence, or by inhuman privation or exposure, and death is caused thereby.”

Thus the court held that regardless of the doubts cast by the defendants, where a jury is satisfied beyond any reasonable doubt as the warrant of a conviction, it is beyond the power of the court to interfere with that decision, despite the indignations of the accused, upon which the original judgment was upheld.

Anderson v. Minneapolis, St.Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway Co. (1920)

US Tort Law

Anderson v Minneapolis
Image: ‘Train Painting’ by William Wray

The amendment of pleadings is an American civil right when free from the misdirection of a jury, and so on this occasion the intermingling of two events resulting in the destruction of property, allowed the claimant to establish reasonable causation before enjoying the benefits of restorative justice.

In August of 1918, it was alleged that sparks emitted from a locomotive engine owned by the defendants caused a bog fire that while unextinguished, continued to burn for an extended period, largely due to the usual drought conditions at the time. During early October, there were winds in excess of 75 miles per hour, which exacerbated the existing fire, while driving it towards the home of the claimant.

It was the subsequent effects of this natural occurrence that left the claimant’s home damaged and thus both the railway company and the Director General of Railroads ended up in the courts as co-defendants, as was permissible under § 10 of the Federal Control Act.

During the trial, there were two options open to the jury for a safe conviction, namely:

“If plaintiff was burned out by fire set by one of defendant’s engines in combination with some other fire not set by one of its engines, then it is liable.”

or:

“If the bog fire was set by one of defendant’s engines, and if one of defendant’s engines also set a fire or fires west of Kettle River, and those fires combined and burned over plaintiff’s property, then the defendant is liable.”

With confusion as to how best to approach the claim, the jury asked for confirmation as to whether liability could be found if it was agreed that the fire caused by the locomotive engine was significant enough to have been the primary contributor to the eventual fire that caused the damage, at which point the court agreed that it would. It was then that the claimant amended his pleading to one where both fires had been the sole cause of destruction to his home, as opposed to that of the bog fire alone.

While returning a verdict in favour of the claimant, the defendants argued that such pleading allowances were unlawful, before appealing to the St. Louis District Court, who denied a motion for a retrial, while allowing for the consideration of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Here consideration was given to both the discretion of the courts to allow for claim amendments, and the extent to which the Director General of Railroads is lawfully implicated. In the first instance, the Court explained how § 7784 of Ch. 77 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 noted that:

“No variance between the allegations in the pleading and the proof is material unless it has actually misled the adverse party to his prejudice in maintaining his action or defence on the merits.”

Which on this occasion the court had already established which fires were attributable to the defendants, and at no point had any objection or evidence been shown to prove otherwise, while under § 4426 of Ch. 28 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 also made it clear that:

“Each railroad corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state shall be responsible in damages to every person and corporation whose property may be injured or destroyed by fire communicated directly or indirectly by the locomotive engines in use upon the railroad owned or operated by such railroad corporation…”

It was further held that within the terms of the Transportation Act of 1920, Congress conferred no express limitations as to the powers of the Federal Control Act, and that evidence of this was available under §§ 202 and 206 of the amended statute, and so it was that for these reasons the Court refused to reverse the original decision and dismissed the appeal.

 

R v Lawrence

English Criminal Law

R v Lawrence
Image: ‘Ducati Scrambler Cafe Racer’ by Unknown Artist

Reckless driving, while contextually similar to the criminal charge of recklessness, was at the time of this case, still unclear in terms of the mens rea of drivers brought to trial. Unfortunately for the victim’s family, this uncertainty resulted in an acquittal from the offence on grounds of a confused and thereby ineffective, jury.

In 1979, a couple took a visit to their local off-licence in order to purchase some soft drinks for their children. Parking opposite the shop, the mother entered the store, before standing at the kerbside in preparation for crossing back over the road. Moments after blowing her husband a kiss, the victim stepped into the road before being struck by one of two motorcycles, dying instantly, while being carried at speed on the front of the driver’s vehicle.

Upon indictment, the defendant was convicted by a majority jury of reckless driving under s.1 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. There were also questions raised at the time around the exact speed at which the motorcycle was travelling, with opinions ranging from 30 -80mph, resulting in a lengthy trial, and one in which despite an absolute conviction, left the jury seeking clarification as to exactly what reckless driving required, and whether there was a need to appreciate the mindset of the defendant at the time both before, and during, the time of the offence.

Upon appeal, the Court quashed the conviction upon grounds that where uniform agreement could not be found as to how reckless driving existed under the 1972 Act, there could be no established verdict beyond any reasonable doubt. In response, the regional Chief Constable appealed on behalf of the Crown to the House of Lords, while trying to find agreement as to what s.1 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 truly meant.

Referring to the meaning of recklessness as defined by R v Murphy, the courts recognised that:

“A driver is guilty of driving recklessly if he deliberately disregards the obligation to drive with due care and attention or is indifferent as to whether or not he does so and thereby creates a risk of an accident which a driver driving with due care and attention would not create.”

However, in cases such as R v Caldwell, the jury were required to consider not only the actus reus (actions) of the accused, but the mens rea (mindset) prior to the act of arson duly charged. This by convention, had not been something applied during road traffic accidents, therefore the jury in this trial were left confused as to whether an objective evaluation was in itself sufficient, or whether subjective consideration was needed to fully contain the origin of recklessness, as opposed to arguments over which speed the defendant was travelling when the offence occurred.

Though a comprehensive chronology of reckless driving within the road traffic offences, the House held that there needed to be two elements to a conviction of recklessness, namely:

(i) “[T]hat the defendant was in fact driving the vehicle in such a manner as to create an obvious and serious risk of causing physical injury to some other person who might happen to be using the road or of doing substantial damage to property…”

And:

(ii) “[T]hat in driving in that manner the defendant did so without having given any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or, having recognised that there was some risk involved, had nonetheless gone on to take it.”

Therefore it was left to the jury to determine if, as hypothetical road users themselves, they felt that a defendant did knowingly choose to take charge of a vehicle with the intention to cause harm, as opposed to harm being caused by means beyond their control. This by effect, also rendered the Murphy direction null and void, while paving the way clear for expeditious trials under similar circumstances.