Mayes v. People (1883)

US Criminal Law

Mayes
‘Still Life Beer’ by Neil Carroll

Death resulting from a reckless act is on most occasions deemed manslaughter, however with overwhelming evidence of wilful intent, the court cannot simply accept anything less than a charge of murder, as was explained in this case between the convicting State and the subjective argument of a clearly mentally distressed man.

The nature of this 1883 matter rests upon the testimony of both a grandmother and the defendant in error’s young daughter, who at the time of the offence witnessed their father return home from a nearby saloon in a drunken state, while obviously angry for reasons left unknown to the court.

Having entered the family home around 9pm, the defendant in error proceeded to request arsenic while explaining that either himself or the deceased needed to die, upon which the deceased made a number of strategic attempts to placate his temper and settle his mind.

After his refusing to eat food or engage with those around him, the defendant in error later sat alone and continued to make demands upon his wife and daughter, until for no sound reason he threw a tin of food at his daughter, who ran for safety as the deceased quickly followed with a gas lamp in hand, at which point the defendant in error forcefully threw a heavy beer glass at his wife, and upon which the glass struck the lamp and caused the ignited oil to spill all over her clothing.

Seemingly unwilling to assist the deceased, the defendant in error watched as she was engulfed in flames and suffered five major burns to her head, neck, legs and body, all of which led to her death some five days later, and so indicted in the Circuit Court of Jersey County the jury convicted the defendant in error of murder, whereupon he appealed the decision under writ of error in the Illinois Supreme Court.

Here the court first referred to § 140 of the Illinois Revised Statutes, which read that:

“Malice shall be implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.” 

And then to Francis Wharton’s ‘A Treatise on the Law of Homicide in the United States’, in which p. 45 read that:  

“When an action, unlawful in itself, is done with deliberation, and with intention of mischief or great bodily harm to particulars, or of mischief indiscriminately, fall where it may, and death ensue, against or beside the original intention of the party, it will be murder.”

While the defendant in error continued to explain that he was simply attempting to dispose of the glass through an open rear door, a statement which was reasoned away by the two witnesses, who confirmed that the door was in fact closed at all times that evening. 

Thus with no reason to accept the alcohol-hazed recollection of a man claiming to have felt no ill-will toward the deceased, the court instead noted that had there been no aggression behind the act then the verdict would have likely been in doubt, however it was patently clear that harm was intended when assessing the impact of the glass upon the lamp, and so with little hesitation the court upheld the previous judgment while reminding those present that:

“Malice is an indispensable element to the crime of murder.” 

People v. Allweiss (1978)

US Criminal Law

People v. Allweiss
‘Greenwich Village at Night’ by Amy Stewart

Circumstantial evidence of crimes committed beyond the realm of an immediate offence, can be used to support the conviction of a defendant, but only when such information demonstrates an overwhelming similarity to that used in the matter at hand, as was found in a truly disturbing case involving multiple rapes and eventual murder of an innocent victim that instead chose to fight back during her ordeal.

Sometime in 1977, the appellant was indicted and convicted of second degree murder in the New York County Supreme Court, following the stabbing and strangulation of what was to be his seventh victim in less than six months.

Upon his appeal in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, the appellant argued that in the absence of any witnesses, and with its verdict resting solely upon the witness testimony of his six previous rape victims, there was insufficient grounds to sustain his conviction beyond a reusable doubt.

In response, the court first turned to People v. Molineux, in which the New York Court of Appeals had held that:

“[W]hen evidence of an extraneous crime is admissible to prove the crime for which a defendant is on trial, it is not necessary to prove every fact and circumstance relating to the extraneous crime that would be essential to sustain a conviction thereof.”

And so in order to ascertain the weight of evidence before them, the court went on to note that in each of the previous six rapes, the appellant had (i) informed the victims that his alleged wife or fiancée had been recently attacked and injured, (ii) seized his victims by the throat, (iii) threatened his victims with a knife, (iv) made physical contact with their lingerie collection, (v) forced his victims to wear specifically chosen underwear, and (vi) stolen property from their apartments after raping them.

While on this occasion, the victim had screamed out for help, a resistance which resulted in the appellant strangling her with her own underwear before wounding her with a knife multiple times, both of which, while different in their effect, bore very close resemblance to his previous methodology, and to which the appellant contested that in People v. Goldstein the New York Court of Appeals had later held that:

“[E]vidence that defendant committed other or similar offenses is not admissible to prove his guilt of the crime for which he is being tried. One may not be convicted of one crime on proof that he probably is guilty because he committed another crime.”

However the court rightly determined that in addition to the circumstantial similarities shown by the six previous rapes, there was also compelling witness testimony as to the appellant’s voice pattern, and his whereabouts both before and after the offence discussed, and so with little hesitation the court upheld the supreme court conviction in full, while holding that:

“Another crime or crimes of the defendant are not admissible to establish that the defendant committed the crime charged where the only connection between the crimes is a similar modus operandi. If, however, the modus operandi is sufficiently unique logically to point to the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime charged, evidence of the other crimes is admissible.”

R v Haigh (2010)

English Criminal Law

R v Haigh
‘Woman with Dead Child’ by Käthe Kollwitz

As is peculiar to criminal law in most jurisdictions, the necessary component for murder requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of the both the act itself (actus reus), and the subjective intention (mens rea) of those accused, and so on this occasion the English criminal courts were left with no option other than to reduce a murder sentence to manslaughter, on grounds that there was simply insufficient evidence to adduce deliberate and unlawful killing, as opposed to what could only be construed as a momentary loss of control on the part of the defendant.

Having been born to unloving and thus dysfunctional parents, the appellant had been later adopted by a well educated and devoted couple when aged only eight years of age, and whose only wish was for her to have a better life than the one she had left behind. Sadly during her adolescence, the appellant was further diagnosed with an IQ of just 74, a personality disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and prolonged depression, for which she was on prescribed medication.

After meeting her former partner at the young age of sixteen, the appellant soon became pregnant, and gave birth to their son Billy two years later, and although the two of them remained together for a further three years, her partner was eventually incarcerated for assaulting her; an act which had followed years of his routine verbal and physical abuse towards her both before, and after, their son’s arrival.

At the point of her indictment before the Central Criminal Court, the appellant was reported to have called the ambulance services complaining that her son had stopped breathing, and yet despite clear instructions to perform emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at the time of the call, her son was pronounced dead almost five hours later; after which it was claimed by court that the appellant had murdered her son by way of asphyxiation, and that there was sufficient medical evidence upon which to sustain the conviction; whereupon the appellant challenged the verdict in the Court of Appeals.

Here, the appellant contended that when reaching summary judgment, the trial court had erroneously accepted circumstantial evidence relating to previous interactions with her son, and which presented her in a poor light, however the court referred to R v Penman, in which the deciding court had held that:

“[W]here it is necessary to place before the jury evidence of part of a continual background of history relevant to the offence charged in the indictment and without the totality of which the account placed before the jury would be incomplete or incomprehensible, then the fact that the whole account involves including evidence establishing the commission of an offence with which the accused is not charged is not of itself a ground for excluding the evidence.”

Thus the first aspect of her appeal was denied, while on a second count, the appellant claimed that lack of witness testimony, and only one physical symptom of trauma, prevented the court from establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that she had intended to murder, or at the very least unlawfully kill her son in the moments before his death.

Here the court was reliant upon the presence of petechial haemorrhaging upon her child’s face, which in most instances was attributable to asphyxial death. However, there was also theoretical argument that prolonged resuscitation could also prove a contributory factor; yet further circumstantial evidence proposed this as incredible, based upon the appellant’s refusal to perform CPR whilst waiting for the ambulance crew to arrive, and via witness testimony citing visible evidence of the symptoms upon their arrival.

In addition to this, there was further evidence of bleeding from the child’s ears, which according to expert medical testimony, had often been found present when addressing traumatic asphyxiation cases in which young children had become trapped in washing lines, a  fact which only exacerbated the suggestion that the appellant had either strangled or smothered her son whilst alone with him, therefore the court held that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to determine that the appellant had unlawfully killed her child.

This left only the third count, which was that a murder conviction was unsafe due to the first two factors, and that there was simply no direct evidence to support the contention that the appellant had wilfully and with malice, killed her child, but that instead, the best the court could hope to rely upon was a manslaughter charge; an argument that caused the court to uphold the third ground of appeal before quashing the murder conviction on grounds that in R v Stacey it had held that:

“[A]n intent to do serious bodily harm may be quickly formed and soon regretted; but so may a less serious intent, simply to stop a child crying by handling him in a way that any responsible adult would realise would cause serious damage or certainly might do so. That would only provide the mental element necessary for manslaughter.”

R v M’Naghten (1843)

English Criminal Law

R v M'Naghten
‘Dance at Insane Asylum’ by George Wesley Bellows

Jury instruction for the defence of insanity dates back as far as the common law of England, however in 1843 the time had arrived for a revision and clarification of what qualified as insanity, and how best to grant the jurors scope to reach a credible conclusion, as was shown in this now landmark case.

In January of that year, Daniel M’Naghten was indicted before the Middlesex Central Criminal Court on grounds that he had wilfully and with malice aforethought, murdered another man when shooting him in the back with a pistol.

During the trial, medical evidence presented was such that suggested a man was of unsound mind when afflicted with morbid delusions capable of rendering him unable to determine right from wrong at the time his act was committed, to which the defendant claimed such weakness as a defence.

When instructing the jury in The Queen v M’Naghten, Tindal LJ expressed that:

“The question to be determined is, whether at the time the act in question was committed, the prisoner had or had not the use of his understanding, so as to know that he was doing a wrong or wicked act. If the jurors should be of opinion that the prisoner was not sensible, at the time he committed it, that he was violating the laws both of God and man, then he would be entitled to a verdict in his favour: but if, on the contrary, they were of opinion that when he committed the act he was in a sound state of mind, then their verdict must be against him.”

Upon which the jury returned a not guilty verdict and the matter was escalated to the House of Lords so as to explore both the existing legal position on insanity, along with the optimal and most effective use of jury instruction where cases required it.

By addressing a number of esteemed judges, the House requested clarification on the following five questions:

  1. What was the common law position on crimes involving insane delusions under a variation of circumstances ranging from simple offences to revenge or acts of public interest?
  1. What were the correct jury instructions in such matters?
  1. How much freedom should be given to jurors when assessing the defendant’s state of mind?
  1. Should a defendant shown to be delusional be acquitted of whatever crime is under discussion?
  1. Can a medical professional provide a credible and measured opinion of a defendant whose acts occurred both out of sight and mind of those providing such testimony?

To which the judges tentatively answered:

1. “To render a person irresponsible for crime on account of unsoundness of mind, the unsoundness should, according to the law as it has long been understood and held, be such as rendered him incapable of knowing right from wrong.”

2. “[E]very man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

3. “[T]here are no terms which the Judge is by law required to use. They should not be inconsistent with the law as above stated, but should be such as, in the discretion of the Judge, are proper to assist the jury in coming to a right conclusion as to the guilt of the accused.”

4.  “[I]f under the influence of his delusion he supposes another man to be in the act of attempting to take away his life, and he kills that man, as he supposes, in self-defence, he would be exempt from punishment. If his delusion was that the deceased had inflicted a serious injury to his character and fortune, and he killed him in revenge for such supposed injury, he would be liable to punishment.”

5. “[T]he medical man, under the circumstances supposed, cannot in strictness be asked his opinion in the terms above stated, because each of those questions involves the determination of the truth of the facts deposed to, which it is for the jury to decide, and the questions are not mere questions upon a matter of science, in which case such evidence is admissible. But where the facts are admitted or not disputed, and the question becomes substantially one of science only, it may be convenient to allow the question to be put in that general form, though the same cannot be insisted on as a matter of right.”

To which the House expressed its sincere gratitude at placing the judges in such a position that might otherwise precluded them from venturing an answer to questions as broad as they were narrow.

 

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.”  

Hopkins v. Commonwealth (1904)

US Criminal Law

Hopkins v. Commonwealth
‘La Miseria’ by Cristóbal Rojas

Murderous acts, or at the very least, assaults designed to cause significant harm, are nonetheless applicable to the death of a person, who at the time of the offence, was suffering from grave illness or an otherwise delicate constitution, as was found in this case.

Upon indictment before a Knox County grand jury in 1904, the appellant was charged with murder and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, whereupon he argued the the judgment was unlawful in that the jury had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions were directly attributable to the victim’s death  at a time following the act.

By way of background, the appellant had chosen to leave his position as a labourer, whereupon his employer had pursued him out of anger, before verbally abusing the appellant in public before the two men settled their differences and went their separate ways.

Having met again in a convenience store, the now deceased employer again used profane and abusive language toward the appellant, whereupon the appellant stole a hand gun from the store clerk’s keeping and went after the deceased, later to shoot and wound him  on public highway.

Two months after the shooting the employer died not from the shooting itself, but as a result of an existing diagnosis of consumption (tuberculosis), a common disease at the time, however the jury found that the appellant deliberately and purposefully assassinated the employer, and that his actions exacerbated the illness and thereby accelerated his otherwise eventual death.

At the point of appeal, the Kentucky Court of Appeals first referred to p.129 of the Hand-Book of Criminal Law, in which W.M. L. Clark Jr. wrote: 

“The fact that the person killed was diseased and in ill health, or wounded by another, and was likely or sure to die when the blow was given, or that after the blow was given he neglected or refused to take proper care of himself, or submit to an operation by which he could have been cured, is no defense.”

Before further noting that on p.428 of A History of the Pleas of the Crown (Vol. I), Sir Matthew Hale stated that:

“If a man be sick of some such disease which possibly, by course of nature, would end his life in half a year, and another gives him a wound or hurt which hastens his end by irritating and provoking the disease to operate more violently or speedily, this hastening of his death sooner than it would have been is homicide or murder….”

And so despite claims of remoteness as to the actual cause of death, the court dismissed the appeal and upheld the previous judgment in full, while holding that:

“If one unlawfully wounds another, and thereby hastens or accelerates his death by reason of some disease with which he is afflicted, the wrongdoer is guilty of the crime thereby resulting.”

U.S. v. Price (1966)

US Constitutional Law

U.S. v. Price
‘Murder in Mississippi’ by Norman Rockwell

In a controversial case involving assault and murder, the actions of both law enforcement officers and citizens of Neshoba County, Mississippi, amounted to the wanton execution of three unarmed African-Americans in the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

Having detained the men on grounds unestablished during the appeal, the now defendant Deputy Sheriff released them without charge in the early hours of a June morning, only to later pull their vehicle over on Highway 19, whereupon he removed them from the car and drove them in his own police vehicle, to an unpaved road located off the highway.

It was there that the respondent, along with another seventeen men, two of which included a Sheriff Rainey and Patrolman Willis of the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department collectively assaulted, shot and killed the men in cold blood, before removing their bodies to a dam construction site located roughly five miles southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Upon indictment to the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the defendants were charged with direct violations of 18 U.S.C. §§  241 and 242, which read that:

“(§ 241) If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same….They shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

(§ 242) Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State….to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States….by reason of his color, or race….shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both….and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section….shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

Along with allegations that the assaults were violative of the now-deceased victims’ rights to trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

With consideration of the limitations of constitutional statute, and the precedent that such protections were only enforceable between citizens and States, the court held the convictions unlawful and the charges were thus dismissed by a grand jury, after which the United States appealed to U.S. Supreme Court in the hope of greater clarity of judgment.

Tackling § 242 first, the Court noted that while the officers were clearly acting under ‘color of law’ in a literal sense, nothing altered the fact that the same term applied not only to those employed by the State, but to all civilians of the United States, therefore the Court upheld the charges while holding that:

“[T]hey were participants in official lawlessness, acting in wilful concert with State officers and hence under color of law.”

While in relation to § 241, the Court highlighted that in U.S. v. Williams, the Court had held § 241 as inapplicable to the Fourteenth Amendment, however the overall decision came not from uniform judicial agreement, but a single ruling of res judicata, which left the issue of applicability unanswered until now.

It was at this point that the Court held instead, how:

“s 241 must be read as it is written-to reach conspiracies to injure any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States; that this language includes rights or privileges protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….”

While adding that:

“[T]he State, without the semblance of due process of law as required of it by the Fourteenth Amendment, used its sovereign power and office to release the victims from jail so that they were not charged and tried as required by law, but instead could be intercepted and killed. If the Fourteenth Amendment forbids denial of counsel, it clearly denounces denial of any trial at all.”

After which the Court promptly reversed and remanded the case back to the district court, while reminding the parties that:

“[A] decision interpreting a federal law in accordance with its historical design, to punish denials by State action of constitutional rights of the person can hardly be regarded as adversely affecting the wise adjustment between State responsibility and national control…”