Criminal Law: Massachusetts Criminal Practice Essay

Question:

Describe about the Criminal Law for Massachusetts Criminal Practice?

Answer:

Issue:

Alan and Betty are part of a TV show named "Eviction." Due to competitive differences between Alan and Betty, Alan in a fit of rage punched Betty. Betty admitted in Hospital, but the doctors fail to diagnose her. Consequently, she developed septicemia and after three days of suffering, she died. The directors and producers of the show at the time when the argument was going on failed to provide security. The question that arises here is whether Alan, Cathy, and Eviction Ltd are responsible for any criminal liability and if yes then what kind of defenses shall they avail to protect themselves under the Criminal Law.

1: According to the given case scenario, it is a fact that Alan hit Betty resulting in fracture of her cheekbone, and she admitted to a hospital. Her fracture repaired, but she develops blood poisoning (septicemia) and dies. It needs to analyze whether Alan's act results in attracting criminal liability for murder or not.

In the given context, it is clear that there was actus reus that is, physical action or doing, on the part of Alan which led him to hit his co-contestant, Betty in the first place. But the more important fact that remains unknown in this matter is the presence of mens rea, which means guilty mind. Therefore, it is said that without the presence of the said mens rea, motive for murder cannot be found. Therefore, the presence of mens rea requires Alan's action resulted in criminal liability amounting to murder.

Alan's act of attacking and harming Betty on the sets of "Eviction" occurred after a heated exchange between the two of them. Again, it is clear from the context that Betty was in clear lead and Alan was facing eviction. Alan got angry and started arguing with Betty, subsequently, Alan hit Betty hard in her face, fracturing her cheekbone. This act itself proves that Alan was not provoked or incited by the victim as it was Alan himself who started arguing with Betty. It is said that this act of violence resulted from jealousy, as Alan and Betty both were co-competitors and neither wanted to get evicted. Therefore, Alan has criminal liability as both mens rea, and actus reus are present in his action. Now, as the possible defense, Alan can make the plea that it was accidental killing, citing that he never intended to kill Betty. It shall be on the prosecution to prove the guilt of Alan and subsequently prosecute him.

2: In the given case scenario, an act of crime has been done by Alan, but until the prosecution proves his guilt, he shall be presumed innocent. Again, there is another possible defense for Alan. The case of partial defense might result in reducing his criminal liability from murder to manslaughter, falling under the purview of section 54 of the CJ Act, 2009. It is further to state that this is not a collective defense and can be used only in cases where the accused lost his control, which resulted in the victim’s murder. But this partial statement does not absolve the liability of the defendant, entirely.

According to S. 54(1), of the Act of 2009, when a person kills someone or belongs to a party he has killed, he shall not be convicted of committing murder of the victim. Such an act or omission on part of the offender, which resulted in the killing of the victim, is due to the offender's loss of self-control [S. 54(1) (a)]. Now the loss of this so-called self-control should have resulted due to certain unavoidable triggering effects [S. 54(1) (b)]. There is enough proof to justify his actions by establishing the fact that any other person of ordinary prudence, self-restraining prowess and belonging to the same age and sex of the offender would have done the same, if he faced similar situation or circumstances as the original offender.

According to the given case, it is a known fact that both Alan and Betty were competitive as neither of them wanted to get evicted from the game show. The game progresses, and as it does, it becomes clear that Betty is leading, and Alan faces eviction. Alan gets angry and starts arguing with Betty. In a fit of rage, he hit Betty, which results in a fracture of Betty's cheekbone, she hospitalized, and later she dies from blood poisoning.

Alan is though criminally liable can take the partial defense as mentioned earlier, because his anger was the trigger that resulted in hitting Betty and Betty's subsequent death. A question arises whether Alan's partial denial of anger trigger considered as a proper defense or not.

Section 55 of the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009 provides the various triggering factors and a detailed analysis of such triggers. Only taking a partial defense of sudden loss of control shall not constitute his defense, he also has to fulfill other supporting conditions mentioned in section 55 of the Act. According to section 55(4), there were the particular thing or things said or done or both, which attributed to the subsequent loss of control by the offender. Such associating factors said or done on the part of the victim must have created a circumstance of the major character or caused the offender to have reasons to believe that he seriously wrong. But, according to section 55(6), the sense of seriously hurt due to certain things said or done by the victim shall be disregarded if the offender himself instigated the victim in saying or doing such thing. In other words, if the offender prompted the victim to say or do certain things to justify his excuse of wronged by the victim shall be ineffective in the eyes of the law as be disregarded as a valid partial defense.

In the given case scenario, Alan started the argument with Betty for reasons of jealousy, and subsequently, it turned into heated exchange and Betty got seriously injured. Here Alan deliberately started arguing with Betty, so the defense of partial defense shall not be applicable in this context.

3: Novus actus interventions is a Latin term which means an unexpected occurrence that happens after a person's act of negligence and operates to precipitate the plaintiff's loss. The person i.e. the defendant shall not be liable for the said loss which is aggravated due to such an event.

This happens when the defendant causes a series of events to occur which creates a chain of causation which harms the victim, and a question arises out this context whether the original perpetrator shall be held responsible for the eventual outcome of such occurrences. In other words, if an assailant assaults someone, he shall be held liable for all the consequences of his act, both immediate and remote complications which may result in death for the victim. At times, sure new entirely unexpected development happens, which could be unforeseeable and it breaks the continuity of the ongoing events. This is called Novus actus interventions.

After the case of R v Jordan (1956), it was observed that the case wrongfully adjudicated. Medical treatment should never regard as an event that breaks the chain of continuity to ensure legal certainty. Legal responsibility of the original assailant should never get absolved due to other events taking place after the original crime. While adjudicating, the court should consider, who is blameworthy. Thus, medical negligence should be regarded as Novus actus interventions as it would ensure legal clarity and would be helpful in deciding the responsibility of the most culpable actor. Again in R v Smith (1959), it was held that medical mistreatment shall not absolve the liability of the actual offender.

Therefore, the hospital, where Betty admitted shall not be held liable for the death of Betty due to failure in the diagnosis of her unforeseeable victimization from septicemia.

4: "Gross Negligence" is a legal concept, which means carelessness, serious in nature. It is expected out of a man of conservative nature to be careful. But if the man fails to use his general carefulness and as an outcome of such negligence, he faces a loss of life, then such an act can be termed as an act of gross negligence. Gross negligence is similar to "manslaughter" under English Law. Gross negligence has been set out in many landmark cases such as – R v Bateman, Andrews v DPP (1937). In these cases, the judiciary upheld the conviction of the appellant for manslaughter. In R v Caldwell and R v Lawrence (Stephen) (1982), it was held that a person shall be considered as reckless if he acted in such a way that caused substantial damage to the property or individual and under ordinary circumstances he was expected to act with reasonable care. According to section 1(1) of CMCH Act, 2007, an organization shall be held liable for its action, if such action consequently resulted in a person's death or has caused the breach of duty to care, owned by the organization. Section 2(2) provides that an organization shall include- a corporation, a department, a police force, partnership, trade unions or employers association. In the given case, Cathy and Derek are the producers of the program. If they are to prosecute for corporate manslaughter, the prosecution must conclusively prove that the defendants- were duty-bound to provide care, there was a subsequent breach of duty to care, which resulted in Betty's death, and their conduct itself was bad enough to constitute the criminal liability. Fulfillment of the criteria above is essential as the same came up in the landmark case of R v Adomako (1994). As per the case, it suggests that both Cathy and Derek made no action in stopping the argument between Betty and Alan. Though there is no evidence in support to prove that there was mens rea, it's evident that it was done to increase the rating of the show. Both of them had no anticipated anything serious would happen that would result in death. Thus, it is evident there was gross negligence present at the time of the crime. Cathy and Derek can face prosecution even if there is no evidence of mens rea present in the scenario. The same held by Lord Rose in the case of A-G Ref [No 2 of 1999 (2000)]. Again, in R v Evans (2009), it was observed that the duty to care doesn't arise from familial relation or acceptance of responsibility, but when individual act on the part of the defendant creates a dangerous situation. Here, Cathy and Derek's inaction to stop the argument between Alan and Betty created the said dangerous situation leading to the death of Betty. Possible defenses available include: Actual innocence, that is both Cathy and Derek were not the real perpetrators, and the burden of proof rests with the prosecution and until it proved otherwise. Both Cathy and Derek shall be presumed innocent; Accidental killing by showing that the homicide occurred as a result of an accident, the defendants possibly achieve a reduction in the manslaughter charge. But to prove it was accidental killing, the first instance that is Alan's action that caused the subsequent death of Betty must be proved as an accidental killing too, and not murder with intent to cause death.

5: In this context, it can be mentioned that the Eviction Ltd. who is another defendant in the case, shall be held liable for corporate manslaughter as described in sections 1(1) and 1(2) of the CMCH Act, 2007. But it may be stated that in the case of A-G Ref [no 2 of 1999(2000)], there arose a question whether a non-human defendant can be convicted of manslaughter if there is no evidence regarding the presence of guilty mind of individual defendant of the same crime.

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