Actus Reus Essay Sample

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The physical element of a crime: o An act o An omission (failure to act) o A ‘state of affairs’ Conduct, consequence, circumstances. To complete an offence, mens rea is also needed. Strict liability offences do not require mens rea. A ‘state of affairs’ is an involuntary act: o Larsonneur 1933- D ordered to leave UK; brought back to UK against her will but Irish police. Convicted, despite involuntary act. Actus reus must be proved: o R v Deller 1916- D thought he’d mortgaged car, and so was lying to buyer. Car not mortgaged- mens rea for false pretence but no actus reus. Conduct generally must be voluntary to constitute actus reus. Coincidence of actus reus and mens rea: o Thabo Meli v R 1954- Ds plied V with drink; hit him intending to kill. Pushed V off cliff, where he died from exposure. Privy Council held that entire event was one continuing actus reus. o R v Le Brun 1991- D hit wife intending to injure. Her death actually resulted from D dragging her from the car, where she hit her head on the ground. Manslaughter conviction- two acts part of same sequence despite time gap. o R v Church 1966- D fought V; knocked her unconscious.

Assumed she was dead and threw her into river where she drowned. Manslaughter. Omissions Normally, only voluntary acts can constitute actus reus. However, a ‘state of affairs’ can be sufficient for actus reus. Omissions- failing to act. There is only criminal liability for the failure if there was a duty to act; the crime must also be a result crime (e.g. murder). Six different duties. A statutory duty: an act of Parliament can create liability for an omission, e.g. failing to report a road traffic accident. Examples include s.1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the Domestic Violence, Crime, and Victims Act 2004 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991: o Greener v DPP 1996- D guilty under Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for failing to take precautions when restraining a dog that escape and bit a child. Common Law Duties: A contractual duty: a person may be under a contractual obligation to do something: o Pittwood 1902- level crossing keeper didn’t close railway gate; train hit and killed someone.

Manslaughter. o Adomako 1994- anaesthetist didn’t see disconnected breathing tube during operation; V suffered brain damage and died. Gross negligence manslaughter. Duty due to a special relationship: common and statute law. Usually parent-child: o Gibbins and Proctor 1918- father and stepmother of 7yr old girl deliberately failed to feed her. Starved to death; convicted of murder. Assumption of care/voluntarily undertaking a duty: duty owed in where one voluntarily undertakes some form of care towards another: o R v Stone and Dobinson 1977- sister of one of the Ds moved in, eventually dying from malnutrition etc. Both Ds convicted of manslaughter; one due to relationship and other as they had fed/bathed V at least once.

R v Nicholls 1874- child died after moving in with grandmother. o R v Instan 1893- niece failed to care for aunt after moving in during illness. o R v Ruffell 2003- V injected heroin and became ill. D put him outside where he subsequently died. Duty through one’s official position: o Dytham 1979- policeman watched V be kicked to death by men; didn’t interfere and afterwards said he was going off-duty. Convicted of misconduct in a public office. A duty arising from setting a chain of events into motion: occurs when D inadvertently creates dangerous situations without mens rea. If he becomes aware of it and doesn’t summon help, D can be criminally liable. o R v Miller 1983- D slept whilst smoking; awoke to find mattress on fire. Moved to another room and did nothing. Arson conviction. o Santana-Bermudez 2003- D didn’t tell police about needles in pocket before search; police officer injured by needles. S. 47 conviction. o R v Khan (Rungzabe) 1998- appellant sold heroin to 15yr old new user; went into coma on D’s premises. Died after being left alone- retrial ordered, but Court of Appeal thought a duty to summon medical help could exist.

R v Evans 2009- D gave heroin to V who overdosed; D and mother put V to bed where V died during the night. Gross negligence manslaughter- duty to act as they had contributed to V’s situation. Involuntary manslaughter and omissions Unlawful act manslaughter cannot occur via omissions; it requires a positive act. o Lowe 1973- D was father of baby who became ill and died. D had low IQ and failed to take baby to a doctor. No ‘act’. Manslaughter conviction quashed. Duty of Doctors If discontinuation of treatment is in best interest of patient, then such an omission is not sufficient for the actus reus of a crime. o Airedale NHS Trust v Bland 1993- V had been crushed during Hillsborough football tragedy, and was in a persistent vegetative state and was fed artificially through tubes. Court ruled that feeding could be withdrawn. Comment and Reform concerning Omissions All five common law duties lack clarity.

What is a ‘special relationship’? Being liable due to a voluntary duty could be unfair, and discourage people from helping others in case they are convicted of a crime. Medical treatment- euthanasia by a positive act still remains unlawful- fair? Statutory duties- people unaware of them? Moral/legal obligation to help. Good Samaritan Law- e.g. as in France and the Netherlands. People responsible for helping strangers in emergency situations. But what is an emergency? How can it be enforced if a number of people witness a situation? Rogues may take advantage, or people may intervene and put themselves in danger or make the situation worse. Causation Where a consequence must be proved, the prosecution must show that: o D’s actions were the factual and legal cause; o there was no intervening act that broke the chain of causation. Jury decides the issue of causation.

D’s only guilty if consequence wouldn’t have happened ‘but for’ his actions. This eliminates any unrelated events. o White 1910- D wanted to kill mother; put poison in drink. Mother died of natural causes before poison took effect. Factual causation not established; attempted murder rather than murder. o Pagett 1983- D held pregnant girlfriend hostage and used her as a shield during shootout with police. Hit by police bullet and died. Manslaughter. For D to be liable, alongside factual causation, legal causation must be shown. Legal Causation Is the consequence D’s fault? o Dalloway 1847- D driving horse and care; child ran in front and was killed. Despite not holding reins, D acquitted as death wasn’t his fault- couldn’t have stopped cart if he had been holding reins. o Marchant and Muntz 2003- V impaled self on spike on agricultural machine. Conviction quashed; even if guard on spike V would have had fatal injuries. D can be guilty is his conduct was more than a ‘minimal’ cause of consequence. o R v Dyson 1908- child with meningitis beaten by D, its father.

Held that the blows accelerated its death. D needs to be a substantial cause- ‘de minimis’ rule. Must be more than a slight or trifling link. o Kimsey 1996- D in high speed car chase; another driver killed in crash. Conviction- death by dangerous driving. Other racing driver irrelevant. o R v Armstrong 1989- D supplied V with heroin. V had had lethal amounts of alcohol; no evidence that taking the heroin had accelerated death. No link. Act must be substantial/significant cause of death. o R v Benge 1865- D misread train times- took track up when trains due. Despite taking action, other railway workers were negligent and train crashed. D convicted of manslaughter- misreading train times was substantial cause. D’s act can still be substantial cause even if there was contributory negligence by V. o R v Longbottom 1849- deaf V walked into road; run over by D who was driving too fast. Manslaughter. o R v Swindall and Osborne 1846- two cart drivers raced, egging each other on. One hit pedestrian. Jointly liable due to common purpose.

D can be liable if actions were reasonably foreseeable, e.g. if V died/was injured whilst trying to escape. o R v Marjoram 2000- people, including D, had been shouting/kicking V’s hostel door. Upon them kicking down door, V jumped or fell from window. Not a ‘daft’ reaction; GBH conviction. o R v Pitts 1842- Thinking he was going to be harmed following threats, V threw self into river and drowned as he tried to escape. D guilty of murder. o Roberts 1971- girl jumped from moving car to escape D’s sexual advances. ‘Daftness’ test. Foreseeable reaction; D liable under OAPA 1861. o R v Williams and Davis 1991- Ds picked up V, who leapt from car and died whilst escaping robbery attempt. Convicted of robbery and manslaughter; latter quashed. Daftness’- the jury should consider: o If it was foreseeable that some harm was likely to result from threat. o If the deceased’s reaction was an expected response in the situation.

‘Thin-skull’ rule- D must take V as they find them. This extends to existing physical or physiological conditions, as well as religious beliefs. o Hayward 1908- D made violent threats and chased wife outside. She collapsed and died due to heart condition. Held that proof of death from fright alone, caused by illegal conduct, would suffice for manslaughter. o Blaue 1975- D stabbed V, who refused a life saving blood transfusion due to being a Jehovah’s Witness. V died; D charged with murder. o R v Holland 1841- D injured V, causing blood poisoning in finger. V refused amputation, got lockjaw, and died. D convicted. o Dear 1996- V didn’t seek medical attention for artery-severing wounds, and had apparently exacerbated and reopened them. D still convicted of murder. Intervening acts- must be sufficiently independent of D’s conduct and be serious enough to break causation chain. Chain not broken if: o Injury inflicted by D is still ‘an operating and substantial cause of death’. o V’s death is result of act that is a foreseeable consequence of D’s actions. o D doesn’t take V as found. Things that can break the chain of causation: o Act of a third party. o V’s own act.

A natural but unpredictable event. Medical treatment and causation Unlikely to break chain unless it is so independent of D’s actions and ‘in itself so potent in causing death’ that D’s actions are insignificant: o Smith 1959- two soldiers fought; one stabbed in lung. Dropped on way to hospital and given treatment by doctor that may have worsened injury. Original attacked guilty of murder- wound still ‘operating’. o Cheshire 1991- D shot V. V given tracheotomy but died from complications. D’s act still contributed to death, so no break in chain. o Jordan 1956- D stabbed V. V had almost recovered when given antibiotics he was allergic to. Suffered reaction and died. Chain broken; D not guilty. Life-support machines- switching off of these by a doctor when patient is declared brain-dead does not break the chain of causation. o R v Malcherek; Steel 1981- D stabbed wife. V put on life-support, which was turned off.

D guilty, no break in chain. o R v Mellor 1996- 71yr old V injured. Died in hospital- jury don’t have to show that medical intervention wasn’t cause of death. Problems with causation What does ‘more than a slight and trifling link’ mean? Vague; juries apply standards. ‘Thin-skull’ rule- unfair if D unaware of medical condition? Intent? Should D be liable if life-saving treatment is refused by V? Problems surrounding negligent medical treatment. Reforms ‘Smith’ test altered to ‘Cheshire’ test. ‘Thin-skull’ rule- reluctant to allow people to escape liability. Allowance for doctors switching off life-support machines. Accelerated principleo Adams 1957- doctor compassionately gave overdose to patient, who otherwise would’ve died a painful death. Murder charge; had shortened life.

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