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Thursday, 9 April 2020

Offences Against the Person: Manslaughter

Q:
A police officer ‘bredrin’ recently posted this video in a WhatsApp group chat asking for an opinion on criminal liability by stating that the older man was kicked, fell, hit his head, and later succumbed to the injury… 

A:
Homicide is the act of one human killing another, which then results in a criminal charge for murder, or with certain defences, a reduced charge of manslaughter.

The facts here do not meet the threshold for murder, so look out for a more detailed post on murder at some point. In the meantime, this post is about manslaughter, which is the killing of a human being without malice aforethought or mens rea (Latin for ‘guilty mind’).

There are complete defences to murder like self-defence whereby a person will be fully exonerated; however, a partial defence will only reduce a charge for murder to either Voluntary Manslaughter or Involuntary Manslaughter.

In this case, the strongest argument can be made for Voluntary Manslaughter, which occurs when a person kills another in the heat of the moment without the intention to kill. This usually is due to an incident that is precipitated by the defendant’s loss of self-control / provocation, which is for the jury to decide at trial… according to the Offences Against the Person Act 1925, as amended:
4B. Where on a charge of murder there is evidence on which the jury can find that the person charged was provoked (whether by things done or by things said or by both together) to lose his self-control, the question whether the provocation was enough to make a reasonable man do as he did shall be left to be determined by the jury; and in determining that question the jury shall take into account everything both done and said according to the effect which, in their opinion, it would have on a reasonable man.

The widely accepted definition of loss of self-control / provocation comes from Devlin J in the case of R v Duffy [1949], where a woman killed her sleeping husband with an axe after she was prevented from leaving the house with her child to escape years of alleged abuse:
"…the provocation must cause a sudden and temporary loss of self-control, rendering the accused so subject to passion as to make him or her for the moment not master of his mind.”

Now, once successfully reduced, the penalty for manslaughter in Trinidad and Tobago ranges from life imprisonment to a fine:
6. Any person who is convicted of manslaughter is liable to imprisonment for life or for any term of years, or to pay such fine as the Court shall award.

In the end, “winning” a fight can potentially land a person in prison for life, so it’s probably best to walk away from such situations.

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