Actus Reus

THE FACULTY OF LAW CRIMINAL LAW I UNIT 4 ACTUS *REUS INTRODUCTION The cardinal doctrine of English Law is that an Act does not of itself constitute guilt unless the mind is guilty – Actus non facit recum nisi mens sit rea. The maxim draws attention to the 2 essential elements of a crime which are: ( 1) The physical element or the _actus _reus – the so – called “condition of illegality “ (2) The mental element or the mens rea – the “condition of the mind “ The general rule is that for all crimes save for certain statutory exceptions ex. trict liability offences the prosecution must prove both. R v Deller (1952) Generally the two must coincide that is there should be coincidence of actus reus and mens rea. Haughton v Smith (1975) AC 467 pages 491- 2 “An act does not make a man guilty unless his mind be also guilty. ” The actus reus includes all the elements of the definition of a crime except the accused’s mental element. It is too narrow to define the concept only in terms of “acts” therefore it includes” Acts Omissions A criminal state of affairs ACTS

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An exception to this rule is where the act was done in a case of self –induced intoxication and the crime is a case of basic intent as for crimes of specific intent it is still a defence. R v Lipman (1970) 1 QB 152 approved in DPP v Majewski (1977) AC 443 AUTOMATISM The defence can be said to involve 3 elements: Total destruction of voluntary control Caused by an external factor Defendant was not responsible for his condition Total destruction of voluntary control It is necessary to demonstrate a total destruction of voluntary control.

It is not sufficient to show that the Accused had only impaired control over his Acts. See AG reference (No 2 of 1992)Nor is it enough to simply show that the Accused did not control his actions or did not know what he was doing if he could have controlled his actions. What must be shown is that the Defendant lost control of his actions. The Condition must be caused by an external factor This is important as the essential distinction between automatism and insanity depends upon whether the state of mind is caused by an internal or external factor.

If is caused by an external factor [for example being hit in the head by a falling object or where a diabetic involuntarily acts as a result of hypoglycemia caused by an excess of insulin injected as part of medical treatment- See R v Quick –[1973] 1 QB 910- then the defend is in automaton; if an internal factor [ ex/ an epileptic fit See R v Sullivan – (1984) AC 156 ] then the defence will be insanity.

The Defendant is not Responsible for his state of mind The Appeal Court in R v Quick said that if the hypoglycemia were self-induced through negligence, it would not have been a defence- Lawton LJ ‘a self-induced incapacity will not excuse … or will one which could have been reasonably foreseen_ as a result of either doing or omitting to do something, for example, taking alcohol against medical advice after using certain prescribed drugs or failing to have regular meals while taking insulin_ An exception to this rule is where the act was done in a case of self –induced intoxication and the crime is a case of basic intent – common assault – as for crimes of specific intent – murder- it is still a defence. Held: He was acquitted of murder because the jury was not sure that he had the necessary intention being intoxicated.

Instead he was found guilty of manslaughter. REFLEX ACTIONS Sometimes people can respond to something with a spontaneous reflex action over which they have no control. Although slightly different, this is sometimes classed as a form of automatism. The classic example is that given in Hill v Baxter [1958] 1 All ER 193, of someone being stung by a swarm of bees while driving, and losing control of the car. PHYSICAL FORCE The conduct may be involuntary in that it is physically forced by someone else, in which case there will be no actus reus. See: Leicester v Pearson [1952] 2 All ER 71.

A car driver was prosecuted for failing to give precedence to a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, but was acquitted when it was established that his car had been pushed onto the crossing by another car hitting it from behind OMISSIONS As a rule of law the law imposes no obligations on persons to act to prevent the occurrence of harm or wrongdoing. We are not required to be our brother’ keeper. However an omission may give rise to criminal responsibility where there is a duty to act arising at common law or under statute. A duty may arise in a number of circumstances such as:

Where one creates a dangerous situation. This is where the Court has found a duty to act where the Defendant has created a dangerous situation and then failed to prevent harm occurring as a result. – See R v Miller (1982) 2 All ER 386 Lord Diplock stated: “I see no rational ground for excluding from conduct capable of giving rise to criminal liability, conduct which consists of failing to take measures that lie within one’s power to counteract a danger that one has oneself created, if at the time of such conduct one’s state of mind is such as constitutes a necessary ingredient of the offence.

A duty may arise by way of relationship example D and his common law wife failed to feed the man’s 7 year-old child, Nelly, and she died from starvation. The woman hated Nelly, and was clearly the moving force. Held: Where there is the duty to act, failure to do so can lead to liability even for murder if the necessary mens rea is present. D being the father had the duty to act for the welfare of the child. The woman being Proctor was held to be liable because, while the child was not hers, she was living with the man and had undertook the duty to care for the child.

The courts regarded the parent’s duty towards a young child as so self-evident as not to require analysis or authority. Both parties were found guilty of murder. (b) Husband and wife See- Bonnyman (1942) 28 CAR 131 c) Voluntary undertakings A person may undertake to be his brother’s keeper. There is no need to prove a legal obligation to undertake the duty or that is obliged by contract. Sufficient if D has voluntarily and gratuitously undertaken the care of another.

R v Instan (1893) 1 QB 450 – where D lived with her infirm and elderly aunt and it was found that her neglect of her aunt had accelerated the aunt’s death she was found liable for the manslaughter Lord Coleridge, CJ: “It would not be correct to say that every moral obligation involves a legal duty; but every legal duty is founded on a moral obligation. A legal common law duty is nothing else than the enforcing by law of that which is a moral obligation without legal enforcement. ‘In this case, as in most cases, the legal duty can be nothing else than the taking upon oneself the performance of a moral obligation’ Stone and Dobson (1977) 2 All ER 341 S and D allowed Stone’s ill and unstable sister , Fanny, to live in their house. Fanny was suffering from anorexia and her condition deteriorated, until she became bed-ridden. She needed medical help, but none was summoned and she eventually died in squalor, covered in bed sores and filth. Held: Because they had taken Fanny into their home, they had assumed a duty of care for her and had been grossly negligent in the performance of that duty.

The fact that Fanny was Stone’s sister was merely incidental to this. Geoffrey Lane LJ: “The duty which the defendant has undertaken is a duty of caring for the health and welfare of the infirm person. What the prosecution have to provide is a breach of that duty in such circumstances that the jury feel convinced that the defendant’s conduct can properly be described as reckless, that is to say a reckless disregard of danger to the health and welfare of the infirm person. Mere inadvertence is not enough. The defendant must be proved to have been indifferent to an obvious risk of njury to health, or actually to have foreseen the risk but to have determined nevertheless to run it. ’ Both were found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence (4) Contractual Duties Held: D had a duty to shut the gate (owed to his employers rather than to the public at large), but it was enough that his negligent failure to act could lead to conviction. Found Guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. STATE OF AFFAIRS A crime may be committed although there is no “act” in the normal sense instead there may be a specified state of affairs which is deemed sufficient.

A “state of affairs” refers to the circumstances at a particular place and time which are to be distinguished from an act which is doing something, such as stabbing somebody or taking property and an omission which is not doing something, such as failing to take care of your child. See R v Larsonneur (1933) 24 Cr App Rep 74 D was convicted under the Aliens Order Act 1920 of “ being an alien to whom leave to land in the UK has been refused “ was found in the UK. She had been brought from Ireland to the UK against her will in the custody of the police.

See*Winzar v Chief Constable of Kent (1983) Times 28th* March The defendant was brought on a stretcher to hospital. The doctor discovered that he was merely drunk and asked him to leave. He was later seen slumped on a seat in the corridor and so the police were called. They removed him to the roadway, “formed the opinion he was drunk,” and placed him in their car parked nearby. He was charged with being found drunk in a highway and convicted. These state of Affairs offences are usually seen as strict liability offences with no need for one to determine who or how the state of affairs came to be. Lecturer: Kedian T. Francis, Attorney-at-Law

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