Involuntary manslaughter is a partial defence to murder. Today, I will investigate how this defence diminishes responsibility and loss of control. I want to comprehend the impact of a successful partial defence on the defendant’s culpability for murder and how that influences the range of sentencing options for the judge.
Generally, most defences are known as “general defenses” that can be used in any case. For instance, self-defence can be used as a defence for both murder and battery.
Today, we’ll focus on specific defences for murder. If a defendant successfully uses a specific defence, they are not found guilty of murder. Instead, they are guilty of manslaughter. This is important because murder carries a mandatory life sentence, while manslaughter has a much broader range of sentences. These partial defences reduce but do not remove, the defendant’s criminal liability for the death of another human being.
There are three partial defences to murder. The first is diminished responsibility, the second is lots of control, and the third is a suicide pact.
Diminished responsibility is a legal concept that acknowledges that a defendant’s actions were partially caused by a mental disorder, thus reducing their responsibility.
When someone loses control and kills because of an external circumstance, it is called “loss of control”. At first, I wondered why this was even a partial defence. After all, nobody should be killed, no matter what they say. But, after thinking about it, I understand that there are cases where losing control is justified. For example, if a father catches a paedophile abusing his daughter, and beats the man to death, it is homicide — but not in the same league as a serial killer. This is why it is essential to have this partial defence, as it allows the judge to have a wider degree of discretion in sentencing.
A defendant who survives a suicide pact with two or more people can invoke the partial defence of a suicide pact.
It is essential to remember that these partial defenses are only valid when the defendant has both the Actus Reus and Mens Rea for murder. If the partial defence is successful, the sentencing is much less severe than the mandatory life sentence for murder. The sentencing for manslaughter can range from an absolute discharge, where the defendant is released from court to a lengthy jail term. Additionally, the defendant is not labelled a murderer.
Voluntary manslaughter is a deliberate killing of a person, which is different from involuntary manslaughter. The Actus Reus of murder is the same in both cases, but the Mens Rea is absent in involuntary manslaughter.
In 1957, England and Wales created the partial defense of diminished responsibility. Scottish law had already recognized the diminished responsibility since the late 18th century.
Many mental illnesses do not cause violent behaviour. However, some people accused of crimes might act due to their mental illnesses, either partially or entirely. To address this issue, the defence of diminished responsibility was created as the existing defence of mental capacity (i.e. insanity) was too limiting.
This defence is based on the idea that the defendant could not understand the consequences of their actions due to a mental illness or defect. To be successful, the defendant must be able to prove that they were suffering from a mental illness or defect at the time of the killing and that this illness or defect prevented them from understanding the consequences of their actions. The defence of insanity is rarely successful and is only available in a small number of cases.
In 1843, the insanity test was established, and by 1957, when the Homicide Act (HA) was enacted, there had been a greater understanding of mental illness and its potential to impair an individual’s capacity to govern their behaviour. Despite this, the mandatory death penalty for murder remained in place until 1965, leading to apprehension surrounding the execution of those with mental illnesses.
The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (CJA 2009) amended the original definition of diminished responsibility with Section 52, creating a new defence to better reflect a greater understanding.
This is it for part 1!