Criminal Law - Murder and Criminal Damage Problem

Bob decides to kill his wife, Alice. He formulates a plan to throw a very crudely made petrol bomb through Alice’s office window one afternoon while she is at work. He makes the bomb and then catches a bus to Alice’s office.

When he reaches the office block Bob climbs on a fence in order to get a better angle for his throw. He aims the bomb at Alice’s window and throws. At this point the fence collapses and the bomb bursts through the office window on the floor below Alice’s office. The subsequent explosion kills Karishma, Alice’s colleague on the floor below. Alice suffocates in the ensuing fire. Jake, a fire fighter, also dies trying to rescue Alice.

The fire spreads throughout the office block, causing a significant amount of damage. Many employees suffer from the effects of smoke inhalation. When interviewed by the police, Bob admits that he wanted to kill his wife. However, he maintains that he did not want anyone else to perish or suffer injuries in the blaze.

Answer both of the following questions. Both questions carry equal marks. Using case law to support your arguments:

1.Discuss whether Bob may be charged with the murder of Alice, Karishma and Jake; and 2.Advise Bob as to whether he has the necessary mens rea to be charged with offences under s1(1), s1(2) and s1(3) Criminal Damage Act 1971.

The area of law in which this question concerns is murder. It is necessary to consider the extent to which Bob is likely to be guilty of the murder of Alice, Karishma and Jake by his intention to cause death or grievous bodily harm (GBH). Manslaughter is unlikely to be charged as there was no failure to act.

In any criminal case the prosecution has the burden of proof in proving beyond reasonable doubt, the defendant/s (D) should have both the actus reus (AR) and mens rea (MR) elements of the crime. The definition of murder is the unlawful killing of another person in the Queens peace with the intention to cause death or GBH. To determine whether Bob is guilty of murder we need to establish the AR and MR of the offence. The AR for murder is: the unlawful killing of another person in the Queens peace, including causation.

A killing is not unlawful unless D has a legal reason to commit such a crime. Alice, Karishma and Jake do not fall under any of the lawful categories thus, his actions are unlawful.

Human life begins at birth. When the child is born alive and outside the mother that is when it is regarded as a human, the umbilical cord need not be cut. The law accepts the medical definition of death and for the offence to apply the victim/s (V) must have “brain death”. Alice, Karishma and Jake are all capable of having an existence independent of their mothers.

It is necessary that D caused the death of V and that it was done by more than a negligible amount. Alice suffocated due to inhaling the smoke, Karishma is killed by the explosion of the petrol bomb and Jake dies trying to save Alice. So Bob obviously caused their deaths by a negligible amount.

The killing of V must take place in the Queens peace. Any killing of an enemy in war time is not considered to be a criminal offence. The killings of Alice, Karishma and Jake were not committed under the Queens peace so can be classed as murder.

Murder is a result crime so, the prosecution must prove D act or omission caused V death and there was no novus actus interveniens to break the chain of causation.

Factual causation is established using the “but for” principle, the result would not have happened if it was not for D act. If this is not proved then D may be guilty of attempted murder as the result would have occurred irrespective of D conduct. Alice, Karishma and Jake would not have died “but for” Bob throwing the petrol bomb therefore, the “but for” test is satisfied.

Legal causation states for D act must be an “operating and substantial cause” even if the result was affected by an act of a third party this applies to inappropriate medical treatment. Bob throwing the petrol bomb was the “operating and substantial cause” of Alice, Karishma and Jake dying so it definitely made a significant contribution.

If the act of a third party is a free, voluntary, and informed one then the chain of causation will be broken as the consequences where not reasonably foreseeable provided the result is that of what D intended. This is insignificant for Alice but may apply to Karishma and Jake, however because the result is what Bob wanted, it is irrelevant as well.

D is still liable even if V refused medical treatment or intentionally made their condition worse as, no one should ever put another person into such a bad state. In addition, the “thin skull” rule states D must take their V as he finds them. This does not apply to Alice, Karishma and Jake.

If V injured them self, D believes the chain of causation has been broken. However, Lord Justice Stephenson stated for D to be liable V conduct must have been a “reasonably foreseeable consequence”. This is not relevant for Alice and Karishma. This may apply to Jake as it was a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” that he would try to save Alice. The courts would be reluctant to allow Bob to escape liability.

The MR of murder is: intention to cause death or GBH. Lord Bridge stated “The golden rule should be that the judge should avoid any elaboration or paraphrase of what is meant by intent, and leave it to the jury’s good sense” There are two types of intention direct or indirect. Direct intention is where the actual result is the desired result or indirect intention where the actual result goes beyond the desired result. Intention was said to be the foresight of high probability although, in the case of indirect intention the HL prefer the “virtual certainty” test. COA held “...the jury should be...sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty” However, the current decision used is the foresight of a “substantial risk”.

Bob intended to kill Alice, so this intention is direct as she died. In relation to Karishma and Jake his intention was indirect because, he did not want “anyone else to perish or suffer injuries”. The “virtual certainty” test needs to be applied the death or serious injury of Karishma and Jake were a “virtual certainty”, as a result of Bobs actions and he realised this, so he is still guilty.

Bob is guilty of the murder of Alice, Karishma and Jake as he has both, the AR and MR for murder.

The MR of s1(1) Criminal Damage (CD) requires that the damage or destruction was done intentionally or recklessly. This is the basic form of CD and it was stated that D can only be guilty if he realised the risk of damage. Bob intentionally destroyed the office block and damaged the window, by throwing the petrol bomb. However, he recklessly damaged the fence by climbing on it.

Under s1(2) of aggravated CD the MR is in two parts. The first is intention or recklessness as to destroying or damaging property, and the second is intention or recklessness as to whether life is endangered by the destruction or damage . It has already been established in s1(1) that, Bob has the first part of the MR. If we examine the second part Bob also has the intention as he wanted to endanger the life of Alice, but was reckless as to whether the life of Karishma and Jake was.

S1(3) is Arson the MR requires that D must do the damage or destruction by fire either intentionally or recklessly. Bob intended and to destroy the office block, as he knew a petrol bomb would result in causing a fire.

Therefore, Bob has the MR of CD under the offences s1(1), s1(2) and s1(3).