Problem Question on Homicide

This case is a murder case as a human being has been killed, this offence has no statutory definition and carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The definition is 'unlawfully killing a reasonable person who is in being'. The actus reus and the mens rea are satisfied in this case with intent to cause the victim injury. In this problem considering the facts of the case, the conviction of murder may be brought down to the charge of manslaughter, which is an unlawful killing without malice aforethought. It has a lesser degree of blameworthiness.

There are two classifications of manslaughter which are 'involuntary' and 'voluntary'. Voluntary manslaughter does not require the necessary malice aforethought for murder, it is regarded as less blameworthy as in this problem case provocation is present. The fact of intent is not brought up in this problem as Sandra instantly grabs a marble statuette and hits it over Peters head killing him. Sandra was provoked by Peter hitting her on various occasions and this has caused her to become clinically depressed. Peter hitting and telling Sandra that she is a hopeless wife and inadequate mother is enough to provoke her behaviour. It was ruled in the case of Doughty (1986) that the continuous crying of a baby is enough to provoke a person. Provocation comes under the Homicide Act 1957 in section 3.

Therefore Sandra may rely on a partial defence of provocation to murder only, it reduces the charge of murder to manslaughter To determine if Sandra was provoked it needs to be determined if she was provoked enough to lose her self control, for this defence there needs to be a 'sudden loss of control' as stated by Lord Devlin in R v Duffy (1999) where the defendant killed her husband just after being savagely beaten by him.

Peter caused Sandra to lose her self control which in turn led her to grab the marble statuette and used it to kill him. If the jury is satisfied that Sandra lost her self control then the reasonable man test should be considered. This is an objective test where the question is asked 'would a reasonable man have lost his self control as the defendant did? ' Therefore it should be asked that would a reasonable person who has been beaten for a few years and suffers from depression act in the same way as Sandra?

The 'Battered Women Syndrome' may also be part of the defence for provocation as a minor incident may trigger the defendant who has been experiencing abuse over a period of time. This was also considered in a recent case R v Smith (2000) the defendant suffered from a serious clinical depression and stabbed his friend during a row. The main issue in this case was whether his depression could be considered as a characteristic in the reasonable man test but the jury rejected his defences. In most cases the jury is asked 'what could reasonably be expected of a person with the defendant's characteristics? '

If Sandra had waited until Peter had fallen asleep she could still use the defence of provocation but it would not be very strong as she had intended to wait for him to fall asleep. There would be no proof of definite provocation on Peters behalf and this would go against Sandra. It would be argued by the prosecution that she had time to consider her actions before taking them.

The time in between the provocation and the killing is known as the 'cooling time', it is difficult to establish the defence for this situation. Sandra's actions may look like an act of revenge and in these circumstances they are not considered to have been provoked. But over time Sandra has experienced a series of provoking incidents over some time. These types of cases have received a lot of publicity, the case of R v Ahluwalia (1993) the defendant's husband had been beating her for over a period of 10 years, she received injuries, bruising, broken bones and sexual abuse. In fear of her life the defendant poured petrol on his feet to burn him and he was burnt alive. From this cases the courts held that defence of provocation could be held in these types of cases where there was a delayed reaction.

Although it is difficult to establish, provocation is available for battered women suffering from slow-burn anger. The problem with these types of cases is that the jury does not understand the circumstances as they have probably not been through domestic violence. There may also be problem with sentencing as a minor incident may cause death of the victim. It makes the actions took by the defendant a minor fault even though they have caused the death of someone. Involuntary manslaughter also covers a wide range of conduct therefore, making it easier for defendant's to avoid being found liable for their actions.