Involuntary Manslaughter

What is involuntary manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is when an unlawful act causes death, or when a death is caused by an act of gross (criminal) negligence.  Manslaughter which occurs following the commission of an unlawful act is also known as constructive manslaughter.

Constructive manslaughter

Constructive manslaughter has three elements, namely:

  1. An unlawful act committed by the defendant which results in the death of another person

  2. The act must have involved a risk that someone would be harmed

  3. The defendant must have had the mens rea for the unlawful act which led to the victim’s death

Unlawful act committed by the defendant which causes the death of another person

Much of the case law in this area has involved drug users and people assisting them with taking drugs, though there have been instances before the courts where drug dealers have not been liable for deaths caused by the drugs they have supplied (see, for example, R v Dalby [1982]).  An important point to consider is the chain of causation between the unlawful act and the subsequent death.  Liability will likely be established if there is little or no break in this chain.  In R v Kennedy [1999] the victim had asked the defendant to get him something to help him sleep.  The defendant gave the victim a syringe of heroin.  The victim injected himself with the heroin and was dead within the hour.  The defendant was convicted of manslaughter.  The case can be compared with R v Rogers (Stephen) [2003] where the defendant held a tourniquet around the victim’s arm so that the victim could inject themselves.  The Court of Appeal upheld the defendant’s conviction for manslaughter stating that the defendant had been sufficiently involved in the injection to make him guilty of manslaughter when the victim later died.  The Court of Appeal did question the Kennedy decision when considering the Rogers case, but did not overrule it.

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For more information on:

  • The act must have involved a risk that somebody would be harmed
  • The defendant must have had the mens rea for the unlawful act which led to the victim’s death
  • Manslaughter by gross negligence