Criminal Law-Homicide problem question - Guinevere dies from Lancelots attempts to muffle her protests.

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Guinevere dies from Lancelot’s attempts to muffle her protests

To determine the criminal liability of Lancelot, it is necessary to establish if Lancelot will be guilty for homicide, whether it is murder or manslaughter. In addition to this, it is also crucial to establish what defences Lancelot might have against the charges and their weight from the fact pattern of the case. After these issues are evaluated, the criminal liability for Lancelot will be established.

According to common law, the law for homicide is the unlawful killing of a human being in the Queen’s peace. Murder is an unlawful killing with ‘malice aforethought’ whereas manslaughter is an unlawful killing without ‘malice aforethought’. 

It is fairly straightforward that Lancelot has committed the actus reus of an unlawful killing as Guinevere died from Lancelot’s act which was his attempts to muffle her protests. Firstly factual causation is established as the ‘but for’ test has to be applied(R v White). Guinevere would not have died but for Lancelot’s actions so Lancelot factually caused her death.

 Legal causation is also established as Lancelot’s actions were directly substantial to Guinevere’s death and there was no novus actus interveniens; an intervening act that breaks the chain of causation. Furthermore, the thin skull principle can also be applied here where “the defendant has to take his victim as he finds him”. Even if Guinevere was physically vulnerable to such acts, Lancelot would be held liable for her death despite his awareness of it  due to this principle(R v Hayward). 

        It is now important, to establish if Lancelot had the required mens rea for his actions to be classified as murder or manslaughter. Mens rea for murder is established when the defendant has an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to the victim(R v Vickers). Following the fact pattern of the case, Lancelot acted in such a way to muffle the protests of Guinevere while he attempted to engage in sexual intercourse with her not because he had an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.  

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Furthermore, a subjective test has to be applied to determine if Lancelot had oblique intention; which entails that he must have foreseen that Guinevere’s death was virtually certain as a consequence of his actions(R v Woolin). Lancelot would not have foreseen that Guinevere would die or suffer from grievous bodily harm from his act of muffling her unless it was significantly dangerous. Therefore, Lancelot would most likely be convicted of involuntary manslaughter as he did not have the required mens rea to be convicted of murder.  

         However, if Lancelot is still charged with murder, his appropriate defence would ...

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