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Manslaughter has perhaps, in the variety of its circumstances, no equal in the catalogue of crimes. An unlawful killing, though unintentional and involuntary, if accomplished by one while engaged in the commission of an unlawful act, is defined by the statute as manslaughter, and this statute does not circumscribe the means or agency causing the death. The law clearly covers and includes any and all means and mediums by or through which a death is caused by one engaged in an unlawful act. The statute has the effect of raising the grade of the offense in which the party is engaged to the rank of manslaughter where it results in the death of a human being.
Petitioner prisoner and an accomplice went to a house to accost an individual who had been reported as making disparaging comments about the prisoner. When the prisoner arrived at the house with a pistol, the mother of the other man became alarmed about the presence of the pistol. When a fight ensued between the prisoner and the other man, the mother continued to express concern and eventually died as a result. The prisoner was held to answer for manslaughter. The prisoner asserted that his conduct did not break any law because a homicide required direct contact with the victim. A writ of habeas corpus was issued in favor of the petitioner prisoner.
May a prosecution for manslaughter be had where the death of a human being has been caused or accomplished through fright, fear, terror or nervous shock produced by the accused while in the commission of an unlawful act?
The court quashed the writ of habeas corpus and remanded the prisoner for trial because it determined that whether manslaughter existed when the prisoner caused the death of the victim through fright and terror was a question of fact to be determined by the jury.