Law School Case Brief
State v. McVay - 47 R.I. 292, 132 A. 436 (1926)
Even if the harm is not intentional, it is possible to be charged as an accessory before the fact in manslaughter crimes. Likewise, a defendant may be found guilty of manslaughter if an unintentional killing happens due to gross negligence in the doing of an ordinarily lawful act. Manslaughter may consist, among other things, of doing an unlawful act resulting in unintentional killing.
The boiler on a boat exploded, killing many on board. Three indictments for manslaughter, each containing four counts, were brought against the captain and engineer as principals and against defendant as an accessory before the fact. Defendant filed a demurred to the indictment, arguing that there could be no accessory before the fact in manslaughter that arose from an allegation of criminal negligence. The matter was elevated to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
Can there be an accessory to the crime if the crime arose from criminal negligence?
Case was remanded to the superior court. The court stated that although there could have been no accessory before the fact when a killing resulted from a sudden and unpremeditated blow, it did not think it could be broadly stated that premeditation was inconsistent with every charge of manslaughter. Manslaughter could consist, among other things, of doing an unlawful act resulting in unintentional killing. The court found that manslaughter was likewise committed if an unintentional killing is occasioned by gross negligence in the doing of an act lawful in itself. The court held that there was no inherent reason why, prior to the commission of such a crime, one could not aid, abet, counsel, command or procure the doing of the unlawful act or of the lawful act in a negligent manner.
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