Biddle v. Commonwealth

206 Va. 14



If death is the direct consequence of the malicious omission of the performance of a duty, such as of a mother to feed her child, this is a case of murder; but if the omission is not wilful, and arose out of neglect only, it is manslaughter.


The defendant was on trial for murder. The detective testified that defendant gave her statement freely and voluntarily. Defendant testified that while she was not threatened or abused, she was afraid, and that the detective promised that she could go home if she gave a statement.


Is a negligent omission or indifference enough to satisfy murder beyond a reasonable doubt?




On appeal, the court considered the effect of the recent Escobedo decision and held that the failure to warn defendant of her right to remain silent did not render the statement inadmissible, but was only another circumstance for the trial judge to consider. The court found that the credibility of the witnesses was an issue for the trial judge and that the evidence supported the finding of voluntariness. The court looked to the common law to define murder, which Va. Code Ann. § 18.1-21 (1960, 1964 Cum. Supp.) did not define. The court noted that murder was a homicide committed with malice aforethought, either express or implied. The court held that the willful or malicious omission of the mother's duty to feed her child would have been murder, but that a negligent omission or indifference could only be manslaughter. The court held that the Commonwealth's evidence, as a matter of law, did not prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The court reversed defendant's conviction of first-degree murder in the death of her child by malnutrition and dehydration. The court remanded the case for a new trial.

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