A duty to act imposed by contract is legally enforceable and, therefore, creates a legal duty. It follows that a failure to perform a duty imposed by contract may be the basis for a charge of criminal homicide if such failure causes the death of another person and all other elements of the offense are present.
Defendants appealed their conviction for murder in the third degree. On appeal, the court affirmed the verdict and held that there was evidence that the victim's death had been caused by defendants' failure to provide the food and medical care as they agreed to do by oral contract.
Is failure to perform duties under a contract sufficient for a conviction of murder?
The court affirmed defendants' conviction in the trial court because the evidence was sufficient to show that a contract existed between defendants and the victim, which obligated defendants to provide food and medical care for victim and his death was caused by defendants’ non-compliance with the contract. The court held that the evidence did show that defendants' failure to provide the victim with food and medical care was willful and malicious. The defendants had a duty to act under the contract, and their omission was sufficient for a conviction of murder of the third degree.