A legal duty is one either "imposed by law, or by contract." When a death results from an omission to perform a legal duty, the person obligated to perform the duty may be guilty of culpable homicide. If the death results from a malicious omission of the performance of a duty, the offense is murder. On the other hand, although no malice is shown, if a person is criminally negligent in omitting to perform a duty, he is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Defendant sought review of a judgment from the Circuit Court which convicted her of involuntary manslaughter. The trial court found that her mother's death resulted from defendant's criminal negligence in failing to provide her mother with heat, food, liquids, and other necessities. Defendant's mother was found in a room of the house they shared with no heat. She died later that night in the hospital. The forensic pathologist testified that she died from pneumonia and freezing to death due to exposure to cold with a chronic state of starvation. The scientific evidence indicated that she had no liquid for at least two days and had not eaten any food for at least 30 days. Her mother was not able to attend to her personal care, and defendant informed a number of people that she was responsible for her mother. She was her mother's authorized representative for her food stamps and social security benefits.
Did defendant have a legal duty to care for her mother under an implied contract?
The court found that the evidence established defendant had a legal duty to care for her mother and that her receipt of her mother's benefits proved the existence of an implied contract. The court determined that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding that she was criminally negligent in failing to carry out her duty. The court found that the nondisclosure of additional photographic evidence was not prejudicial to the substantial rights of defendant, and they were properly admitted. The court affirmed defendant's conviction for involuntary manslaughter.