22/12/2008

Rhys Murder?

I will admit to being disgusted by the fact that the innocent child, Rhys Jones, was killed by Sean Mercer. But I am appalled that he was found guilty of murder. I assume that this will require some explanation.

To be convicted of murder you must have committed 'Actus reus' (guilty act) with 'Mens rea' (guilty mind). In other words you must have killed somebody with the intent of doing so.

As it happens Sean Mercer had no intention of killing Rhys Jones. He had the intention of killing somebody else, but failed. Reading news accounts Mercer was guilty of numerous crimes, but this does not make him guilty of murder.

Is this an abuse of our legal system? I have commented before about how the incarceration of an innocent is worse than the freedom of a criminal. In this case, despite the absolute hideousness of what happened, has true justice been applied?

3 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

You should look up the definition of mens rea; it's a fairly broad concept.

If you'll forgive using television as an example, I remember an episode of Homicide where a boy was convicted of murder even though he intended to murder someone else; he was mistaken as to the identity of the victim. Since he intended to kill one person, but instead killed another "by accident", should he have been found to lack the requisite mens rea?

According to the Times Online: Sean Mercer was 16 when he fired three shots outside the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth Park, Merseyside, as part of a feud between rival gangs. The second of those shots struck Rhys in the neck and he died in his mother’s arms in the pub car park.

It seems clear that we can infer that Mercer had the intention of killing someone, and a reasonable person would also know that there was a serious danger of injuring or killing a bystander.

I think that there's a reasonable range of interpretation here, but it seems unacceptably hyperbolic to label this decision an abuse.

Danny Boy said...

Oh the things we learn watching TV. In an episode of Law & Order I encountered the phrase "intent follows the bullet". If someone fires a gun with the intention of killing someone but kills another, the shooter's intent would be applied to the crime. According to wikipedia, it's called transferred intent. If the doctrine is sound (and there are questions to the contrary in the wikipedia article), then the decision is just.

BTW, since it seems to be an established legal doctrine, then you're dreading something that is already a part of your country's legal system.

Chef Wendell said...

Transferred intent (aka transferred malice) does not apply in cases of mistaken identity.

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