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Omissions

Jones v. U.S. [308 F.2d 307; 1962 DC] (p. 112)

o Summary: the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. A friend of hers had
a child out of wedlock, and gave Jones the baby to take care of. The baby ended up in the
hospital and found to be suffering from malnutrition, and later died. Jones argued she had
no legal duty to supply food & necessities to the baby. The court held that "under some
circumstances, the omission of a duty owed by one individual to another, where the
omission results in [death]," this is chargeable as manslaughter. But the issue is whether a
duty was owed - here it has to be a legal duty, not just a moral obligation.
o Court identified 4 situations where failure to act constituted breach of a legal
duty:
 Where a statute imposes a duty to care for another
 Where one stands in a certain status relationship to another
 Where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another
 Where one has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded
the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid.
o So the court had to reverse for a new trial, in order to establish facts which would
fall into one of the four categories, where Jones would have a legal duty to the
baby.
o An Omission is a criminal act when there is a failure to perform a legal duty (this
is a culpable omission)

o Notes:
o The Scope of Duty
 The duty to aid victim or report crime
• Unless compliance would place person in danger, or would
interfere with duties to others
 Contracts for care - where you pay for care, but other person takes money,
and doesn’t provide the care. Not providing the care lead to starvation and
dehydration - and then death.
 Family status
• Stepmother had duty to protect stepchild from abuse by child's
biological parent (child died).
• Mother had duty to protect her child from sexual acts committed
by her husband and another man (where child told mother of
previous assaults).