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Involuntary Manslaughter in Contemporary Settings

Case: State v. Williams, 484 P.2d 1167 (1971) [p. 390-393]

Facts: Δ's baby was sick, but didn’t bring the child to the doctor because they were afraid the Welfare Dept
would take the baby away. Also, they just believed the child had a toothache, and it would go away. Δ convicted
of manslaughter for negligently failing to supply their child with necessary medical attention.

• At CL, in case of involuntary manslaughter, breach had to be more than ordinary or simple negligence,
and gross negligence was necessary. But state (WA) statute says voluntary or involuntary manslaughter
when death is a proximate result of only simple of ordinary negligence.
o Simple or ordinary negligence - failure to exercise the "ordinary caution" necessary to make out
a defense of excusable homicide. Ordinary caution - where a man of reasonable prudence would
exercise under the same or similar conditions.
o Court holds that, applying the standard of ordinary caution, Δs sufficiently put on notice of
baby's condition to have required them to obtain medical attention. Sufficient for manslaughter.

Class Notes
• common law - needs more than just ordinary or simple negligence,
• WA, when they codified the crime, used ordinary or simple negligence. This is NOT the norm.
• WHO is the reasonable person???
o 6th grade education
o Fear child being taken away (native american norms)
o There are characteristics specific to these people. Does this matter?
• There's no definitive view of this.


Notes: [p. 393-395; notes 1, 2 4 and 6]

• The Reasonable person in social context

o Should the same standards have applied here? Δs were part of an insular minority that has
suffered discrimination.
• Statistics - 25%-35% of Indian children are separated from their families by Welfare
• Usually not because of physical abuse, but because of differing social customs
and norms, welfare thinks children are being abandoned (leaving child with
person outside nuclear family considered neglect by Welfare, but this is an Indian
social norm).
• So, parents worries that child might be taken away are reasonable in that culture (also a
relative's child was taken away, so mother has first hand experience of this happening)