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People v. Beardsley

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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People v. Beardsley
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    Brief Fact Summary. While his wife was out of town, the Defendant spent the weekend with another woman, Blanche Burns. On Monday afternoon, Ms. Burns consumed morphine in an apparent suicide attempt. After she died, the Defendant was convicted for manslaughter for failing to render aid.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person owes no legal obligation to another unless such person is within his custody or care as a dependent person.

    Facts. The Defendant was a married man. While his wife was out of town, he arranged to spend time with Ms. Burns, with whom he had been previously acquainted. The two spent the weekend together drinking liquor in the Defendant’s apartment. When they ran out of liquor, a young man from the Columbia Hotel brought more. The young man appeared on Monday afternoon to see if they wanted anything, and Ms. Burns sent him to the drugstore to get camphor and morphine. Ms. Burns concealed the morphine from the Defendant, but the Defendant and the young man noticed her putting something in her mouth. The Defendant knocked the box out of her hand and crushed several of the tablets. Nevertheless, she probably took about three to four grains of morphine. The young man then left, but the Defendant called him about an hour later and asked him to take Ms. Burns to the basement apartment so that his wife would not see her. By this time, she was in a stupor and did not respond when spoken to. The Defend
    ant was too intoxicated to help at this time. Ms. Burns died later that day, and the Defendant was charged with manslaughter for failing to render aid to her.

    Issue. Is the Defendant’s failure to act to save the life of another person manslaughter?

    Held. No.
    Under certain circumstances, namely when one is dependent on another, an omission of a duty owed by one individual to another, where the omission results in the death of the person owed the duty, is considered manslaughter.

    However, the Defendant owed no such duty to the alleged victim here. Ms. Burns was over 30 years of age, and her conduct indicates that she had plenty of experience with carousing with men and consuming alcohol and drugs. Hence, while the defendant may have had a moral duty to protect Ms. Burns, the law imposes no such duty on him.


    Discussion. A failure to act to save one’s life is not a crime unless the person is in the care or custody of another.


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