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Attorney General for Jersey v. Holley Government (P) v. Murder defendant (D)

    Citation. Privy Council, UKPC 23, 3 All. Eng. Rep. 371 (2005)

    Brief Fact Summary. Holley (D) killed his partner but argued that the jury should consider his severe chronic alcoholism as a mitigating factor in their determination of whether he acted as a reasonable person in the killing.


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Severe chronic alcoholism may be considered as a factor in determining the validity of a reasonable person defense of a criminal defendant.


    Facts. Holley (D) and the deceased were both alcoholics in a long-term stormy relationship. They often had quarrels and were both violent. The deceased often attacked Holley’s self-esteem. After a day of heavy drinking and arguing by both partners, the deceased left and afterward returned to their apartment, telling Holley she had just had intercourse with another man. Holley had been chopping wood, and he picked up the axe, upon which she taunted him with not having the guts to use it. On this, he hit her seven or eight times, killing her. At his first trial for murder, he was found guilty, despite pleading provocation and despite the defense forensic psychiatrist finding that his severe chronic alcoholism was a disease and led to involuntary alcohol intake. The court of appeals overruled the verdict finding that the jury instruction was improper. On retrial he was again found guilty of murder, but the appellate court again set the verdict aside on account of improper instruction, but sentenced him to life imprisonment. On further appeal, the court set aside the murder conviction again and imposed a verdict of manslaughter and eight years imprisonment. Holley appealed again.


    Issue.

    May severe chronic alcoholism be considered as a factor in determining the validity of a reasonable person defense of a criminal defendant?


    Held. (Lord Nichols of Birkenhead, J.) Yes. Severe chronic alcoholism may be considered as a factor in determining the validity of a reasonable person defense of a criminal defendant. For legal purposes a reasonable man is taken to be one who shares much of the defendant’s characteristics, but has self-control to the level expected of an ordinary man in his age group and gender. This analysis is meant to understand the severity of the provocation offered to the defendant. The jury so instructed is meant to apply this principle to the case at issue, in deciding whether the provocation was sufficient to reduce the outrageousness of the criminal conduct. This very much depends on their standards of appropriate human behavior, with due allowance made for both the power of emotions and the make-up of the human nature, and for the effect of self-control in preventing violent outbursts resulting in criminality. The verdict is affirmed.


    Dissent. N/A


    Concurrence. N/A


    Discussion.

    In this case the Privy Council took a modern view of alcoholism as a mental abnormality, one of many, which could affect the self-control normal for a person in the situation of the defendant. With this in mind the jury needs to look for evidence that the person did not exercise due self-control and is therefore guilty of crime.



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