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Regina v. Cunningham

    View this case and other resources at:
    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant was convicted of unlawfully and maliciously administering to or causing to be administered to, or taken by, any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as to endanger the life of such person or inflict bodily harm, and Defendant appealed, stating that the jury was instructed improperly as to malice.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. “Malice” requires (1) an intent to do the harm that was done; or (2) recklessness as to whether the harm occurs.

    Facts. The Defendant was engaged to be married. Defendant’s prospective in-laws lived next door to Defendant and his fiancee. The two homes used to be one, but in the basement, a wall had been erected to divide the cellars of the two homes. The Defendant became short of money and tore the gas meter off the wall to obtain money. Even though there was a stop tap within two feet of the meter, the Defendant did not turn off the gas. Subsequently, the gas seeped through the basement wall and partially asphyxiated Mrs. Wade, Defendant’s prospective mother in law. The Defendant was charged with unlawfully and maliciously administering to or causing to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as to endanger the life of such person or inflict bodily harm. The judge charged the jury that “malicious” is defined as wicked. The Defendant was convicted, and he thereafter initiated this appeal, averring that the judge’s instruction was inc
    orrect.

    Issue. Did the trial court properly instruct the jury on the meaning of the term “malicious?”

    Held. No.
    The trial court defined “malicious” as merely “wicked.” This was an insufficient and incorrect definition of the term. “Malice” requires (1) an intent to do the harm that was done; or (2) reckless as to whether the harm occurs.

    Since the jury was not properly instructed on the meaning of malice, the conviction could not stand.


    Discussion. “Malice” requires that one bring about harm, whether by intention or recklessness.


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