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State v. Williams

    Citation. 22 Ill.4 Wn. App. 899, 484 P.2d 1162 (Ct. App. 1971)

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendants Walter and Bernice Williams were found guilty of manslaughter for negligently failing to supply their infant child with necessary medical attention, as a result of which the child died. The basis of the conviction was ordinary negligence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under the penal code of Washington, ordinary negligence is sufficient to support a manslaughter conviction.


    Facts. Defendants were aware that their son was ill during the two-week period beginning September 1, 1968, however they did not realize the extent of the child’s illness and as a result, failed to seek medical attention for the child. The child died and Defendants were charged and convicted of manslaughter. The basis of the conviction was ordinary negligence. The defendants appeal.

    Issue. Was there sufficient evidence from which the Court could find that a reasonable person under similar conditions would have been sufficiently put on notice concerning the severity of the child’s medical condition such that failure to seek medical care constituted a breach of duty?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    Under the penal code of Washington, ordinary negligence is sufficient to support a manslaughter conviction. The question is whether a reasonable person, under similar circumstances, would have been sufficiently put on notice concerning the severity of the child’s medical condition such that failure to seek medical attention constitutes negligence.

    While parents have discretion with regard to child rearing, if a Parent’s negligence is the proximate cause of a child’s death then a court can find the parent guilty of manslaughter. In this case, there was enough evidence for the Court to have found that a reasonable person would have been sufficiently put on notice as to the severity of the illness and therefore the parent’s acted negligently in failing to seek medical attention.


    Discussion. At common law, more than ordinary negligence must be shown in order to support a conviction for criminal manslaughter. A manslaughter conviction under the Washington statute as it was written at the time of this case required only that ordinary negligence is the proximate cause of the victim’s death. That statute has since been repealed.

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