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Regina v. Dudley and Stephens

Citation. 14 Q.B.D. 273 (Queen’s Bench Division. 1884).

Brief Fact Summary. Dudley and Stephens (defendants) murdered a fellow young seaman (Parker) in order to save their own lives from starvation. They were found guilty of murder.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Killing an innocent life to save one’s own does not justify murder even if it under extreme necessity of hunger.

Facts. Dudley and Stephens along with Brooks and Parker(victim) were cast away at sea without weeks of food and water except for some turnips and a turtle. After twenty days, Dudley and Stephens proposed one person sacrifice himself in order to save the rest. Brooks dissented while Dudley and Stephens decided to kill Parker since he was the weakest and youngest. On the 25th of July, seeing no rescue in sight, the two men killed Parker and the three men feasted on his body. Four days later a vessel rescued them and Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder.

Issue. Whether the killing of Parker was murder considering the circumstances of this case.

Held. Yes it is murder. Stephens and Dudley to be sentenced to death.
The necessity of hunger does not justify larceny, let alone murder. Stephens and Dudley chose the weakest and youngest to kill and it was not more necessary to kill him than any of the other grown men.

Stephens and Dudley were tempted to kill Parker but temptation itself is not an excuse for murdering him. Their unfortunate circumstances also do not lend leniency to the legal definition of murder.


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Discussion. As necessary the circumstances seemed where sacrificing one’s life would save the rest, that itself does not justify murder. The fact that Dudley and Stephens chose the weakest person to be the victim also does not justify that Parker could not have survived. Instead, by killing him, it is only making certain that he had no chance of survival.