➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Abigail, Queeneth, & Emmanuel Njoku v. The State (2012) – Supreme Court
by Branham Chima.
➥ SUBJECT MATTER
Mens reus and actus rea.
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
The facts of the case include the following: Appellant in SC/95/2010 was the first accused and 1st respondent at the trial court and Court of Appeal respectively and the wife of the deceased person, while the 2nd accused/respondent and 2nd appellant or appellant in SC/95A/2010 was the daughter of the appellant in SC/95/2010 and the deceased. The appellant in SC/95B/2010 is the son of the appellant in SC/95/2010 and the deceased.
The drama that led to the tragedy therefore involved members of the same immediate family. The trouble started when appellant in SC/95/2010 asked her husband, the deceased for the school fees of the kids, the appellants in SC/95A/2010 and SC/95B/2010 on 14 February 2003 which request the deceased turned down on the ground of lack of funds. The refusal to produce the money resulted in a quarrel between the couple which later degenerated to a serious fight in which the deceased had the upper hand. However, their children, the other two appellants seeing what their mother was going through, joined their mother in overpowering the deceased who was then locked up in his room but he broke down the door and emerged armed with pestle etc., to continue the fight. He was eventually overpowered and restrained with a dog chain which they tied to the protectors in the room. The deceased was said to have been very strong and violent and drunk. He was however left locked up in his room in the chain over night. By the following morning when the appellants went to check on the deceased, he was found dead, hence the charge of murder against the appellants.
The trial judge held that knowledge that death or grievous harm would result from the act of the appellants in the circumstance of the case was not established by the prosecution and consequently convicted the appellant of the offence of manslaughter and sentenced them accordingly. The respondent, the state, was not satisfied with the judgment and consequently appealed to the lower court which set aside the judgment of the trial court and substituted thereto a verdict of guilty of murder and sentenced the appellants to death, hence this appeal.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
I. Whether the prosecution proved that the appellants committed the offence of murder as charged and found by the lower court or manslaughter as found by the trial court?
RESOLUTION: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. OFFENCE OF MURDER WAS NOT ESTABLISHED AGAINST THE APPELLANTS
[INTENTION TO KILL THE DECEASED CANNOT BE INFERRED
‘I do not agree with the lower court that there was any evidence of intention by the appellants to kill the deceased or cause him any grievous harm. I agree with the statement of the law to the effect that the law presumes that a man intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts and that the test to be applied to the circumstances is the objective as opposed to subjective test of what a reasonable man in the street would contemplate as the probable result of his acts. In the instant case, would a reasonable man contemplate that the tying of the deceased, a drunken and violent man with an iron dog chain to a protector in his room would result in his death? In other words, can intention to kill the deceased be inferred from the facts and circumstances of the case? I do not think so. To support its conclusion that the death of the deceased was intended by the appellants, the lower court relied on the testimony of PW2 the medical doctor to the effect that the deceased died of multiple injuries inflicted on his head with a heavy blunt object etc. but unfortunately, there is no record of any heavy blunt object being in evidence before the court neither is there any satisfactory evidence of the use of any such object on the deceased by the appellants. At page 54 of the record, PW2 agreed that though the injuries were not self inflicted they “could be consistent with falling on a hard object” under cross-examination. It is not in dispute that the deceased was not only drunk but very violent. It must be borne in mind that only the appellants were eye witnesses to what happened that day to the total exclusion of PW1, PW3 and PW4. Whatever PW1, PW3 and PW4 said regarding the incident other than what they saw or observed cannot be an eye-witness account. If what they told the court is based on what they were allegedly told by the appellants or any of them, it is clearly a hearsay evidence which is inadmissible in law and cannot therefore be relied upon to convict the appellants for an offence of murder.’]
B. OFFENCE OF LAST SEEN DOES NOT APPLY IN THIS INSTANT CASE
[‘Also, the reliance on the principle of last seen by the lower court is notsupported by the facts and applicable law. The principle is usually invoked where there is no explanation as to what happened to or caused the death of a deceased last seen in company of the accused except the accused explains to the satisfaction of the court what really happened or caused the death of the said deceased. The principle does not apply to a case where the cause of death is known as in the instant case. It is not disputed that the acts of the appellants caused the death of the deceased but what is in contention is whether appellants intended by their admitted action, to kill the deceased. The trial court found that there was no such intention and I agree with it having regards to the facts and circumstances of the case. The death of the deceased is very unfortunate and could have been avoided if all those involved had been more careful and reasonable in their actions but I do not think that the unfortunate death must attract more deaths from the same immediate family having regards to the facts of this case.’]
‘I agree with the trial court that the death of the deceased in the circumstances in which it occurred is a result of the unlawful acts of the appellants without the requisite intent to kill the deceased and that the said death is clearly manslaughter. In the circumstance, I find merit in the appeals and consequently allow same and set aside the judgment of the lower court delivered on 23 April 2009. It is further ordered that the judgment of the trial court delivered on 25 July 2005 be and is hereby restored and affirmed by me. Appeal allowed.’
➥ FURTHER DICTA:
⦿ INGREDIENTS FOR MURDER
If the offender intends to do to the person killed or to some other person some grievous harm; If death is caused by means of an act done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose, which all is of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life ; If the offender intends to do grievous harm to some person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence which is such that the offender may be arrested without warrant, or for the purpose of facilitating the flight of an offender who has committed or attempted to commit any such offence; If death is caused by administering any stupefying or overpowering things for either the purposes last aforesaid; If death is caused by willfully stopping the breath of any person for either of such purposes, is guilty of murder. In the second case, it is immaterial that the offender did not intend to hurt the particular person who is killed. A In the third case, it is immaterial that the offender did not intend to hurt any person. — Onnoghen, JSC.
⦿ BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON PROSECUTION TO ESTABLISH MURDER
It is however settled law that it is the duty of the prosecution to establish or prove the charge/case against an accused person. In other words, it is the prosecution that bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person. For the court to come to the conclusion that the prosecution has discharged the burden placed on it by law, it must be satisfied that the conclusion is beyond reasonable doubt as it is settled law that any doubt existing in such a case must be resolved in favour of the accused person. In other words, the standard of proof in criminal trials is that of prove beyond reasonable doubt. — Onnoghen, JSC.
⦿ ACTUS REUS AND MENS REA IN CRIMINAL MATTERS
It is in recognition of the above requirements that we usually say that for there to exist criminal responsibility, the prosecution must not only prove that it was the act of the accused that resulted or caused the death of the deceased but that the resultant death was intended by the accused. The above constitutes the explanation for the doctrine of actus reus and mens rea in criminal prosecutions. — Onnoghen, JSC.
⦿ FOR SENTENCE OF AN OFFENCE THERE MUST BE A CONCURRENCE OF THE ACTUS REUS & MENS REA
It is only for the sake of emphasis that I would want to add that it is elementary in criminal trial that before an accused person is asked to undergo any sort of sentence, there must be a finding by the trial court on the concurrence-of the two main elements of any crime that is the actus reus and the mens rea. Actus reus is taken to be the wrongful deed that comprises the physical components of a crime and that generally must be coupled with mens rea. Mens rea is the criminal intent or guilty mind of the accused. For the prosecution to establish a criminal act against an accused person, it must go beyond establishing the commission of the unlawful criminal act by the accused but must establish that the accused has the correct legal (criminal) mind of committing the act. The two must co-exist whether explicitly or by necessary implication. — I.T. Muhammad, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
N.D. Ojeh, Esq.
Wilcox Abereton, Esq.
Uche S. Awa, Esq.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Chief Umeh Kalu
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (LEGISLATION)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ R v. NATH; EGGSHELL PRINCIPLE
The case of R. v. Nath (1961) All NLR 500 though slightly different appears to have been decided on same principles with the present case. The accused in that case, while struggling with the deceased for the possession of some fruits, pushed the deceased down and struck her twice in the stomach with a stick. Her spleen was enlarged as a result of chronic malaria which ruptured it and she died almost at once. The court found the accused did not intend to cause grievous harm which as the court found was not an objectively forceable consequence of the blows he inflicted on the deceased. The Supreme Court set aside a verdict of murder and substituted a verdict of manslaughter.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)