Culpability by Presence

     A man in the U.K. has been sentenced for manslaughter for… literally doing nothing.

“Simon Taylor for the prosecution told the hearing: ‘Mr Bowditch accepts that although he cannot say exactly how Becky Morgan came to fall into the sea, once she fell in he failed to take any steps to try to assist her.

“‘It is the failure to take any steps to prevent Miss Morgan’s death after she fell into the sea which forms the basis of his culpability for manslaughter.’

“Sentencing Bowditch, Judge Jeremy Carey said: ‘You did not try in any way to help a drowning girl – not by throwing her a life buoy, not by going to her aid as some would have done, not by calling for help, not by contacting the rescue or emergency services.”

     As despicable and loathsome as it may be to sit back and watch someone die, he did not actually cause the death, he was not actually responsible for anything that led to her death, nor did he prevent anyone else from helping.

     But should mere presence of a death combined with lack of action cause criminal culpability? Should mere knowledge of a person dying create a legal penalty for failing to intervene? The only difference between this man and billions of other people on Earth was knowledge that it was happening. That knowledge, then becomes criminal.

     The man was inebriated. Proactively trying to save here was already potentially dangerous, and outright suicidal in a drunken state.

     Ah, but he could call, couldn’t he?

     Again, he was drunk and not fully in control of his facilities. Does inability to think cohesively create criminal culpability for something that one has not caused or led to happen?

     But even if he was stone cold sober—even though his lack of any help is dispicable—why should he be culpable of manslaughter?

     This is not a question of what is or is not law, but what ought or ought not be law.

     This goes beyond mere mens rea. This is finding someone criminally culpable for what they are not responsible for. This is injustice.

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