“It was a mistake”
We hear such statements all the time. The laws of Ghana clearly aver per section 46 of the Criminal Offences Act, Act 29 that whoever commits murder shall be liable to suffer death. But what truly is murder? If I kill someone by mistake, is it still murder?
According to section 47 of Act 29, ‘whoever intentionally causes the death of another person by any unlawful harm is guilty of murder…’. This definition points out certain things that must be present for a homicide to pass as murder. ‘Intentionally’ is one such word that makes a difference in the definition. The words deliberately, wilfully, purposely, accidentally, and many others can be regarded as synonyms for the word intentionally. This goes to say that killing an individual by mistake will not constitute murder. What then happens if the killing is unintentional?
The law caters to this by introducing ‘manslaughter’. Manslaughter caters to the lack of intentionality (men’s rea) in the killing of an individual. If the court is fully satisfied that an individual caused death to another unintentionally, it is known as manslaughter. This results in a lesser sentence as compared to a murder case.
Not having the intention to cause death to an individual plays a major role in a murder trial since this could result in a manslaughter sentence instead of a murder sentence. The recent case where Actor Alec Baldwin in the film ‘Rust’ was charged with manslaughter brings out the accidental nature of manslaughter. A cinematographer on the New Mexico movie set was fatally shot. Baldwin pointed a gun at Halyna Hutchins during rehearsal when the gun went off, leading to her death. Per the standards of the industry, a plastic gun or replica should have been used instead of the revolver. Mr Baldwin had no reason to believe that there was a bullet in the gun. He relied on the weapon supervisor who apparently was negligent. This case could not have resulted in a murder charge since Baldwin had no intention of killing her.
The issue of intentionality plays a major role in drawing the line between murder and manslaughter. Whereas people confuse the two, it is quite clearer depending on the angle from which it is viewed.