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Famous cases: R v Smith

Famous cases: R v SmithIf you injure someone, but then they go on to get more injuries before they die, can you still be charged with murder?

The story

Private Thomas Joseph Smith was convicted of murdering another soldier after they had a fight in their barracks. Smith, allowing his temper to get the better of him, stabbed the victim with a bayonet, puncturing one of his lungs. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The appeal

Smith appealed the decision on the grounds that the other soldier had not died instantly. Rather he had been taken to hospital for treatment, and during the journey and his time in the hospital, he suffered injuries which contributed to his death.

The poor victim had been dropped twice on the way to the hospital, thus injuring him further. Even worse, when he arrived, the doctors were too busy to attend to him and did not realise the extent of his injuries. This meant that he did not get proper treatment, and was even treated in a way that would have made his condition worse as the doctors did not diagnose the lung as being punctured.

The ruling

Unfortunately for Smith, his argument did not hold with the court. They deemed that, despite the poor treatment the victim had received, the cause of his death (a bayonet stab wound) was serious enough that it was not overshadowed by the other unfortunate injuries the victim suffered before he dies.

The court declared that ‘if at the time of death the original wound was still an operating cause and a substantial cause, then the death could properly be said to be the result of the wound even if some other cause of death was also operating.’