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Criminal Law: People v. Thomas Case Essay

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Updated: May 14th, 2021

A case under consideration is People v. Thomas settled in September 1978. Adrian Thomas, a defendant, was convicted of murdering his 19-year-old son. The decision to sentence him to a term of 5 to 15 years of prison was based on the confession obtained during a lengthy interrogation. The jail term was selected because the videotaped confession confirmed an assault in the first degree – murder. However, during hearing an appeal, the court came to the conclusion that it was an involuntary manslaughter, not a willful murder. It was explained by the fact that the boy’s death was caused by suffocating on his vomit. Therefore, even though vomiting was induced by Thomas’ violent actions, his initial intention was to discipline his catatonic schizophrenic child by conducting beating sessions, not kill him.

The second decision – to reclassify the nature of the offense from the first-class assault (murder) to the involuntary manslaughter – was motivated by the connection of the case to several other cases. The first one is Miranda v. Arizona – the case popular for identifying the two rights associated with the police custody (to silence and attorney) and the two necessary rules (using defendant’s words against them and providing an attorney if the defendant does not have one). According to the defendant, the policemen have not followed the so-called Miranda requirements so that the results of the interrogation were illegal.

However, when he was first interrogated, he was not convicted of a murder or violence because his son’s death was perceived as natural. Another reason for changing the decision was the belief that the elements of the involuntary manslaughter were not identified. Nevertheless, there is another case to refer to – People v. Morrin – that point to the fact that involuntary manslaughter (a second-degree assault) can be connected to offender’s actions, such as an intention to cause significant body harm.

Because it was Thomas’ initial motivation, although the objective was to discipline his son, this case confirms the elements of the second-degree assault in his actions. Finally, there are two more cases pointing to causality between actions and death – People v. McFee and People v. Geiger – proving that if the connection between particular actions (Thomas’ disciplinary method) and death is medically possible, it means that the offense can be classified as an involuntary murder.

To sum up, I do agree with the decision to reclassify the offense but still convict Adrian Thomas of committing a second-degree assault – an involuntary murder. Even though this conclusion is based on the provisions of judicial precedents – legal cases mentioned and described above, – it is as well associated with the very concept of the first-degree assault. According to the generally acceptable legal provisions, to classify particular actions as an assault of the first degree, it is critical to prove that a person had a direct intention to inflict such harm as death. Even though Thomas wanted to cause body harm to his son, he never wanted to kill his child, as there were proofs that his actions were the disciplinary punishments.

Moreover, the cause of death was suffocation on vomit, not bruises or injuries. The latter are common causes of death, as it is possible to identify a direct medical connection between the two, while inducing vomiting is an indirect consequence of Thomas’ actions. That is why even though he could not have been found innocent, he as well should not have been sentenced to such a severe reprimand as 5 to 15 years of prison.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Criminal Law: People v. Thomas Case'. 14 May.

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