Jones v. United States
308 F.2d 307 (1962)

  • Jones was caring for Green’s baby. Jones failed to take care of the baby and it died. Jones was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
    • There was some debate as to whether Green was paying Jones to care for the baby.
  • The Trial Court found Jones guilty. She appealed.
    • Jones argued that in order to be found guilty of a crime, the person must make an intentional act. In this case, Jones didn’t act at all. She only made an omission.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate court found that there are four situations where the failure to act may constitute a breach of legal duty:
      • Where a Statute imposes a duty to care.
      • Where one stands in a certain status relationship to another (like being a child’s mother).
      • Where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another.
      • Where you have voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid.
    • In this case, the Appellate court found that the jury was not instructed that they must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones had a legal duty to care.
  • The duty to care, must be a legal duty, and not just a moral obligation. This is similar to the tort law concept of nonfeasance.
    • Model Penal Code §2.01(3) says that liability for omission only occurs when “a duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law.”