State v. Williams
4 Wash.App. 908, 484 P.2d 1167 (1971)

  • Mr. and Mrs. Williams’ baby wasn’t feeling well. They figured it was just a toothache so they gave it an aspirin. Turns out it was a serious problem and the baby died.
    • The couple was not very well educated, but seemed to care about their child.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Williams were arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
  • The Trial Court convicted them of (statutory manslaughter) involuntary manslaughter. They appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the couple negligently caused the death of their child by not seeking medical attention.
    • The couple argued that they figured they infection would go away by itself, and were worried that if they took a sick baby to the hospital, the welfare department would accuse them of neglect.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction.
    • The Appellate Court noted that under the common-law, in order to amount to involuntary manslaughter, a person’s conduct had to amount to “more than mere ordinary or simple negligence, gross negligence was essential.”
      • Aka recklessness.
    • However, under Washington State law, ordinary negligence is enough to make one criminal culpable for manslaughter.
      • Under Washington State law, if a person has a duty to care, and doesn’t use the caution that an ordinary person would (an objective standard), then they are criminally culpable.
  • A few years later, Washington changed their laws. The current Statutes have two degrees of manslaughter; recklessly causing death and causing death by criminal negligence. Washington no longer imposes manslaughter liability in cases involving ordinary negligence.