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
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."
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.