Legal Eagle : 'I didn't mean to' - a useless excuse

August 14, 2017

If 'A', with intention to harm 'B', points and shoots his gun at 'B' but the bullet misses 'B' and instead hits 'C' in the hip, 'A' is still responsible for the injuries to 'C'.

Essentially, the legal doctrine establishes that when the intention to harm one individual inadvertently causes a second person to be injured, the perpetrator is held responsible.

This principle of law is called 'transferred malice'.

The prosecutor is usually required to establish 'A' had a criminal intent and that 'A' also knew that another person would be harmed by his action and wanted the harm to occur, or is indifferent as to whether the harm occurred.

So imagine this scenario where John went to a bar one evening. Subsequent to entering the establishment, John gets into a fight with another man.

With the intention to cause harm, John took off his belt and hit the man with the belt. The belt buckle broke off from the belt and hit a woman in the face.

John was held liable for the injuries inflicted on the woman despite the fact that he did not intend to harm her.

The scenario given above is part of the facts from an actual case in 1886. It is important to note that what is essential is that the mens rea (guilty mind), which he had to cause harm to the man, was transferred to the woman who was harmed.

A sad Jamaican case that came to national attention some years ago was when Patricia Perry, a teacher from New Providence Primary School, who was flogging a student when a young male student came up behind the student being flogged.




The belt buckle from the belt the teacher was using struck the little boy in his eye. The boy suffered severe damage to his eye and lost sight in the said eye.

The teacher was arrested and charged. The prosecution argued at trial that flogging was illegal and the eye injury to the little boy was transferred malice.

The trial judge rejected the prosecution's submission and freed the teacher of all charges.

There are exceptions, limits and controversy as it relates to the doctrine of transferred malice. A noted exception to the doctrine is that the mens rea for an offence against the person cannot be transferred to a property damage offence.

So where John was trying to inflict injuries on a man but his belt buckle ricocheted and, let's say, broke a window, the mens rea which he had towards the man would not have been transferred to the property/object.

Claiming that you didn't mean to or it was an accident will get you nowhere, especially if serious injuries are inflicted and you had intended to inflict serious injuries.

To avoid trouble with the law, one should always be mindful of his/her actions and the consequences that are likely to flow from those actions. A word to the wise is sufficient.

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