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Why R v Saunders is important

R v Saunders is an early illustration of the transferred malice doctrine in practice. It is possible to use the doctrine of transferred malice to convict a defendant of murder in circumstances where they have intended to kill Person A but have accidentally killed person B instead.

Facts

The defendant encouraged his wife to eat an apple laced which he had laced with arsenic, intending to kill her so that he would be free to marry another woman. However, his wife instead gave the apple to their daughter. She ate the apple and later died as a result. The defendant was charged with the murder of his daughter on the grounds that his intention to kill his wife could be transferred to the death of his daughter.

Conviction at Issue

Whether the defendant was guilty of murder.

Issue facing the Court

Whether the mens rea required for a murder conviction could be transferred from the intended victim (the defendant’s wife) to the actual victim (the defendant’s daughter) when the actus reus of the offence is the same.

Outcome

The defendant was found guilty of the murder of his daughter. His intention to kill his wife was transferred to the death of his daughter.

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