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GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF CAUSATION IN HOMICIDE CASES

Dictum

There are however, certain general principles, three (3) in all governing the nature of things as far as the question of causation in homicide cases is concerned. It is to be pointed out in this connection that it is not every act of intervention or omission of a casual nature that will relieve the accused of liability for the subsequent death of the deceased. These principles, on which the accused might still be held to have caused the death of the deceased despite some form of intervention, are as follows: The first of these is where the earlier injury inflicted by the accused is held to be “an operating cause” and a “substantial cause.” See the cases of R. v. SMITH (1959) 2 ALL ER 193; QUEEN v. EGUABOR (No. 2) (1962) 1 ALL NLR 541. It is to be stated here that the intervening act may not obliterate an earlier injury inflicted by another person, where the earlier injury inflicted is adjudged not mortal, but may cause death in combination of the subsequent injury inflicted by the accused. In that kind of situation, the accused and that other person are both guilty of homicide. A second set of intervention is where the death of the deceased is due to some act done by the accused, which act is an actual consequence of the accused persons act. The accused will of course be liable if it is shown that his act is foreseeable as likely to occur in the normal courses of events. Here the injury inflicted by the accused is not regarded as “operating cause,” but the accused will be liable to have caused the death of the deceased. It must, however be shown that the act or event was the natural consequence of the accused persons act. See the cases of MICHAEL v. STATE (2008) 9 MJSC 61 AT 73; ALHAJI MUAZU ALI v. THE STATE (2015) LPELR-24711 (SC) and UMMARU v. GWANDU N. A. (1961) 1 ALL NLR 545. The third set of intervention is anchored on the rule that ordains that the accused must take his victim the way he finds him. If a man is suffering from a disease, which in all likelihood would terminate his life in a short time, and another gives him an injury or hurt which hastens his death, this killing constitutes murder simpliciter. See the cases of R. v. HAYWARD (1908) 21 COX C.C.692; See also R. v. MURTON (1862) 3 F and F. 492. It generally does not lie in the mouth of the accused person to say that he did not know that his victim was suffering from a disease of such a debilitating nature, which in all likelihood would terminate his life in a short time, before the accused gave him the injury, which hastened his death. The pertinent question usually raised for the Courts decision in matters of this nature, is; what caused the victim’s death? If the answer is either a stab wound or a blow to the head, that is all there is to decide and no more.

— F.O. Oho, JCA. Nasiru v State (2016) – CA/S/78C/2015

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CAUSE OF DEATH AND NOVUS ACTUS INTERVENIENS

In respect of the second factor, which is the question of cause of death and the Appellant’s plea of novus actus interveniens, that is; “a new thing intervening”, it is important to state from the outset that the onus to prove that the accused person caused the death of the deceased is always on the prosecution and that it is not considered sufficient evidence to show that the accused did an act or made an omission which could have caused the death of the deceased. See the cases of R v. SAMUEL ABENGOWE (1936) 3 WACA 85 and R. v. WILLIAM OLEDIMA (1940) 6 WACA 202; UYO v. ATTN-GEN. BENDEL (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 17) 418; GABRIEL v. THE STATE (1989) 5 NWLR (Pt. 122) 457. Perhaps, the one thing to always take note of is that the overriding principle with regards to the question of causation in homicide cases is that an accused person is guilty of causing death of the deceased, if the deceased died as a result of the injury he inflicted. What this means in essence, is that where some other act or event intervenes before death, some problems may arise as to whether it was the earlier injury or the subsequent one, or the act or omission of a third party who is not a confederate of the accused or controlled by him, which resulted in the death of the deceased. Where the new act is clearly shown to have occurred, it will normally operate to relieve the accused person of the offence committed as it was recorded in the case of R. v. WILLIAM OLEDIMA (Supra). However, the settled position of the law with regards to the question of causation and which learned Appellants Counsel had sought to latch unto in seeking the release of the Appellant, is that where the chain of causation is considered broken, any resultant death is attributed to the new cause or is considered a contributory factor in causing death. See the English decision in the case of R. v. HUGGINS (1730) 17st. Tr. 309. … In this situation, however, it has often been convenient to distinguish between that which the accused person had caused to happen and that from which he had merely literally offered the occasion. In all such situations, the subsequent act or event, in order to make needed impact, should be capable of independently causing the death of the deceased irrespective of the earlier injury inflicted on the deceased by the accused person. But where the subsequent act is not mortal, it would be utterly wrong to locate criminal responsibility in respect of an offence committed, on someone who should ordinarily be exonerated for acts directly caused by others.

— F.O. Oho, JCA. Nasiru v State (2016) – CA/S/78C/2015

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MEANING: HOMICIDE & CULPABLE HOMICIDE

Generally, homicide means the killing of one person by another. In other words, it is the act of purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently causing the death of another human being. However, culpable homicide means a wrongful act that results in a person’s death but does not amount to murder. See, Umaru Adamu Vs The State (2014) 10 NWLR (pt.1415) 441; (2014) 8 SCM 1; (2014) 4 & 5 SC 1; (2014) All FWLR (Pt.733) 1938.

— O. Ariwoola, JSC. Galadima v. State (2017) – SC.70/2013

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FOR CULPABLE HOMICIDE THE FOLLOWING MUST BE PROVED

In a charge of culpable homicide punishable with death, the onus is on the prosecution to prove, either through eye witness evidence; or circumstantial evidence; or by the confessional statement of the accused, the following beyond reasonable doubt: a. That the deceased died; b. That the death of the deceased resulted from the act of the accused; and c. That the act of the accused was intentional with knowledge that death or grievous bodily harm was its possible consequence.

– Abdu Aboki JSC. Junaidu v. State (2021)

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THREE INGREDIENTS NECESSARY TO SUCCEED IN AN ACT OF HOMICIDE

It is settled law that to succeed in a charge of culpable homicide the prosecution is required to prove the following ingredients of the offence: (a)That the death of a human being has actually taken place; (b) That the death has been caused by the accused; (c) That the act of the accused was done with the intention of causing death or that the accused knew that death would be the probable consequence of his act. See; Tunde Adava & Anor Vs. The State (2006) 9 NWLR (pt.984) 152; (2006) 3 SCM 1, (2006) 2 SC (pt.11.) 136; Maikudi Aliyu vs. The State (2013) 12 SCM (Pt.2) 195. It must however be noted that all the above three ingredients of the offence must necessarily co-exist and none must be lacking. Where one is missing or not established, it means that the prosecution has simply failed to discharge the burden of proof that the law places on it in order to succeed with the charge.

— O. Ariwoola, JSC. Galadima v. State (2017) – SC.70/2013

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INGREDIENTS TO PROVE CULPABLE HOMICIDE

In order to prove the offence of culpable homicide punishable with death under Section 221(b) of the Penal Code, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt: a. the death of a human being; b. that the death resulted from the act of the accused person; c. that the act or omission of the accused which caused the death of the deceased was intentional with the knowledge that death or grievous bodily harm would be its probable consequence. See: Maiyaki Vs The State (2008) 7 SC 128 @ 129; Usman Vs The State (2013) 12 NWLR (Pt.1367) 76; Ismail Vs The State (2011) LPELR9352 (SC) @ 18 – 19 F C.

— K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun, JSC. State v Sani Ibrahim (2019) – SC.1097/2016

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