Defence Of Accident In Criminal Law


Accident is unintentional, we live in a world full
of busy, distracted individuals, and as a result people suffer accident everyday. Some accident are trivial while do not just some are not so trivial. Serious accidents do not just cause injuries to others but can also subject the individuals who cause injuries to others criminal liability.
Accident as a legal defence applies as long as the defendant has no criminal intent, no evil design and didn’t engage in any culpable negligence. But it only applies where a defendant is engaged in a lawful conduct. To assert accident as a legal defence, the burden is on the defendant to prove that he/she acted with no criminal intent or culpable negligence.
The defence of accident is available in any case that requires intentional criminal conduct as an element. In cases which punish reckless or negligent conduct, the defence of accident would not apply. For example any crime of theft must be intentional. Therefore if the offence was committed by accident, then a person is not responsible for their actions. Also, if a person beating up another person who eventually dies as a result of the beating, he would still be responsible for the death of the person, even  though the death was accidental since he never intended to kill him. If it is proven in the court of law, the sentence will be manslaughter and not murder.
What is man slaughter? Manslaughter is an unintentional killing of a human being. Such a killing is not premeditated but accidental. Section 24 of the criminal code states that” … a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission which occurs independently of the exercise of his will or an event which occurs by accident. They question now is at what point will an event or a act committed be deemed accidental?
In the case of Charles Egbirika V. The state (2003) 7 NWLR (Pt 819) 408. The appellant was arraigned and convicted at the trial court on a single count of manslaughter contrary to section 235 of the criminal code law cap 29 laws of Ogun State 1978. Dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, the appellant appealed to the court of appeal and the court affirmed the decision of the trial court.
The trial judge in the above mentioned case inferred negligence in the act of the appellant who shot the deceased because he should have uncorked his rifle, if as he stated, he had no intention to fire it. Applying the objective test to this case in determining whether or not the shooting of the deceased occurred independently of the exercise of the appellant’s will or by accident. The supreme court in Maiyaki V. State held as follows “An event is said to be accidental where the act by which it is caused is not done with the intention of causing it and when its occurrence as a consequence of such act is not so probable that a person of ordinary prudence ought in the circumstance in which it is done, to take reasonable precautions against it.
It is important to note that the position of the law is that no matter how reckless the conduct of the accused might be, so long as the killing that resulted from his act was not intended, the act would not fall within the provisions of section 316 of the criminal code and therefore would not constitute murder. The defence or accident is one that many criminal defendants try to raise with varying levels of success. Many try to claim their conduct was accidental even though the facts of the case clearly show otherwise.


Nkechi Bright-Ewere