Sunday, November 17, 2013

Commonwealth v. Twitchell case brief

Commonwealth v. Twitchell case brief summary
617 N.E.2d 609 (1993)

Defendants appealed their convictions by the Superior Court Department (Massachusetts) for involuntary manslaughter on request of direct appeal.

In challenging their convictions, defendants claimed that the spiritual treatment provision of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 273, § 1 barred their prosecution because they were following the tenets of their Christian Science faith in refusing to get medical care for their son's peritonitis, which he died from. In conjunction with this argument, defendants alleged that given the provision and an opinion of the Massachusetts Attorney General on its effect, they did not receive fair warning that they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.


  • The court found that defendants were subject to a common law duty to provide for the care of their children, the breach of which could form the basis for an involuntary manslaughter charge. 
  • It found that the spiritual treatment provision did not foreclose an involuntary manslaughter charge and that the involuntary manslaughter statute gave fair warning to defendants. 
  • However, whether the Attorney General's opinion could have led defendants to believe that they did not need to obtain medical treatment for their son was a question of fact that should have been presented to the jury, and the failure to do so could have led to a miscarriage of justice.

The court reversed defendants' convictions for involuntary manslaughter.

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