Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Commonwealth v. Twitchell case brief summary

Commonwealth v. Twitchell case brief summary
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 
416 Mass. 114, 1993

Facts
  1. The defendants are practicing Christian Scientists and believe in healing by spiritual treatment. They failed to seek medical treatment during their son’s illness. And finally, their son died.
  2. Ds were charged with involuntary manslaughter.
  3. D argued that spiritual treatment provision in G.L. c. 273, 1 protected them from criminal liability for manslaughter.

Procedural History
  1. The trial court rejected the D’s claim.
  2. The case was then appealed.
Issue

Whether or not spiritual treatment provision in G.L. c. 273, 1 protects defendants from criminal liability for manslaughter?

Disposition

Judgment reversed.

Holding

The affirmative defense that the defendants reasonably believed that they could rely on spiritual treatment without fear of criminal prosecution based on the Christian Science publication shall be presented to the jury as a matter of fact.

Reasoning

  1. Parents have duty to seek medical attentions for a child’s illness. If they violate such duty due to their wantonness or recklessness, they shall be charged of involuntary manslaughter.
  1. The spiritual healing provision in G.L. c. 273 did not block a prosecution for manslaughter.
The spiritual treatment provision protects against criminal charges of neglect and of willful failure to provide proper medical care and says nothing about protection against criminal charges based on wanton or reckless conduct.
  1. Attorney General gave an opinion which may lead to a misunderstanding that parents who fail to provide medical services to children on the basis of religious beliefs are not subject to criminal prosecution in any circumstances. But no evidence shows that Ds were aware of such opinion. The Christian Science publication added the Attorney General’s opinion.
  1. The affirmative defense that D reasonably believed that they could rely on spiritual treatment without fear of criminal prosecution based on the Christian Science publication shall be presented to the jury as a matter of fact.

Dissent

The publication does not exclude criminal liability for common law manslaughter. Therefore, it shall be excluded from the trial. Therefore, D’s reliance on the publication shall not be regarded as the reliance on the official statement of law. The publication shall not be considered by a jury.

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