Summary of Jones v. United States, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (1962)
Respondent/Plaintiff: United States
Appellant/Defendant: Wright Jones; A woman by the name of Shirly Green had a 10 month old son called Anthony Lee Gree. Since Shirly Green was going through financial troubles, the defendant, a family friend,allowed Shirly Green and her son to live at her house. The 10 month old son died in the house of the defendant and the evidence concerning the whereabout of Shirly Green was in dispute. Shirly Green told the court that she was living with her parents and she was paying the defendant for taking care of her child. The defendant, on the other hand, argues that Shirly Green was living with the baby at the time of its death making the defendant not legally responsible for the infant’s death. The defendant brought this case to the court of appeals because the trial court judge did not instruct the jury to consider whether the defendant had the legal responsibility to care for the child and that, the defendant felt, had a great role in the jury convicting the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her failure to provide for the child of Shirly Green.
Issue: Shold the judge have informed the jury of their duty to determine whether they think there was enough evidence to hold the defendant responsible for the child at the time the child died?
Key Facts: There are four situations in which a person can be held liable in criminal court for his/her failure to act: 1. Statue imposes a legal duty on the person, 2. status relationship (e.g. parents), 3. one has made a contract (e.g. lifeguards), 4. voluntarily assume responsibility of another.
Legal Reasoning: The court decided that the fact that the evidence corcerning the whereabouts of the mother was in conflict should have been considered by the jury. The court felt that if the mother was living with the defendant at the time the baby died, then the defendant was not legally responsible for providing for the child. The court felt that the trial judge should have informed the jury of such facts and the court felt that keeping such important piece of law from the jury made the whole trial of the defendant unfair. The court reversed the conviction and remanded the case to be retrialed according to the orders of the court.