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CAN SUDDEN CARDIAC DEATH BE MURDER?

NCJ Number
57103
Journal
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Dated: (APRIL 1978) Pages: 384-387
Author(s)
J H DAVIS
Date Published
1978
Annotation
MEDICAL EVIDENCE LEADS TO THE CONCLUSION THAT SEVERE EMOTIONAL STRESS CAN LEAD TO CARDIAC DEATH WHICH, IF IT FOLLOWS A CRIMINAL ACT, CAN BE THE BASIS FOR A CHARGE OF HOMICIDE.
Abstract
CASES IN WHICH EMOTION-PRECIPITATED SUDDEN DEATH WERE THE RESULT OF CRIMINAL ACTS HAS LEAD RESEARCHERS TO STUDY THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING SUCH CASES MORE CAREFULLY. A LEADER IN THIS AREA, G. L. ENGEL STUDIED 170 CASES AND FOUND THAT 27 PERCENT OCCURRED IN SITUATIONS OF PERSONAL DANGER AND THAT ALL OF THE VICTIMS WERE REACTING EMOTIONALLY TO AN EVENT WHEN THE COLLAPSE OCCURRED. THE BODY OF MEDICAL DATA AVAILABLE SHOWS CONCLUSIVELY THAT CARDIAC DEATH CAN BE CAUSED BY EMOTIONAL STRESS BECAUSE IT RESULTS IN CARDIAC ACTIVITY SIMILAR TO THAT INDUCED BY PHYSICAL EXERTION. THE QUESTION THAT MUST BE DECIDED IS UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN CARDIAC DEATH BE CONSIDERED MURDER AND WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA THAT MUST BE ESTABLISHED TO PROVE GUILT? THE CRITERIA RECOMMENDED ARE THAT THE CRIMINAL ACT SHOULD BE OF SUCH SEVERITY AND HAVE SUFFICIENT ELEMENTS OF INTENT TO KILL OR MAIM; THE VICTIM SHOULD HAVE REALIZED THAT THE THREAT TO PERSONAL SAFETY WAS IMPLICIT, THE CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD BE OF SUCH A NATURE AS TO BE COMMONLY ACCEPTED AS HIGHLY EMOTIONAL, THE COLLAPSE AND DEATH MUST OCCUR DURING THE EMOTIONAL RESPONSE PERIOD, EVEN IF THE CRIMINAL ACT HAD ALREADY CEASED, AND THE DEMONSTRATION OF AN ORGANIC CARDIAC DISEASE PROCESS OF A TYPE COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH A PREDISPOSITION TO CARDIAC ARREST IS DESIRABLE. METICULOUS RECONSTRUCTION OF EVENTS IN TIME AND MOTION, COUPLED WITH CAREFUL AUTOPSY, CAN LEAD TO A CHARGE OF MURDER OR SOME LESSER DEGREE OF HOMICIDE. FOOTNOTES ARE INCLUDED. (STB)