Michael was a wet nurse for a wealthy family, but was very poor herself. She purchased laudanum and put it in a baby bottle with the intention of feeding it to her child. She told another woman to feed the bottle to the baby, saying that it would help with its sickness, but the woman refused stating that the baby was fine. Eventually, a child took the bottle unprompted and fed it to the baby, who then died. Michaels was charged with the common law offence of willful murder
- Was Michaels the cause of the baby's death?
Appeal denied, conviction upheld.
The court, in an oral judgment, held that while it was the intervention of the child, and not Michaels' actions that actually caused the death, the child was an innocent and unconscious agent. Michaels bought the poison, and tried to get someone else to give it to her baby previously. She obviously possesses the necessary mens rea to be convicted. The court states that Michaels is still to be legally blamed for the death although her actions did not directly cause it. This is an example of "legal causation", where her actus reus was proximate cause to the actual feeding of the poison to the baby.
An individual can be seen to have performed an actus reus if their actions were a proximate cause to the prohibited outcome.