Last month I wrote about the tragic case of China Arnold. As I remarked, in UK law the mother in such a tragic case would probably not even be charged with murder. It is not humane or realistic to charge mothers with capital crimes for killing their infant so soon after the birth of the infant, and UK law provides a specific partial defence against such a charge, effectively translating it to a manslaughter charge. I think this is a very humane and sensible law.
Infanticide is an especially emotive crime, and this case because of the manner of killing was especially emotive. Nevertheless the jury could not agree to the death penalty, though the state prosecutor pressed hard for it. The judge sentenced China Arnold to 25 years without parole on Wednesday, September 3, 2008.
As fate would have it, the UK is currently reassessing partial defences to murder, including infanticide. It’s illustrative of the gulf that exists between the two English-speaking states, Ohio and the UK, that the review recommends the retention of, and strengthening of, the defence of infanticide. It is a recognized problem that sometimes the mother’s condition leads her to deny the offence, resulting in a murder conviction despite the availability of the infanticide defence. A shortened appeal process is recommended, as well as powers granted to the trial judge to order a mental assessment after the murder conviction with a view to reviewing the case. But in Ohio, a mother whose case would have been a textbook manslaughter case under the UK infanticide law narrowly escaped execution.