In the finale for Brutally Young, Sam (Shaun Tam) confesses to his crimes and receives a lengthy prison sentence. His convictions included three counts for manslaughter for the deaths of Lai Kwok-Ming (Kevin Tong), Ah Yat (Joel Chan) and Mrs. Yuen (Elvina Kong). Here's my nerdy legal take on the three charges.
Death of Ah Yat
The difference between murder and manslaughter is the intent. In the case of murder, there is generally a requirement of premeditation, or prior planning, to kill someone. Manslaughter, on the other hand, does not require prior planning.
The concept of transferred intent applies when the defendant intends to kill a particular person, but accidentally kills someone else instead. The classic example is when the defendant fires a gun at person A, but misses and hits person B. The defendant's intent to kill person A is "transferred" to person B. So the defendant is deemed to have "intent" to kill person B, even though that was not what he had in his mind.
Sam's killing of Ah Yat should be classified as murder instead of manslaughter. There is clear evidence of Sam's premeditation. He deliberately brought the knife to the abandoned school. On his way there, he expressed "If I can't get [the tape] back, I will kill him." Before charging at Yuen Sir with the knife, he said "Tonight, I will end this." His intent to kill Yuen Sir was transferred when he plunged the knife into Ah Yat instead. Because of the premeditation, he should have been charged with murder instead of manslaughter.
Death of Lai Kwok-Ming
Sometimes, a defendant can provide a legal explanation for killing someone. Two commonly accepted explanations are self-defense and provocation.
Self-defense is when a defendant kills someone in order to protect himself from imminent attack. For example, if someone is about to kill the defendant, the defendant may kill the attacker first to protect himself. But the force used by the defendant has to be reasonable and not more than necessary to counter the attack. In other words, you can’t bring a gun to a fist fight. Self-defense will result in a complete acquittal.
Provocation is when the defendant kills someone in the heat of a moment, in reaction to something that would reasonably cause the defendant to lose control of his rationality. The classic example is when a husband kills someone in a fit of rage after discovering that his wife had been cheating on him. Provocation usually results in lesser punishment, but does not allow the defendant to be acquitted entirely.
Sam might claim that he killed Lai Kwok-Ming in self-defense. He had been kidnapped by Lai, who doused Sam in a flammable substance and threatened to light him on fire. Sam was reasonably in fear for his life and attacked Lai to save himself. The problem is that Sam kept hitting Lai with the wrench even after Lai had been knocked unconscious. Since the unconscious Lai did not pose an immediate danger to Sam, Sam cannot continue to use self-defense to justify his actions after that point.
Sam can argue that he had no intention of killing Lai. Sam said that he only wanted to subdue Lai and did not intend to kill him. Alternatively, Sam can argue that he had been provoked. Sam was outraged after discovering that Lai was the person who harmed his friends and his mother. They got into a fight and Sam killed Lai in the course of fighting. In either scenario, the manslaughter charge is appropriate here.
Death of Mrs. Yuen
When a defendant unintentionally kills someone while committing another crime, the defendant can be charged with either murder or manslaughter, depending on the type of crime he was committing at the time. If it is a low-level crime, the charge is manslaughter. A common example is a driver who accidentally kills someone while drunk driving. If the defendant was committing an “inherently dangerous” crime, like rape or arson, he can be charged with murder. This rule, known as the felony murder rule, has been abolished in many jurisdictions.
Even though Sam did not know that Mrs. Yuen was on the boat, he caused her death when he set the boat on fire. For burning the boat, Sam was charged with illegal disposal of a corpse. Since that is not an inherently dangerous crime, manslaughter is the appropriate charge. If Sam had been charged with arson instead, he would have qualified for felony murder.