Judgments by Philosophers
R v. Shneebley
Democritus J. – This appeal comes before the Court pursuant to s. 231 of the Criminal Code. The appellant was convicted of second-degree murder for the killing of James Klechbech. The facts are simple and uncontested; the deceased entered a Downtown Toronto phone booth and was shot sixteen times by the accused.
In order to convict the appellant, the presence of both actus reus and mens rea must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
With respect to the act component of the offense, it was held in R. v. King,  S.C.R. 746, that the actus reus cannot be established unless the act has been done willingly. Without the free will to do otherwise, an accused cannot be convicted of any given offense.
Determinism and Nonexistence of Free Will
As we know, nothing exists in the universe aside from atoms in the void. Everything we know or have ever known can be reduced to a collection of atoms. The Court, the brain of the accused, and myself are no different. Our atomic makeup interacts with other atoms of the world, striking them through lateral motions. This phenomenon is how we got out of bed and made it to court at all. In fact, everything that has ever happened in the universe is the result of atoms striking atoms striking atoms in an infinite yet unbreakable causal chain. Taken to its extreme, everything that happens does so necessarily; everything is predetermined by cause and effect, and our sense of cognitive control is simply an illusion.
Application to the case at Bar
It therefore must follow that the actions of the accused could not possibly establish the actus reus of the offense. If the accused, as a collection of atoms, were just part of an unfortunate, but necessary, causal chain, then he could not have acted voluntarily. His atoms were struck by other atoms, which were struck by other atoms, and so on. It is unclear to me how he could have done otherwise. It is thus unnecessary to consider the mens rea element.
Aristotle C.J. (Dissenting)—While my learned colleague is correct in his analysis and application of the law, his underlying assumptions have led him astray. It is wrong to say that there is a definite cause for everything. Chance undoubtedly exists in the universe.
Further, it is wrong to say that nature unfolds in an unbreakable causal chain. One can trace any event back to an uncaused starting point, lacking in motion altogether. Here we can easily trace the death of the deceased back to the trigger of the accused. Nothing pushed him to act; rather, he voluntarily decided to do so, starting his own causal chain. Had he chosen to, he could have acted otherwise, thereby satisfying the actus reus of the offense.
(Discussion of mens rea has been omitted)
I would have dismissed the appeal.
David Levy (2L) is a De Minimis Editor for Juris Diction.
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