Seamen’s Manslaughter Charges Dismissed

Not invoking magic, has to do with the wording of the statute.

From Wikipedia

Unlike common law manslaughter, which requires a mens rea or mental state of gross negligence or heat of passion in absence of malice, this statute requires only simple negligence — a breach of duty to perform an act or omission in violation of a standard of care.

It WAS the SMS. Clearly not applicable as the court held.

State law however, still has a conceivable path to conviction Missouri Involuntary Manslaughter Law The applicable mens rea Preliminary Provisions of the Missouri Criminal Code

But perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Are we speculating as to the reason why the feds tripped over their own feet? In that case…

I’m not saying the state doesn’t have a path.

The point I was making is, leaving aside for a moment the facts of the case, getting a criminal conviction in the state courts is going to be more difficult and therefore less likely.

To get a conviction in state court the prosecution must prove gross negligence.

To prove gross negligence the prosecutor is going to have to prove that the duck boat operator was reckless. Obviously, that more difficult.

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Perhaps the chances of getting a criminal convection is the reason the federal prosecutors decided it was worthwhile giving the federal courts a try in the first place even knowing about past rulings with regards to jurisdiction.

MO. 5. A person “acts with criminal negligence” or is criminally negligent when he or she fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or a result will follow, and such failure constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.

Gross negligence (not defined here and not part of the Missouri framework) is not the standard. It is criminal negligence as defined above.

Is it a slightly lower standard? Maybe. But it seems razor thin. Here’s a law review article that is helpful:

I don’t see a problem in state court. The bigger issue is facing elected “Judge Goober” and elected “County Prosecutor Gomer”. Might as well jump straight to sentencing.

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Once again, the captain is the lone target although he was operating under the direction of a manager who had better access to weather reports. The fact that admiralty law doesn’t apply will deny the vessel’s owners the limited liability protection from civil suits. Unfortunately for claimants the owners are now probably broke and it remains to be seen if they had applicable insurance coverage.

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That doesn’t appear to be the case.

From the Maritime Executive article;

Judge Rush’s recommendation also covers charges against two Ride the Ducks Branson managers who were on duty at the time of the casualty.

Also, again from Wikipedia:

The 1904 fire aboard PS General Slocum resulted in another Act in 1905 (33 Stat. 1023) to make executive officers of corporate-owned steamboats criminally liable, and also added the term “neglect” to the list of actionable offenses

The article doesn’t say if the charges against the managers were the same as the ones against the captain.

This appears sound. Now, I think that the feds were trying to cleanup the embarrassment for the CG and the Department of Homeland Security. A state court wouldn’t give a damn about the agencies’ feelings or their respective images.

Thanks, speedread right past that in the article.Still, those guys don’t have any money to provide compensation.

First of all, the Feds should defer to the State prosecutors when something happens on a small “boat” on a landlocked lake. Between the drug cartels, the terrorists, crooked politicians, crooked lobbyists, crooked government contractors, crooked bankers, and so on, the Feds have plenty of better things to do.

You mean these?

Most countries using English common law do not differentiate.
Between Seamen and other professions. Gross or Criminal Negligence can lead in many jurisdictions to a charge of manslaughter, or similar charge.
Simple Negligence not sufficient for a conviction.

I’ve no idea how negligence is applied in Countries using, Napoleonic Code or similar. I doubt they would see a reason for one group or profession to be treated differently.

So the Seaman’s Manslaughter act is quite unusual. Single it out Seamen to be held to a much lower standard.
Why should Seamen be different? Other than by an accident of history. steam ships boats predating steam trains or other transport systems.

The funny as in strange aspect of this Law.
It goes back to river steamboats which presumably operated on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers back in the day of steam boats.
So clearly the Seaman’s Negligence act would apply elsewhere in Missouri.Just not this lake. Presumably because there is no connection to the River system.
A fortunate quirk for theses particular seamen.


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That’s why it may be an unconstitutional law. It treats people differently for engaging in the same negligent conduct based upon occupation without any rational basis.

Ordinary or simple negligence that causes death is not a crime for anyone, except seamen (that is, captains, and sometimes vessel owners and managers).

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The history of the Steamboat Act is worth looking into.

I think I agree that in current times it doesn’t seem particularly fair. But there was apparently a reason…

It seems the constitutional question hasn’t had an opportunity to legally be asked. Unfortunately/Fortunately, Seaman’s Manslaughter is a historically uncommon charge. As pointed out here, “During its first 142 years, there were roughly eight major prosecutions, spanning 1848 through 1990.” Certainly it has come up more in recent years.

Perhaps the closest the courts have come to clarifying the differences between Seaman’s Manslaughter and Common Law manslaughter was United States v O’Keefe in 2005. O’Keefe appealed to the 5th Circuit Court after the District court rejected his argument that the jury should be instructed that the government must prove Gross Negligence. Both courts disagreed.

Importantly the District Court stated:

“In light of the unique dangers of maritime travel [and] the vulnerability of passengers on board such vessels …, it was reasonable to impose on such crews a heightened degree of care with the parallel lower threshold for criminal liability.”

And a Circuit Court footnote:

[Section] 1112 and § 1115 are separate crimes addressing different concerns with different penalties. Involuntary manslaughter as defined in § 1112 applies to all persons, regardless of where the offense occurs or whether the offender had any unique responsibility or fiduciary duty towards the victim of the crime. On the other hand, § 1115 applies only to commercial vessels whose operators and owners, historically speaking, “daily have the lives of thousand of helpless humans beings in their keeping.”

Further text from the ruling interpreting Congress’ intent:

The district court, after conducting a historical analysis of how other courts have applied § 1115, concluded that Congress did not intend that proof of negligence or heat of passion would be required for a conviction under § 1115. The court cited at least five early cases, all strongly suggesting that Congress did not intend a requirement of the heightened mens rea that O’Keefe seeks.

the district court stated, “[i]t appears clear from the purpose of the statute, its legislative history and the available case law interpreting it that any degree of negligence is sufficient to meet the culpability threshold.”

We reject O’Keefe’s contention that Congress is presumed to have incorporated common law meanings of negligence utilized under § 1112 in the terms used in § 1115, for the same reasons given by the district court:The Court does not agree that because the predecessor to § 1115 was called manslaughter that it automatically engrafts the case law interpreting other definitions of manslaughter from other statutes.

Another recent prospect for raising the constitutional question would have been the Deepwater Horizon case of United States v Kaluza. It had a high enough profile and big enough players that the appeal and question might have arisen had the same 5th Circuit court not ruled Kaluza, based on the position he held, couldn’t be tried under Seaman’s Manslaughter. So it was moot.

But to the point of why are seamen treated differently. The closest parallel job by the courts description I can think of is commercial airline pilots. But there’s no Airman’s Manslaughter is there?

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When a plane crashes there’s no one alive to prosecute.

:man_facepalming:Fair point. Though the bad luck that plane crashes don’t lend themselves to survivors doesn’t really make airline pilots different than ship captains from a “passenger” responsibility standpoint. Yet if one did survive he’d still be held to a higher culpability threshold than his maritime counterpart.

I just find it interesting that no industry born after steamships followed the same legal standard of care.

So please explain. They should be the same i’m pretty sure the courts would look training standards.

Hand you read this thread? That’s what is doing is explaining how seafarers are held to a higher standard.