What Is an Open Verdict in the Coroner`s Court

▪ The objective exclusion criteria for certain open judgements have not been applied; They are not yet available. In Newcastle upon Tyne, the structure of open judgments has changed considerably since 1961 (see Figure 2). However, this graph illustrates all open judgments. In our current series, we excluded 26 cases (14%) of open-ended judgments from the analysis and classified them as non-suicide. An examination of the 106 open judgments recorded between 1961 and 1965 showed that 53 cases (50%) were excluded as « non-suicides »: a significant deviation from the figure excluded in this series (χ2=44, d.f.=1, P<0.01). The inquest into the death by hanging of sailor Nigel Tetley in 1972 has yielded an open verdict. The treating pathologist noted that the circumstances indicated masochistic sexual activity rather than suicide. [8] Two successive inquests, in May 1981 and May 2004, resulted in public verdicts on the victims of the New Cross home fire, in which 13 black teenagers were killed by fire at a birthday party. The victims` families have long believed that the fire was deliberately started, possibly as a racist attack, and the verdict was interpreted as a rejection of this theory.

[13] As shown in Figure 1, the incidence of hanging (χ2=15.4, d.f.=1, P<0.01) and carbon monoxide (CO) (χ2=11.3, d.f.=1, P<0.01) is significantly higher in the <<open judgment group. For this investigation, citizens were called and compelled to testify under oath about their land and personal property. The inquiry was also used in local courts in England during the Middle Ages. Since a person could not be tried for a crime until he had been charged, a panel of four men from each vill and twelve from each hundred appeared in court and charged some people with crimes. However, the members of the panel appeared voluntarily and were not summoned by a public servant, as is the case today for an investigation. In 1166, a law called the Clarendon Assizes made the inquiry procedure compulsory. The men`s panel was to appear before local sheriffs and regularly lay charges on their oath. These cases were later heard by the royal courts because of the king`s special interest in peacekeeping. This procedure was the origin of the modern grand jury.

Comparison of open-ended and suicidal sentences revealed many similarities, although some differences were found. Can we explain these differences by the fact that a coroner only renders a verdict of suicide on the basis of information that indicates beyond any doubt that the deceased intended to commit suicide? A suicide note could be considered such evidence, as could the perceived lethality of the manner of death. Taylor (reference Taylor1982) considered them to be primary « suicidal indications ». Our finding of suicides in 11.3% of cases is lower than that of Jacobson et al. (reference Jacobson, Bagley and Rehin, 1976) in 20% of cases, but similar to that of Neeleman et al. (reference Neeleman, Mak and Wessely, 1997) in 12.8% of cases. However, analysis of the notes revealed no clear suicidal intent, except in four cases, three of which had a blood alcohol level suggestive of intoxication. High blood alcohol levels were found in seven other cases of open judgements in which notes were left. This may have led the coroner to view intoxication as an impairment of the deceased`s ability to form suicidal intentions. However, the fact that this consideration is not the only decisive factor is demonstrated by the finding that 9.7% of suicidal authorizations were found to be intoxicated at the time of suicide. In an obiter dictum in R.

v. West London Coroner, ex parte Gray in 1986, the Divisional Court stated that the public verdict must be proven beyond a doubt, as with convictions for unlawful homicide and suicide. [3]:471 However, the fact of a suicide verdict requires « proof that the deceased intended to commit suicide, » meaning that open judgments are often recorded in cases where suicide is suspected but evidence of intent is lacking. For this reason, some studies of suicides have also included deaths for which open judgments have been recorded. [2] Logistic regression was performed to determine which variables were most accurate in distinguishing between open judgment and suicide verdict. A progressive model was used with an inclusion criterion of P0.1. The most accurate model achieved a correct prediction level of 76.5% (open judgments 75.9%, suicide convictions 77.1%). In this model, six variables contribute to the statistical distinction between suicide and open judgments (model χ2=111.6, d.f.=6, P<0.001). The variables were classified into decreasing statistical importance: suicide score, hanging, CO, age, "other substances" and "other methods". "Other substances" means any ingested or injected substance that is not already present and includes drugs such as insulin or chemicals such as paraquat. "Other methods" refer to those that have not yet been considered, such as cutting.

The number of correct predictions of 261 out of 341 possible gives a moderate Cohen κ value of 0.529. Since 188 (58.3%) of the 347 suicide verdicts could be predicted correctly by chance, the available information leads to a moderate increase in the accuracy of the predictions. All open-ended judgments were independently assessed by two of the authors (K.R.L. and K.S.). Cases were classified as « probable suicide » or « impossible or unlikely suicide ». The small number of cases where the assessment was different were considered jointly and a consensus category was agreed upon after discussion. Examples of « suicide impossible » cases included cases of babies found dead, cases of malignant diseases (with no suspicion of self-harm), and deaths immediately after surgery. The category « unlikely suicide » has been assigned to cases such as that of a young man who fell from a window into solvent poisoning and an elderly lady with dementia who was prone to hiking and was found drowned in a small stream. In these cases, there was no suspicion of suicidal thoughts prior to the event. We identified 188 suicide convictions (139 men and 49 women) and 185 open sentences.

Of these, we excluded 26 cases (unlikely or impossible suicide), so a total of 159 open sentences were considered probable suicides (99 men and 60 women). The ratio of suicide verdicts (OSR) was 0.85. Among open-ended sentences, 11.3% (n = 18) of individuals had written a suicide note, compared with 49.5% (n = 93) in suicidal sentences (χ2 = 56.1, d.f. = 1, P<0.01). Regarding the content of farewell notes in public judgments, in seven cases there was no indication of suicidal intent, and in seven other cases this intention was not clearly expressed, but implied in a euphemistic way such as "See you in another life." Four cases claimed to want to commit suicide, but three of them were heavily drunk and in the remaining case, a tape with a suicide message was only discovered after the investigation. Of the open files that left suicide notes, 55.6% (n = 10) had a blood alcohol level suggestive of intoxication, compared with only 13.0% (n = 17) of open judgments that were found to be intoxicated and did not write notes (χ2 = 19.34, d.f. = 1, P<0.01). The investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead in 2005 by Metropolitan Police officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber, delivered an open verdict in December 2008. The coroner had explicitly indicated that they were unable to render a judgment for unlawful homicide and had given them alternatives to the public verdict or decision on the legality of the murder,[14] and the verdict (along with responses to an accompanying questionnaire given to the jury) was interpreted as a conviction by the police. [15] At the end of the proceedings, a judgment is presented on the identity of the deceased person and how, when and where the death occurred.

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