We’re one of the few metal blogs on the web who have devoted no space at all to the criminal charges that Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe is facing in the Czech Republic. There are various reasons for that, but one of them is that we didn’t want to join the ranks of many whose writing on the subject has generated more heat than light, preferring instead to wait until a time when we might be able to contribute some meaningful insight into the problems that Blythe is currently experiencing.
Today is that day. Today, we have a guest post by a British criminal attorney, Clare Paget, who is one of the best minds at the law firm of Hanne & Co, in London, UK. She provides some actual trained legal insight into the situation. And for that, we owe thanks to one of our favorite UK extreme metal band’s, Prosthetic recording artist Dragged Into Sunlight, who put us in touch with Ms. Paget.
As you probably know, Randy Blythe was arrested on June 28 upon landing in Prague and was charged with what is being described as the offense of manslaughter under Czech law for allegedly causing the death of a fan named Daniel Nosek at a Lamb of God show in the country on May 24, 2010. At the time of this writing, Blythe remains in a Prague jail because the Czech prosecutor has filed an objection to his release on $200,000 bail.
Ms. Paget has experience with this type of case under British law, including obtaining the acquittal of a defendant in a high profile manslaughter case in 2011. Of course, because the charges against Blythe are based on conduct committed in the Czech Republic, the Czech criminal code will be applied to determine whether he committed an offense. Nevertheless, based on our research (which includes a review of this translation of the Czech criminal code and this summary and analysis of that code), it appears that there are relevant similarities between the Czech and British legal principles applicable to this type of criminal charge, as Ms. Paget describes them.
After the jump, Ms. Paget offers a concise analysis of the case based on her own experience in defending against manslaughter charges in the UK.
The offence of manslaughter covers a variety of scenarios. Under UK law, the situation that Randy has found himself in would likely be covered by the offence of unlawful act manslaughter. This is an offence of unlawful killing without intent to kill or to cause serious harm to someone, and the death must have resulted from the defendant’s unlawful act.
The unlawful act must be one that a reasonable person would see as resulting in some harm, albeit not serious harm, such as an assault involving a push or a punch. The accused would not have to intend to kill or seriously harm the victim to be guilty of manslaughter, he would just have to intend to cause some harm.
However, it must be established that the death was caused by the unlawful act. This usually requires consideration of medical evidence, which would be especially relevant if the death did not occur immediately, as in the present case. In a similar case under UK law, I might argue that the death was not the result of the alleged incident, and this can often result in lengthy investigation as well as the careful analysis of evidence.
Unlawful act manslaughter has to involve an unlawful act taking place. This means that if the accused did an act in lawful self defence, it would not be an unlawful act. Acting in self defence is a defence to this charge in accordance with UK law.
If it were established that Randy Blythe had pushed the fan offstage and that this caused his death, then the defence of acting in self defence would be open to Randy Blythe in a UK Court, if certain circumstances applied.
If Randy felt that he was in danger of imminent attack, then he would be entitled to do only what was reasonable to defend himself from that attack, and it may have been that he had to take instant action. The law would not have required him to wait until he was actually attacked before he retaliated, if a pre-emptive strike was reasonably necessary to defend himself.
That said, striking someone out of anger or aggression, after the threat of attack is over, would not be self defence.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter in accordance with UK law is life imprisonment – however, this type of offence can be punished by a wide variety of sentences depending on the circumstances of the offence, from life imprisonment to a conditional discharge.
In accordance with UK law, there are three main grounds for a court to deny bail and remand a defendant in custody. These reasons are as follows; if there is a substantial fear that the defendant would not attend court, would commit further offences whilst free on bail, or would interfere with the course of justice. An example of this may be interfering with a witnesses or some other evidence. In deciding whether to grant bail, the court would take into account the nature and seriousness of the offence, the defendant’s antecedents, and the circumstances surrounding the alleged offence.
If bail is granted, then this is likely to be subject to bail conditions designed to guard against the occurrence of any of those three scenarios. The court may require, for example, a sum of money to be paid into court (called a security) which the payee would lose should the defendant abscond. Mr Blythe’s bail was set in the Prague Courts at $200,000.
A security is particularly relevant if an allegation occurs in another country with which the defendant has no ties. The court could impose conditions to ensure that he stays in the country. The court may feel that the large amount of money paid as a security would ensure his attendance even if he left the country prior to his trial.
Once the decision has been taken by the court to release someone on bail, then release in the UK would take place immediately, subject to the conditions of bail being met – in a case where a security is ordered to be paid, then once it is paid the defendant would be released forthwith.
This would depend on the amount and type of evidence that would be called, which would relate to the issues involved in the case. Unlawful act manslaughter would usually involve medical evidence being called, which would involve the use of expert witnesses regarding whether the alleged unlawful act actually caused the death. There may also be many other witnesses to the events themselves who may be called. A recent high profile manslaughter trial that I worked on lasted five weeks.
CCTV & SOCIAL MEDIA
If there was CCTV from the venue that was seized, then that could be played in court as evidence if relevant to the case.
Nowadays, social media has found its own place in evidence. YouTube footage, for example, could be used in court if it is relevant to the incident in question. Care would have to be taken regarding what it demonstrates, the quality of the footage, and the provenance of it. The issues in the case, whether the person who took the footage is available as a witness, and the quality and relevance of the footage would all be factors for the court to consider in deciding whether to admit it as evidence and the degree of reliance that could be placed on it if it were.
As US law is historically based on UK law, the analysis here would be more or less identical (although there are subtle differences between states). Our bail rules are a little bit different, in terms of mechanics, but the concerns addressed by them are nearly the same. The very last paragraph is the only thing that I think is substantially different in the US. There is no way you could get video evidence admitted in court* without foundational testimony, e.g., the person who took the Youtube video was there to testify, and only the original video file would be played (they wouldn’t actually play it off of Youtube, and they wouldn’t play an edited version). Similarly, to admit the CCTV evidence you would have to have the person who maintains/operates the CCTV system there to testify (unless the parties stipulated otherwise, which in the case of CCTV is quite possible).
*I’m referring to the guilt phase of the trial, although it might get in for other purposes (bail, probable cause, sentencing, etc.) This is the kind of thing that drives people crazy about lawyers . . . CJ Roberts says the health care law is not a tax for purposes of one thing, but it is a tax for purposes of another. That’s all law: Is X a Y for purposes of Z?
We were discussing the law recently, and by coincidence also looked at the differences between US and UK bail laws. There does seem to be quite a bit of difference?
Granted, they’re both designed to allow a defendant time “on bail”, but the real methodology seems quite distinctly different.
I’m not terribly familiar with bail laws outside the state of Nebraska, beyond what I heard on a Stuff You Should Know podcast. Nebraska is one of very few states that does not have bail bondsmen. The amount of bail is set by the court based on the severity of the alleged crime and the likelihood that the defendant will skip town (I haven’t practiced for almost 4 years, so if I’m forgetting something I apologize). You typically pay 10% of the bail to go free pending trial and/or sentencing, and if I’m not mistaken you’re obligated to pay the full bail if you don’t show up when you’re supposed to (that wasn’t really an area of my concern, so I’m not certain about that).
I should also mention that manslaughter is an extremely amorphous concept. In law school we trace it back to the UK, although it may be much older. In the UK it was developed as a way to avoid putting people with feudal titles to death, by allowing them to prove the killing was “upon a sudden quarrel,” the quintessential case being that you discovered your wife in bed with another man. It has been expanded and modified drastically, and very differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The “unlawful act” manslaughter she discusses above is very similar to the common US idea of misdemeanor manslaughter, i.e., that any death that occurs as a result of the commission of a misdemeanor is de facto manslaughter. It’s different because you don’t have to prove that the act directly caused the death, however. For example, if you snatch someone’s purse (typically a misdemeanor) and someone chases you and gets hit by a bus, you could be convicted of misdemeanor manslaughter.
Manslaughter could also, for example, be the result of reckless behavior (a step worse than negligent behavior–which could result in negligent homicide in some places). A step worse is, if I remember correctly, depraved heart indifference, which results in murder. It’s not exactly cut and dry.
This reminds me of an analysis I wrote on Wrest’s situation.
Please refer to the disclaimer on my blog regarding legal discussions.
Something could well have been lost in translation, but the translated version of the Czech criminal code that I cited in the introduction doesn’t actually seem to use the word “manslaughter”. But it does recognize that a crime can be committed not only through intentional misconduct but also through negligence (Chapter II, Provision 5), such as when someone did not actually know that his actions would create harm or danger, but should and could have known that. It also appears that life imprisonment is only a form of punishment for murder (intentional killing), and that negligently injuring the health of someone else is punishable by less severe sentences (up to 2 years in prison).
Also, in Nebraska manslaughter carries a max of 20 years, I believe, not life.
Man..thanks for posting this. So many assholes (particularly at Metalsucks) seemed to have checked their brains at the door over this shit, as though they have some personal involvement. Ive actually seen multiple people argue that it couldnt be manslaughter because you waive all your rights when you sneak on stage..so whatever happens is your fault.
Metalsucks has never been known for reasoned, intelligent discourse.
I did think this piece by Gary Suarez at MetalSucks was well done:
Honestly..he was the only one who didnt immediately jump into a cry-fest about how unfair and unjust this whole thing is. The way people are going on about it..you’d think they had Randy locked in a tiger cage with electrodes strapped to his nipples (Or as Phro calls it..Wednesday)
Lord knows Im not a LoG fan by any means, but I have no desire to see a innocent dude go to jail. The truth is though, we have no idea what evidence people have on either side of this case, and screaming “Free Randy” like hes some kind of political prisoner is absurd
Although it remains my hope that Mr. Blythe is proven innocent of these accusations, I have personally backed off on my coverage of the incident because there really is not enough evidence to make a decision. Attempting to judge anything based on what little knowledge we have was foolhardy at best.
Although I think the post is a nifty idea and more rooted in fact than emotion, generally in relation to the actual situation at hand its near enough pointless. I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but in the sense as a reminder that in this scenario Czech Law will be concerned, not British and the disparities between the two are far too wide to paint a parallel. On the positive side though, I did enjoy reading this as a brush up to my UK law.
“Nevertheless, based on our research (which includes a review of this translation of the Czech criminal code and this summary and analysis of that code), it appears that there are relevant similarities between the Czech and British legal principles applicable to this type of criminal charge, as Ms. Paget describes them.”
On the other hand..this is Islander, so who knows what he really translated
I’m pretty sure it was the Czech criminal code, but it could have been a book of roadkill recipes.
I am actually going to a social gathering today that will have my Czech legal friends there (who have studied and practised law in the Czech republic), so I might see if they can shed any light on the matter!
It would be cool to hear what they tell you, especially since it appears that the Czech criminal code is a relatively recent adoption and, as you note in another comment, it doesn’t appear to be a system where the law evolves through judicial precedent.
Yep, although I am racking up my brain now from my European Criminal Law knowledge if there is any element of ECJ or ECHR precedents, or EU directives set that will alter the interpretation or process of the Czech Criminal Code.
Shit. I didn’t think about that. That would add an additional layer of complexity — or I guess it could clarify what legal elements will apply to the accusation and available defenses.
Having studied law for the better part of 6 years, and for the past year learning general european law, I can assure that law doesn’t translate from one language to the next. Principles and meaning of terms vary from system to system even in instances where the words are identical and have the same legal origins (especially in Property Law). In short Law is a complete mindfuck when comparing systems, especially since the UK uses the common law system, and the Czech Republic uses Civil law with elements of its socialist regimes of prior.
I really do like the post bringing my legal interest into the musical sphere, and a great break away from all the standardised posts that has flooded the blog circuit, but just want to stress again that this is not to be taken as the legal reality of the situation (the author has made that clear, and thus have no qualms with the author, but I know people are stupid, so they need a quick reminder that this is speculative), perhaps my choice of words pointless is too harsh and the wrong choice of words, so for whoever reads this comment replace my word pointless with speculation.
Far be it for me to claim any expertise in either British or Czech law, but there do seem to be parallels, just based on my reading of those two pieces I cited in the intro to this post. But you’re right that there also appear to be differences — for example, the crime of negligently causing damage to the health of a person under Czech law doesn’t seem to require any element of intent, whereas Clare’s discussion indicates that unlawful act manslaughter requires at least intent to cause some harm, even if the accused didn’t foresee that it would lead to death.
On the other hand, both systems seem to recognize that reasonably believing there’s a need to defend yourself can be a defense to the criminal charge. Also, Clare’s point about the importance of medical evidence and medical expert testimony abut what actually caused Daniel Nosek’s death clearly seems relevant, because Czech law plainly requires a causal link between whatever Blythe did on stage and the death that’s the basis for the charge.
But anyway, until we can find an expert in Czech criminal law, I thought Clare’s discussion was a good way to begin thinking about what kinds of facts and evidence are going to be relevant, and and a way of demonstrating that this isn’t going to be a simple or clean or short trial, whenever it happens.
Completely agree, perhaps I came off too strong, but yeah the main point I was trying to make was that this is not to be taken as “expert” explanation, I mean it is skilled and using legal understanding to explain and understand certain points, but I can just see that some of the less attentive fans crossing facts with what play out and this well researched and well explained educated attempt at understanding the legal scenario.
Your point is totally valid, and it’s an important caveat — this is a discussion of how these charges would be analyzed under the UK legal system, and there may well be important differences under the Czech system that could make Randy’s defense either easier or more difficult by comparison.
This article is retarded…..you didn’t even exam what czech says, just UK. Nor did you contribute to how any of these laws would apply to the case under examination. What a giant waste of time
Wow, so you’re really bored today and just decided to provide a bit of douchebag carpet-bombing?
What a giant waste of time.
Dude! Way too harsh. As the above comments indicate, I did look at information about the Czech criminal code before deciding to run this article and concluded that much of what Clare discusses — though maybe not all of it — is going to be relevant to Randy’s situation. If nothing else, I thought it would be useful to show that Randy’s case is going to turn on specific and complex legal principles and evidence, and not on the kind of tabloid-style ranting and raving that has consumed a lot of the writing about his predicament elsewhere.
Wow..youve been posting here off and on for a bit now and I still cant tell if youre a troll or just clueless. The point of this article was to provide some actual knowledge to a story thats been mostly clueless speculation. As the poster above you pointed out, with far more class I might add, theres obviously going to be differences between Czech and UK law, but this at least gives people a rough idea of what happens in these cases. So unless you happen to be a lawyer in the Czech Republic try putting your mouth in neutral
It won’t be the same without Randy In Lamb Of God That band Will Not Be The Smae Again Ever.