The Secret Barrister talks to James Ball, award-winning journalist and author of Should I Stay Or Should I Go? about the legal trouble that the narrator of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal could find himself in.
James Ball: So: Smooth Criminal. I suppose the big question is whether Annie’s okay. What’s your initial assessment?
The Secret Barrister: I don’t think she is. Assuming that the blood on the carpet is hers, as opposed to coming from the intruder having cut himself at the point of entry, she appears to be the victim of at least an unlawful wounding, and quite probably a burglary too.
James Ball: I'm a bit worried about the person giving us the account too – he seems to know an awful lot about what happened, but he's quite inconsistent and even seems quite impressed by the "smooth" criminal. Does that seem consistent with a witness or friend in shock, or is it suspicious?
The Secret Barrister: To me, it's suspicious. You get a feel in criminal justice for a witness who is hiding something, and this narrator exhibits classic signs of untruthfulness: repetition of clearly practised lines, knowledge of events beyond his supposed experience, and his insistence on giving CPR means that he has contaminated the crime scene.
James Ball: CPR is definitely a very bad sign: people who've gone into cardiac arrest who receive CPR outside of hospital only have a 10.7% survival rate, which would leave Annie with an 89.3% chance of being very much not okay.
So if we suspect our narrator was involved in Annie's "doom", what legal trouble might he be facing?
The Secret Barrister: Well. That largely depends on the extent to which Annie is not okay. If she is no longer of this world, our narrator is looking at a murder charge, assuming the prosecution can prove that he intentionally killed her with the intent to either kill or cause serious injury. Given the chase around the premises that he has described, there's clear evidence of persistence, but the pathologist's report will help clarify the mechanism by which she met her end, which will ultimately inform the charge. At best, if he didn't intend to cause really serious harm or death, but it was caused in the course of another unlawful act - like burglary - he could be looking at unlawful act manslaughter.
And if he has been deliberately contaminating the crime scene to confuse the forensic scientists and evade detection, I'd stick a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice on the indictment as well, just for good measure.
James Ball: I feel obliged to offer some mitigation at this point: it's possible Annie is not a person at all. One of the most popular and widely-used CPR dummies is known as Resusci-Anne, sometimes affectionately called "Annie". Creepily, the model's face is based on the death mask of a 19th century woman found drowned in the Seine.
Given the first stage of CPR training is to check for responsiveness, "Annie, are you okay?" became a widely-used phrase in training, and there's a good deal of speculation that's who's being referred to in this context. If so – leaving aside the mystery of the blood (a self-inflicted training or breaking and entering injury?) – could there be a case of reducing any potential charge to criminal damage?
The Secret Barrister: Criminal damage for the broken window is a possibility. But much depends on his reason for breaking in. If he did so with the intent to steal from within, he would be looking at a charge of burglary. If it was with the sole intention of saving somebody inside whom he knew to be in serious danger, I can’t see the public interest in prosecuting him at all.
James Ball: So we’re left with a real chance that our intruder wrongly thought someone was hurt, broke into a property, injured himself, and started talking to a CPR dummy. So he’s certainly not smooth, and quite possibly not even a criminal. Just goes to show why you shouldn’t take Michael Jackson’s assessment of the situation without proper legal advice. Thanks, Secret Barrister!