Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Chance Medley Definition:

A sudden, unplanned brawl.

Related Terms: Duel, Code Duello, Affray

A "chance medley", wrote Justice Fairchilk, of the United States Court of Appeals in the US v Martinez, is "a deadly confrontation between men accustomed to wearing weapons that generally ensued from a drunken brawl or in defense of a breach of honor."1

In his article Horder quotes from 4 Blackstone 183-4 to proposed:

"The word chance-medley is properly applied to such killing as happens in self-defence upon a sudden rencounter....The true [distinguishing] criterion between [chance medley and manslaughter] seems to be this: when both parties are combating at the same time when the mortal stroke is given, the slayer is then guilty of manslaughter."

Edward Coke described the "chancemedley" as a homicide:

"... for that ...is done by chance (without premeditation) upon a sudden brawle, shuffling, or contention.... During these killings, persons were considered to act “in the Time of their Rage, Drunkenness, hidden Displeasure, or other Passion of Mind” (Statute of Stabbing (1604), 2 Jas I, c. 8)..

Relying on Coke, somehow, for the following proposal, the Supreme Court of Canada added:  "Such killings were considered less morally reprehensible than deliberate “cold-blooded” killings and, informed by the value of honour that formed an important aspect of that period’s social context, were viewed as partially excused."2


  • Coke, Edward, Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning High Treason, and Other Pleas of the Crown and Criminal Causes, 3rd Part (1817), p. 56.
  • Horder, Jeremy, Duel and the English Law of Homicide, The; 12 Oxford J. Legal Stud. 419 (1992)
  • NOTE 1: US v. Martinez, 988 F. 2d 685 (1992)
  • NOTE 2: R. v. Tran, [2010] 3 SCR 350 at ¶13

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