Zombies and the Law

An interesting article appeared in the Huffington Post recently. The gist of the story goes something like this: would zombies be legally responsible if they ate your brain? I laughed at the suggestion as well. Yet the question lends to some deep thought. Who would be responsible if a zombie ate your brain? Welcome to Monday Mayhem.

Zombie Justice
Zombie Justice

Lawyers Ryan Davidson and James Daily specialize in the legal ramifications of comic book hypothetical situations. In other words, these guys are cool. They take simple comic book scenarios and view them in the strictest legal sense. Their next endeavor is zombies. What zombies do, how they do it, responsibility, tort, etc., all that stuff. Featured in The New York Times, Marketplace, the ABA Journal and others, the site Law and the Multiverse have provided enlightening ideas on the zombie genre.

According to Davidson, a zombie apocalypse wouldn’t only be a mess for humanity, but also for the courts. The law views individuals as either fully alive or fully dead. There’s no in-betweens or undead. The argument attributing responsibility to zombies for property damage or crimes against humanity takes an even more complicated turn when introducing awareness to the equation.

Here’s what Davidson had to say:

“It depends on how the disease works. If zombies are effectively unconscious, then they would be incapable of performing voluntary actions and thus immune to criminal liability (or civil liability, for that matter). The zombies in the most recent I Am Legend movie appear to be fully conscious, if perhaps a bit aggressive, so they could potentially be found liable. But in most others, probably not.”

28 Days Later
28 Days Later

Then the question of rights comes to play. Would zombies have rights? He continues:

“If zombies are re-animated corpses, then no. The dead have no rights. But if zombies are living people infected with some kind of virus, like in 28 Days Later, they still have all the same rights they did before infection.”

Of course, if former zombies hire good lawyers, they can get off on an insanity plea. At least this is something the courts would have to take into consideration, should the defendants find their minds again and be fit to stand trial. Davidson was clear about this issue:

“If the crimes were committed while they were a zombie, and if the zombie condition causes legal insanity (basically defined in many states as not knowing what you are doing and not knowing that what you are doing is wrong), then they would have an insanity defense, even if they were later cured.”

He was quick to clarify those individuals suffering from mental illnesses today are not zombies.

To add to the discussion, the last portion of his interview delves into the “what if” scenario of capturing a zombie and placing it on trial for capital crimes and the like. Not only would said zombie be deemed unfit to stand trial, it would also have difficulties working with counsel. Not to mention the court would have an arduous task finding a jury of its peers.

Does bringing a zombie to trial seem feasible? What other problems may exist should a zombie find itself in court?

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20 thoughts on “Zombies and the Law

  1. Great article. In terms of zombie rights, I’m of the mind: shoot first and ask questions later. I’m not having my delicious brains eaten while I stop to ponder on the rights of the undead.

  2. What a great theme for an article. Something like this started to bothering me after I watched Warm Bodies. In the end we see the zombies being cured and included back into society. But what happens with humans then? The survivors need to start living with cured zombies suddenly? Wouldn’t that lead to vigilantism (survivors possibly had their entire families killed by zombies)? Are zombies legally responsible for their actions? I know I wouldn’t like to be neighbor with a zombie; cured or not!

  3. Great article. I think just this sort of thing is what is being covered on the new Zombie show out on the BBC “In the Flesh.” The premise being that the infected are essentially cured and medicated bringing back to their former selves and reintegrating into society.

    Worth a watch.

  4. Our Business Law classes would have been more fun if we used zombies. What a fun idea!
    What about suing for damage to property too?

  5. Zombies might have some serious problems communicating in court. Some brain translators would come in handy. Wasn’t there something like this in Day of the Dead? I mean, the one with an underground military base.

    Beethoven, zombies and a judge. That’s a fun combination.

  6. Nice article here Jack, but you’ve missed out one crucial (and rather interesting) legal point. If we define a zombie as someone doing something they are not consciously aware of (for whatever reason – , virus, disease, chemicals, because they’re a re-animated dead body etc), then existence of ‘zombies’ are already covered by the legal system in many countries and the legal precedence are well known and studied.

    Specifically, zombism would fall under the category of ‘non-insane automatism’. This is an accepted defence when someone does something but are not conscious or aware at the time, and therefore did not do it through choice. For example, if is often used as a defence when someone commits a crime while sleepwalking, and any living ‘zombie’ would definitely come under this defence.

    There is one interesting twist though, the automatism cannot be self-induced. This means if you take drugs, black out and kill someone, you’re still legally responsible because you chose to take the drugs. Thus the recent spate of ‘bath salt’ zombies (people who have attacked others while taking a recreational drug known as ‘bath salts’) couldn’t use this defence. This is something I briefly considered in my post on chemical zombies (http://wp.me/p2PdIc-7Q), but it’s an interesting legal area and it’s something keep meaning to cover in greater detail.

    All the best,

    Colin

    • Hey Colin, I always love your detailed comments, they make my posts better!

      Regarding automatism: I think Davidson covered this point when all three quotes are read as a whole. What he was trying to say is zombies have to go through a tier of determination. We need to first determine if the zombie is dead or alive. If dead, no rights. Then we have to determine how far their rights go if alive. Unconscious commission = no liability. The last portion, although not specific but implied, how much liability based on damage, if the zombie is alive and if the zombie became that way via external sources.

      I think Davidson was more concerned with zombies who become zombies involuntarily. Here’s the origianl full article to which I based my post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/28/zombies-and-the-law_n_2972494.html

  7. Nice post! Really broke it down the huge obstacle of what it would be of holding a zombie responsible for its crimes.

  8. Should we wipe them out first and ask the whys, the wherefores and the “do you mind if I don’t” ‘s afterwards? Is that not the way our species has always handled things?

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