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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Legality of Your Zombie Escape Plan

At Concurring Opinions, Prof. Wenger wonders about the role of law in (stopping) the end of the universe.  His analysis assumes that the world will end thanks to some sort of wormhole-rift-black hole-AP physics type event, rather than the far more likely scenario:  a zombie take-over.   

Is your zombie escape plan legal?  Surely you've developed one.  Genetic testing, bio-warfare, and the like, seem to make a zombie takeover of the earth inevitable.  If the news begins to break that zombie-ism is taking up residence nearby, it is best to be prepared.  Consulting the leading zombie survival guides, you can develop a plan to protect yourself, loved ones and family pets from any potential onslaught.  Perhaps you're partial to a leading approach like "island survival."

But along the way to your refuge, you will no doubt face numerous decisions raising thorny legal problems.  If you have a decent chance of outlasting the spread of the zombie plague (something you can find out here), then it would be unwise not to be conscious of potential legal ramifications of shooting zombies in the head, breaking and entering stores to gather canned goods, and otherwise engaging in all manner of batteries, trespasses and conversions.   

Would whatever state emerged in the aftermath of the zombie plague simply extend amnesty to survivors?  The greater the scope of the plague, the more likely that would be.  But what if zombie-ism emerged on a more limited scale (for example, just among your laptop-using law students).  If you were in a small pocket of quarantined area within a viable state, would you be so easily forgiven your trespasses during the fight to survive the zombie scourge?

I'm not a criminal lawyer, so I can't speculate about whether an attack on a zombie would represent a crime against a person.  On the tort side, self-defense would likely be available, at least as against any zombies of the flesh-eating variety.  But my real concern would be the potential trespass liability for invasions of land and as against the chattels of another.  Would the landowner (or heirs, if s/he had fallen victim to the zombies) of the island on which I seek refuge be able to recover from me?  I could no doubt assert a privilege of private necessity, but would I not still have to compensate the landowner for any damage that I did?

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on April 17, 2008 at 02:54 PM | Permalink


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"What do we want?" "BRAINS!" "When do we want them?" "BRAINS!"

Posted by: anon212355 | Apr 18, 2008 2:33:36 PM

This is a truly excellent blog post -- certainly the best one ever by a Prof. at the University of Toledo. But I want to assure everyone that here at U-Toledo, we don't currently actually HAVE a zombie problem, or any plausible chance of a . . . Hey! . . . GET AWAY FROM ME . . . AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHH . . . .!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Apr 18, 2008 10:18:51 AM

For the effectiveness of divers methods of zombie killing cf.
and related entries ...

Posted by: Positroll | Apr 18, 2008 5:59:08 AM

What about the rights of the zombies? Would they be allowed to vote?

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0643105/ (Highly recommended)

Posted by: Colin Miller | Apr 17, 2008 5:58:00 PM

I'm not a criminal lawyer either (I'm a lowly student), but I like speculation.

In thinking about the obstacles one would face in zombie escape and the legal consequences arising therefrom, I wonder about the different ways people become zombies. For example, people could die and then be resurrected as a zombie (reanimation), like in the Buffy TVS episode "Dead Man's Party." A non-mystical permutation of this would be something biological affecting only dead tissue, like in almost every zombie movie. On the other hand, we could have a zombie genesis like that in "28 Days Later," where the virus affects living tissue, and there is no clear moment of death (transformation, maybe).

If there is no clear point at which we can determine death, as would be the case for transformation, then we might have problems determining which criminal laws apply: Can we even prosecute for murder or manslaughter? That, if I remember CrimLaw correctly, requires the culpable death of a living person. If the person occupies the nether region between life and death--the living death--then maybe those charges the state would normally pursue don't quite work. As far as reanimation goes, the state might be able to pursue desecration of a corpse charges, but I'm not sure what else the state could do.

I think the larger issue is whether the state will extend amnesty. I agree with Prof. Rapp that the possibility of amnesty rises with the extent of the zombie outbreak. But I'd also like to add that the state might be more willing to extend amnesty if it finds that it doesn't have the criminal law tools necessary to address "offenses" committed during a zombie outbreak. From a policy perspective, I'd hope that in the aftermath of a tragic zombie outbreak, the state would be more focused on rehabilitating those individuals who survived and expending resources on rebuilding the country's infrastructure.

Posted by: Adam Richardson | Apr 17, 2008 4:48:05 PM

I think that by distinguishing between types of zombie outbreaks you make an excellent point on available survival remedies. For example, in the total global zombie catastrophe scenario, I feel that any necessary actions to survive would be advised, since any emergent government will likely be wholly unable/unwilling to investigate or otherwise deal with the fact that I trespassed upon the chattels of the local gun store.

However, in an isolated outbreak you have very different problems and remedies. Let's say you go on a weekend vacation with several friends at a wilderness cabin, and several zombies attack, resulting in several dead and suspiciously chewed on bodies. I think that here, you're totally screwed. Nobody is going to believe you (the strength of their denial will be too great), and you'll probably end up in jail, which might not be a bad thing... http://www.zombiesurvivalwiki.com/page/McNeil+Island+Prison%2C+Steilacoom

Posted by: bobby glushko | Apr 17, 2008 4:26:27 PM

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