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View Full Version : Doing violence to a corpse -- illegal?


Rodgers01
11-21-2005, 03:21 AM
This was a twist on an old suspense show -- a guy who wanted to kill his wife snuck into her bedroom when she was asleep (he was supposed to be away on business or something) and shot her several times in the dark. When he turned on the lights he somehow realized that she was already dead when he shot her -- she'd died of natural causes in the night. The guy was thrilled, because that meant that he couldn't be tried for her murder. I can't remember how it turned out, but of course he was punished in the end.

Technically, in a case like that, could the guy legally be charged with anything? I imagine it's illegal to defile dead bodies, but the guy couldn't be charged with murder (or attempted murder)...could he?

Rodgers01
11-21-2005, 03:30 AM
I realized when reloading the page that the thread title looks a bit more grim than I intended...as though I were looking for permission to do violence to a corpse...whoops...

Joey P
11-21-2005, 06:11 AM
I don't know off hand WHAT he would be charged with (but someone else, no doubt, will be in shortly to tell you what it is), but yes, he would be charged with something. possibly attempted murder since he didn't know she was dead at the time, but even if he did know, he would still be charged with something, I just don't remember what.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 07:37 AM
Why do you believe he couldn't be charged with attempted murder?

Annie-Xmas
11-21-2005, 07:38 AM
I always wondered what would happen to the children in "Gilbert Grape" after the final chapter

They've burned down their house with their obese mother's corpse in it.

I image they would be facing some serious legal charges, though they'd probably got off on a "severe mental distress" technicality.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 07:38 AM
Why do you believe he couldn't be charged with attempted murder?

Or to ask the question a bit more analytically: what does the state have to prove in order to convict someone of attempted murder?

don't ask
11-21-2005, 07:41 AM
I hope he can't be charged, I have arranged for a friend , while viewing my corpse, to start hitting it and then get progressively more carried away raining blows on my inert body until pulled back by other mourners. He is then to claim, "He started it."

Uncommon Sense
11-21-2005, 07:45 AM
Or to ask the question a bit more analytically: what does the state have to prove in order to convict someone of attempted murder?

Intent?



....whaddo I win?

Casey1505
11-21-2005, 07:47 AM
:D I would like to acquire North American rights to that, please.

FlyingRamenMonster
11-21-2005, 07:51 AM
I think he'd have a hard time proving his wife was dead when he shot her! :eek:

bouv
11-21-2005, 08:01 AM
I think he'd have a hard time proving his wife was dead when he shot her! :eek:

Not really. Depending in how far before he short her she died, it could be very easy for a coroner or medical examiner to determine that the shots were fired after she died. I don't know how far in advance she would have to have died, but I'm guesing even an hour before she was shot would be enough. Hell, five minuted before might be enough.

A.R. Cane
11-21-2005, 08:03 AM
I think he'd have a hard time proving his wife was dead when he shot her! :eek:

I'm sure a forensic exam would easily establish the cause of death. Charging him w/ attempted murder would be a stretch and I doubt most prosecuters would even try. I believe most western jurisdiction have some kind of law addressing the defiling of a human corpse and then there are many laws corncerning the use of a firearm. I suspect that he'd end up w/ a fine and maybe a year in jail, along w/ heavy legal expenses. This scenario is not uncommon in fictional drama, I'd be interested to know if there's a documented case of something similar actually happening.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 08:04 AM
Intent?



....whaddo I win?

Nothing yet - if I grade you now, you get an 'Incomplete'.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 08:08 AM
I'm sure a forensic exam would easily establish the cause of death. Charging him w/ attempted murder would be a stretch and I doubt most prosecuters would even try.

Why?

The charge of attempted murder exists to punish precisely the type of conduct at issue here: an intentional, premeditated act to illegally take the life of a human being.

A prosecutor might shy away because of problems of proof, as a general matter, but in this particular hypo there is plenty of proof: what innocent explanation can the man give for his wife's corpse being riddled with gunshots post-mortem?

So - why is it "a stretch?" And why do you doubt most prosecutors would try?

crowmanyclouds
11-21-2005, 08:11 AM
(1) that a crime actually occurred (actus reus),
(2) that the accused intended the crime to happen (mens rea),
(3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.

Gfactor
11-21-2005, 08:23 AM
Why do you believe he couldn't be charged with attempted murder?

For example, legal impossibility occurs when A shoots a corpse believing it to be alive and intending to commit murder; the attempt does not amount to murder even if completed.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=3rd&navby=case&no=981949p

See, e.g., R. v. Ladue, [1965] 4 C.C.C. 264, where the accused was charged with indecently interfering with a dead body after having sexual intercourse with a dead body. He claimed that he believed the body to be alive but asleep (or intoxicated); he therefore believed himself to be committing rape.

http://www.utpjournals.com/product/utlj/514/514_stewart.html

But see, A defendant would be guilty of attempted murder if the defendant intentionally shot a corpse or tree stump believing it to be a living person.

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol14_Ch0701-0853/HRS0705/HRS_0705-0500__anno.htm

Gfactor
11-21-2005, 08:29 AM
And there's this case that Alan Dershowitz talks about in his book The Best Defense. http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/puzz12.html (contra my first two cites above).

Triskadecamus
11-21-2005, 09:00 AM
I'm not sure just how prosecutors could disprove the bald assertion by the defendant that he came in, found his wife dead, and was so upset, and distraught at her for leaving him that he shot her in his rage. He could even claim that he originally intended to use the gun on himself, but that his grief turned to rage as he contemplated the act.

It is no way attempted murder then, and extreme emotional distress is a good defense against any lesser charges, as well.

Tris

Bricker
11-21-2005, 09:03 AM
For example, legal impossibility occurs when A shoots a corpse believing it to be alive and intending to commit murder; the attempt does not amount to murder even if completed.



http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=3rd&navby=case&no=981949p


From later on in that same cite:

For instance, the fact that A shoots a corpse, rather than a person, is also a product of circumstances beyond A's control; A did not commit murder because the person he intended to kill was already dead.
.
.
.
As a result, the great majority of jurisdictions have now recognized that legal and factual impossibility are "logically indistinguishable," United States v. Darnell , 545 F.2d 595, 597 (8th Cir. 1976), and have abolished impossibility as a defense.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 09:04 AM
I'm not sure just how prosecutors could disprove the bald assertion by the defendant that he came in, found his wife dead, and was so upset, and distraught at her for leaving him that he shot her in his rage. He could even claim that he originally intended to use the gun on himself, but that his grief turned to rage as he contemplated the act.

It is no way attempted murder then, and extreme emotional distress is a good defense against any lesser charges, as well.



Sure - that's a problem of proof, though. The jury is perfectly entitled to hear the defendant's story and believe him... or to disbelieve him, and convict him.

Gfactor
11-21-2005, 09:30 AM
From later on in that same cite:

For instance, the fact that A shoots a corpse, rather than a person, is also a product of circumstances beyond A's control; A did not commit murder because the person he intended to kill was already dead.
.
.
.
As a result, the great majority of jurisdictions have now recognized that legal and factual impossibility are "logically indistinguishable," United States v. Darnell , 545 F.2d 595, 597 (8th Cir. 1976), and have abolished impossibility as a defense.

Ok. You win.

http://wings.buffalo.edu/law/bclc/web/pahenley.htm (reviewing cases and statutes nationwide); http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/DOCUMENTS/OPINIONS/FINAL/SCT/20010727_S116967(57)_Thousand.Jul27.PDF

taketa
11-21-2005, 01:29 PM
I live near a town in Ohio where a woman happened to have a stillborn baby and just happened to throw it away, where it happened to be found by dogs and happened to get carried into a nearby yard where some kids found it.

The woman was charged with a 5th degree misdemenor (I think that's right) or something to that effect for abuse of a corpse.

Just to add a lil drama to her story, she was previously charged for check fraud and drug use, just to say a little more.

Taketa

manwithear
11-21-2005, 02:19 PM
Sure - that's a problem of proof, though. The jury is perfectly entitled to hear the defendant's story and believe him... or to disbelieve him, and convict him.

Exactly. While a simple test can show whether the wife died of being shot (did the shot wounds bleed?), it is very hard to disprove "I was so sad my wife died, that I unloaded a whole cartridge into the now lifeless corpse that could not sustain her life"

SkeptiJess
11-21-2005, 02:47 PM
I hope he can't be charged, I have arranged for a friend , while viewing my corpse, to start hitting it and then get progressively more carried away raining blows on my inert body until pulled back by other mourners. He is then to claim, "He started it."
You are a sick, sick individual. And I mean that as a compliment. If I ever make it to an Australia DopeFest (or you ever make it to a VIrginia one), I want to buy you a beer.

Bricker
11-21-2005, 02:56 PM
Exactly. While a simple test can show whether the wife died of being shot (did the shot wounds bleed?), it is very hard to disprove "I was so sad my wife died, that I unloaded a whole cartridge into the now lifeless corpse that could not sustain her life"

Yes, but it's not exactly true that the government has to "disprove" this story. If a man claims he wasn't he that robbed a liquor store, but someone else that looks like him, because "everyone has a twin," the government doesn't have to specifically disprove that story. They merely have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, every element of the crime. Intent is the element that is put at issue by the story the defendant tells here, and intent may be inferred by the jury. In other words, the jury could hear his explanation, and choose to disbelieve it, without the government offering any particular piece of evidence that "disproves" it.

CynicalGabe
11-21-2005, 04:20 PM
My cellmate did time for abuse of a corpse.

Only this time the victim's a Clydesdale horse.