Attempting to murder someone that is already dead

Both - but sever the trials. :smiley:

I never followed Smullyan’s logic on this one. IIRC he offered the opinion that C was fated to die as soon as the water was poisoned, making A guilty of murder. Removing the poisoned water isn’t killing him, according to Smullyan.

I think he has to be wrong. The direct cause of death was lack of water. B was the direct cause of this. I don’t see that the poison in the water could possibly be a legal defense. B is guilty of murder, and A is guilty of attempted murder.

IIRC, Smullyan explicitly asks us to grant that the poison would’ve killed C so quickly that, if anything, B lengthened C’s life by a day or two — but, if that’s still not enough to, uh, muddy the waters, I’ve seen a variant where X poisons the water in a guy’s canteen, and Y then independently pours out the poisoned water and replaces it with sand, and Z then independently sabotages the canteen so its contents will leak out by the time the owner opens it.

So figure that’s three murder attempts — but would the extra step now make it weird enough for you to wonder who the murderer is?

I recall that, and I still don’t see that it makes a difference. Consider another scenario. A man is about to be hanged. His friends rescue him from the gallows. Then a day later they kill him. Their actions gave him a longer life than he would have had otherwise. Have they committed murder?

I guess what’s doing all the work in the first scenario is that pouring out the poisoned water was a single act by B.

In the second scenario, you can uncomplicatedly wag a finger at B and say he shouldn’t have killed the guy; and if he says look, if I hadn’t rescued him, he would’ve died sooner, you can reply that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have done that; you did what you should have done on that day; it lengthened his life. No, I’m saying you should be prosecuted for what you did the next day; you didn’t have to undertake that separate action after doing what we both agree you should’ve done. And if B then hangs his head in shame and says he shouldn’t have taken the action that killed C, you can say with no awkwardness damn right!

But in the first scenario, he says look, if I hadn’t poured out the poisoned water, he would’ve died sooner, and you reply — what? That he should or shouldn’t have done that one thing? The same action that prolonged C’s life also killed him; if B hangs his head in shame and says yeah, I shouldn’t have taken the action that killed C, you — agree by awkwardly saying right, you shouldn’t have taken the action that lengthened his life.

I’m not understanding the hair-splitting.

An overt act that kills someone is murder.
An overt act that was intended to kill someone, but fails is attempted murder - whether that failure is chance, miscalculation, or a mistaken belief.

Bob tries to shoot Fred - but the gun was loaded with blanks by Fred, or sabotaged, or Fred substituted a pile of pillows in his bed, or… or Bob did not know the stuff he was pouring out of the canteen was not life-saving water. Still attempted murder. Fred died because there was no safe water. Bill, by poisoning the only safe water with the intent to kill Fred, is also guilty of attempted murder. If Bob had drank the water to drain the canteen, Bill would be guilty of murdering Bob.

But - fun dilemma - by refusing to give Fred a ride to the next oasis after the canteen was empty, did Bob murder Fred? In most places, there is no mandatory-good-Samaritan law.

If Bob pushes Fred off the building, but he survives and a truck runs him over while he’s lying there - attempted murder. Or is it murder because Fred would not have been lying in the road otherwise? How inevitable was the truck driving over him? No different that the argument above about the Toronto police officer - did the legitimate first volley end up being the cause of death, or the illegitimate second volley? Would the victim have inevitably died without the second volley? At that point, it’s impossible to say, so the only valid charge is attempted murder - intent is the key…

There is something called acceleration theory, whereby if it can be proven that an action unlawfully accelerated a death, that may give rise to a charge of murder or other homicide even if death was already inevitable (and, I mean, death kind of is already inevitable for everyone, so intuitively that makes at least some sense). So, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the first volley would already have been fatal if it can be established that the second volley accelerated death. Of course there are still practical (evidentiary) considerations that may make even acceleration difficult to prove, and possibly also a legal question of whether acceleration of death by mere seconds is sufficient to trigger criminal responsibility, or if a kind of “de minimis” defense may be allowed.

This thread relates to a much broader ethical issue. Precisely equal intent or recklessness may lead to vastly different outcomes, with the difference entirely attributable to chance. Why do we ever punish people based on realized outcomes?

Two irresponsible people are drinking to excess in a bar. They leave the bar exactly equally impaired and (separately) drive home. One gets home safely by sheer luck, the other kills someone. Why is the actual killer punished more severely?

I just saw this movie about a week ago! TCM, right?

I think for one, as an evidentiary matter, the realized outcome may be a strong indicator of actual intent. We might also consider the perverse incentives that could be created if either mens rea or outcome were considered irrelevant.

But really, truly, I think it’s because our criminal justice “system”(or rather systems) has its origins in ancient or at least pre-modern traditions that were not always well though pt out and, more recently, there is genuine disagreement (and some level of moral hazard on the part of lawmakers) when it comes to what precisely the role of the criminal justice system should or even can be in our society.

Two parts “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and one part (or maybe three!) “this will help me get re-elected.”

Yes, this is certainly true. Obviously anything else would require a fantasy like “Minority Report” where we have the kind of perfect information that we never really have. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what we would do in such a world.

We might go the other way. That is, rather than incarcerate people in advance of their crimes on the mere formation of a criminal state of mind, we might decide that people who actually commit crimes in their entirety should be punished less than they currently are.

I think it’s really quite simple. Intent is one thing, causing actual harm is a big step further up. The same can be applied to negligence, or other effects. You may not have intended for the delivery guy to slip on your icy steps, but in this case he did.

Therefore, actual damage - intentional or not - needs to be addressed. Simple restitution may help to some extent, but some things - like death - cannot really be meaningfully restituted. Also, putting a price on actions simply allows those with more money (or rich friends) to escape serious consequences. We say that justice is for rehabilitation, not punishment, but for now there is still an element of punishment (and deterrence to others)

Driving drunk or not cleaning your icy sidewalk - you may get lucky, you may have a close call, or you may get the book thrown at you. But from the examples of others, everyone knows the consequences.

I get that all the things you put forward, and more, are often offered as explanations. But some of it really just strikes me as a kind of post hoc rationalization that we engage in as members of society with little or no input into or information on how or why certain offenses get certain penalties (or why certain things are criminal offenses to begin with). I mean, deterrent effect ought to be measurable. Ditto with rehabilitation. Especially as we have at least 51 jurisdictions within our federal system with 51+ different takes on the law for comparison. I’m not saying I expect you or anyone in this thread to actually put in the leg work, only putting this out there as food for thought.

The hair splitting details can make the difference between being sent to prison for the rest of your life and being set free, so it’s not a trivial issue.

A '50s movie I regret watching involved the shooting of a man who was near-dead of something else only no one knew it at the time. There would have been charges except a pigeon carried off the evidence.

It’s hard to exaggerate how bad the movie is. Look it up and watch at your own risk.