Would I be charged with 1st degree murder?

If I put gun to someone’s head, and ordered them to kill themself(whatever method doesn’t matter, as long as I know it will most likely kill them) would I be charged with 1st degree murder? It seems as though I should, but as far as the qualifications for 1st degree it doesn’t measure up.

Yes. The intent to kill passes right through the person under duress on to you. No problem.

Upon further review, there is a duress paradox. The CL rule that duress cannot be used to defend against the murder of an innocent person. Here, the perp. IS the innocent victim. I would argue that the exception to the rule does not take such a situation into account. Here, since the perp. / victim is dead there is no absurd result from letting the duress defense apply to the killer.

Also, conspiracy, solicitation, and actus reus should be discussed. Is this a law school hypo?

But why would the “victim” kill his or her self? It would seem to me that since the point would be that the murderer doesn’t actually want to do the murder. Why should you worry, then, that he’s holding a gun to your head if you know he doesn’t want to kill you? Worst-case scenario, you die either way.

However, if someone said, “Shoot yourself in the head or I’ll torture you for days on end then kill you,” I might reconsider. But that still doesn’t seem logical if the whole point is to avoid responsibility or prosecution.

The question arose in a discussion with a friend, and neither of us are in law school. The reason why the victim kills himself is unknown, people do crazy things. The point is that being murdered and murdering oneself are equal choices in the eyes of the law, and the person chooses to commit suicide. The person assumes that the consequences are equal for both paths and chooses to take one over the other, something the assailant can’t predict.

Yeah, sure, I’ll shoot myself in the head, just hand me the gun…

would depraved indifference or aiding and abetting enter into the picture?

BTW, it’s muRder. Might want to ask mods to change thread title, otherwise alot of smartasses like me will make light of it. :slight_smile:

I know it’s murder, it has to be, but whether or not it qualifies as 1st degree, or capital murder, depending on what state you’re in, was the question. A few legal terms that a non-law student doesn’t fully understand have been tossed around, but no explanation has been given outside of a retracted statement.

Sorry, I was referring to the SPELLING of the thread title. Small thing, sure, but it does tend to stand out.

Sorry, it’s often hard to catch one’s own mistake, even with helpful and good-meaning smartasses.


I know there’s a word for it, but can’t think of it. Because I expected the word to be “murder”, having read the prior seven words, I didn’t even notice it was spelled wrong until it was pointed out.


Sorry, it’s often hard to catch one’s own mistake, even with helpful and good-meaning smartasses.

Sometimes, being dyslexic helps. I tend to read things backwards so words just stand out.

But, no more hijack from me. :smiley:

As for the law, I honestly don’t know. Morally, you are responsible for the death of someone. How does that fit in with legal definitions?

If you put a gun to someone’s head and order them to kill themselves, you’re certainly guilty of assault. If suicide is a crime in that jurisdiction, then you’re guilty of that too. Tricking/forcing an innocent agent into committing a crime means that you’re liable as a principal for the crime itself, or an attempt if the innocent agent doesn’t actually complete the crime.

But you want to know if you’d be guilty of murder. First, we can say with certainty that this isn’t a felony murder situation. The felony murder rule in many jurisdictions provides that a killing will be murder if it was caused during the commission of another felony. However, an assaultive felony cannot serve as the predicate for felony murder.

Second, there’s a significant causation problem. Generally, to be guilty of murder, one must be the legal (or proximate) cause of death. There’s a fairly decent argument that the victim, by killing himself, was a superseding cause that disrupts the chain of causation and defeats the murder charge. However, when evaluating acts of the victim as a superseding cause, courts generally consider foreseeability and voluntariness.

How foreseeable was it that the victim would actually kill himself when ordered to do so at gunpoint? It’s not so bizarre that it must be discounted. How voluntary was the victim’s action? In thinking about this question, let’s consider the case of Stephenson v. State. The defendant kidnapped a woman and held her in a hotel room. He repeatedly raped her. She briefly escaped into the bathroom where she was able to take a poison and kill herself. The defendant’s murder conviction was upheld because the court reasoned that the victim’s action was foreseeable and not freely chosen. A contrasting case is People v. Cambpell. In that case, the defendant, who disliked the victim, kept cajoling the victim to kill himself and provided the victim with a gun. After the victim shot himself, the defendant was convicted of murder. However, the appellate court reversed the conviction, deeming the suicide sufficiently voluntary to constitute a superseding cause. Your case seems more like Stephenson than Campbell, but we’d need more facts to evaluate whether the victim actually retained sufficient free will to constitute a superseding cause.

Thanks, Mr. Hand, for your lucid expose. Actually a case similar to this did occur in the Netherlands, were a guy shot his girlfriend. She was injured really severely (almost complete loss of movement) and committed suicide. His defence lawyer naturally claimed that her death was not caused by his clients actions, but that didn’t fly. The judge still attributed the death to him, since it was a natural result from the original act of shooting. The Dutch Supreme Court confirmed the judgment. The only difference with the current thread is that the charge was not murder but manslaughter, since there was no prior intent to kill. But for murder the thing would be the same.

If I remember correctly a fictional case like this was one of the murders in the move Se7en. Remember the model?

Darn it, Mr. Hand, I know of a case where one person repeatedly hypnotized and tortured someone in effort to make him do god knows what. The end result was that he became so unstable that his mother, who had a fear of authority, built a “pen” for him in her living room.

The boy freely admitted the he was a danger to himself and others, and even after quite some time out of the home “pen” and in law-enforcement (I’ve forgotten if it was city, county, or state care) he believed his best chance was to be at home, in the “pen.”

The hypnotized and tortured boy was put in a home, the mother was prosecuted for something (and because of her fear of authority defended herself) and although the hypnotizer-torturer was investigated, law enforcement never found any comfortable charges and just let it go…

At the time, I had a drink or two with some folks involved in the case, and although they were all convinced that the hypnotist-torturer was evil and attempting to do evil to the boy, it was just so strange that they felt they couldn’t come up with any reasonable prosecution.

I assume in the scenario we’re discussing, it might be difficult to get comfortable with a strategy – although when there’s a dead body, especially a white one, someone would be indicted for something.