You're guilty of a homicide but likely to get off. Morally, should you take your medicine anyway?

Here’s the sitch:

Imagine if you will that you’re on trial for murder. (I’m not gonna specify the degree because (a) I am not a lawyer, and (b) I am not a lawyer, and © I am not a lawyer.) Now there’s three pieces of good news. First, you were wise enough not to say a fricking thing to the cops other than “I am not saying a gorram lawyer and am not saying anything to you without her say so.” Second, your attorney is both skilled and trustworthy; she always does a good job for her clients and never bullshits them. Third, the state’s caser has fallen apart. The forensic investigation was a perfect storm of bad procedure and science and has been discredited; the lead investigators have been themselves arrested on corruption charges and have no credibility; and the one eyewitness died of a heart attack, and for reasons I’m too ignorant to make up, his grand jury testimony was ruled inadmissible. The DA’s looking for a deal, but in your lawyer’s opinion the state hasn’t come close to meeting their burden.

But here’s the bad news. You are, in fact, guilty as sin. The victim had been stalking you and your family for months, making all of your lives hell. But as bad as the harassment was–looting your parents’ bank account, spreading humiliating private information about you on the net, planting rumors your best friend had been arrested for child molestation, planting kiddy porn on your spouse’s computer, and so on–the stalker never got violent. He didn’t want you dead; he wanted to make you a pariah. One day, while the stalker was gloating over how effective his campaign had been, you snapped and killed him. You didn’t wake up that morning saying, “I"m gonna cave in that that fucker’s skull,” but there was certainly malice in your heart when you picked up the rebar.

Now let’s assume that your lawyer’s assessment of the case is correct. Do you think a person in such a situation has a moral obligation to plead guilty, if not to murder, but to some lesser offense and accept punishment (even a nominal one)? Regardless of that, would YOU plead guilty to a lesser offense?

Since when has America’s criminal justice system had anything to do with morality? One might do whatever one feels morally obligated to do, but prison time in the US is on a par with self-mutilation as moral redemption goes.

Good question. I would say, no, I’m not going to fess up. I’m not going to lie, perhaps. But I’ll hold the State to their burden of proof. Society is better off with the dead guy being dead and better off with me free and productive.

I would like to say that I would step right up, but if I am so immoral that I commit homicide, I don’t see a likelihood that I want to rush straight to prison for my guilt.

Can anyone think of a time that anyone in history has actually done this?

What an interesting question though. Thought provoking.

There is no moral obligation to plead guilty.

There IS a moral obligation to not kill another person, but that’s out the window.

State’s case fell apart, oh well. I’m going to walk away a free man and live with the guilt that I killed somebody. If he had a family or anything depending on him, I guess if I really felt remorseful I’d try to make sure they didn’t starve or anything.

If you feel you have committed a great moral misdeed by killing this man - “I lost my cool, and trampled all over his right to due process” - then I’d say you have a moral responsibility to admit the guilt in your heart and accept punishment for it.

If you feel you have not committed any great moral misdeed, despite the letter of the law - “that motherfucker had it coming, and I reserve the right to proactively defend me and my family from further malfeasance on his part” - then I’d say you don’t have any moral responsibility to accept externally imposed punishment.

I am not persuaded that immorality is an attribute of persons; it seems to me it is descriptor of actions. And even if a person can be immoral, I don’t think it’s a binary state–that a person is always and only evil, or always and only good. A person can commit an evil act in a moment of anger, fear, weakness, and after returning to “normal” regret the action and feel that she or he deserves punishment. I can think of things I’ve done that, if I were ever called out, I could only say, “Yeah, I’m guilty, do what you want.”

I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything.

If “morality” were a concern, then accepting a plea bargain from the prosecution to a lesser charge would fulfill that obligation if you felt the need. However,if they have no interest in bargaining and they are determined to make you an “example” but they blow the case, then you get to walk away with a guilty conscience and free.

If I were dying from cancer or heart disease and the authorities “caught” me, then I’d take whatever was coming, as whatever it was it wouldn’t be long. However, the authorities have the responsibility to prove me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. SO if they try me and lose, that’s their hard times.

I would say I’m justified in killing the bastard. I don’t care if he never got violent, there’s a degree to which non-violence is equal to violence

Tempting to look at the circumstances as outlined and feel that the dickhead committed suicide using me as the weapon.

I have no idea how I would feel for real, but if I felt it necessary to pay some debt to society, I suppose I would have to decide whether I pay it sitting in prison or do some kind of penance / reparation while free. I’m going to guess I would decide the latter, but so far having never been driven to homicide outside the confines of my imagination, that is only a guess.

Hey, IAAL, and if anyone wants to use my services after reading my answer, PM me for a fee schedule. Ha!

I would dispute (in my own head, if nowhere else) the “guilty as sin” part in the paragraph above. Looking at the historical facts, I may have performed the physical act which killed the victim (let’s call him/her V), but “guilty” implies a legal or moral duty that has been violated. I could easily convince myself that after being taunted by V about how V has been making my life and the lives of my friends and family hell that I “snapped” (see irresistible impulse), and while I may have killed V, I’m certainly not a threat to society.

So, I’m most likely, under your fact pattern, going to see if the state can carry their burden of proof.

I may feel morally guilty, but I still think the state needs to prove its case.

But I almost voted for the blackberry muffins.

The OP states the the prosecution is looking for a deal. I certainly meant that to mean that they’re offering a plea bargain and I don’t see how it can be read otherwise.

I opened this thread to talk about morals and personal responsibility, not law. I seem to have edited out that part of the OP saying that the hypothetical “you” feels remorse for the killing, so I won’t claim that’s a necessary part of the situation; but I certainly would feel remorse over committing the act.

What degree is that? How do you calculate it?

Let’s come at the situation another way. Cast yourself as a juror in the case, not the defendant, and stipulate that the prosecution’s case hasn’t fallen apart; the CSU techs were as competent as Abby Scuito, the cops as honest as Joe Friday, and the DA as clever as Jack McCoy. The defendant decides to take the stand and explain his actions as detailed in the OP. Do you believe his actions justified?

I handle prosecutions against me in the traditional Rhymer fashion of bribing investigators, blackmailing prosecutors, feeding witnesses to sharks, and pointing out that the RhymerLair is protected by flying robot sharks that shoot flaming bees out of their mouths.

Maybe. I avoided using the word “murder” in that part of my description because I’m not sure it’s legally murder. But it’s obviously a homicide, and “you” were the person swinging the rebar. As I wrote above, I can’t see how it’s justified in a legal or even moral sense. I don’t think every killing is morally wrong, but I do think you have to exhaust all other options first, and since you were obviously walking around free when you and the victim met at the implied deserted alley, you surely had some other options open.

In other matters, it’s obvious that the victim is not V. V would have killed you and all your friends in that alley.

As long as my defense attorney isn’t lying for me, I think I’d be okay with not being found guilty. Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of something, but the purpose of punishment is to prevent repeat occurrences. Morally, there are many ways of providing restitution for my guilt besides going to jail.

The only real problem I have morally is having to tell my lawyer to plead not guilty, since I am in fact guilty. But this just seems to be an accepted aspect of the system. Saying “not guilty” doesn’t mean I’m not guilty, but that I don’t think the state can prove me guilty.

It does help that this was apparently an unintentional sin. Had I planned the murder at all, I would think I needed to be found guilty, as I would not trust myself not to do it again.

If I murder someone, I plan on getting away with it. Why would I want to go to prison?

I mean, obviously I have never murdered anyone and don’t plan to. But I don’t call the police every time I speed and admit to speeding, even for a number below what I was actually driving. If I watch a pirated version of the movie I don’t call the authorities. I might feel bad I killed the guy (actually, in the crazily over the top scenario in the OP, I probably would not feel bad at all) but I ain’t going to prison unless they can prove something.

If I squint hard enough, I can see myself being pushed to the brink and killing a person as posited in the OP. I *cannot *see myself, now or later or in any conceivable universe, being stupid enough to go to jail voluntarily. I don’t think it’s necessarily a moral choice I’m making, though. It is one of self-preservation.

Whether this choice is moral or immoral or blurple, I would absolutely plead not-guilty with a clean conscience.

I would say that one makes amends not by submitting oneself to punishment, but by doing good works.

I understand your reasoning here, but you didn’t PLAN this killing. It was an impulse, and presumably one you regret.

Thanks, I understood the question.
If I didn’t I would have asked or not answered it.