Zombies may be violent, shuffling, brain-eating monsters, but that doesn’t mean they can be held accountable for their actions in a court of law.
Now, when the zombie apocalypse happens, if we’re able to fend them off and reasonably rebuild society to what it once was, what are we going to do with the surviving zombies, in a legal sense? Put them on trial for their crimes? Execute them outright? Just like with any other zombie-related though experiment, it depends on what kind of zombie we’re talking about.
Ryan Davidson is a lawyer who also runs Law and the Multiverse, a blog that examines comic book and pop culture tropes under the scope of real-life law. When asked by The Huffington Post about how legally culpable zombies are for their actions, he said it depends.
“It depends on how the disease works,” Davison said. “If zombies are effectively unconscious, then they would be incapable of performing voluntary actions and thus immune to criminal liability (or civil liability, for that matter). The zombies in the most recent I Am Legend movie appear to be fully conscious, if perhaps a bit aggressive, so they could potentially be found liable. But in most others, probably not.”
He also noted that the law considers persons wither fully alive or fully dead: There is no in between. Fortunately, that’s also how it seems to work in zombie fiction. You either have irreversibly dead zombies or “rage” zombies, who are still living people.
“If ‘zombies’ are re-animated corpses, then no. The dead have no rights,” he said. “But if ‘zombies’ are living people infected with some kind of virus, like in 28 Days Later, then still have all the same rights they did before infection.”
Davidson and his partner James Daily discussed all of the legal ins-and-outs of the post-zombie world on Friday at WonderCon in Anaheim, California. They were joined by physicians H. Eric Bender, M.D., Praveen R. Kambam, M.D., and Vasilis K. Pozios, M.D., who also have an interest in pop culture.
Perhaps most interesting was the question of insanity. If a zombie could be cured of his condition, would he then be able to claim insanity as a defense? Daily said that a zombie would technically fit the definition of insanity (roughly defined as being so impaired that you didn’t know that your act was wrong), though Pozios stressed that they weren’t equating people with mental illness to zombies.
As far as trying an individual who was currently a zombie, don’t waste your time.
“A full-blown zombie would likely not be able to work with legal counsel or follow the trial, and thus would be Incompetent to Stand Trial,” Pozios explained. “Not to mention, it would be pretty difficult to assemble a jury of his peers.”