Is Shooting Aliens Justifiable Homicide?

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Yesterday the Supreme Court considered whether Arizona's rules governing the insanity defense satisfy the requirements of due process. Most states allow a defendant to be found "not guilty by reason of insanity" if it can be shown that he did not understand "the nature and quality" of his actions or that he did not realize his actions were wrong. Arizona recognizes only the latter standard, which permits a verdict of "guilty except insane." But it's not clear this difference has any practical impact. In the case at hand, Eric M. Clark, a teenager who shot and killed a Flagstaff police officer, later claimed he thought his victim was an extraterrestrial. If the jury bought Clark's story (and if it saw nothing wrong with killing people from other planets on sight), it presumably would have found him guilty except insane, since by his account he mistakenly thought the shooting was justified. The fact that it instead found him just regular old guilty suggests it did not believe him, even if it accepted the testimony of the defense team's psychiatrists that he was "suffering from paranoid schizophrenia" (something The New York Times presents as a fact).

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  1. Of course shooting aliens is justifable! Look at what happened on LB-426! GAME OVER MAN! GAME OVER!!!

    (One of my all-time favorite movies, BTW.)

  2. I fell for the headline. I thought you meant ILLEGAL alien. Jeez. The purple Teletubby will get you for this.

  3. Did they establish whether the police office actually was an alien?

    This could be a good Spielberg alien/social commentary movie.

  4. “later claimed he thought his victim was an extraterrestrial”

    If this becomes legal precedent, you corporatarians better stay out of Arizona.

    The only thing that might explain your wholesale sellout of individual rights to corporate power is some sort of alien/illuminati takeover of planet earth, or insanity.

  5. I’ve never understood how insanity makes you “not guilty”. Either that was your finger on the trigger or it was somebody elses. I’ve always thought the verdic should read ‘Guilty except insane’

  6. I wonder if the Supreme Court will find that there are no due process rights to an insanity defense, opening the door to getting rid of the insanity defense altogether.

    This might be a good outcome in that we are probably not as good at identifying the truly insane people as we think we are; and people tend not to have that much sympathy even for the truly insane. On the other hand, people are rabidly anti-crime, so maybe this is one of those areas (as opposed to registries or no-knock warrants) where we can let the ol’ vengeance flag fly high & proud (seriously!).

    1. On the Eric Clark case, the CNN story says that a judge, not a jury found him insane.

    2. As far as whether Eric Clark really believe that the officer he slew really was an alien, it would matter a lot to me as to what he did in the hours after the slaying: did he call the papers to report his story? call an out of town police department to help him out? Try to do an autopsy so there would be no misundertsnding when the authorities arrived? If Clark merely fled the way any tyical police shooter tries to flee and hide, then I would be as doubtful of true insanity as Sullum seems to be. Surprising none of the news accounts are saying how Clark conducted himself immediately after the shooting.

  7. I suppose the question posed by the thread title depends on what type of sunglasses Clark was wearing at the time.

  8. Warren

    Because in assessing guilt one of the factors involved is determining whether the charged individual had the proper “mens rea.”

  9. I’ve never understood how insanity makes you “not guilty”. Either that was your finger on the trigger or it was somebody elses. I’ve always thought the verdic should read ‘Guilty except insane’

    To explain the mens rea thing with a rhetorical question:

    Dick Cheney’s finger was on the trigger, too. How would you have his verdict read?

    Answer: you need something more than an actus rea in order to have a guilty verdict. That something else is called mens rea. Sometimes it is easy to see the lack of a mens rea, as in Cheney’s case (although he may have had a mens rea in respect of the crime hunting while drunk — we will never know that until he shuffles off and Pam starts talking). With insane people, or faking insane people, it is hard to know what to do about mens rea because it is so hard to see into these peoples’ minds.

  10. Because in assessing guilt one of the factors involved is determining whether the charged individual had the proper “mens rea.”

    Hakluyt,

    I always wondered how that fits with things like negligent homicide cases?

  11. David,

    Well, classic mens rea is not always an aspect of every crime; thus you have statutory rape laws which are basically a form of strict liability.

  12. Well, classic mens rea is not always an aspect of every crime; thus you have statutory rape laws which are basically a form of strict liability.

    I imagine that you can defend against statutory rape if you took appropriate precautions to determine your partner’s age, but truly got faked out by a convincing ploy.

    If this is true, then even statutory rape is not a strict liability crime.

  13. negligent homicide

    Isn’t that impossible?

  14. Mark: my understanding of negligent homicide is: death resulting from an act of negligence or lack of action (no intent to kill per se), rather than death resuting from an intentional act.

  15. Hak has got me thinking:

    It really does seem like statutory rape should be a crime that has different degrees. In other words there should be:

    Intentional Stat Rape (1st degree)

    Reckless Stat Rape (2d degree)

    Negligent Stat Rape (3d degree)

    Another missing piece of the puzzle that we just can’t seem to develop in these tough-on-crime times is that if a young person is clever enough to mislead another into a reason belief that he is of age, then atht particular young person should be deemed automatically smart enuf to form a consent (thereby vitiaing negligent statutory rape as a crime).

  16. Oh Ok – it’s American for Manslaughter.

    I thought you guys also used the phrase manslaughter so I was confused as to how you could have both manslaughter and negligent homicide.

  17. I thought you guys also used the phrase manslaughter so I was confused as to how you could have both manslaughter and negligent homicide.

    Unlike, say Canada, crimes in the US are defined primarily at the state level. So we have over 50 separate sets of definitions of what the crimes are. Although there are a lot of commonalities between the states (and Fedearl laws and military justice laws and admiralty laws and laws for Puerto Rico and laws for Guam, etc, etc), the terminology is not consistent. Some places say negl. Hom.; others say manslaughter.

    “Negligent homicide” is a better name, but manslaughter evokes more of the wonderful jurisprudential history the US was so generously given by older nations.

  18. Trying not to sound like a chump, isn’t ‘Negligent Homicide’ a really bad way of phrasing the crime. It shouldn’t contain the word homicide – you could almost say it’s misleading.

  19. Etymology: Latin homicidium, from homo- human being + caedere- to cut, kill

    Homicide is the killing of another human being by one or more persons. In contrast, suicide is the self killing of a human being.

  20. “Etymology: Latin homicidium, from homo- human being + caedere- to cut, kill”

    So, killing an alien, who is by definition not a human being, is not homicide, justifiable or otherwise.

    And killing someone you THOUGHT was an alien? I would think there would have to be some intent there.

    Criminal negligence, maybe. But not negligent homicide.

  21. If this is true, then even statutory rape is not a strict liability crime.

    It’s not true.

    And why is strict liability for corporations any more acceptable.

  22. It’s not true.

    I don’t know. here is what the Wiki says:

    “The issue of statutory rape may be further complicated by minors who, for whatever reason (early physical development, calculating use of adult clothing and makeup, fake ID, et cetera) appear to be of consenting age and/or lie about their age in order to pursue sexual relationships with older persons. While it may seem reasonable enough to expect an adult to get to know someone enough to know their true age before engaging in sexual activities, the reality is that in a world where anonymous sexual encounters and other indiscretions are commonplace, someone above the age of consent might find themselves in violation of statutory rape laws without having knowingly engaged in sex with a minor. Often, these cases boil down to the adult’s word against the minor’s, and which of the two a judge or jury chooses to believe.”

    This implies to me that one can defend based on a reasonable belief that the victim was indeed of age. The devil is probably in the details of how much checking by the defendant is required. For example, if the defendant made a photostat of the victim’s (fake) passport and had it notarized b4 the sex, then my gut tells me that that would be a valid defense in most jurisdictions, which would mean that the crime is not strict liability. However, maybe we can agree that requiring an unrealistic amount of checking on the part of the defendant makes this strict liability in substance though not form.

    And why is strict liability for corporations any more acceptable.

    Because corporations do not form intent the way people do. therefore, mens rea requirements make little sense in corporate crime cases (the ongoing Skilling trial is a good example of this). Also, corporations cannot suffer prison rape or lethal injection.

    And why is strict liability for corporations any more acceptable.

  23. Getting legal advice from Wikipedia is a terrible idea. It’s reliable for information about science or geek culture, but otherwise it’s miserable. I looked at the article. It doesn’t seem to be specific to the United States, so that might be an accurate description of the law elsewhere. But in the United States, it’s strict liability in at least the majority of states. Check the Model Penal Code.

  24. Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: given the proper tools I am better at legal research than anybody you will ever meet in your life. I understand the limitations of the wiki, but still believe it is more useful for general level discussion than any other resource.

    Now I take it that you want to move past the general Wiki to a specific dicussion of what the law really says in some jurisdictions. gereat. i live doing that. My jurisdiction is Canada. here is what the law says in Canada:

    Criminal Code S. 150.1
    . . .
    (4) It is not a defence to a charge under section 151 or 152, subsection 160(3) or 173(2), or section 271, 272 or 273 that the accused believed that the complainant was fourteen years of age or more at the time the offence is alleged to have been committed unless the accused took all reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the complainant.

  25. The Model Penal Code isn’t neccessarily the law anywhere, but for jollies here is what it said at least as of Nov 2004:

    ? 213.6. Provisions Generally Applicable to Article 213.(1) Mistake as to Age. Whenever in this Article the criminality of conduct dependson a child’s being below the age of 10, it is no defense that the actor did not know thechild’s age, or reasonably believed the child to be older than 10. When criminalitydepends on the child’s being below a critical age other than 10, it is a defense for theactor to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he reasonably believed thechild to be above the critical age. [missing spaces deleted during cut n paste somehow]

  26. given the proper tools I am better at legal research than anybody you will ever meet in your life.

    If you replace ‘legal research’ with ‘Jedi Hunting’ then that line sounds like something from Star Wars Episode 3.

  27. Okay, now you’re just pissing me off.

    Thirty U.S. jurisdictions use strict liability as to age for statutory rape offenses. Catherine L. Carpenter, On Statutory Rape, Strict Liability, and the Public Welfare Offense Model, 53 Am. U. L. Rev. 313, 385-91 (2003).

  28. No need to get angry. I was set to attack the article, but that table at the end and its footnotes look pretty intellectly honest to me. Some places do indeed have strict liability for statutory rape. For those interested here is a link:

    http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/lawrev/53/carpenter.pdf?rd=1

    Inetersting that the article said that these strict liability statutory rape statutes had never really been tested in SCOTUS on due process grounds (although Morrisette’s dicta seems to approve).

    Sounds like this area is ripe for lawyers to the rescue! (see article at p. 357 et seq)

  29. Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: given the proper tools I am better at legal research than anybody you will ever meet in your life.

    Sorry if my tone was a little rude in the last post, but the above quoted line really got under my skin. You have no idea who I am or who I know. I’m sure you can understand how I would find that especially irritating coming from a person who cited Wikipedia on legal doctrine, something that I’m quite sure the best legal researcher “[I] will ever meet in [my] life” would not do. Even without Lexis or WestLaw access, it’s certainly possible to find something more reliable.

    I have approximately zero interest in criminal law so I didn’t spend a whole lot of effort looking into this. All I know is that when the MPC is taught in law schools, statutory rape is presented as the one oddball serious crime in which mens rea is not required for any element of the act that would separate it from a common non-criminal act.

  30. Au contraire: The Wikipedia is a great starting place for research on legal questions.

    Often (as here) additional research is required, but there is no shame in starting with the wiki, especially where (as here) it leads to productive research that otherwise would not eventuate. I think we both ending up revising our understanding of the mistake of age defense 2day and that is a wildly good thing.

    When things get down to brass tacks, we drill down right thru the wiki and law review articles and hornbooks and model codes and key notes — down to the good stuf, the statutes and cases. Still, no shame in starting with secondary sources when the research project is less than one (billable) hour old.

    On legal questions I have found the Wiki to be more accurate, but less detailed than a typical law review article. There is probably more peer review of a popular wiki than a typical L.Rev.art.

  31. What if you shoot someone whose ideology blinds him to the existence of mental illness, and goes around telling suicidal depressives and people who think their dog is talking to them that they just need to try harder?

    Is that justifiable?

    Creep.

  32. But there is generally only one wiki on a particular subject. On any legal issue important enough to merit a wiki, there will be huge number of law review articles. And even if law review articles are prone to inaccuracies and distortions, they at least use plenty of citations so they can easily be checked. But if you really want a simple, authoritative statement of the law on a basic issue, a treatise is your best bet. Better than a law review article, and I think certainly better than wikipedia.

    I’ll concede that I know more about statutory rape than I did before reading this thread (I’ll even concede that wikipedia is not totally without merit for quick legal research) if you’ll concede that you probably are not the best legal researcher that I will ever meet. I’m not even saying that I’m not necessarily a better legal researcher as I’m nothing special in that regard. Deal?

  33. Because we will never meet, I can say with a clear conscience that I am probably not the best legal researcher that you will ever meet. I am probably not the best in the world.

    I am disappointed the wiki did not mention the split in authority on the mistake of age law. However, the wiki is evolving over time. It is closer to great now than it was 3 years ago, and in three more years it will probably be unassailable.

    The problem with things like treatises is that if you can’t link to them, or share them the old fashioned way by handing me a book, then they are no good. If somebody says: “hey, the model penal code said such and so,” then I can’t pwn3d that somebody until I get the book or the link here in hand. At least with the wiki i know that we are all literally on the same page. A great legal researcher takes very little on faith or trust. In that way they are like conspiracy theorists.

  34. Perhaps we could find him innocent of homicide on the grounds he thought his victim was an extraterrestrial, then find him guilty of xenocide and killing a foreign ambassador.

    We need some good laws against xenocide to cover situations like this.

  35. From the Wiki article:

    While it may seem reasonable enough to expect an adult to get to know someone enough to know their true age before engaging in sexual activities, the reality is that in a world where anonymous sexual encounters and other indiscretions are commonplace

    Commonplace? I’ve met quite a few people in my life and a few of them have been known to have such “anonymous sexual” encounters, but they certainly do not seem commonplace. Maybe I’m not living in the right areas?

    Or maybe they polled a bunch of guys in front of their friends?

    Question: How many anonymous sexual encounters have you had?

    Frat Boy: (looks around, sees friends) I can’t even count that high!

  36. The Albuquerque Journal article that I read about
    noted Eric Clark was hospitalized by his parents in a mental health clinic earlier.
    It took three years before they could get this kid competent to stand trial.
    Also both defense AND prosecution experts agreed he has paranoid schizophrenia.

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