The newest season of American Horror Story has finally started and the first episode immediately presents a fascinating legal quandary: what happens when one conjoined twin commits murder? Defense lawyer Peter M. Liss believes the American Horror Story twins example is particularly interesting because of the specific details presented in the show.
What Happens When One Conjoined Twin Commits a Crime?
The whole problem with charging a “Siamese” or conjoined twin with murder is that if only one of the two persons committed the act, it seems wrong to sentence them both to prison or, even worse, the death penalty. The fact that you cannot punish one of the twins without punishing the other leads to a serious problem with America’s cruel and unusual punishment laws because any punishment to an innocent individual would be cruel and unusual. In fact, this specific legal issue has been examined in depth by a number of legal experts and is even used as a thought experiment -meaning criminal defense lawyers everywhere have already been perplexed about this issue.
The History of Conjoined Twins Accused of Crimes
Looking at historical records, there have only been a handful of conjoined twins charged with crimes. The only one that seems to have occurred under the American legal system involved Chang and Eng, the two most famous conjoined twins in history (the pair even served as inspiration for the term “Siamese twin”). Sometime in the early 1930s, a spectator squeezed Cheng’s hand so tightly that Cheng punched him. The spectator charged Cheng with assault, but the judge ruled that while Cheng should be sentenced to jail time, forcing Eng to go to jail would amount to false imprisonment. In a case involving something as serious as murder, the sentence would be even more lengthy and even more unfair to the innocent party.
So How About the American Horror Story Twins?
As for the American Horror Story twins, the classic thought experiment gets an extra twist because in this case, Dot doesn’t commit the act, but still had the power to stop Bette and lets her sister kill their mother. Dot also helps Bette cover up the murder, lying to the police about what really happened. All of these things mean that Dot would also be guilty of a crime, though not guilty of murder. As a result, they could actually be sentenced to prison.
Defending the American Horror Story Twins
The American Horror Story twins’ best defense would be working to minimize the time Dot is sentenced to as that would probably be the maximum sentence either of the girls could receive since it would be unconstitutional to let Dot carry out the full murder sentence Bette might receive.
A Trial Like No Other
This would be a particularly notable case because in order to minimize Dot’s sentencing, her criminal attorney would have to ensure the jury did not judge both individuals together. It might also mean that Dot would have to take the stand against her sister, which could possibly be the first time a witness for the prosecution would have to take the stand while sitting right next to the defendant.
In fact, this specific case brings up a number of other legal questions regarding a conjoined twin’s right to not testify against his or her sibling, and could the American Horror Story twins voluntarily undergo surgery that would result in the death Bette (should she be convicted of the death penalty) in exchange for a reduced sentence on the part of Dot? Whatever the outcome, the trial and its resulting decisions would certainly end up going down in legal history.
In many ways, understanding the law is like wandering through a overgrown jungle, which is why you need a skilled lawyer to help you navigate through your legal issues. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss, please call (760) 643-4050.