The Walking Dead shambled back on the air last week with record ratings, making it the most-watched episode of any drama show in basic cable history. But with all the focus on the morality of life after a zombie outbreak, few people consider the legality of killing the undead.
Let’s Assume There’s Still a Justice System
For this article, we’ll focus on the initial zombie outbreak -when there are still judges and police officers around to uphold the law. After all, by the time the outbreak has become a zombie apocalypse, fundamental issues of law and order most likely won’t be around anymore. Additionally, we also will be focusing on zombies like those seen in Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead, not those seen in Lucio Fulci movies, because if you can’t possibly kill the undead then there is no point in discussing the legality of killing them.
Are Zombies Living Humans Under the Law?
The first legal issue is whether or not zombies are considered to be human. Whether zombies are actually human is a complex matter that many zombie-film aficionados still hotly contest. If you can successfully argue that a zombie is not a human, then killing one cannot be considered murder.
Even if the zombie is a human though, California law defines death as occurring when a person is brain dead. While zombies must have some basic brain functions to operate their bodies —hence why a blow to the head will kill them, they may already be brain-dead. In fact, in The Walking Dead, the CDC did an MRI on a person’s brain during the zombie transition that showed that only a minute amount of the brain stem reanimates after the individual dies. If your attorney can successfully prove that the zombie you injured was already brain-dead, you can’t be convicted of murdering it.
When Can You Kill a Zombie if it Has Rights?
These two arguments are important, as if zombies are considered living human beings, you would only legally be able to kill them in self defense. Self defense is allowed if a person is in imminent danger and you use only reasonable force to repel the attack. If you picked them off from the comfort of a mall rooftop, as survivors did in Dawn of the Dead, merely out of boredom, you could be accused of murdering someone. Fortunately, since they are not alive, you should be able to successfully fight any murder charges you faced for killing the undead.
Other Issues Involved in “Zombicide”
Murder is not the only legal issue you could face for killing a zombie though. In California, it is illegal to desecrate a corpse. Again, a lawyer would most likely be able to fight the charges if you were acted in self defense, but if you killed the zombies when you were not in danger, you could be subject to charges.
Additionally, if you used firearms to murder the walking dead, you could be arrested and charged with firing a weapon within city limits, carrying a concealed weapon, and illegal possession of a firearm if you did not obtain the weapon through proper legal channels. These are all complicated legal issues, even if they occur during the onset of a zombie outbreak.
You Can’t Help an Infected Friend Commit Suicide
Lastly, assisting a friend or loved one in suicide because they have been infected with the zombie virus would still be a legal gray area, just as it is when it involves cancer. If you want to help someone who has been infected end their life, but don’t want to face legal troubles, you should leave them with a weapon they can use to end their own life and not be directly involved with the matter.
If you believe the living dead have risen and you aren’t sure what you can or should do from a legal perspective, please call Peter M. Liss. If you are charged with any crime in San Diego, zombie-related or not, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.