There are a lot of romantic comedies out there to enjoy during Valentine’s Day, but only one promises romance, comedy and zombies. In celebration of the greatest romantic comedy featuring undead hordes, here’s a look at one of the most perplexing legal questions in Shaun of the Dead. No, it’s not whether or not it was OK for them to kill the zombies (that was already covered in this article). The real question is could the gang legally be excused for breaking and entering into the Winchester while waiting for the whole thing to boil over? And, just as important, can you follow in Shaun’s footsteps if you find yourself, your best friend and your romantic interest in a similar, zombie-filled situation? Criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss has all the answers you need.
First, it’s important to remember that England’s legal system is drastically different than our American system and even the individual laws of San Diego are quite different from those of Boston (otherwise our founding fathers would have fought in a fairly pointless revolution). That being said, our laws were based on the English system and over the years, the two countries have adopted the ideas and practices of each other’s legal systems quite a few times, so we do have distinct similarities as well. This means that even if the names of the specific charges vary, many of the legal defenses against such charges would still apply. So while this article may discuss the law as it would apply to someone who sought the advice of an attorney in San Diego, the defense Peter Liss offers would still likely apply in London.
While smashing the window, breaking into the Winchester and drinking their booze while there would normally result in charges of property damage, breaking and entering, robbery, burglary and trespassing, the law does provide exceptions to almost all charges when someone’s life is in danger. The same legal concepts that permit police to enter a home without a warrant if they believe a person is in distress also allow a civilian to enter someone’s property in cases of emergency. An emergency could be seeing an axe-weilding serial killer in your neighbor’s home, which means you would legally be excused for breaking into the home and saving them. Similarly, if you are outside during a hurricane, you could be excused for breaking into a gas station in order to seek shelter.
The other crimes would also be excused given the situation though it might require the help of defense attorney. Breaking the window is an extreme method of entry, but in a time of emergency, when time is of the essence -like when zombies are threatening your life- this type of action is excusable although you would likely be required to pay for the property damage you did. Similarly, eating and drinking from your temporary emergency shelter would be forgivable if you were willing to reimburse the property owner for the amount you ate and drink.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d have free reign during an emergency. If Shaun and his friends vandalized the bar or tried to steal cash or valuables, the could still be charged with crimes. Given that the group was not acting maliciously and was just seeking shelter, they would be able to use the defense of necessity because they had no other alternative and committing a crime saved them from encountering a greater crime. In many cases, they would not be charged given the situation, but if they were, a lawyer would probably be able to arrange for the charges to be dropped in exchange for the group paying for everything they used and damaged. On the other hand, the ending of the film brings up issues of zombie’s rights as tying people up (undead or not) for use as entertainment or cheap labor is both morally and legally questionable, but that issue is an entirely different matter altogether.
If you ever find yourself in an emergency, just remember, there are exceptions to common laws we all obey during non-emergency situations. Just be considerate and don’t do anything more than you need to do to survive. If you are charged with a crime despite the extenuating circumstances though, call criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 OR (858) 486-3024.
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