Friday, May 1, 2009

Lost: Shot in the Back

Lost: The Variable
(aired April 29, 2009)


Facts: Daniel sneaks into a hostile camp site. Daniel is holding a gun in his hand and starts shooting at the ground when one of the campers sees him. Daniel demands to speak with Ellie. Richard walks out to see Daniel and tells him that Ellie is not available. Daniel does not believe him, points his gun at Richard, and says Richard has until the count of three to produce Ellie. Before Daniel says "three" or Richard can calm Daniel down, someone shoots Daniel in the back. Daniel collapses, apparently dead. The shooter is Ellie.

Issue: Is Ellie guilty of murdering Daniel?

Law: A murder is the intentional, premeditated killing of another person, but a person may use deadly force in the defense of another if she reasonably believes such force is necessary to stop the imminent use of unlawful deadly force by the other person.

Analysis: Maybe. Based on her aiming the gun at Daniel, it appears that Ellie intended to kill (or at least inflict grievous bodily harm) on Daniel. And since you can't have murder without a dead person, let's assume Daniel is actually dead--with Lost, you never can be sure. So Ellie murdered Daniel. End of story, right?

Wrong! Ellie may be able to claim self-defense, which is a complete defense to murder (i.e., she's not guilty). Under common law, one could only use self-defense to protect another if the two were in a special relationship with each other: parent-child, master-servant, husband-wife. Some jurisdictions have eliminated the special relationship requirement, while others retain it. We don't know what laws (if any) apply to the Island so mark a question mark next to this element.

With the remaining elements, it looks like Ellie can prove self-defense. From her perspective (and anyone else watching), it was reasonable to believe that Daniel was threatening Richard with deadly force. (It does not matter if Daniel was never really going to shoot Richard, only that Ellie could reasonably believe he was going to do so.) And Daniel's countdown was probably enough to show the threat to Richard was imminent. So, it appears that by exercising self-defense Ellie could have gotten away with murdering her own son. No word on whether Smokey is as forgiving.

Bonus: If Ellie only proved only some of the self-defense elements, then no defense is available to her at common law. Some states, though, allow an "imperfect self-defense," meaning you can downgrade a murder to a manslaughter even if you can't establish all of the elements of self-defense. (See here for why that change matters.)

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