Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter (Part I): Transferrence

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Romilda Vane slips some love potion into a box of chocolates and leaves them for Harry Potter to eat. Harry's roommate, Ron Weasley, eats some of the chocolates and falls into a trance. Harry finds Ron and takes him to Professor Slughorn, who's an expert in potions. Slughorn gives Ron a tonic and Ron recovers, without any physical damage. To celebrate, Slughorn opens up a bottle of mead and pours a glass for each of them. Ron drinks first, collapses, and starts foaming at the mouth. Harry acts fast and saves Ron. They later learn that Draco Malfoy, hoping to avoid Voldemort's command that he kill Albus Dumbledore or face his own death, switched Slughorn's mead for the poisoned bottle, hoping Slughorn would give the poisoned bottle to Dumbledore.

Issues: Assuming the common law extends to the magical world, did Romilda commit a
crime against Ron, Harry, both, or neither? Did Draco commit a crime against Ron even though he intended the poison for Dumbledore?

Law: Poisoning without the intent to kill (and without causing death) is a battery. Attempted murder is taking a substantial step to taking another's life with the intent to actually take another's life. Under the theory of transferred intent, a person transfers his intent to injure or kill one person if he accidentally injures or kills a different person by the same act.

Analysis: Romilda likely committed a battery against Ron and attempted battery against Harry. Although Romilda intended to poison Harry with the love potion, she actually committed a battery against Ron by poisoning. While Ron physically unharmed by the poisoning, it was an offensive touching that he did not want. In sending the chocolate to Harry, Romilda also took a substantial step toward committing a battery by poisoning against Harry.

Draco is also likely guilty under a transferred intent theory. He intended for Slughorn to give the poisoned mead to Dumbledore (and to kill Dumbledore in the process). Instead, Ron drank some of the mead and almost died. Since no murder took place, Draco is only guilty of the attempted murder of Ron since he had the intent to kill and took a substantial step in placing the poisoned mead in Slughorn's office. Similarly, Draco is also likely guilty of attempted murder of Dumbledore.

Now, Draco and his fancy lawyer will (and should) argue that Draco only did what he did because Voldemort threatened to kill Draco if he did not kill Dumbledore. This is the defense of duress, which excuses conduct done under the imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm and the reasonable belief that the threat is real. However, duress does not extend to murder, so it is unlikely Draco could use this defense in the case of attempted murder.

For an additional post on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, click here.


  1. Love potions are banned at Hogwarts but legal in the wider Wizarding World (I'm assuming that last part, since they were being openly sold at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes). So I'm guessing the most Romilda could get is a couple of detentions and probably an enhanced reputation.

    Whether Ron wanted the offensive touching is open to debate, I think.

  2. So in the wizarding world, you can secretly slip someone a drug that causes them to do something? I knew it was a lawless culture, but that is ridiculous!

    I think Ron would have taken any touching, offensive or no.