Thanks to AMC’s The Walking Dead, media, and pop culture raving over zombies, looking at the legal side of this trend seemed interesting. During a zombie apocalypse, you would expect to see zombies killing humans, humans killing zombies, and no one is charged for these actions that are illegal in a standard, operating legal system. Of course, during a time when there is chaos and people fighting for survival, you could assume the laws that apply to violent crimes would be suppressed for the time being. However, what happens legally after a cure is found, or all the zombies are eradicated?
Are zombies held accountable for their actions?
A recent article by Wired talks about the legal accountability of zombies should a zombie apocalypse occurs. One question that came up was, “Do the undead have legal responsibilities?” In order to answer this question, we must answer if the zombies are legally alive or dead. In the case of the show, The Walking Dead, people are infected with a plague that causes them to turn into a zombie upon death, but it is dormant while the person is alive. Since their heart and lung function ceases to work, they are, technically, dead according to the Uniform Determination of Death Act. This would immunize zombies from any legal liability once the zombie apocalypse ends, and the legal system is back in a functional state.
What about the still living humans that survive the apocalypse?
Are the survivors punished for their actions? What happens if they kill someone? Once the apocalypse is over, we expect the legal system to persecute those who committed crimes or killings during this time harshly. The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia; according to Georgia laws, killing done in self-defense or in defense of others requires an imminent danger or threat to those lives. The threat cannot be in the future, but happening at the moment of the killing. So if someone is infected with a zombie virus, and won’t become a zombie for another 3 hours, you cannot kill that person until they threaten your life or the life of others. Even if you are anticipating and certain the danger will come, it would be illegal to kill them before the threat is occurring.
The aftermath of a zombie apocalypse would require a completely new practice area with lawyers specializing in the defense and persecution of zombies. As frightening as a zombie apocalypse is, it is interesting to think about new laws that would be made, intensified, or relaxed once the chaos ends.