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Suppose a person parks their car somewhere where there is a limit on the duration of free parking, say three hours maximum. The person then perishes, for whatever reason, before the three hour threshold, so the car remains parked beyond the limit, and as a result an infraction notice is issued to the [now deceased] car owner.

If the person did not perish, they would drive off before the threshold and the offence would have never occurred.

Is anyone liable for the offence that arguably didn't happen, because the offender did not longer exist at the time of the offence?

If no one is liable, can the punishment for the offence (e.g. financial penalty) be given to the deceased person's estate, though it is obvious (or is it?) that the latter could not have possibly committed the offence?

2 Answers 2

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Yes

Of course, liability for parking offences attaches to the owner of the vehicle, not the driver, but in the context of your question that’s a distinction without a difference.

The offence is staying longer than time permits. The car did that. The owner is liable for the fine. The owner at the time is the estate of the deceased.

It’s possible that the law allows a reasonable excuse defence (e.g. I was dead), or the authority may have the discretion to show leniency for extenuating circumstances (e.g. I was dead). But, barring that, the government that issued the fine will become a creditor of the estate, although they may choose not to pursue their debt.

The policy reason why this must be the case is clearer if you consider another strict liability situation - an employer’s liability for workers compensation.

Consider a sole-trader employer who dies. Their employees are still employed by the estate and may well be carrying out their duties for some time after the death. In fact, they arguably have a duty to continue to fulfil the therms of their employment contract until someone with the authority of the estate tells them to stop.

If they are injured in the course of their employment, their employer remains strictly liable to compensate them. Normally, the employer is required to hold insurance against this eventuality but even if the insurer pays, it’s the employer who is legally liable.

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    Do you have any authority to suggest that dead people can be found liable for a criminal offence post mortem? Criminal law is quite different to your example of employment contracts, which can sometimes continue to operate with the legal personal representative of the deceased person standing in their shoes.
    – fabspro
    Commented Jun 23 at 2:43
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    The point stand though. If your liable for injury then that's because you failed to implement a regulation that would have prevented the injury (or whatever else the standard is). A parking offense is different in that unforeseeable circumstances caused the offense.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jun 23 at 4:26
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    @DaleM that simply isn't the law. The owner is responsible for the car, but not the deceased person's offence. I assume you have tried unsuccessfully to locate an authority for your version.
    – fabspro
    Commented Jun 23 at 11:39
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    @DaleM: Reasoning is not correct. By the time the permit was issued the owner was no longer the deceased person, and we can prove the new owner had no hand in parking it there. This is enough to defeat even a strict liability offense. In your counter-case there's a reason why workmans' comp insurance is required.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 23 at 15:18
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    The leading "Yes" could be understood as an answer to the question title (but iiuc, that is not what you mean -- the deceased is not liable because he did not commit an offense and, furthermore, has stopped being anything, including liable). Commented Jun 24 at 4:45
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The following treat criminal and quasi-criminal/regulatory offences under the law against the government's public interest. Civil liabilities (e.g. negligence) follow different rules and the law regarding the estate is more developed there. Strict liability there is not connected to strict liability offences.

No, a dead person cannot commit, or in any event, be convicted and punished for a strict liability offence in Canadian law. However, many regulatory offences with respect to the usage of motor vehicles are considered to be absolute liability offences.

In R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, the SCC classifies offences into three categories (quoted below):

  1. Offences in which mens rea, consisting of some positive state of mind such as intent, knowledge, or recklessness, must be proved by the prosecution either as an inference from the nature of the act committed, or by additional evidence.

  2. Offences in which there is no necessity for the prosecution to prove the existence of mens rea; the doing of the prohibited act prima facie imports the offence, leaving it open to the accused to avoid liability by proving that he took all reasonable care. This involves consideration of what a reasonable man would have done in the circumstances. The defence will be available if the accused reasonably believed in a mistaken set of facts which, if true, would render the act or omission innocent, or if he took all reasonable steps to avoid the particular event. These offences may properly be called offences of strict liability. Mr. Justice Estey so referred to them in Hickey’s case.

  3. Offences of absolute liability where it is not open to the accused to exculpate himself by showing that he was free of fault.

Strict liability offences, in the proper sense used by Canadian courts, are open to defences due to the moral faultiness of the accused; while the prosecution do not have to prove mens rea beyond reasonable doubt, the accused's mental state (or lack thereof) matters for the offence. Dead persons accordingly would not be able to commit such offences.

Absolute liability offences, on the other hand, considers only the actus rea elements. Generally, these offences are strictly regulatory in nature and cannot be constitutionally punished with imprisonment or other deprivation of liberty.

However, for a fine to be properly imposed, a conviction must still be made unless a civil enforcement scheme is in force (e.g. administrative monetary penalties or other civil proceedings seeking compensation). It is generally recognized that a deceased cannot be criminally prosecuted due to abatement and constitutional concerns. Can the estate of a deceased person be subject to quasi-crimial regulatory prosecution? I did not find anything on this. But I think the same consideration in criminal prosecutions remains: any deterrence and punishment objectives of the prosecution are nullified upon the accused's death. There are also significant procedural fairness and natural justice considerations since the accused cannot adequately defend against the charges. Even in jurisdictions (e.g. Quebec and Ontario) where conviction in absentia is possible, it is generally required for a notice to be properly served to the accused.

It should be recalled that the estate is not a legal person, although it often behaves like one (civil proceedings are generally against the executor of the estate in that capacity instead of the estate itself).

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  • "any deterrence and punishment objectives of the prosecution are nullified upon the accused's death" is the mootness doctrine?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 23 at 3:32
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    @RonJohn I think whether a dead person can go on trial and be convicted is a little more fundamental than the mootness doctrine due to additional constitutional considerations, although the concepts are connected obviously. The term usually used is the abatement of proceedings (if the charge has been brought to court).
    – xngtng
    Commented Jun 23 at 15:29
  • Even absolute liability steps aside with a sufficiently good reason; and since the dead cannot contest the case the standard rule is the case is thrown out because he cannot participate in his defense.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 24 at 14:20
  • @Joshua His estate can contest the case and is the one paying the fine. As both sides seem reasonable, I really think flat statements are useless; citations would be necessary.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jun 24 at 19:42

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