In Lethal Weapon 2, the bad guy — if memory serves, a diplomat from South Africa — commits a bunch of crimes. Then, as he's getting away on a yacht, he taunts the policemen characters played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, waving a diplomatic passport around and saying "Diplomatic Immunity!". At which point, the character played by Glover promptly shoots him in the head, using a clearly legal response of "... just been revoked".

Now, this being a Hollywood film, they rode off into the susnset sequel; but what would the likely consequences have been, both for them as police officers as well as for United States, if this had happened in real life?

I would especially prefer answers that reference specific actual precedents of a similar occurrence, or established formal rules.

  • 3
    IIRC, the SA diplomat had already dropped his weapon and was clearly not a danger anymore, so I guess that for the policemen the break of diplomatic immunity should have been of little importance in relation to their trial for murder.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:53
  • This appears to be more of a law question than a politics question. I will migrate it to law.SE.
    – Philipp
    Mar 12, 2017 at 22:47

1 Answer 1


The consequences for the US are perhaps better addressed at Politics; if you're really interested in those consequences, you can re-post this question there.

For the police officer shooting a diplomat, the officer may be charged under state law, whatever is normal for an incident of this type; it doesn't matter whether the person is a US citizen or a diplomat or any other kind of alien, regardless of immigration status or lack thereof.

If the person is a diplomat, however, the officer is also liable to be prosecuted under federal law, namely 18 USC 1116, which makes it a crime to kill, among others, a "foreign official"; the definition of that term includes

any person of a foreign nationality who is duly notified to the United States as an officer or employee of a foreign government or international organization, and who is in the United States on official business, and any member of his family whose presence in the United States is in connection with the presence of such officer or employee.

The characterization of the response "just been revoked" as "clearly legal" is inaccurate; a police officer has no power to revoke diplomatic immunity. In fact, only the diplomat's own country can waive this immunity. The United States cannot do so; it can only expel the diplomat.

  • 1
    "inaccurate" - yes, it was intended as irony :)
    – user0306
    Mar 13, 2017 at 1:47
  • @phoog Can't diplomatic immunity be revoked by the host country by declaring the diplomat a persona non grata according to Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations? (although this is also something a normal police officer has no authority to do)
    – Philipp
    Mar 14, 2017 at 16:35
  • 3
    @Philipp no, such a declaration does not revoke diplomatic immunity for acts committed before the revocation. It requires the person to leave the host country (the "receiving state"), and therefore the diplomatic post to which the person is accredited, but they remain protected against prosecution by the receiving state unless the state they're representing (the "sending state") waives immunity. I'm not sure what would happen if the person were accused of committing a crime after the persona non grata declaration but before leaving the country.
    – phoog
    Mar 14, 2017 at 18:27
  • A diplomatic passport alone does not grant diplomatic immunity. A diplomat must be on mission to the host country (i.e. with knowledge and approval of the host country) or in direct transit to that host country to recieve diplomatic immunity in accourdance to the 1961/63 conventions. A voluntary recognition is possible and often done, but is not mandatory. One sample where this was not done: 2017 Dutch–Turkish diplomatic incident - Wikipedia Sep 12, 2020 at 15:39

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