My friend and I were discussing moral and legal aspects of an interesting hypothetical situation, but since neither of us are lawyers we would like to ask somebody here how it would be treated from the legal perspective. So here is our imaginary situation :
A person is driving an SUV, and suddenly sees somebody lying on the road and not moving, as if he is either dead or passed out or drunk sleeping. It is too late to break. The driver could make a split second decision : either to immediately turn the steering wheel to the side to avoid running over the person on the ground, in which case he would damage his SUV by going off-road and hitting various obstacles, (but the speed is not so high to threaten the life of the driver himself), or - simply run over the person believing he is already dead, so why not at least save the damage to the SUV. The driver (who is kind of scumbag), loving his SUV, decides that the guy on the ground is already dead and runs him over.
Now I will give some important "rules" in this case that I would like you to take as facts and answer as if they were true :
- Once the person is run over with SUV, he is definitely dead now.
- There is absolutely no way to establish forensically (or by any other means) whether the person was dead or passed out or drunk before he was ran over. (Lets forget that there is toxicology that could establish alcohol level and all that stuff - imagine simply that we just can't know whether he was dead already).
- At the moment the person was ran over, he did not react in any way (in a sense that he did not scream or something similar, so we again, can not know whether he was already dead). There are no any kind of clues that suggest anything - how long has he been lying on the road, there are no alcohol bottles nearby, nobody knows him - he has no family/friends or anyone he called etc. - in other words again - we absolutely cannot establish or even guess in any way whether the person was already dead before being run over.
- Driver explained perfectly honestly what happened, so the court/police/prosecutor know exactly what happened as I have described - they know everything you know reading this :)
So how would the driver be prosecuted for this "potential murder" ? If the court can not in any way establish whether the person was already dead or not, can driver be charged with murder ? Is there such thing as "potential murder" in law ? Or will the person be considered dead already, in which case the driver "just" mutilated the dead body of a man ?
Edit : some additional explanation about the question
Thank you all for great and detailed answers. Just if you were curious, this question relates to some thoughts of my friend and myself, related to abortion actually. This is how we were thinking : if science can not give us a definitive answer (the definite scientific proof that is universally agreed upon) when the fetus becomes alive (at what week), and it is allowed for us to perform abortion at 12th week, then the abortion is like running over a person on the road in the above question, because :
- Once the abortion is performed, the fetus is definitely dead (or not alive).
- We cannot in any way be sure (universally agree - beyond reasonable doubt as you professionally put it) whether he was alive or not before the abortion.
Therefore there is no crime in performing abortion while not knowing whether the fetus was alive before the abortion.
We were interested whether this would be something like "potential murder" as I called it in the question. Thanks to your answers I conclude that if it so happens that fetus was actually alive right before 12th week, than I guess something like "unproveable involuntary manslaughter" was committed since it can not be proven that fetus was actually alive (although it was) before abortion. This is equivalent in the question to running over alive person, who either passed out or was drunk, killing him, but without knowledge or evidence of him being killed. On the other hand, if fetus was not alive right before 12th week, that is equivalent to running over a guy that is already dead (or not alive), so no damage or crime whatsoever was done anyway.