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Suppose that yesterday I was suicidal and decided to hire a hitman on the internet to kill me.

Today, when they turn up, I have changed my mind and defend myself by killing the hitman.

What crime(s) have I committed? This is completely hypothetical, so any jurisdiction would be interesting.

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    I think the first problem in this scenario is not on of a criminal matter but one of a logical matter. As a contract killer, if my client and my target are the same person, how do I get paid for doing the job?
    – hszmv
    Mar 16, 2021 at 17:37
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    @hszmv, the same I... I mean they always get paid, anonymously and in advance.
    – ilkkachu
    Mar 16, 2021 at 18:03
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    @ilkkachu: Anon and advance paid contract killers aren't a thing... how are you going to prosecute the guy you paid to kill someone upfront for fraud, when you have to admit you paid him up front to kill someone and he didn't do the work... Someone committed a crime... but it wasn't the guy who was paid to kill someone and didin't do it.
    – hszmv
    Mar 16, 2021 at 18:06
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    @hszmv THAT'S a good hypothetical.
    – Trish
    Mar 16, 2021 at 18:27
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    This was one of the plot elements of the movie "Fletch."
    – emory
    Mar 16, 2021 at 18:49

5 Answers 5

56

It appears you want to go for a defense strategy based on a self-defense argument.

This won't work in many jurisdictions, because self-defense usually doesn't apply when you intentionally caused a situation where you knew you would have to harm someone in self-defense. Similar case:

Bob regularly mugs old women in the park by threatening them with a gun. Charlie finds out and wants to stop him. But instead of reporting it to the police, he wants to take care of this himself. Charlie get a gun, dresses up as an old woman and waits in the park. When Bob shows up and tries to mug Charlie, Charlie shoots first.

Well, anyone else who would have found themselves in a park threatened by Bob with a deadly weapon might have had a self-defense argument. But Charlie knew that by dressing up as an old woman, he would provoke Bob to attempt to mug him. This of course doesn't exonerate Bob. But Charlie actively caused the situation which would give him the opportunity to kill Bob "in self defense". Charlie even made a complex plan to arrange this situation and put serious effort into setting it in motion. It's premeditated murder.

Your situation is basically the same. You caused someone to make an attempt at your life, and then killed them to "defend yourself". And you had plenty of other options:

  • There are lots of ways to end your life without requiring the help of a hitman. By getting them involved, you incited them to commit murder (killing someone who wants to die is still murder under most circumstances). By hiring the hitman, you created two possible options: Either you kill the hitman, or the hitman kills you and they would be guilty of murder. Both are the direct consequences of your actions.
  • You could have tried to cancel the hit when you changed your mind (if you tried and failed, that might give you a slightly better legal argument)
  • You could have called the police and ask them for protection.

Further, when you hired the hitman you committed a crime: incitement to commit murder. The fact that you were also the victim of that crime doesn't really matter. It also doesn't matter that you wanted to die: Assisted suicide is only permitted in very few jurisdictions, and those only allow it if performed by medical professionals under very narrow circumstances. Those circumstances would certainly not have applied, so the hitman would have been guilty of murder if he had succeeded (he is at least guilty of attempted murder, but you can't put a dead person on trial), so you would too. When you commit a crime and cause someone to die in the process, then that falls under the felony murder rule in many jurisdictions.

You will likely be convicted of manslaughter or murder of the hitman, depending on when you decided to kill the hitman before they kill you. When you can convince the court that you did not premeditate to kill the hitman but only panicked in the last minute, and no felony murder rule applies, then you might get away with manslaughter. You might also be found guilty of incitement of attempted murder (your own murder).

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Mar 4, 2023 at 22:05
  • "But Charlie knew that by dressing up as an old woman, he would provoke Bob to attempt to mug him." - no that's not right. Charlie is entitled both to cross-dress and to pass along the highway. The question would be whether, having prepared for the threat, Charlie could have prevented the attack by merely brandishing the gun (and revealing his own true identity) when Bob revealed himself as the mugger. There are certainly circumstances, such as a sudden and ferocious onset of attack by Bob, where Charlie could still legitimately claim self defence if he shot Bob dead.
    – Steve
    Mar 5, 2023 at 17:55
39

Applying the Model Penal Code, which is the law in most of the United States:

  • By requesting that A kill B, you are guilty of soliciting murder.

  • By reaching an agreement with A to pay to kill B, you are guilty of criminal conspiracy.

  • Because A attempted to kill B, he is guilty of attempted murder. Because you solicited that attempt, you are an accomplice to the attempted murder; because you are an accomplice, you are also liable for attempted murder.

  • By purposely killing A, you are guilty of murder.

  • Because you provoked A's use of force against you, you are not entitled to claim self-defense.

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    I'm not sure that any of the first three bullets apply when B hires A to kill B as the OP states. I agree with the last two. (Also, FWIW, while a small majority of states borrow something from the MPC, only a few have adopted it in full, and all of modified it in some respects since then. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_Penal_Code)
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 16, 2021 at 19:31
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    I went back and forth on whether the suicidal nature of the arrangement affects the analysis. I settled on the position that because assisted suicide is generally disallowed, A is attempting murder, regardless of whether his victim invited him to do so. I'd be interested to hear other takes.
    – bdb484
    Mar 16, 2021 at 19:39
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    This is good analysis but just want to echo what @ohwilleke said that the MPC isn't actually 'the law' in any state. I think the state with the closest thing to a pure MPC criminal code is Texas, but even its crim. code differs in some significant ways from the MPC.
    – user36183
    Mar 17, 2021 at 0:11
  • re: the last bullet point, What about George Zimmerman?
    – Shane
    Mar 20, 2021 at 21:06
  • @Shane Given the verdict, it appears the jury did not believe Zimmerman provoked Trayvon Martin.
    – bdb484
    Mar 21, 2021 at 3:23
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defend myself by killing the hit man. What crime(s) have I committed?

Generally it would be manslaughter or [1st or 2nd-degree] murder, depending on whether premeditation can be proved. Justifiable homicide is ruled out because the client had the alternative of rescinding the agreement—perhaps subject to agreed constraints on reimbursement—as soon as he changed his mind or sometime later.

Even a short lapse of time between the client's change of mind and hitman's appearance could support a finding of premeditation because of what is at stake: client's awareness that he will be "visited" by someone whose purpose is nothing short of killing him and who made arrangements to that effect. The nature of this scenario implies that killing the hitman is a foreseeable outcome.

Additionally, each jurisdiction might or might not outlaw any or all forms of "assisted suicide", the hiring of a hitman (regardless of the target being the client himself), and/or the use of a computer for that purpose.

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    "Additionally, each jurisdiction might or might not outlaw any or all forms of "assisted suicide"" In every one of the 9 States that allow assisted death, none of them allow it by some random stranger (hitman) you meet on the internet, it must be assisted by a physician or "self service". In order to meet the requirements, you must be under the care of a physician, be terminally ill, and be within 6 months of otherwise natural death.
    – Ron Beyer
    Mar 16, 2021 at 13:24
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    @RonBeyer I agree with your remarks. But since the OP did not specify country, I was thinking about jurisdictions where lay assistance --albeit incipient and slowly-- is gaining traction. One example is the acquittal in the Heringa case. The right-to-die activism is another factor toward eventually bridging the [lawfulness] gap between assistance by acquaintances and that by hired strangers. Mar 16, 2021 at 14:41
  • Is there even a contract, though? I thought you couldn't write a contract to do something illegal. Mar 16, 2021 at 22:50
  • @EJoshuaS-ReinstateMonica "Is there even a contract, though?" You are right, there is no cognizable contract. I have edited to remove the connotation of lawfulness that is associated to the definition of contract. There is an agreement, though. My point is that client's role in that agreement or meeting of the minds implies that he had lawful, far less drastic alternative(s) pursuant to his change of mind. Mar 17, 2021 at 11:29
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Well, others have covered conspiracy and incitement to murder, I’d like to touch on another angle. So, ignoring those charges, you still aren’t home free.

So, let’s give a little hypothetical background to take away some of confusion. You meet someone who shares the fact that he is a hitman looking for his next job, you say you have been out of a job for over a year and are down to your last 50 bucks and you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you’ll have the 50 on your kitchen counter at noon the next day, and you would like to have some help committing suicide. Not a lot, but some people don’t need a lot.

Next day at 11:58 you get a text from your dr, it was a lab error, you’re good, 11:59 lotto ticket announced, you won multiple million jackpot, 12:00 hitman walks through your kitchen door, you jump aside saying stop, he shoots. You grab a nice knife and throw it, not to kill but just to get him to pause while you offer a few million not to kill you, unfortunately hits, killing him instantly.

Even if you argue that it wasn’t a murder you were conspiring to commit, it could still be a felony (depending upon jurisdiction), in which case a felony murder charge would be a slam dunk. You were part of conspiracy to commit a felony, someone died during an attempt to commit the crime, you’re doing 20 to life.

Your self defense argument is basically a confession.

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  • "Your self defense argument is basically a confession." it isn't, unless you also confess hiring him. And the fact that you hired him has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. (or do we take the default stance in such questions that all information presented in the question and answer are fully known by the jurors?)
    – vsz
    Mar 17, 2021 at 17:03
  • @vsz: I presumed the killer laid it all out, just as the OP does, in an attempt to plead self defense. A better defense of course would be, there’s a dead body in my kitchen, my lawyer will do all of my talking.
    – jmoreno
    Mar 18, 2021 at 1:35
1

Conspiracy to commit murder (self) and murder (killing the hit man) the affirmative defense for the second murder charge would be self defense.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Pat W.
    Mar 17, 2021 at 17:31

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