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I'm referring to a specific situation that occurred in the TV show 24.

Due to previous complex circumstances, a man (call him "Bob") destroys a van that is the scene of a murder and hides 2 bodies. Initially Bob had committed no crime; victim 1 was stabbed by victim 2, victim 2 was then shot by Bob in self-defense.

I'm wondering what, if anything, could Bob be guilty of for not reporting the deaths?

Edit: I'm just curious about the legality and consequences of covering up the deaths so just assume that there is evidence the shooting was in self defence.

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  • 5
    Are you sure you mean that victim 2 was shoot by the bystander? Or did you mean victim 2 was killed by the deadly wounded victim 1?
    – PMF
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 7:50
  • 2
    Is the man in question an government agent?
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:42
  • 3
    Why you are describing the scene as "rightful death" if a murder by stabbing was committed there? Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 0:43
  • 3
    Let me see if I can rephrase the scenario a little more clearly: Person 2 stabs Person 1 in a van. Another person (let's call him "Jack") then shoots Person 2 (claiming self-defense); destroys the van in which the stabbing took place; and hides the bodies of both Person 1 and 2. The question is whether Jack has committed any crime in hiding the bodies (leaving aside whether the murder of Person 2 was justified.) Is that correct? Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:15
  • 3
    @MichaelSeifert That is correct. Self defence was never claimed because this incident was never brought up again in the show. I'm saying it was self defence because it was clear from watching it, and because my question is only regarding the legality of the cover up.
    – Ethan
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:58

6 Answers 6

23

Probably murder.

Because "victim 2 was then shot by this man in self defense" hasn't been determined by a neutral third party investigation or jury - it is just his own rationale for shooting.

He may not be charged, or he may be tried and acquitted on the basis of self defense, but he isn't in a position of authority to simply make a "rightful death" call on his own, (is there such a thing?) and dispose of all the evidence.

Obstruction of justice would probably be the minimum charge for covering up evidence of the murder of Victim #1.

There is really no valid reason for covering up a double homicide, and his actions could easily result in a double murder charge.

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  • 1
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    – feetwet
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 17:37
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Depending on the circumstances, hiding the bodies would be either Obstructing a Coroner or Preventing the Burial of a Body:

Any disposal of a corpse with intent to obstruct or prevent a coroner's inquest, when there is a duty to hold one, is an offence. The offence is a common law offence, triable only on indictment and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or a fine.

The offence of preventing the burial of a body (indictable only, unlimited imprisonment) is an alternative charge. Proof of this offence does not require proof of the specific intent required for obstructing a coroner.

Destroying the van could be either Criminal Damage or perverting the course of justice, again depending on the circumstances. The latter is committed when an accused:

  • does an act or series of acts;

  • which has or have a tendency to pervert; and

  • which is or are intended to pervert;

  • the course of public justice.

The offence is contrary to common law and triable only on indictment. It carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or a fine. The course of justice must be in existence at the time of the act(s). The course of justice starts when:

  • an event has occurred, from which it can reasonably be expected that an investigation will follow; or

  • investigations which could/might bring proceedings have actually started; or 

  • proceedings have started or are about to start.

Answer based on the assumption that as per hypothetical legal / law school questions in the UK: the facts are as stated i.e. there is no need for me to consider whether the killing of Victim 2 is self defence or not.

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  • A potential life sentence? I assume there would have to be some extreme circumstances to impose that punishment. I suppose if the perpetrator is also the murderer and they're concealing evidence against them, that might be appropriate.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 14:16
  • 2
    @Barmar the draft guidelines written by the Sentencing Council suggests it would be unusual for a sentence longer than 7 years to be given even for the most serious category of the offence (which the described scenario falls well short of).
    – Will
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 8:17
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    @Barmar according to this report the only life sentence ever handed down for this offence was reduced on appeal to 10 years
    – Will
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 8:22
  • 1
    Is there a reason for the "either/or", particularly in the destruction of the van? Couldn't Bob be prosecuted for both? Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 18:30
  • @Barmar: As I understand it, the penalty ranging up to life imprisonment is retained because under rare circumstances it may have to substitute for a murder charge, Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 22:32
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An Offence against the peace of the grave

Gravfridsbrott
Brottsbalken 16 kap. 10 §

A person who, without authorisation, moves, damages or treats with disrespect the corpse or ashes of a deceased person is guilty of an offence against the peace of the grave and is sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for at most two years.

If the offence is gross, the person is guilty of a gross offence against the peace of the grave and is sentenced to imprisonment for at least six months and at most four years.

This law is used in Sweden for things like moving or trying to destroying the body of a murder victim.

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  • What an odd paragraph to use for this. The notion that moving a body that has never been in a grave is ‘disturbing the peace of the grave’ is… well, bizarre. Particularly perplexing if the crime consisted of, say, burying the body in the woods – i.e., taking a body that’s never been in a grave and putting it in a grave. (Also, quilty should be guilty in the quote, and you can make multi-paragraph quotes by repeating the > at the beginning of the empty line between the paragraphs as well.) Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 14:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Fixed the spelling. I think the law was originally used for crimes against an actual grave. But it's lately been used more for difficult to investigate murder cases. My guess is that it's a lot easier to prove someone disturbed a body then that they actually committed the murder, so at least you can get them for something :-) Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 16:59
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Charged?

Crimes Act 1900

Murder or manslaughter s18

An assertion of self-defence would not necessarily be agreed with by the prosecutor. Especially in circumstances where it seems the accused took steps to conceal or destroy evidence and the accused is the only witness.

There may be sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused did not act in self-defence and that the killing was unlawful. If the Crown can also prove intent, then that’s murder, if they can’t it’s manslaughter.

Destroying or damaging property s195

Bushfires s203E I haven't seen it but its possible that the accused intentionally started a fire with reckless disregard if it might spread to vegetation.

Hindering investigation etc s315

Concealing a serious indictable offence s316

Tampering etc with evidence s317

General offence of perverting the course of justice s319

Accessory after the fact to the first murder s349

Quite likely, setting fire to a van will also be an offence under environmental law.

1
  • 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
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 1:00
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The person may face felony charges leading up to 1-5 years in jail and a fine for each count. Even if the self-defense argument prevails and no other charges are pressed against them, they are still guilty of concealing the stabbing victim's body. Also assuming the self-defense claim for the second death is valid, the second body would not fall under this statute as the death was not result of criminal activity.

WV Code § 61-2-5a

(a) Any person who, by any means, knowingly and willfully conceals, attempts to conceal or who otherwise aids and abets any person to conceal a deceased human body where death occurred as a result of criminal activity is guilty of a felony

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While this isn't a great match for your case it does give some insight into what could happen.

In the case I am using most of the charges center around damaging the human remains as well as abandoning/concealing them. There are also issues around not reporting the death in the first place and actions taken to try and hide it.

18-year-old Nebraska woman sentenced to 90 days in jail for burning fetus after abortion

An 18-year-old northeastern Nebraska woman was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and two years of probation for burning and burying a fetus she aborted with her mother’s help in a case watched by advocates as a slew of states move to restrict abortion access.

Here the charges include damage to the corpse from burying it as well as burying it.

Celeste Burgess, of Norfolk, was sentenced in Madison County after pleading guilty earlier this year to concealing or abandoning a dead body. Two other misdemeanor charges of false reporting and concealing the death of another person were dropped, in an agreement with prosecutors.

Here show that charges include abandoning/concealing the corpse as well as issues around reporting the death

Jessica Burgess pleaded guilty earlier this month to providing an illegal abortion, false reporting and tampering with human skeletal remains. In exchange for her plea, charges of concealing the death of another person and abortion by someone other than a licensed physician were dismissed. She faces sentencing on Sept. 22.

This shows charges around tampering with human remains.

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