Saturday, 17 January 2009

Can You Murder A Cylon?

So, our American cousins are doubtlessly revelling in last night's Big Reveal in Battlestar Galactica, smug in the knowledge that their British cousins have to wait until Tuesday to finally get the answers we've been waiting for for so long.

Well nuts to them, that's what I say. If I can't be a part of their amazing revelations, I'll just obsess over something else instead. Jacob over at Television Without Pity seems to have a bee in his bonnet about the willingness of the Colonials to just execute every Cylon they come across. Yes, he argues, the Cylons did wipe out the Colonies, so a certain degree of rabid hatred is to be expected, but treating the Cylons as just machines instead of sentient entities in their own right is what got us here in the first place.

It's an excellent point, one of many excellent points Jacob includes in his re-caps (though re-cap might not be the right term, since many of them take longer to read than it would to re-watch the episode which they describe). On the other hand, though, there's a danger in assuming that the skin-jobs are exactly like us. I don't want to give too much away (some of my readers are still way behind on Galactica), but his reference to the unsanctioned shooting of a Cylon prisoner as "murder" seems to miss the point somewhat. How can it be murder if the victim is alive and unharmed hours later?

In fact, what exactly is it? If we take the assumption (which I think is what Jacob means) that we should consider a skin-job as having the right to be treated the same as any human under Colonial law, then what exactly is the specific crime committed by someone who shoots them in the chest?

Obviously, Colonial law is unlikely to be identical to British law, but one can imagine they would share many similarities. With that in mind, I decided to phone SpaceSquid Senior, expert in all things legal, and demand to know how we should prosecute. Since I can't tape a conversation over the phone, I instead wrote questions out in advance, put them to him, and then summarise the responses.

Q. What's the difference between assault, battery, actual bodily harm (ABH) and grievous bodily harm (GBH)?

A. Assault simply requires the victim is placed in fear of imminent attack (though you can get away with including a conditional: "I'd kill you if it wasn't a Sunday"). Battery goes into actual physical contact. ABH and GBH are gradations on that. ABH is getting into the realm of bruising and that sort of thing. By GBH you're into "malicious wounding", or "life-threatening".

Q. Do any of them have a requirement that the damage be lasting, or even that it takes a given amount of time for healing to take place?

A. Absolutely not. You can be entirely healed by the time someone is brought to trial, or even arrested, for the crime of damaging you.

Q. How would you prosecute or defend a trial in which someone had been killed, only to be reborn in an identical body 24 hours later?

A. Obviously were such a thing to be possible the law would be very quickly re-written, but in the first instance, as prosecutor I would argue that the crime was complete from the moment the victim died. Later events are irrelevant. I'd defend by questioning whether the victim could be considered to have died, any more than someone on life-support for twenty-four hours without the ability to beat their own heart can be considered dead. [1]

Based on this, then, it seems at least plausible that the prosecution would be leery of attempting to pin a murder charge on the perpetrator (my own opinion would be that it was very likely, but then this isn't my territory). On the other hand, GBH would definitely stick, since there's no requirement that the wounds be permanent, only that they reach a given level of seriousness. It is presumably unquestionable that a wound that ends up killing you is ipso facto life-threatening. SSS gave me five years as a ball-park figure for the punishment for GBH, maybe out in two and a half with good behaviour. This, then, would seem a reasonable punishment, under our current law, for killing a Cylon (meaning Jacob is entirely right that the character in question got off very lightly, but not so likely as he believes).

An important caveat to all that is that killing a Cylon outside of range of a resurrection facility would still be murder. Crucially, though, the law measures action, not intent, so whether or not the crime is described as murder depends on whether the victim is within range, not whether either victim or perpetrator believed themselves to be within range.

SSS did point out that a new law would be required for killing a Cylon whilst within resurrection range, something that lies between GBH and killing a person. I'm not so sure about the latter part. Certainly, shooting a Cylon in the back of the head seems less of a crime than, say, beating them to a pulp and leaving them to die only for them to be found and healed. A thorough examination of that point, though, would have to consider the difference between damage and suffering, and maybe some thought into the psychological after-effects of the various different hypothetical scenarios.

[1] Dad doesn't follow Galactica, but I suspect if he did he'd also point out that suicide is a mortal sin amongst the Cylons, and thus the fact that they are known to kill their current bodies to save themselves suffering means they cannot consider downloading to involve death at any stage.


Kim said...

You don't actually *like* that rubbish that Jacob writes, do you? I hate it, it's inaccurate, hero-worshipping drivel. He finds meaning and depth from absolutely nothing, often fantasising reactions and portrayals to suit his view. He completely forgets the point of TWP. I stopped reading over a year ago.

And on the subject, since when have colonial laws been applied to anyone Adama or Roslin likes?

Senior Spielbergo said...

It's an interesting point and I like your analysis although I'll just pick you up on one paragraph:

"An important caveat to all that is that killing a Cylon outside of range of a resurrection facility would still be murder. Crucially, though, the law measures action, not intent, so whether or not the crime is described as murder depends on whether the victim is within range, not whether either victim or perpetrator believed themselves to be within range."

Murder as per most of criminal law is not concerned with purely the actions of the individual. A crime is typically composed of two parts, the Actus Reus which accounts for the actions or inactions of the defendant and the Mens rea which accounts for the their state of mind. In respect of murder it is usually defined (at least as far as Blackstones Criminal Practice is concerned) as "when a person unlawfully kills another human being under the Queen's Peace, with malice aforethought". I think we can safely dispence with the "other human being" aspect as per the arguments already put forth and we can probably at least for the purposes of the BSG universe ignore the term "Queen's Peace" (although it does raise the important point that the law is of course different in a time of war which I think it is fair to say is the case in BSG and you would probably be looking more at something like the War Crimes Act if you really want to go there).

The point I wish to focus on is the point of "malice aforethought" and the fact that in order to be deemed murder it requires a mens rea of either:

1. to kill or
2. to cause grievous bodily harm

So I think the requirement to show this intent does cause some issues if the accused was not in a position to know that a Resurrection ship was not nearby. The intent could very easily be to simply commit an assault and have them respawn on the resurrection ship in which case I don't think a charge of Murder could be supported.:

Manslaughter however is the unlawful killing of another human being (again excepting Cylons in there for this purpose) but this does not require the same intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Instead the offence can be made up by someone who:

1. kills another by an unlawful act which was likely to cause bodily harm or
2. kills another by gross negligence

Utilizing No 1 and the unlawful act being the assault (which I think it is fair to say we can support) then you have your ball game.

Therefore I would say that someone who "kills" a Cylon" believing (or just not knowing to the extent that intent to kill is not establish-able) a resurrection ship is nearby and it is in fact not would probably just be guilty of the offence of Manslaughter (assuming you get past the whole Not Human thing and the fact that it is likely a time of War). SOme food for thought anyway

SpaceSquid said...

I do, in fact, like Jacob. In my defence, I've only read the first analysis he did (On Flight of the Phoenix) and his latest (unless he's already got one up on last night's episode), so I haven't read the ones you obviously disliked so much. Nor do I read TWP, so it's hard to get annoyed by any deviation from it's ethos.

If anything bothers me about his style, it's that he isn't consistent enough with it. He keeps lapsing back into basic fan-boy commentary and complaints, which ruins the whole flow. Without those, then, inaccuracies notwithstanding, I think they would make for compelling reading. I liked his piece on Revelations so much I even tried to write my post on Vulcan in a similar manner, absent the lapses and the ludicrous length.

Thanks for the detailed breakdown, S. Spielbergo. In point of fact, I'm well aware of what you say (including the exact definition of murder; I got SSS to quote it to me); I simply thought that in a post entirely dealing on whether or not killing a Cylon in circumstances which it would be murder were we discussing a human instead, "malice aforethought" could just be taken as read across the piece.

Senior Spielbergo said...

OK cool. As I said I liked the point as it is an interesting one, it was purely that one paragraph that made me go "hang on that's not quite right".

Kim said...

I would say his piece on Revelations was a classic example of shitness. A re-cap is no place for purple prose[1] Often he extrapolates a depth and imagery of ridiculous proportions and origin. It's fanwank at it's worst. Nothing but the product of repetitive personal activity and imagination. Example:

"Yeah, pretty to think so." Lee puts the book away; puts it all away. The world, the universe, is stark tonight. In the absence of our leaders and our loved ones, with half the air wing gone forever, home becomes a fiction. There is no home.

Where does he get that from? He's imagining it.Taking a thread and knitting a jumper. Masturbating his own view of one little scene/line. Adding nuance and CRUSHING EMOTION to something which may or may not be intended to have it. He's adding thoughts to every spoken line like a 13 year old writing fanfiction.

Spare the snark, spoil the network. Affectionate ribbing. Not building an altar and not spending 2 paragraphs comparing someone eating a fish finger to the motivation and driving vengeance of Captain Ahab.

[1]Thanks to the walking talking Keal literary description lexicon for that term.

Gooder said...

If this guy does write how Kim describes that its totally removed from TWP's old style.

It orignally existing to largely rip the piss out of everything rather than sing praises to the roof.

SpaceSquid said...

Why, though? Why is a re-cap no place for purple prose. It may not be your cup of tea, clearly, and I accept that the length of Jacob's pieces make them somewhat useless for their intended purpose. Despite that, though, I like them. I take the point about the extent of his reaching, but that's hardly uncommon with analysing fiction. It might be different if I didn't agree with a lot of Jacob's inferences.

As to whether or not he's contrary to TWP's ethos, since I don't read anything else on there, it doesn't make any difference to me.

Kim said...

The only place for purple prose is for entries to the worst opening lines competition.

A re-cap is supposed to be a description of what happened, factual reporting. His re-caps are just pretentious attempts to have people look at his writing style (which is piss-poor). It's writing 101; your language serves the point of your plot, aim, argument, analysis or conclusion. His writing is the opposite.

In writing a re-cap he is meant to be stating fact alongside clearly tagged conjecture/inference. None of which Jacob does. Every bloody sentence is just his overthought and overwritten inference. No Lit student would get away with the rubbish he is producing and they certainly wouldn't get away with presenting imagery, ideas and conjectures without clear analysis, evidence or discussion.

Gooder said...

Tried reading one, couldn't make it past four or five pages. It is an exercise in "look at arty and sensitive I am" style writing.

I mean take this for example ;

"Tell me "chair." Any chair at all, imagine it and describe it to me: four legs and a back, provides comfort, provokes memory. But a chair is not chairness; it is not every chair at once. It is a singular entity in the universe, with a singular story to tell, all its own."

Er, I'm not sure what he's trying to say or indeed why he's trying to say it.

Something like this should really be a blow by blow account of what is going on with asides for jokes and observations or what the author thinks about an event. To me sorry to say most of what is here is verbage.

It's not even analytical really, it just mostly vears off on tangets about thoguhts and emotions the author himself has projected onto characters rather things actually presented.

This is much better; (amd more like TWP of old - I used to read the Angel and Buffy ones way back in the day)