I enjoyed this past season of “The Walking Dead,” and could not help but wonder what I would do in a zombie apocalypse. What piqued my curiosity the most was the times when zombies were used as tools by the humans. Would it be legal to own a zombie after they rise up from the dead?
Anyone who has watched C-SPAN for any length of time would probably tell you that zombies have already risen and they are running the government. Commentary aside, your question raises several issues that pertain to the law.
The U.S. court system is one that is based upon precedent. Rather than creating new laws and rules, judges try very hard to apply the decisions and rules already in place. For example, many thought that the Internet would bring about the need to establish an entirely new area of law, but the rules pertaining to the Internet have largely come from established business and social practices. I think that the laws pertaining to the use of zombies may also rely upon the application of resurrected laws.
The first segment of law needing to be discussed is the law of emergency. As you may know, after storms and other disasters, people sometimes behave differently than they would in normal times. Sometimes, in the chaos, people resort to looting businesses for more than what they need to survive. While it is true that people are allowed to trespass on the property of another person to save themselves and others, they are still liable for the damage they cause.
On the other side of this equation, people are allowed to reasonably defend themselves against physical harm. Perhaps, having a few zombified people about would act as a deterrent against marauders. One caution I would make is that the use of booby traps is illegal.
Slavery is illegal in the U.S. So, the question of the status of zombies needs to be established: Are they humans, corpses or something else? This debate will probably exist well into the apocalypse. I am confident that scientists, politicians, theologians and others will have differing opinions on how to classify zombies.
On the one hand, if they are animals, they can probably be owned, like pets. If corpses, there are rules governing their handling and rules related to proper disposal; these rules generally don’t involve a shovel to the head and running off, but emergency may make this temporary solution necessary.
If they are deemed to be humans, a determination regarding their capacity needs to be made. Also, rules related to their employment need to be addressed; I doubt whether cannibalism is a valid form of payment for services rendered because it is both illegal and icky.
When it comes to life after the rise of the dead, those of us who are left — and I intend to be one of them — will have to grapple with many legal and moral dilemmas. One thing is certain: It will all be about who best uses their brains.
John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at firstname.lastname@example.org.