How Do You Prosecute the Possessed?

Sleepy Hollow hands down is my favorite show of the season. However, the episode The Vessel posed an unnatural legal question: How do you prosecute anyone for the murders by the possessed? The episode’s body count included two police officers and one priest at a safe house. Captain Frank Irving needed to tell the District Attorney something about a head being rotated 180 degrees and extremely broken bodies.

SleepyHollowStampAll three victims died in the line of duty, especially the Priest who challenged a demon face-to-face. All deserve better than being wrapped in rugs or elaborate cover stories of a biker gang that left no evidence.

So, who would a DA charge? The last living possessed person was Irving’s daughter Macey. While possessed, Macey as “the vessel” killed one of the police officers and the priest. If the DA decided to prosecute a child in a wheelchair, New York state allows a person between the ages of 13 to 15 to be criminally responsible for second degree murder. NY CLS Penal § 30.00. New York defines murder in the second degree as follows:

1. With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; except that in any prosecution under this subdivision, it is an affirmative defense that:
      (a) The defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the first degree or any other crime; or
      (b) The defendant’s conduct consisted of causing or aiding, without the use of duress or deception, another person to commit suicide. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the second degree or any other crime;

NY CLS Penal § 125.25.

Macey has a very strong affirmative defense: she was possessed. A defense attorney could argue the possession was an “extreme emotional disturbance.” This effectively would be an insanity defense that Macey was not responsible for snapping the priest’s neck and killing the police officer. Additionally, the possession would be the affirmative defense of a “mental disease or defect,” because Macey lacked the capacity to know the nature and consequences of her conduct or that he conduct was wrong, thus providing a total legal defense to any possible charges against her. NY CLS Penal § 40.15.

There are cases where defendants unsuccessfully argued the insanity defense because of demons or spirits, but in the fictional world of Sleepy Hollow, Macey would have a good defense if charged. (See, People v. Kashney, 129 Ill. App. 3d 218 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1984) or Carroll v. State, 815 So. 2d 601, 611 (Fla. 2002)).

Now, whether or not Abby and Crane could argue the necessity defense for stealing the lamp is another story….

 

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.