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The dwarven legal system is broken. So badly broken that, whether explicitly through legislation or accidentally via a loophoole, it is possible for the victim of a crime to charged, tried and convicted with the crime committed against them, in defiance of all logic and reason. Even the dwarves find this idiotic, and yet it hasn't been repealed or fixed.

How would such a law even come into being in the first place, and why/how would it be enforced instead of just being ignored?

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This situation exists in the real world. Some women are tried for being raped (for example in Afghanistan). You can take inspiration from it and say that people who are robbed can be tried for "unlawfull charity" if they don't have 5 witnesses to prove it was a real robbery. – SpaceLizard Jan 23 at 14:29
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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please take further discussion of cases like this there. (I'm leaving the first, and most-upvoted, comment pointing out the existence of real-world cases; there are more in the chat room.) – Monica Cellio Jan 26 at 4:31
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Note that, given the variety of real-world examples and analogues that folks have mentioned, you might want to put some thought into whether you want your story to be, or to seem like, an allegory; whether you want to seem to be taking a moral stance on some real-world issue; and so on. Some readers will appreciate a story that makes a statement about their own society, whereas other readers will find such a story to be heavy-handed (whether or not it is). It's entirely up to you what effect you go for -- provided you consciously think about it. – ruakh Jan 26 at 4:34
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Look up "attractive nuisance." – keshlam Jan 26 at 5:15
    
@ruakh, indeed, I do need to think about this some more. – Philip Rowlands Jan 26 at 8:42

15 Answers 15

up vote 66 down vote accepted

Here are a few possible laws and traditions that could create such a situation (some more credible than others).

Guilty by lack of evidence

A law was passed to deter people from doing false accusations.
If the plaintiff can't prove the crime did happen, he is systematically charged and convicted for said crime. If the judge asks for too many pieces of evidence (multiple witnesses, culprit's confession, weapon's receipt, etc...), a trial can quickly turn against the plaintiff.

This situation can result from a general culture of mistrust, where the public is prone to doubt everyone's word.

Blame the victim

This can take multiple forms (see Tim B and King-Ink answers):
- Blaming people for not protecting themselves enough, for attracting criminals or for being at the wrong place at the wrong time
- Accusing victims of crimes to bring shame to their families, their kingdom or their race
- etc. etc.

These laws can exist in a society that despises weakness.

The one who smelt it dealt it

Following an ancient tradition, if the Dwarf Police don't find any suspect during the year following a crime, the person who reported said crime becomes the prime suspect.

Caste system

If your dwarf society is structured by a rigid caste system, it could be a crime for a commoner to accuse someone above them in the social hierarchy.
(This is close to the "Blame the victim" solution)

Blame the boss

In a society with strong family values, the head of a family could be held responsible for the actions of all the other members of said family.
In this situation, if someone steals from their own family, their grand-mother, uncle or father could be prosecuted with them, even if they are the victim.
The same logic can apply to clans, guilds, companies, etc.

Someone has to pay

There is nothing the dwarf government dislike more than losing money. If the defendant can't pay the bill, then the plaintiff has to.
For example, if a homeless dwarf A deface the property of dwarf B, is found guilty but can't pay the fine, then dwarf B has to pay it.

Administrative nightmare

The dwarf justice system never doubt the content of an official form.
If the cop who took the deposition mixed up the plaintiff and the defendant's names, the plaintiff will be prosecuted.


You can mix some of these solutions together, and maybe add a bit of xenophobia and incompetence to it.

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I'm not fluent in English, please correct me if you see any mistakes of badly written sentences. – SpaceLizard Jan 23 at 17:23
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Looks fine to a native speaker. Also, good answer. – PyRulez Jan 23 at 18:59
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Excellent answer. I love the idea of every trial resulting in a conviction-- even if it's the prosecution. I bet that'd cut down on a lot of the cases courts go through even today. – phyrfox Jan 24 at 2:22
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"Blaming people for attracting criminals" happens even now in a way. If you live in the area frequented by bears, you have to keep trash bins securely closed. If bears manage to steal your trash, you may face fines for attracting them. See this: 27bslash6.com/massanutten.html – IMil Jan 24 at 23:48
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Since you ask for feedback on the English, one small point: perdure is an extremely uncommon word; it’s not wrong, but it is rare enough that many readers will not know it, and it is a bit incongruous even to those who do. (Especially given the context of trials and questioning evidence, it might easily get confused with the more common perjure.) A more standard alternative could be endure or persist. Excellent answer though, and excellent English in general! – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Jan 25 at 9:48

There are a number of possibilities.

Sadly in the real world there are a lot of cases where women (mostly) are prosecuted for "crimes" when they are the victim. For example reporting a rape but being arrested for having extra-marital sex is something that has actually happened recently, we're not talking ancient history here.

Moving away from that though the simplest way would be to have some sort of generic "aiding a criminal" offense that is far too broad. For example if you left a window open and were robbed you helped the criminal in the offence by leaving the window open, or if a criminal were wounded and you provided first aid (whether knowing he was a criminal or not) then again you would be aiding the criminal.

Along similar lines perhaps "providing finance to criminals" is a crime, but by having money stolen you are providing finance for them and fall under the law.

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There are also cases (US, possibly also UK) where teenagers have been both the victim and perpetrator under law for taking naked pictures of themselves. Some have been convicted. – Chris H Jan 25 at 16:09
    
That particular insanity is mostly still confined to the US I think, it could certainly theoretically happen here too with the way the law is worded but I'm not aware of any cases where common sense has not prevailed (not that I've done any real research on the matter). – Tim B Jan 25 at 16:24
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Some cities have laws about leaving your keys in your car, or leaving your car running, when on a public street. They will fine you, even if your car was stolen and they only know because you reported the stolen vehicle. – fredsbend Jan 25 at 22:17
    
Also, since on vehicular law, some cities make no provision for "no fault" collisions. Even in a true accident, someone will be reported as "at fault" and may be issued a citation along the lines of "negligent driving". Further, the insurance companies will fully prosecute that person in a process called subrogation. – fredsbend Jan 25 at 22:19

Strict liability laws.

These are laws for which there is no defense or mitigating circumstances. An example in the real-world would be something like "driving without insurance". If you're caught driving, with no insurance, that's an offense. Because it's not defensible, it's something very easy for the prosecution to process: "Here's the evidence. Prosecution rests".

Combined with joint liability laws, you can wrap the legal system around itself and produce bizarre scenarios.

Example:

Urist is robbed in the night by someone on a crime-spree, and a family heirloom is stolen. He informs the guard, and since the heirloom has distinguishing features, they promise to keep an eye out.

Months later, Urist is at a second-hand jewelry store, and spots his family heirloom for sale. Not wanting to lose it again, he buys it back and then goes to inform the guard (showing them the receipt).

Little does Urist know that "purchase of stolen property" is a strict liability crime: you're guilty even if you didn't know it was stolen (this is to stop criminals who try the old "I didn't steal it. I bought it and didn't know it was stolen" defense). Urist is also arrested for buying his own stolen property (alongside the shopkeeper).

Furthermore, when purchasing stolen property, you are guilty by association of the crimes committed when the property was stolen originally (notionally to prevent criminals from making organized gangs: the courts don't have to sort out exactly who stole what). Urist is now guilty of the theft of everything that was stolen that night, for buying back his own heirloom.

The local Jeweler's guild uses Urist's story as a cautionary tale of purchasing from second-hand stores, rather than guild-approved resellers. They "encourage" the magistrate (secretly, of course) to put forth the harshest possible sentence for Urist, to better illustrate the risks of dealing with third-party suppliers.

You do somewhat need a bit of backstory as to why the legal system is arranged to screw people. In my example, purchase of stolen property is on the books the way it is due to lobbying from various cartels and guilds (who don't like resellers, and hence make "buyer beware" as risky as possible).

This is also aided by a weak police system. If the police don't generally catch criminals, the ones they do catch need to be sent down with relative ease (in that if they can't spare the resources to actually find the criminal, they're not going to spare the resources to gather a large body of evidence and argue in court for 18 months).

An alternative is weak, voter-orientated politicians who pass laws in response to public outrage that are designed to shaft whoever gets caught in the net (again, without regards to common sense).

Since Urist is an retired solider, there are further penalties applied for crimes committed against a "defender of the Mountainhold". These laws are on the books due to public outrage that soldiers would have property stolen while they were away on duty; stealing from the house of a current- or previously serving soldier now carries double the regular penalty.

All of this comes about because of strict liability. His only legal tactic is to claim that it wasn't him who committed the crime (i.e. you're not guilty of driving without insurance if you're not driving). Since he's waved the receipt of him purchasing his own heirloom in front of the guard; however, that won't fly.

The laws should make sense, broadly speaking. It's reasonable to arrest someone dealing in stolen property because it makes it harder for criminals to offload their goods if there are no buyers. It's reasonable to have joint liability for some crimes because otherwise the criminals would simply each claim that someone else did the crime, and they were just there as backup. It's reasonable to have strong penalties for committing crimes against someone defending the homeland from the goblinoid hoards. It's reasonable to have strict liability for most of these things because there's no "reasonable" case where there would be a defense, so why tie up the courts with dealing with the obvious cases of guilt.

You just have to "forget" to make exceptions for the "unreasonable" cases. The laws don't exempt you against committing a crime against yourself; the rest is just paperwork.

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Nice answer, welcome to the site. – James Jan 25 at 14:33

If the property values are based on stewardship then not protecting your the stuff in your possession could be seen as a crime against the society.

Letting a heirloom get stolen is a crime against family, Losing a fight or getting mugged is a crime against Dwarf honor etc.

Us humans also like to blame victims for being stupid or not fighting enough.

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As was stated in previous answers, this happens in real life. The first case that sprung to mind for me is the case where a "17-year-old faced 10 years in prison and being labeled a 'sex offender' for possessing his own nude selfies".

It boggles the mind that an actual judge who passed the actual bar exam decided that this made sense. So it can happen, but if it happened in fiction it would probably be considered unbelievable. Maybe it would seem convincing in a system that was highly bureaucratic, with lots of litigation. (Kind of like the USA).

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Judge might not have a choice if the lawyer found the right boxes to check. – JDługosz Jan 23 at 21:45
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Judge has plenty of choice in the US to throw the thing out under several constitutional issues. Cruel and unusual punishment is the most obvious (it's used frequently for disproportionate punishment). Yes I know this incident was UK but the same nonsense happened in the US. – Joshua Jan 25 at 16:34
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There have been cases like this in the UK, but without the jail time. – Ian Ringrose Jan 26 at 9:28
    
@Joshua The case that was linked was in North Carolina, so US not UK. Not to say that it wouldn't happen in the UK... – Jekowl Jan 26 at 11:46

A few scenarios inspired by semi-fiction:

  • According to "Child 44", in Soviet Russia you could be prosecuted for spreading capitalist lies if you were to report pretty much any crime. That is because "there are no crime in heaven", so of course if you were to report one you are spreading lies to undermine the state.

  • Suite Francais: the mayor of the town was executed because he reported a theft from his house. The Nazi occupiers gave him 48 hours to apprehend the criminal or face the charges himself because, under occupation rules, the mayor is responsible for the actions of all the residents in the town.

Both of these would require the dwarven society to be totalitarian with the gears of state being focussed on suppression. In the first case you can choose to go with idealism (the dwarves really believe they live in heaven) or corruption (the state uses the ideal as a nice excuse to suppress opposition). In the second case there is no pretence - these rules exist to create fear for the sake of control.

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Well, luckily for you it's really easy to create such a loophole. And, guess what, you can even use it in a recursive way if it fits in the situation.


Dwarven nation has, among the others, a simple law from the recent past that clearly has been created with the aim to achieve the greater heights of dwarven society. Its scope is to force people to think about the outcome of their actions, to take care of others, to not do bad deeds:

Thou shall be punished for having brought affliction, either intentionally or unintentionally, on one of your brethen.

And it's a real nice law, resuming the spirit of all the other hundreds of laws making up the dwarven legal system, reflecting the hearth of the foundation of the dwarven nation itself (and great achievement of the previous council, pursued for a couple of centuries, carved almost anywhere, etc. etc.)

But it's essentially a law "in spirit", a resume of being a dwarf. Beautiful, enlightening, but in the end everybody think of it as just a direction, not a real law.

Until...a dwarf get caught stealing and reported to authorities.

Until such dwarf get sentenced to jail.

Until...well, guess what? Until that dwarf realize that, by reporting him and having him going to jail, his brethen has actually brought him affliction. Oops...

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Just note: this is not that far from impossible, real world is full of cases of good intention gone out of hand. Or even cases of plain stupidity: here in Italy it has happened a few times to have someone been charged to have been responsible for arousing the crime they have been victim. E.g. a case with a woman (hell, they always seems to take the shortest straw), been raped, judge declared she was being dressed too sexy and to have gone dressed that way in a ill part of the city, so that it was her fault to have been raped. – motoDrizzt Jan 23 at 22:27

There's a story in the military here that it's an offense to get a sunburn. The idea is that you'll be charged because you're allowing "government property" to be damaged (you the soldier being the property). While it sounds apocryphal, the military does have weird "catch-all" type laws designed to allow superiors to punish you for pretty much anything they want. The typical example of this is "conduct not becoming a member of the XYZ armed forces." If they can't find a rule or regulation that fits what you've done, that's what you're charged with.

If you were to have your rifle stolen, you'd definitely be charged and punished for that.

I know it's not exactly what you were thinking, but perhaps you could get some inspiration from the idea of it being illegal to allow yourself to be harmed.

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They don't have to see you as "government property" to punish sunburn. Self-inflicted, non-fatal injuries are a form of desertion or dereliction of duty. – o.m. Jan 24 at 15:32
    
From what I know, in the UK military, the "crime" is getting sunburn on part of your body that should have been covered by the uniform and not being able to do your duties due to the sunburn. – Ian Ringrose Jan 26 at 9:24

Have your dwarves come up with laws where practically any interaction with the watchmen can lead to charges, from "obstruction of justice" to "resisting arrest", regardless of the merits of the initial case. That is, there can be charges of "obstruction of justice" even if there was no crime at all, just because somebody irritated the watch. And bleeding on their clean shirts is an assault ...

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"Bleeding on their clean shirts is an assault" - that sounds like the sort of thing Terry Pratchett would have written. – Philip Rowlands Jan 23 at 17:29
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@PhilipRowlands Sadly, it's from the real world too, search for "Ferguson Police" and "Henry Davis". – SpaceLizard Jan 23 at 17:34
    
Seriously though, those dwarves need to appreciate all the hard work that goes into making a shirt! :D – Numeri Jan 24 at 21:12
    
And quite a lot of jurisdictions, even outside Jim Crow country, require the victim of an illegal arrest to go along peacefully. They say the time and place to argue is in court, not on the street. – o.m. Jan 25 at 6:16

How about a law that says:

A false-accuser shall be found guilty of the crime falsely accused.

If a crime is committed against you and you accuse the perpetrator, you may end up found guilty of the crime if you're unable to put together sufficient evidence. More likely if the standard for false-accusation is low.

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This is already part of the answer by SpaceLizard. – Philipp Jan 24 at 12:14

Protection for your own good. You were beaten and robbed, but your assailants didn't finish you off ... yet.

We presume you are in further danger (reference any number of arguments that you're better off killing an opponent than wounding him, since he can't appear against you in court) so until we arrest the perps, we'd better hold you in our nice secure cells for your own safety...

I'm really sorry about this, especially since we think the perps escaped to [Spain|Argentina|one of Jupiter's moons] so the arrest may take a while, but I'm sure you appreciate it's really for your own good.

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Suppose in Dwarvenland, the right to own and carry a sword was protected by the second provision listed in the highest fundamental law of the kingdom. Suppose there was a faction of dwarves in Dwarvenland who strongly objected to this, and attempted to pass laws to restrict the sale and ownership of swords under any possible pretext.

One possibility would be that, whenever a sword is stolen, the rightful owner is to be charged with a crime, either for failing to secure the sword properly, for failing to immediately disclose the theft to law enforcement, or both. This could conceivably have a legitimate crime-prevention purpose (i.e., preventing the proliferation of stolen weaponry on the black market), but could also have a chilling effect, discouraging dwarves from buying and owning the swords they are lawfully entitled to own. What if it was stolen? More significantly, it would cause victims of crimes to be victimized a second time, by the civil authorities.

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I doubt you can.

There are laws that I, and I hope most of us, consider as plain stupid. Say, we shouldn't convict anyone (woman, man, or dwarfs alike) for being raped, nor for losing a fair fight, nor for being of the wrong colour, nor for bleeding on a officer's shirt, (as suggested in previous answers) nor ... for a series of as-silly-as-they-get real or fictional laws.

If someone gets convicted according to a criminal law than it is because that someone committed a crime according to that law. We may think, from our culture, that the law is silly or plain stupid; maybe even those who apply it may think it is outdated. Still, one gets convicted because of a crime, not because of being a victim.

Off course, there still may be the chance of justice errors, of corruption, of police abuse, and so on. It happens.

Say that you report a corruption case but in the end you get (wrongly) convicted for defamation. Still, you are not condemned for being the victim of corruption, but for the crime of defamation. It is an error. It does happen.

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Possibly not exactly what you're looking for as it's not the same crime, but you have the old story of the robber breaking a window to get into a house, injuring himself with the broken glass, and suing the owner.

Or indeed the person who's attacked defending themselves and (accidentally or otherwise) killing the assailant, accused of not showing due restraint.

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Pay for investigation. The police made efforts to investigate the case. Even if unsuccessful, someone has to pay for the work.

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