Someone has just poisoned a Necromancer in a modern society like ours (just with mages around since a few decades). The Necromancer's body died, but he had spells in place that automatically turn his body to undead and keep his mind and soul inside. The Necromancer, understandably upset, tries to get the man who poisoned him tried for murder.

From what I know of the law, its rarely as simple as "that seems logical", if only because everyone has a different logic. I would like to know of people who have more law experience what would happen in such a case.

  • the Necromancer's body is declared dead by independent doctors.

  • the Necromancer has proven to be turned from "alive" to "undead".

  • the Necromancer is robbed of many simple pleasures while undead. Like food, drink or enjoying the sun.

  • the Necromancer has revealed that he can revive his body and become alive again in a few years, and keep his body moving and fresh in the meantime.

  • it has been proven beyond doubt who used the poison, how he used it, what he used and that it was his full intention to kill the Necromancer. He just didn't know the Necromancer would survive.

  • this is the first case of a deceased being able to be be asked questions and being present at the proceedings ever.

  • it takes place in France.

I wonder how this case would be executed. Technically the Necromancer is dead, practically he's not dead and just incredibly inconvenienced by the act of dying and being dead.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 22, 2022 at 4:32

5 Answers 5


Please bear with me for the sources and links, most are in French and I can't find English variants. Use a translation device or ask in comments if you need help.

If it happened in 2022...

This is a voluntary homicide

Le fait de donner volontairement la mort à autrui constitue un meurtre. Il est puni de trente ans de réclusion criminelle.
Article 221-1 du code pénal, Legifrance

Or, in non-Frenchy words :

The fact of giving voluntarily death to other constitute a murder1. It is punished by 30 years of imprisonment.

It will be dealt in a "cour d'assises", the court for the worst criminal cases and which consists of a jury trial of civilians randomly picked among the population.

Here's the deal when making troubles in France : there are three parts which constitutes an "infraction"2,3 (offence) : A law element, a moral element and a material element, which is always an act or a behavior. For the law part, it's the penal code and especially the article above. For the moral one, it is a poisoning, so voluntarily. For the most ambiguous part, the material part is to give death, not that the person is dead4. The first is an action commited by the person, the other the current state of the victim which is irrelevant to determine if there was a crime. Therefore you have all 3 ingredients for a case of murder.

To better understand...

Imagine you're a thief, and you broke into a house. You did nothing inside and left silently. The next day the police comes to your house with camera evidence of what you did. Given that they have all the proofs you're the one on camera, they have all the rights to take you to justice.

Indeed, even if you are not there anymore, you did came into the property. You "made" a break-in, even if you did nothing inside the house! That's why offences (at least in France) are based on acts, not on the current state of the affair.

Final note

There are lots of exceptions and specifics in how the punishment is given, when any is given. For an interesting instance, article 221-5-3 exempts from the 30 years of prison if, after some remorses, you called the authorities and managed that way to save the person you tried to kill and revealed the other accomplices. And well, if your lawyer is good, you can minimize the punishment you'll receive through the jury's decision. And if they're very, very good or the case is very very special, you can get a free get-out-of-jail card with the President's pardon.

1 : In case you're wondering, yes, poisoning is akin to murder ^^. They get similar conclusions
2 : Ref' : The constituants of an offence (fr)
3 : And another ref', just to be sure since it's critical : The constituants of an offence (bis) (fr)
4 : As stated in the article 111-4, the penal code must be interpreted strictly, hence there's really not much leeway around this.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes this is what I had in mind. The weirdness of legal systems and procedures arent caught in intuition, like most other answers still relied on. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Nov 21, 2022 at 21:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Demigan Glad it helped you 🐶; I agree laws can be misleading, especially when it's not your country's. It's truly a boon for me that you chose France, I would not have even tried to answer otherwise x). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Nov 21, 2022 at 23:05


With the Necromancer alive (sort of), a murder charge is not applicable. However, the evidence clearly points to attempted murder, and the necromancer obviously suffered grievious and irreversible bodily harm. Hence, the closest precedent will be an assault where the victim suffers massive damage, yet survives. I believe the result of such a clearcut trial will be years in prison for the perpretator, who will also have to pay large compensations to the victim.

  • $\begingroup$ And when the assailant went into it in the full and certain knowledge that his victim was a necromancer and wouldn't be dead at the end of the day? 😁 merely assault and grievous bodily harm with a potential additional charge of criminal damage (depending on how the necromancer necromancers himself back to life) and compensation for whatever resources you just wasted for him? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore: "it has been proven beyond doubt who used the poison, how he used it, what he used and that it was his full intention to kill the Necromancer. He just didn't know the Necromancer would survive." $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yup, just asking how you'd consider an alternative related scenario 🤗 $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ Let's disregard that the querent asked for France, you answered before the edit I think : "An assault is the act of inflicting physical harm or unwanted physical contact upon a person or, in some specific legal definitions, a threat or attempt to commit such an action.". How poisoning, an act which doesn't include imminent physical harm and no threat is a viable charge? Do you have references to support that poisoning can be an assault in some US states or elsewhere? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Nov 21, 2022 at 22:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena: Follow this link to read how a Georgia court held a defendant guilty of assault with the intent to murder where he placed poison in coffee that was drunk by the victim: jstor.org/stable/1281608. Also, the necromancer did suffer serious physical harm, since it was stated that he was robbed of many simple pleasures when undead. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2022 at 9:27

this is the first case of a deceased being able to be be asked questions and being present at the proceedings ever.

Laws are done after something has happened and some high poppy felt the need to regulate it. Laws do not regulate abstract possibilities, only concrete ones.

While in the past corpses have been brought to trial, in modern and not so fancy legislations this cannot happen.

In your case, most of the legislations would have catch 22 situation:

  • if the necromancer is dead, they cannot testify for their murder (unless we don't count undergoing autoptic exam as testifying)
  • if they can testify, they are alive and therefore there is no murder to try

Even if the situation would result in a law being made, common practice in jurisprudence is that one cannot be tried for something which has been made illegal after the act was done, so the necromancer is out of luck.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I love Catch-22 situations like this. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldnt the case then be a planned attempted murder? Its not like they will not prosecute right? Assume the Necromancer has asked around before going to trial to prevent technicalities like him still being able to walk and talk to throw the case. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ With that said, (your last paragraph) I've been reading up on some of the turmoils in the Roman Republic that preceded Caesar, and discovered that at that point in time, one could be convicted and punished of an ex post facto kind of law. (Nice answer) $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ If you have the ability to contact the dead as would be expected with necromancy the second point isn’t valid. $\endgroup$
    – Joe W
    Nov 21, 2022 at 17:23

The state of being undead is presumably not already recognised by the law? That means there are several possible outcomes, depending on the court's interpretation of the necromancer's condition. These include, but are not limited to:

He's still talking, so he's alive

The correct charges are attempted murder, plus grievous bodily harm for the actual effects of the attempt, as mitigated by the necromancer's abilities. He may hope to get better from the GBH, but there's nothing unusual about that.

His body's dead, so he's dead

The charge is murder, but the necromancer's evidence is likely of no value, because he's dead. An autopsy may be ordered, and if so, there will presumably be a court case about that. That might get the condition of undeath to be legally recognised, but nobody could predict the odds on that.

There's a mobile corpse, with an evil spirit animating it

The charge is murder, but the necromancer's evidence is of no value and may indicate a supernatural conspiracy to frame the killer. The necromancer will be laid to rest, by force if necessary, and a jury may well find the killer innocent, because of the framing.

  • $\begingroup$ If his heart is not beating, there's a good chance he's dead in the USA. I think most European nations use brain function. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Nov 22, 2022 at 3:54

Closest Legal Precedent

I have watched enough courtroom dramas to know that Lawyers love to cite legal precedent. They also love to wear expensive suits and Rolex watches, make strings of metaphors, never quote any laws in particular, and have unethical love affairs with their clients and each other, where the bedsheets always fall just-so and cover any potential naughty bits.

Steamy love affairs aside, the legal precedent is necessary because there is no law for this. You see no one has a universal definition of "death". There is certainly no legal term for when the client's body start to decompose, but they can still walk and talk and remember and sue you for grievances.

the Necromancer's body is declared dead by independent doctors.

I find it hard to imagine a real doctor will declare you dead despite the fact you drove yourself to the hospital.

There is Legal Death which is about when the person's property must be redistributed for example. This can be declared even if the body is not present. For example someone who goes missing long enough can be declared legally dead. There are stories of people coming back from legal death.

On the bodily side, there is Brain Death which is when the brain activity changes. There is Clinical Death which is about when the patient stops breathing and pumping blood. To complicate things, people can be brought back from Clinical Death using life support.

When presented with your new scenario, I suspect the lawmakers will find the closest precedent and legislate accordingly. For example attempted vehicular homicide where the victim's arms and legs were broken and they sustained a head injury with lingering mental and psychological effects. . . .

the Necromancer is robbed of many simple pleasures while undead. Like food, drink or enjoying the sun.

but for which they eventually recover to full health. . .

the Necromancer has revealed he can revive his body and turn become alive again in a few years

A lingering but reversible mental and physical injury is in principle similar to having an undead body for a few years. The victim must be compensated for the physical and mental harm, for the trauma of the murder itself, and also for the inconvenience caused over the many years of recovery.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good answer. The doctor side is about them declaring "there is no bodily activity, including in the brain. And the subject only needs to breathe to speak. Any movement and thought is magically powered". $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "I have watched enough courtroom dramas to know that Lawyers love to cite legal precedent": The question specifies that story "takes place in France". There is no such thing as "legal precedent". And if truely "there is no law for this" then there is no trial for this; in the Civil Law system, the prosecution absolutely must cite the chapter and verse of the law; the typical formulation is "in fact, the accused has done such and such stuff; in law, these actions constitute a crime as specified by article number paragraph letter of the Penal Code". In Europe, we rely on written laws. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP "I suspect the lawmakers will find the closest precedent and legislate accordingly." $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Whatever the lawmakers do is irrelevant. Penal law cannot be applied retroactively, unless in favor of the accused. (And I did not comment about this at all. I commented about the lawyers citing legal precedent, which they simply cannot do in Civil Law countries, and about the belief that in France you can have a penal trial without the prosecution indicating exactly what law is the accused supposed have broken and in what exact way.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP What about the L-shaped bedsheets for post-coital ruminations? Do they at least have those in France? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:08

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .