If a character were to fake their own murder (as in frame themself) would they be arrested after the ruse was discovered, or would there not be a good enough case against them? This is assuming that the person making the arrest is a model, law-abiding, cop and that the character hadn’t broken any/other laws.

Well, first, please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer. But, I’m pretty sure framing yourself for your own murder while instead faking your own death is called “faking a suicide.” Or, more elegantly, “Psuedocide.” When you set out to kill yourself, that’s not generally called “murder.” I mean, the term kind of works, but not really.

Murder is where you kill someone else. Suicide is where you kill yourself. You can’t really murder yourself. (At least barring some kind of long-chain comedy of errors.)

Framing usually refers to setting someone else up for a crime they didn’t commit. In the modern world, for someone who is not directly involved in the investigation, they’re basically a fiction.

There’s two exceptions. It’s entirely possible to frame yourself for a crime you didn’t commit. By messing with the crime scene before the police get there, using the murder weapon on a wall before the cops get there, for example. Also offering a false confession is, unfortunately, a fantastic way to derail an investigation onto yourself. If your character’s goal is to take the (figurative) bullet for someone else, this is a real option.

If your character’s deception is exposed, they’d be subject to different criminal charges for obstruction of justice, filing a false police report, or even perjury, depending on the circumstances. They carry much lighter penalties than murder, but lying to the cops to interfere with an investigation is a crime.

The other exception is if the character doing the framing is formally involved in the investigation. If that’s the case, and they have an ulterior agenda, then they have a lot of leeway to manipulate the case towards a suspect of their choosing, and tragically, it works.

This ranges from steering the investigation initially, to unscrupulous actions in the courtroom. An unscrupulous ADA may withhold exculpatory
evidence in order to further pad their win record, or pressure plea
agreements out of innocent parties because they’re being graded on
winning, not on getting it right.

Juries are disproportionately trusting of presented forensic evidence. Even when those forensics really boil down to the expert on the stand presenting an opinion as fact. Which was the case with most of the FBI hair and bite matching forensics.

There was a major scandal back in 2013, where it was revealed that a chemist (Annie Dookhan) in a Massachusetts drug lab was faking drug test results rather than actually processing them normally, and reported false positives. In at least some cases, she actually added cocaine to samples to return positives. Very rough back of the napkin math suggests her evidence may have tainted over forty thousand cases.

On top of that, there’s research out there now, showing that drug and
bomb dogs are far better at responding to their owner’s non-verbal cues
then actually sniffing out, well, bombs or drugs. Which is incidentally
why they sometimes appear to be racist. It’s not the dog, it’s its
owner.

We even have what’s called “parallel reconstruction” where law enforcement officers will actually falsify evidence in order to convict someone because they “know” they have the right guy. Usually because of surveillance that originated with PRISM, Minaret or another intelligence operations. Until recently, the DEA operated a Special Operations Department (SOD) with the explicit purpose of taking surveillance from NSA operations and then constructing falsified cases around criminal activity that had been exposed.

What I’m saying is, today, in America, if you’re being framed for a crime, it’s going to be by the police, or someone in law enforcement. Not some random guy who pretended to die.

It’s probably worth stressing that this still isn’t the norm, nor is it intentionally malicious behavior (most of the time.) But, pressuring officers to deliver arrests (via quota systems), grading prosecutors on their win ratios, and evaluating everyone in Law Enforcement by how much work they do encourages people to apply their authority indiscriminately, rather than ensuring that justice is actually served.

But, it should illustrate how many tools a malicious cop, with an agenda, and some familiarity with the job, has to implicate the suspect of their choosing. If you haven’t seen James Duane and George Bruch’s Don’t Talk to the Police video you can find a copy here. Listen to what Bruch is saying, and keep in mind that all of this also applies doubly when dealing with an officer who has an agenda.

Also, keep in mind that an officer who is caught manipulating an investigation in this way will be crucified by their fellow officers. It’s easy to sit back and look at the state of law enforcement and say the blue shield protects all, but an officer who can’t pawn off their malicious actions as incompetence will not be accepted.

Now, someone who fakes their own death are going to be up for criminal charges. Those may range from wasting police resources to tax evasion. Which sounds a lot more amusing than the actual felony charge. Also anyone who claimed they saw the “victim” die could be charged with filing a false police report. Those will vary state to state, and it is possible in some states it’s illegal to fake your own death, (though, I know it’s not in California).

Unfortunately, overturning a murder (or any) conviction based on exculpatory evidence is not an easy process. So if your character was convicted for killing someone who later turned up alive and unharmed, it’s not as simple as saying, “well, clearly I couldn’t have done it, you should let me out now.” It’s going to take years bouncing in and out of appeals courts.

Worse, plea agreements actually preclude the possibility of appeal. So if your character pled to life in prison to avoid the death penalty, the part where the person they supposedly killed is up and alive won’t get them released.

At each step there is the possibility of the prosecutor and judge actually realizing how stupid the situation is and reversing their error, but in the case of a plea, the defendant actually can’t initiate that.

Anyway, as always, I’m not a lawyer, so take this with a grain or twenty of salt.

-Starke

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