Hitman (or woman) for hire

Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

Implausible or unlikely as the above Blog title may sound, you can apparently hire people to carry out murders on your behalf – quite easily.

How did I find this out? Simply by chancing upon another Blog article on WordPress. This article exposed one chilling aspect of modern life: the reality of the so called ‘dark web’. This is an unregulated part of the internet where all sorts of criminal activities (arms dealing, drugs, human trafficking, prostitution – and even murder for hire) can be accessed.

The article in question (see the link below) discussed a situation where someone arranged the murder (or a ‘hit’) on their stepmother for $5:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/22973954/posts/2522423606

We often think of contract killings as being something straight out of Hollywood. After all, one of the most popular movies currently being aired on Netflix is ‘The Irishman‘ (directed by Martin Scorsese) which depicts the life and times of Frank Sheeran, an enforcer for the Mafia. In one of the scenes, an enquiry is put to Sheeran by Russell Bufalino, a Mafia boss: ‘I hear you paint houses?’ Painting houses has nothing to do with interior decoration, but rather that Sheeran is a gun for hire.

Going back a few years, a terrific (and underrated) Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt and the late, great James Gandolfini (‘Killing Them Softly’) had scenes with the main character, Jackie Cogan (played by Pitt) negotiating contract killings with a Mafia lawyer – as if this was a normal business transaction (in certain worlds/sub-cultures it will be).

It so happened this morning, that I was discussing the law of contract with a group of students. In particular, I had planned to talk to them about void contracts. The above article was, therefore, something of a fortunate discovery in that arranging the murder of another person (for a fee) is a really graphic example of a void agreement. In other words, such an agreement is a criminal conspiracy.

I also have to add that I was pretty shocked at the very low value placed on the potential act of taking of another human life.

If an agreement (or part of it) is deemed to be void, it can have no legal force – it is as if it never existed. Neither party to the agreement can enforce it. So, if the person who hired the killer was unhappy that the murder had not in fact been carried out or had been botched in some way, would they have any legal redress?

I hope you answered absolutely not! The law would be a complete ass if participants in criminal conspiracies were able to enforce their agreements in the civil courts on the basis of contract law. Such a situation would positively encourage people to enter into all sorts of questionable activities.

It reminds me of the case recounted to my first year law class by Professor John Huntley many years ago (Everet v Williams [1725] 2 Pothier on Obligations 3 9 LQR 197). He told the story of the two highway robbers who agreed to split the proceeds of their crimes on a 50/50 basis. One of the robbers made off with the stash leaving his partner in crime with nothing. This unfortunate individual took legal action to recover his share. As Professor Huntley concluded, when the judge discovered the background to the legal action, he was very fair: he ordered that the two highwaymen should be put to death by hanging.

That is the moral of the story: if you get involved in a criminal conspiracy, the law does not offer you any protection if you are cheated by your partners in crime. Furthermore, silence (on your part) is probably a sensible option because to attempt to recover your share of the ill gotten gains would amount to a confession of guilt on your part. Don’t be naive and think you could be vague about the background to the legal action; the judge will almost certainly want to know why you are raising an action to recover a debt or items of property.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 18 December 2019

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sjcrossan1

A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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