Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dream Criminal Law Exam: Hero or Menace – How Link Would Fare Under the Law?

By Michael Stone

Here is the final exam question: The well-intentioned Young Man races to the state prison in the pouring rain. A beautiful Senator sends a secret letter to Young Man, and asks for his help. She knows that the corrupt and well-connected Lieutenant Governor poisoned the Governor. And few know that Lieutenant Governor is actually Crime Boss’ lackey. Lieutenant Governor trumped up some criminal charges and had Senator arrested to silence her. He even bribed some judges to deny Senator bail and delay trial. However, Young Man sneaks into the prison, fights through the guards, and breaks Senator out. The two leave behind a trail of dead prison guards, including the warden. Young Man hides Senator in a nearby church—the preacher is a member of an underground organization that knows the truth about Lieutenant Governor. Discuss all of Young Man’s criminal liability.

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I was a gamer before law school swallowed my free time. The exam question is basically the introduction to my favorite game, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” The plot of the game involves Link (Young Man) traversing the land of Hyrule to search for objects to defeat Agahnim (Lieutenant Governor) and Ganon (Crime Boss), save Princess Zelda (Senator), and ultimately restore Hyrule by making a wish on the Triforce.

I bring it up because last spring break I had the chance to have a free thought: What would legally happen to Link as a defendant? Let’s assume that there is no magic involved, and let’s assume that all events occur in Maryland. How does our hero fare in court?

Defendant aka Link
According to the game’s official history, Agahnim “put the soldiers of the kingdom under his spell” after killing the King. This forces Link to fight every knight in the kingdom he encounters. The game actually includes wanted signs for Link’s arrest, and the knights actively attack Link on sight. I found a map and counted approximately 50 knights that Link would encounter in just one pass of Hyrule.

Since we are ignoring magic, let’s say the soldiers are just following orders. Assuming knights are equivalent to police, a fully-armed Link is resisting arrest in each violent encounter. Each resisting arrest charge and conviction comes with a maximum three year jail term and/or $5,000 fine. That is 150 years of incarceration and $250,000—a lot for a guy that only carries $40 (according to this exchange rate).

But that is the least of his problems. Link must rob the knights for money, and he’s armed. So Link can be charged with and convicted of 50 counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. This is a felony, and it carries a maximum of a twenty year sentence for each encounter. That is potentially 1,000 years in prison. By now he should be questioning whether Zelda was worth it.

It gets worse. Link kills every knight he encounters in Hyrule or dies trying. That is a lot of acts of homicide. Link could argue they were all self-defense because they are trying to kill him. But that might be tough considering Link is mute and can’t say he was in fear for his life. Also, he did rob the corpses. Worst-case scenario, the state charges Link with at least 50 counts of first-degree murder (homicide with the intent to kill). In Maryland, each count of first-degree murder has a mandatory minimum of life in prison. Ipso facto, Link could be facing 50 consecutive life sentences. Now facing the slammer, Link could really use some magic.

Of course this doesn’t include Link’s repeated burglaries of people’s homes, animal cruelty (Link attacks chickens for fun), or malicious destruction of property (he destroys people’s hedges and fences). Nor does it include his possession of destructive devices (bombs and other explosive devices), or harboring the escaped fugitive Zelda (let's not even begin to talk about the possible federal conspiracy charges since that crime probably involved by crossing state lines).

The gamer in me still believes Link is a hero. But the law student in me hopes he gets a good attorney.


  1. What about the defense of duress?

  2. Duress is never a defense to first or second degree murder, so the life sentences are stuck. But maybe for the other crimes. Alright! Link just shaved a millennium off his time!