If you turn to the page 22 of the May issue of Maxim magazine, you’d find a published abstract of Half Guilty in the form of an answer to the reader-submitted Ask Maxim question “If a conjoined twin commits a homicide, is his other half also convicted of the crime?” While it’s no footnote to a 9th Circuit opinion, it’s got about as much authority as a law review article. Here’s the full submission, excerpted for the column:
1) If a conjoined twin commits a homicide, is their other half also convicted of the crime?
Probably not. Though there has never been an American court ruling on the legal personhood of conjoined twins, a court would likely consider them distinct individuals. To convict someone of a crime in this country, the state must show that she committed a guilty act with a guilty mind. Unless a prosecutor can prove that both twins committed the guilty act (murder) with the guilty mind (intent to commit murder), the state could not convict them both.
2) Can they be considered a witness for testimony?
Yes, the court could compel one twin to testify against the other. While many states recognize a privilege from compelling spouses to testify against each other, there are few, if any, that recognize such a privilege between siblings. However, there are very rare cases of conjoined twins with fused brains; if a court viewed such twins as one person in the eyes of the law, that person could not be compelled to testify against herself under the Fifth Amendment.
3) Are there any known cases of this ever happening?
The 17th century Italian conjoined twins Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo purportedly skirted a murder conviction thanks to their conjoinment. Authorities arrested Lazarus after he stabbed a man to death for teasing him and his parasitic twin brother. Though he was sentenced to death the court granted him a reprieve, finding that they could not execute Lazarus without killing his innocent conjoined twin.