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The Hunger Games and the Texas Penal Code


The story of a young girl protecting her sister and defying her government has swept the nation. The audience undeniably roots for the main character to survive the grueling conditions of the game and return to her family. But, in rooting for her to survive, the audience must endure the deaths of others because in the Hunger Games, it is a fight to death.

There is no doubt that the raved about movie The Hunger Games has its fair share of gory death scenes. The plot circles around a wealthy Capitol punishing the poorer surrounding 12 Districts for past rebellion. In punishing the Districts, each District offers up a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the Hunger Games in which only one person comes out alive.

Violent? Disturbing? Inhumane?

Despite the movie's excellent reviews, the plot line does contradict values we tend to hold as a society. This is because the actions taken by many of the characters in The Hunger Games would be sufficient to amount to a criminal charge under our laws in Texas.

Besides the obvious charges of murder – that we will discuss later – I think we should start with the criminal responsibility of some of the characters. Under the Texas Penal Code §7.01, a person is considered a party to the offense if he commits an offense or if someone else that he is criminally responsible for commits an offense. Each party to an offense may be charged with the commission of that offense. It also states in the Penal Code §7.02 that a person is criminally responsible for someone else's actions when he acts with the intent to promote or assist the other's offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense.

Having said that, it is feasable that the government officials may be criminally responsible for the deaths of the participants during the Hunger Games. The government encourages, directs, and aids in the killings of the Hunger Game participants.

The participants could be charged with murder under the Penal Code § 19.02 here in Texas. To be charged with murder a person must intentionally or knowingly cause the death of an individual. All of the participants are intentionally taking the lives of the other participants in order to be the winner at the end. Participants that kill multiple times could even be charged with capital murder (§ 19.03). For a murder to be considered a capital murder, a person must have committed the crime of murder plus one of the nine aggravating factors. For this circumstance, the aggravating factor that would apply to the Hunger Game participants is the murdering of more than one person pursuant to the same course of conduct – that being the Hunger Games. A charge of murder is a first degree felony and a capital murder is a capital felony punished with a death sentence of life without parole.

Although some of the participants, like Katniss, could be charged with the murder of other participants, she could use the affirmative defense of self-defense as well as defense of others. An individual is justified in defending themselves against another if the individual reasonably believes force against another is immediately necessary to protect against the use or attempted use of unlawful force (§9.31). Meaning that for self-defense to be a valid defense, the individual defending themselves must believe that their reaction is immediately necessary against unlawful force. Also, in order for an individual's belief to be presumed reasonable, the individual must have known or had reason to believe that the person they used force against was, in Katniss's situation, committing or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or aggravated robbery. The individual must also not provoke the force against them or be engaged in criminal activity.

During the Hunger Games, Katniss had reason to believe that all of the other players had the intention to kill her. Without her provoking anyone, she had reason to believe that the other players had deathly intentions simply because of the terms of the game.

It may seem to go hand in hand. But self-defense doesn't always mean that an individual is justified in using deadly force. Under the Penal Code §9.32, an individual is justified to use deadly force against another if they would be justified to use force under the self-defense statute AND when the individual reasonably believes that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect against unlawful deadly force or to prevent the other's imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery. The difference between using force as self-defense and using deadly force as self-defense is when the individual reasonably believes that the deadly force is necessary.

In Katniss' situation, she could reasonably believe that deadly force was immediately necessary in keeping herself safe. She also could reasonably believe that deadly force was necessary to keep other people safe. Such as Rue, the little girl who befriends Katniss, and Peeta, the male tribute from her District. When the two of them were in trouble, it was reasonable for Katniss to reasonably believe deadly force was necessary to protect her friends. Under our Penal Code §9.33, an individual is justified in using deadly force against another to protect a third party if that individual would be justified in using that force under the self-defense and deadly force statutes. The individual must also believe that their intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.

For Katniss, it was reasonable for her to use deadly force when trying to protect Rue and herself. This is obvious because of the other participant using a bow and arrow against them and resulting in the death of Rue. It would also be reasonable for Katniss to use deadly force against Cato when he was threatening to throw Peeta to the dogs. The deadly force used against Peeta and Rue justifies Katniss using deadly force against their attackers.

All in all, there was a lot of criminal activity happening in the movie The Hunger Games. If our laws were in place, many characters would be thinking twice before participating or encouraging the conduct.