Sherlock is the critically-acclaimed BBC adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories in a twenty-first-century setting. The latest episode, “The Reichenbach Fall,” is a re-telling of “The Final Problem,” in which Sherlock, battling with arch-nemesis Moriarty, plunges down the Reichenbach Falls, presumably to his death. It is the final episode of the second season.
He didn’t die in the original story, of course (it isn’t a spoiler if it was published a century ago, people!), but the following will contain some pretty serious spoilers for “The Reichenbach Fall,” so you’ve been warned.
I. The Set Up
So, Moriarty is back. Had to happen eventually. Suffice it to say that he arranges things so that he meets Sherlock on the roof of a tall building, and tells Sherlock that he’s got people watching both them and Sherlock’s closest friends and acquaintances. If the man watching the roof doesn’t see Holmes jump off the building, he won’t give the order to desist, and the other watchers will open fire. And just to make things a little more interesting, Moriarty puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger, so the only way for that order to be given is for Holmes to jump. Quite a dilemma.
II. Is it a Crime?
Obviously, Moriarty’s done a lot of illegal things here, and if any harm had come to Sherlock’s friends, the criminal liability would be obvious. The question is whether getting Holmes to jump off the building is a crime. He doesn’t push Sherlock, and doesn’t even threaten him with any injury. It wasn’t a “choose how you want to die” situation. The question is whether putting Sherlock in a situation where he had to kill himself (or at least seriously risk it) to save other people is, in itself, a crime.
Yes. The Suicide Act of 1961, which decriminalized suicide, provides that “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or attempt by another to commit suicide shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.” So while Sherlock is not liable for any crime here–though he would have been prior to 1961, when suicide actually was a crime–Moriarty is liable for Sherlock jumping off the roof.
This would also be the result in many US jurisdictions. Section 210.5 of the Model Penal Code provides for a conviction for purposely causing another to commit suicide by force, duress, or deception, and numerous states have implemented corresponding statutes. For example, Ind. Code § 35-45-1-2 provides that causing another to commit suicide is a Class B felony, and Pennsylvania has adopted the MPC verbatim.
Of course, all of this is a bit beside the point, because Moriarty kills himself before leaving Sherlock to his fate. Sherlock, however, would likely not be liable for this, since even though there were some vague threats, Sherlock didn’t do or say anything to suggest that he wanted Moriarty to do this. Quite the opposite, if anything. But if Moriarty had survived, he’d be facing either charges for the murders of Sherlock’s friends, or for Sherlock’s suicide.
Furthermore, if any of Moriarty’s henchmen were aware of the plan to induce Holmes’s suicide, they could have (another) count of conspiracy added to their charges.