What is the meaning of the famous words "Wanted Dead Or Alive"? Did they mean that it was for some reason legal for ordinary people to kill the fugitive described on the poster? Is there still this power in the world, for someone to declare that other people may legally be killed?

  • 4
    Maybe it only meant that the reward was payable even if the criminal was delivered dead, without meaning that the criminal could be killed without reason (i.e., if the criminal surrendered you would have had to deliver him alive, but if he resisted arrest or was violent and you had to lawfully kill him you would still get to be paid the reward). Wikipedia does not help much here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanted_poster
    – SJuan76
    Feb 15 '17 at 13:29
  • In any way, a more clear antecedent would be the bounties offered for scalps in colonial (and postcolonial) USA and Mexico: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scalping#Colonial_wars
    – SJuan76
    Feb 15 '17 at 13:36

In the USA, people acting as Bounty Hunters have been (and in some cases still are today) legally allowed to arrest fugitives who have a valid warrant out for their arrest.

If said fugitive uses deadly force to evade or deter capture, of course the arresting parties are perfectly legally allowed to defend themselves (also with deadly force). But historically (until 1985!) you could shoot someone merely for trying to evade capture.

Technically this doesn't allow you just flat out murder a sleeping person. But once they are dead, they can't exactly dispute your version of events either. If they were wanted for a bad enough crime, law enforcement probably isn't going to be too inclined to get picky.

The exact details of the modern situation are probably better asked on a Law or Politics stack. But I did touch above on it being not quite as extreme now, but still in some situations quite possible for a private citizen to make a living as a bounty hunter in the USA.

  • So "wanted dead or alive" is not a distinction of the particular fugitive. Every fugitive is wanted dead or alive.
    – Chaim
    Feb 16 '17 at 12:47
  • Sure it is. Its saying they'll still pay the bounty, even if you kill him. There were some situations where that was not the case.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 16 '17 at 12:58

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