Within three years of the initial masquerade drop, it was ruled that vampires were considered humans. They had the right to own property, and to most protections of mortal law. (E.g. it is illegal to murder a vampire, as it would be illegal to murder a human.) While the average person who does not study the law understands the above, it is worth noting that vampires being “legally considered humans” is a simplification of a complex body of law. More specifically, vampires have most of the protections that humans do and, unless another law specifically dictates a differing set of rights, vampires are considered to have the same rights as normal humans. (Of course, in situations revolving around things particular to vampires—such as things regarding torpor or disciplines—specific laws need to be passed regarding what rights vampires do or do not have.)
For vampires that were presumed dead and are now re-entering mortal society, any decisions regarding property, insurance, or funds belonging to the vampire will be treated as though the vampire were legally absent. The vampire was presumed permanently absent, and the court will uphold decisions made as such. The vampire may reclaim any of their property that had not been distributed.
As of 1969, the Embrace is not considered death, but is instead considered a change in an individual’s classification (akin to marriage). See below for more on the Embrace. Those who are Embraced are permitted to petition for their death certificate to be modified into an Embrace certificate, and they may apply for an ID that states their vampiric condition. The time between renewals is a few years longer than for a mortal ID, as a courtesy to those with longer lifespans. A vampire ID may be required for some aspects of interaction with mortal society, such as applying for a job, driving, or voting.
There are a few things that are in contention, or have only recently been resolved. The marriage of a mortal with a vampire is not yet legal, and there are a number of groups and arguments for both sides. Vampires’ right to vote was granted only within the past year, after much debate.
The Court and Legal System
Is evidence gathered through disciplines admissible in courts of law?
No. Due to the risk of the evidence being misleading, misinterpreted, confusing, or causing unfair prejudice to the jury, evidence obtained through the use of supernatural methods is inadmissible in court. The HFF purport that there is no reliable way for this to be enforced, meaning that vampires are essentially on the honor system.
NOVA has sponsored programs, adopted in many states, to provide “Sanguinist Experts” to courts to assist in assuring that witnesses have not been tampered with. These programs are generally supported by the HFF and KSE as well (one of the few points of agreement among the parties). However, the HFF remains staunchly of the opinion that more regulations are needed and that humans can’t afford to be reliant on vampires in this fashion. The KSE, on the other hand, points to the necessity of Sanguinist Experts as proof that humans are fundamentally ill-equipped to deal with these issues, and that therefore many cases should be decided in vampire courts instead.
The entrance of Druzhina Oaths into the human legal system is one example of how vampire abilities can have (in contrast to Majesty) a positive effect on law enforcement. While Druzhina Scriveners remain fairly rare in courts, they are generally positively perceived.
Are there vampires in prison? Can vampires be sentenced to ‘Life in prison’? Are there special prisons for vampires? Is torpor a valid punishment?
Vampires are treated as humans with regards to the law, so they can be sentenced to imprisonment, including life in prison. Life sentences for vampires are a contentious topic of debate. The legal state of torpor and its use as a punishment varies from state to state. In some places, it is considered to fall under the heading of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. In others, it is considered the cheapest, most efficient way to deal with certain vampires. In New Hampshire, torpor is a legal punishment, but this is hotly debated.
If a vampire becomes a Supreme Court justice, do they just have the position forever (until they’re murdered)?
It hasn’t happened yet. The laws for this and several similar legal positions are still being discussed and formulated. This is one of the many lingering legal and societal issues that is yet to be resolved.
How is an Act of Diablerie determined and who punishes diablerists? Is Diablerie even a public concern? Is it treated differently from Murder?
After lengthy debate between mortal and vampiric judicial authorities, it was agreed that Diablerie is a crime punishable by death, as it is a crime deeply rooted in vampire culture. Because the crime can only be committed by vampires against other vampires, the court saw fit to preserve the precedent. Many mortals still don’t completely understand the difference between diablerie and murder.
How is vampire feeding regulated? Is feeding on humans entirely banned? Is just hunting banned?
It is illegal for anyone to drink another person’s blood without consent. There are also laws against drinking blood from an animal belonging to someone else without their permission. Blood drives have lengthy procedures to go through, and often can’t keep up with demand, so some enterprising individuals have organized ways to exchange blood for money. These enterprises are often fairly new, and so the laws around them are not always well-developed. Grabbing someone, biting their neck, and draining their blood is assault and battery, and someone who didn’t want to be fed on can bring it to police or courts and consider it as such.
Many of the same concerns regarding mind-altering disciplines and consent apply as well to the issue of feeding consent. Institutions that are similar to (though less grand than) the Regency, with opt-in feeding consent bracelets, have helped stem the tide of these problems. Nevertheless, feeding consent violations are still controversial, and are believed to spur the activities of anti-vampire vigilantes, whose actions, while illegal, are far from universally condemned.
Is there any kind of amnesty for crimes committed while the masquerade was still up? If so, to what extent? Would a vampire be forgiven for random accidental murders while feeding, murder for the sake of protecting the masquerade, wanton murders the Prince ordered, etc?
In many (non-murder) cases, the statute of limitations applies. Legally speaking, all crimes committed under the Masquerade are still crimes. Whether these crimes can be investigated and connected to any specific vampire is another matter entirely. In other words, law enforcement can prosecute you for murders committed during the Masquerade—if they can find evidence to prove you committed the crime. Serious crimes such as murder and violence have little to no limitations so if evidence arises, an old case of a vampire committing murder may return to court. This legal situation is something the political organizations have strongly differing opinions on.
The Embrace, Ghouling, and Blood Bonds
As mentioned above, the Embrace is considered a change in an individual’s classification. Much like other such changes (e.g. marriage), a legal contract must be signed by the individuals involved. Embracing or ghouling someone against their will is illegal. These are considered severe crimes, and forced embrace is a felony. Comparable crimes in severity are assault for ghouling and rape for embrace. The contract acts as proof of consent, as well as a useful document for legal and bureaucratic records.
Blood bonds are covered under the same body of laws as ghouling, as the former follows the latter. As with ghouling, it is illegal to blood bond someone without their consent. As far as public opinion goes, for the majority of mortals, blood bonds are the scariest thing that a vampire can do, even more so than feeding. Many in the HFF would argue that “consenting” to blood bonding is itself evidence of magical influence. The fact remains that there is no reliable way to determine magical influence.
How does registration as a vampire work for vampires that were never issued a death certificate? Death certificates can be modified to an Embrace certificate, but what if a person was never dead in the legal system? Are they required to register as a vampire? What happens if you don’t register as a vampire?
Without a death certificate, there are still methods for a vampire to get proper identification. These vary depending on how much documentation one has, and all tend to have a lot more bureaucracy than the death -> Embrace certification path.
All nationally recognized identification designates “life status” or the equivalent. A vampire could avoid registering by not having ID and living “off the grid.” Some do this, just as some mortals do and, for the most part, there aren’t laws forbidding it, although it does make anything that requires having legal ID impossible to do without breaking the law. A vampire using ID designating them as human has lied on a state or federal form and is subject to the laws relating to those crimes. Depending on how they’ve used their mortal ID, they may be arraigned for fraud or other crimes.
By most common practice, Princes are not considered to have any legal authority. If a vampire commits an act that is a crime by mortal laws, they will be tried in a mortal court. If the vampire has also broken a Tradition and is recognized by a Prince, the Prince may exact their own punishment, but this is separate from mortal court proceedings. This is similar to how clubs and organizations may have their own consequences for rule breaking, which may overlap with but do not replace regular law.
However, this is not the case universally. Lone Oak Valley and some other cities have granted a Prince permission to pass laws specifically for kindred, and have a trial by Prince for those. Overall, the legal status and authority of Princes varies greatly. This is something the political organizations (especially the Kindred Sovereignty Estate) feel strongly about.
For laws that Princes can pass for vampires in their jurisdiction, how big deal of laws can they pass?
The truest answer is, “It depends.” But in practical terms, a Prince’s laws can’t supersede mortal laws (except for explicit cases, e.g. diablerie being punished with death). Technically, Princes can pass bigger laws (like banning something), but generally do not. There’s also the fact that (again, with the exception of diablerie) any trial before a vampire Prince may be appealed to mortal authorities. It is important to note that the authority of vampire Courts derives from the power of the municipality. Therefore, a Prince can neither make something legal for vampires that would otherwise be illegal, nor take illegal actions himself.
Recent Legal Issues
The vampire right to vote is extremely recent (last year). What was the argument against not allowing vampires to vote in the past?
Concerns around vampire voting fell into roughly three categories:
Firstly, it took a long time for the debate on vampire voting rights to begin in the first place due to the upheaval of the Masquerade drop. When the drop happened, there was first and foremost a scramble to put protections in place for living human populations; indeed, even now work on those protections is widely considered far from complete. After the initial panic, attention turned to protecting vampires from the most immediate threats to their security: legally recognizing them as humans who had protection under the law. Achieving this degree of stability was the work of decades.
Secondly, once there was enough stability for it to be possible to consider vampire rights in more detail, a number of issues quickly became apparent: Were vampires US citizens? What about vampires who weren’t born in the US? Do we have to require that vampires take citizenship tests? What about voter fraud—how would the government regulate the practice of converting death certificates to Embrace certificates in conjunction with voter registration? Legally, the dead can’t vote, but what about the undead? Many people believed that vampires’ immortality provided them an unfair political advantage—not only because of their ability to donate larger amounts of money than would be possible/practical for living humans (due to combined factors of age and lower cost of “living”)—but also because vampires could in theory vote in an unlimited number of elections, and people were unsure how that would shape democracy.
Finally, a major impediment to vampire voting rights also came in the form of a massive scandal when it was revealed by an HFF task force that many vampires had been secretly manipulating branches of the mortal government for years before the drop of the Masquerade. The resulting court cases took years to resolve, and required massive efforts from NOVA to restore faith that, now that the Masquerade had been removed, sanguinists would indeed stand on equal political footing with non-sanguinists.
The vampire right to vote was finally legalized last year due to a combination of the above factors being resolved, as well as the birth of a new generation who, having grown up with vampires, were more inclined to see them as peers.
How is it that vampires are legally considered humans but aren’t allowed to marry humans? What is the status of vampire marriage rights?
There are multiple reasons why marriage between vampires and humans is not yet legal. For some conservatives, it’s “simple” religious morality. However, religious conservatives are not the only people to oppose human-vampire marriage; ultimately, in a country with an established fundamental right to marriage, the reasons are legal, not moral, and there are in fact a number of legal complications. As mentioned above, vampires being “legally considered humans” is a simplification of a complex body of law. Since there is not actually a single blanket “vampires are human” law, vampire-human marriage remains a separate legal issue at this time.
First of the legal issues is that vampires require comparatively few of the legal benefits of marriage (e.g. health insurance), and potentially stand to gain disproportionately in terms of tax benefits and estate law. In terms of inheritance/estate law in particular, the fact that the vampire spouse will (theoretically) never die can create difficult and unexpected consequences for a family’s future generations.
Elder abuse is another issue that is less widely recognized, but still discussed: because the vampire partner will necessarily outlive their human spouse, there is a growing power imbalance that can easily be exploited—especially given the existence of vampire disciplines and blood bonds.
Perhaps most seriously, vampire-human marriage puts the problem of human consent into the spotlight. Despite the existence of ghouling contracts, people are especially anxious about the potential for a vampire using disciplines or even mundane trickery to blood bond a human, and then using the resulting relationship for personal gain. NOVA takes strong issue with these arguments, but the fact remains that it is not yet possible to reliably protect against blood bonds, and even detecting them is not totally foolproof. Accounts from former ghouls of abuse by vampire “lovers” add an emotional component to these arguments. For the consent reason in particular, until a solution is found, the government has been hesitant to sanction vampire-human marriages.
These issues have collectively created enough resistance to vampire-human marriage that the states have not yet felt comfortable legalizing it, and vampire-human marriage has yet to appear as an issue before the US Supreme Court.
All that said, many of the legal rights associated with marriage would be important to vampires (such as the right to visit one’s spouse in the hospital), and the right to vampire-human marriage is comparatively popular among the younger generation. The hashtag #loveforever is an activist rallying cry on social media. Finally, it is worth clarifying that vampire-vampire marriages, which avoid the majority of these issues, are generally adjudicated by vampire courts, and are recognized in most states. It is not unheard of for a human to file for an Embrace to join a vampire partner in marriage, but of course this solution is not ideal to all people.