In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Reunion (#81), Worf kills Duras in retribution for killing his mate. Far from a clandestine operation, his behavior is discussed with Picard who informs him that a formal reprimand will be placed on his record.

This punishment seems disproportionately low compared to the crime. Is there some logical explanation for how a Starfleet officer can murder someone from another race in the line of duty and not be guilty of murder?

  • 4
    The prime directive? The Klingons aren't members of the Federation (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/91340/…). Perhaps due to that Picard has to be more conservative in the punishment.
    – Lan
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:10
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    The Federation respect the laws of other cultures. It's not murder if they don't think it's murder.
    – Valorum
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:10
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    That it happened on a Klingon ship was also important. If the killing happened in Federation jurisdiction, it would have to be prosecuted accordingly. But that raises the question -- why did Picard reprimand Worf at all? Couldn't Worf had said, "I'm a Starfleet officer, but I can do whatever I want that's legal, when I'm off duty."? Jan 11, 2017 at 15:14
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    @BenOsborne: It could be the UFP's way of avoiding to appear as totally impartial, or even supporting, of the Klingon legal situation, while also acknowledging it's not really within the UFP's jurisdiction. It may be somewhat reminiscent of the situation in our times where citizens of country A can be prosecuted (or there are at least discussions for adapting laws accordingly) for doing something in country B that is legal in B, but not only illegal, but also publicly strongly discouraged in A. Think child marriages, abortions, attending training facilities for subversive organisations, etc. Jan 11, 2017 at 20:02
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    @BenOsborne There are similar situations in our own world. If you are abroad and do something that isn't legal in your home country, you usually can't be prosecuted*. If on the other hand, you are a police officer or in the military in a command position, such things can definitely influence your career. Starfleet officers are in similar "positions of authority". (*: unless the crime was illegal in that country as well and they issued an extradition request, or some other exceptional case)
    – Jasper
    Jan 13, 2017 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


In that episode, Picard clearly acknowledges that what Worf did was legal under Klingon law.

PICARD: Mister Worf, your service aboard the Enterprise has been exemplary. Until now.

WORF: Sir, I have acted within the boundaries of Klingon law and tradition.

PICARD: The High Council would seem to agree. They consider the matter closed. I don't. Mister Worf, the Enterprise crew currently includes representatives from thirteen planets. They each have their individual beliefs and values and I respect them all. But they have all chosen to serve Starfleet. If anyone cannot perform his or her duty because of the demands of their society, they should resign. Do you wish to resign?

WORF: No, sir.

PICARD: I had hoped you would not throw away a promising career. I understand your loss, We all admired K'Ehleyr. A reprimand will appear on your record. Dismissed....

from Episode 81 ("Reunion") transcript at chakoteya.net.

It's explicitly not murder as Klingon law provides provisions for when revenge killing is lawful. As @Valorum states, there is probably some level of mutual respect on the part of the Federation toward Klingon culture that tempers the reaction significantly. In this case, Worf is not a fleeing international criminal or a fugitive from Klingon justice, just someone with a little need for further cultural assimilation.

In RL, there is the concept of double criminality which applies to extradition law and (I believe) immigration law as well. In a nutshell, it means that one country will consider someone from another country to be a criminal only if what that person did in the other country was illegal under the laws of both countries. So if a cocaine dealer from the UK goes to the USA, he is a criminal from the perspective of the USA.

In response to @BenOsborne 's question and @KyleStrand 's comment about why Picard did anything at all, there is a military law concept of "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman" that is often an offense that is punishable but that is less serious than murder. In today's US military, "Conduct Unbecoming" may consist of (among other things)

...action or behavior in an unofficial or private capacity which, in dishonoring or disgracing the officer personally, seriously compromises the person’s standing as an officer; an officer’s conduct need not violate other provisions of the UCMJ or even be otherwise criminal to violate Article 133, UCMJ; the gravamen of the offense is that the officer’s conduct disgraces him personally or brings dishonor to the military profession such as to affect his fitness to command the obedience of his subordinates so as to successfully complete the military mission.

Source: Digest of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (emphasis mine)

A revenge killing, even if legal in the jurisdiction in which it was done, could be seen as "dishonorable" to Worf in terms of his Starfleet career, and Picard even says so. The behavior impacts his career and how others perceive him in Starfleet. Here's the conflict of cultures inherent in Worf's position as a Klingon and a Starfleet officer - behavior that is allowed in one context is condemned in the other. Picard detects this and asks Worf how he proposes to handle it.

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    At the least there surely must be a Morality Clause for officers. I can think of two real-world scandals (one with DEA agents and one with Secret Service) where people got in trouble for soliciting legal prostitution. As for jurisdiction, in the real world, US companies that break certain US laws but only in foreign countries can be held accountable for such by US authorities.
    – Yorik
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:47
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    Could you address Ben Osborne's comment on the original question, "why did Picard reprimand Worf at all?" It sounds like Picard is implying that the killing was in some way a dereliction of Worf's duty as a Starfleet officer, despite it being legal and occurring on a Klingon vessel. Jan 11, 2017 at 18:58
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    So basically while legal, it was Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer
    – StartupGuy
    Jan 11, 2017 at 20:59
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    @MikeMügge more specifically, it was mildly illegal because it was Conduct Unbecoming an Officer. A Federation civilian presumably would have faced no penalties. Conduct Unbecoming is intentionally a broad, vague, and socially defined offense that basically says don't piss us off. Jan 11, 2017 at 23:34
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit for once, the federation charter explicity states the dignity and rights of individual life forms. Thus killing is likely not considered a lawful act for any federation citizen on federation territory. Since Worf wasn't on federation territory (the klingon ship) he cannot be charged with the killing, since it was legal according to klingon law, but he can very well recieve a reprimand as a Star Fleet officer not behaving according to the virtues of the federation charter.
    – Adwaenyth
    Jan 12, 2017 at 16:01

To piggyback on Robert Columbia's excellent answer, it's important to note that the crime occurred on the Klingon ship, and therefore likely under Klingon jurisdiction:

RIKER: Riker to Lieutenant Worf. Computer, locate Lieutenant Worf.

COMPUTER: Lieutenant Worf is not aboard the Enterprise.

PICARD: Where is he?

COMPUTER: Lieutenant Worf transported to the Klingon ship Vorn at seventeen thirty hours.

So regardless of whether Starfleet was inclined to accept Klingon cultural practices as lawful or not, it's not entirely clear that could have charged Worf if they wanted to, just as the German government can't punish me for murders in Baghdad.

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    err .... what happened in Baghdad?
    – user4437
    Jan 11, 2017 at 22:32
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    @DarkHeart - If he tells you ... well ... you'd better not go to Baghdad yourself.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 11, 2017 at 23:29
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    For instance if I, a German citizen, committed a crime abroad that is considered a crime in Germany too and returned home before my arrest and if a German prosecutor responsible for my legal district finds out about it and issues an indictment, likely I would be tried for the crime at home. There have been similar cases in the past. Jan 12, 2017 at 11:39
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    A better analogy might be smoking weed somewhere it's legal to do it, before going back 'home' where it isn't.
    – Sobrique
    Jan 12, 2017 at 13:49
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    Indeed. But you might also find that an employer might be a bit disapproving if you fail a drugs test, despite it not being illegal :)
    – Sobrique
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:06

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