For the first part of our series on this Daredevil storyline we discussed the charges against Daredevil’s client and evidentiary procedural issues. This post will address a variety of issues and observations about the trial. We’ll begin with evidence gathering. As with the prior post, spoilers follow.
I. Evidence Gathering by the Defense
The defense team hires Heroes for Hire to track down and interrogate the gang that actually committed the murder. Apart from entering the house by busting in the door, this isn’t particularly unusual. Although the defense can use the criminal version of discovery to obtain a wealth of information from the police and prosecution (see, e.g., Fed. R. Crim. P. 16), a criminal defendant can’t direct the police investigation. If the police don’t want to follow a particular lead or theory, that’s within their discretion. As a result, it is common for criminal defendants to hire investigators, including expert witnesses and more traditional private investigators.
II. Legal Research
This storyline has the first conventional legal research scene we’ve encountered on the blog. It’s true that the She-Hulk’s law firm (Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway) maintains a law library, but in a bit of Fourth Wall-stretching, the library consists of comic books, which in the Marvel universe are a legally admissible record of the activities of Marvel superheroes and supervillains.
By contrast, the law library at the offices of Murdock and Nelson is pretty typical, if a bit old-fashioned even by 2002 standards. Although there is a laptop in the scene, most of the work seems to have been done using printed sources. There’s even the classic Wall O’ Case Reporters (here’s a real-life example), which you might recognize as a common background in law firm advertisements.
These days, most attorneys use electronic sources for the majority of their research. The two main legal database companies are Westlaw (part of Thomson Reuters) and LexisNexis (part of Reed Elsevier). Both are expensive, but they’re cheaper than maintaining an up-to-date print library. Case reporter and statute book subscriptions aren’t cheap. For example, a not-quite-complete set of federal case reporters costs about $44,000 plus another $2,400 per month to keep them up to date. It would be much cheaper for Murdock and Nelson to switch to electronic databases.
One tiny nitpick: when listing potential cases to cite, Nelson offers Illinois v. Steve Rogers and Utah v. Banner as possibilities. Those would actually be People v. Rogers and State v. Banner. It’s possible that Nelson was indicating a particular case by giving the state name, but he also lists People v. Tony Stark, and we find it hard to believe that Stark has only been a defendant in one criminal case.
III. Witness Examination
There are two issues we’d like to address with regard to witness examination: objections and the examination procedure itself.
On multiple occasions during the trial the prosecution and the defense object to questions asked by the other side. Like countless other fictional courtroom scenes, the attorneys simply say “objection,” the judge says “sustained,” and that’s that. In reality, a party must give a brief reason for the objection (e.g. “objection, hearsay”). A judge may allow an objection without an explanation, but if the judge overrules the objection then the party’s failure to state the basis for the objection may lead to the issue being waived on appeal. At one point in the trial the prosecutor asks questions over Murdock’s repeated objections without any ruling from the judge. Again, in reality trials are usually fairly calm affairs and the prosecutor would wait for a ruling from the bench before continuing. But we’ll give the writers a pass on these, since almost everybody uses these tropes and for the most part they don’t affect the story.
The more important issue is that the writers shortened the examination process. Most people are familiar with the first two stages, examination and cross-examination. But the process can go further: redirect, recross, further redirect, and further recross. At one point both Murdock and Ayala give pained expressions when the prosecutor seems to have trapped Reed Richards with a question without allowing Richards to explain his answer. In reality, Murdock could have given Richards a chance to elaborate. This is a bit less excusable than the other issues, but it can still be justified in the name of pacing and the length limitations of the medium.
IV. Putting the Defendant on the Stand
This case is a good illustration of the dangers of putting a criminal defendant on the stand. Here the problem was that the defendant’s emotions got the better of him in the face of heated questioning from the prosecutor, and he said some things that didn’t reflect well on his character. This is one of the many reasons why criminal defendants are rarely put on the stand. The benefits rarely outweigh the risks.
All in all, Trial of the Century is a better courtroom storyline than The Trial of Marvel Boy, although that one isn’t too shabby itself. We’ll analyze more comic book trials as we come across them, but if there’s one in particular you’d like to see us discuss, let us know!