Daredevil

As a movie, Daredevil was alright as a movie, but man were there ever some serious legal errors and oddities.  We watched the Director’s Cut, which includes a major subplot left out of the theatrical version.  Like all of our reviews, this one is full of spoilers.

I. Matt Murdock, Felon

One of the most unbelievable aspects of the film is that Murdock brazenly commits multiple felonies and misdemeanors throughout the film.  Entirely apart from whether committing a crime in the service of the greater good is morally excusable, Murdock’s actions were just stupid.  Here’s a brief rundown of the worst examples:

In the Director’s Cut, while investigating the murder a client was wrongly accused of, Matt and Foggy break into the victim’s apartment and look for evidence.  This is second degree criminal trespass at a minimum and second degree burglary if he intended to commit any further crimes while inside (such as taking evidence). N.Y. Penal Law §§ 140.15, 140.25.  The former is a misdemeanor, the latter is a felony.  Notably, although the break in was Matt’s idea, Foggy came along, making him likewise guilty of trespass.  By not reporting Matt’s crime Foggy is also committing an ethical breach of his own, since the crime is one that “raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.”  New York Rule of Professional Conduct 8.3(a).

It’s also worth noting that there may not have been any legal way to gain access to the victim’s apartment, assuming that the landlord or victim’s heirs would not consent.  New York courts have held that criminal defendants have no right to inspect a victim’s home, at least once it ceases to be a crime scene in control of the state.  See, e.g., Kaplan v. Tomei, 638 N.Y.S.2d 350 (App.Div. 1996); People v. Kyriazas, 2002 WL 31972172 (Sup.Ct. 2002).  That doesn’t justify what Matt and Foggy did, though.

The most egregious example, however, is when Matt confronts a dirty cop working for the Kingpin.  Matt roughs the cop up, handcuffs him to the passenger seat of the cop’s Mercedes, takes the car keys, and proceeds to drive around wildly, smashing up the car, a parked cab, and a dumpster.  We won’t go into the details, but this is, at a minimum, first degree unauthorized use of a vehicle, second degree reckless endangerment, second degree assault, and first degree unlawful imprisonment.  Three of those are felonies.

(It’s worth noting that this is not a robbery.  Robbery is forcible larceny, and larceny requires an intent to permanently appropriate or withhold the property from the owner. There’s no evidence that Matt intended to take the car away.  Nor is it assaulting a police officer since the cop was thoroughly off duty, having just come out of a strip club.)

So in reality Murdock would be looking at a very long prison sentence, especially since the corrupt cop had no reason not to have him arrested and prosecuted.  The fact that it was done to get information out of a corrupt cop is not a defense to anything Matt did, and Matt’s DNA and prints would be all over the scene.  What’s more, as a convicted felon in New York he would be automatically disbarred.  N.Y. Judiciary Law § 90(4).  However, there’s one incident that I thought for sure would be a crime of some kind but appears not to be.

When Murdock first meets Elektra they don’t exactly hit it off.  He follows her outside a coffee shop and grabs her arm to stop her from walking away.  This eventually leads to a friendly sparring match, but the initial contact was definitely unwanted (she says “I don’t like being touched.”).

This is pretty plainly a tortious battery (albeit one with minimal damages), but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of criminal assault under New York law.  Even third degree assault requires physical injury, which is defined by statute as “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.”  N.Y. Penal Law §§ 120.00, 10.00(9).  The New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York) has held that a mere “petty slap” that leaves a red mark is objectively insufficient to amount to physical injury.  Matter of Phillip A., 49 N.Y.2d 198, 200 (1980).

It’s also an insufficient level of restraint to amount to second degree unlawful imprisonment under § 135.05.  At least one New York trial court (the confusingly named Supreme Court) has held that grabbing someone forcefully by the arm is legally insufficient.  People v. Parkman, 862 N.Y.S.2d 702 (Sup.Ct. 2008).

Even the kind of catch-all crime of second degree harassment, which is not even a misdemeanor but a violation, wouldn’t fit because Matt lacked the intent to “harass, annoy, or alarm” Elektra.  So at least for this he’s off the hook, though he’s still a creep for doing it.

II. The Law Office of Murdock and Nelson

There’s one scene in Murdock and Nelson’s law office.  From our point of view there’s one notable thing about it: the court reporters are in the wrong order.  Court reporters are the printed volumes of legal opinions that attorneys stand in front of for advertisements (for example).  Well, okay, sometimes when the power goes out or the internet connection dies attorneys actually read them.

Anyway, if you have the Blu-Ray version you can freeze frame and quite clearly see that the court reporters are not only jumbled up (e.g. volume 450 next to 873 next to 775 or whatever) but they have also mixed up Federal Reporters with the Federal Supplement.  Doing legal research in that office would be very annoying, especially for Matt.  Speaking of which, he would have to use his super sense of touch to read the ink on the printed pages because they don’t make a Braille edition of the Federal Reporter as far as we can tell.

It would also be expensive.  A complete set of the current edition of the Federal Reporter costs $9,209.  Alternatively, a two lawyer firm like Murdock & Nelson could subscribe to it for a mere $727/month.  The Federal Supplement is roughly twice as expensive.  They also have what appears to be some kind of New York reports, but it’s out of focus so we couldn’t tell for sure.  Anyway, especially given Matt’s blindness, electronic research would almost certainly be cheaper, faster, and more effective.  But nothing says “law firm” like a big wall o’ case reporters, so the visual shorthand sticks around.  The set crew really should have taken the extra couple of minutes to put the reporters in the right order, though.

III. Conclusion

Daredevil is an okay film, although it makes Matt Murdock out to be a terrible, unethical attorney.  We do recommend the Director’s Cut, even if it adds some legally questionable material.  Here’s hoping the rumored reboot will be better!

12 Responses to Daredevil

  1. Regarding the reporters, I shall put forward the possibility that Foggy got a (probably used/non-current) set as mostly decoration, and Matt occasionally rearranges them to screw with Foggy.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t get in depth with this. Matt appears to go from being a prosecutor to private defense attorney without missing a beat. In addition, one of his early actions as Daredevil appear to end in manslaughter at a minimum.

    • Our interpretation of the first courtroom scene is that Matt was representing the victim of a crime suing her assailant in tort. But yeah it was just so weird that it’s hard to critique, since it’s not apparent what’s supposed to be going on.

      As for his actions as Daredevil, well, he breaks so many laws there that the post would be twice as long if we went through them all. For example, what he does to Bullseye is flat-out attempted murder, since Bullseye was no longer a threat by that point.

      • I assume it’s because they realized that it would be difficult to show him defending people accused of crimes and still keep him a nice hero. Of course that brings up the question of what that woman thinks is going to happen to her if she brings a lawsuit against someone connected to a crime boss, but that’s another matter.
        There’s an irritating rule in fiction where defense lawyers get grouped into two types. The squeaky clean ones who are only shown defending innocent people accused of crimes by a corrupt system or the dirty type who won’t hesitate to happily defend the worst of humanity for a few bucks.

      • That’s the explanation that makes the most sense, but it still creates questions about why he later went after the defendant as Daredevil. If it was a civil trial, the defendant would have remained free regardless of the trial’s outcome.

        If Murdock had won the trial, would he have still tried to run the guy out of town?

  3. Scratch Martin

    I can’t believe you called this an okay movie. At a minimum, almost all the characters were mis-cast based on star power rather than actual similarity to the comics characters (or even acting ability, arguably). And Daredevil wasn’t just portrayed as an unethical lawyer, but just an all-around $^%&. His movie personality almost matched his personality in Shadowland more than any other period in Daredevil comics.

    I would go easy on Foggy, though. Arguably, even when Matt is acting like a properly stout-hearted superhero in the comics, Foggy would probably have an ethical duty to report Matt for his viglante activities (even when he doesn’t do anything more than rough up a couple of criminals). Erego, it would be impossible for Foggy to stay friends/partners with Matt and for Matt to continue with his secret identity.

    • It’s an okay movie on its own terms (consider the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores), but I agree that it’s not a good adaptation of the source material.

      As for Foggy: I would say that it’s one thing when Murdock does something questionable as Daredevil. Given that it’s a comic book story, we can excuse a lot of things done by the superhero character. But when it’s done by Murdock acting as an ordinary attorney (he breaks into the apartment before he suspects Kingpin’s involvement), that’s a lot harder to overlook.

  4. I wonder when the books will disappear. They might still add some class to an ad but in fifty years or so will they look antiquated?

  5. Topic suggestion – John Grisham has recently begun publishing a Young Adult series: Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. http://www.amazon.com/Theodore-Boone-Lawyer-John-Grisham/dp/0525423842?tag=lawandthemult-20 My son (9) has read the two books so far and loved them. There may well be some fun issues to dig in to there.

  6. Shanya Almafeta

    As a trivial point of order… in the comics, Daredevil has been shown several times to be able to read print by touch. So he would be just fine with a register.

    Whether or not it’d be a good idea, though, for him to use this extraordinary talent (and one only a few people in the world have)… sounds like something the movie didn’t bring up.

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