Monthly Archives: November 2012

Arrow: “Honor Thy Father”

This is the second episode of Arrow, and it contains two excellent legal issues for your consideration. First, the legal procedure of coming back from the dead. Second, whether the “evidence” Queen provides against Martin Sohmers would be admissible. Continue reading

2012 ABA Journal Blawg 100

We are proud to announce that Law and the Multiverse has been named to the ABA Journal Blawg 100 for the second year.  Thanks to everyone who nominated us!  As with last year, the ABA Journal is taking votes on the best law blogs in each category (we’re in the “For Fun” category).  Unlike blog nominations, voting is open to everyone.

Bruce Banner, Juvenile Delinquent

This month’s Subculture for the Cultured column discusses Bruce Banner, an attempted school bombing, insanity, and juvenile delinquency.  Check it out!

Newstalk Radio Ireland

In case you missed it live, I was on Newstalk Radio Ireland’s Moncrieff show on Tuesday to talk about our book, The Law of Superheroes.  This was my second time to appear on the show, and I had a great time; Sean always makes for a fun interview.  You can hear the interview here (skip to 8:07).

In other book news: check out this review in The Wall Street Journal!

Arrow: Pilot

Arrow is the new show on the CW network, the same network that ran Smallville. This isn’t actually a spinoff about Justin Hartley’s Green Arrow from Smallville (much to the disappointment of some fans, I’m sure) nor does Allison Mack make a reappearance as Chloe Sullivan (much to my disappointment), but it represent’s the CW’s exercise of its existing rights to the Green Arrow character.

The show actually provides some rather unique opportunities to delve into legal issues, for two reasons. First, and perhaps most obviously, Green Arrow isn’t a superhuman. He’s a guy that happens to be really good with a bow and arrow. So there’s no obvious connection to Krypton, alternate dimensions, other planets, all the stuff that, while fun to watch, doesn’t leave very much for us to talk about. That’s why we’ll probably never talk about Firefly or Star Trek: those worlds, while fun, are obviously using a different legal system than ours. It’s also why shows like Smallville only occasionally gave us good fodder. We had a series of posts about it last year (one, two, three) but especially as the series went on, the stories had more and more to do with the fantastical, taking it out of our particular area of interest.

But second, and more importantly, one of the main characters—Arrow’s version of Dinah Laurel Lance, known in the comics as Black Canary—is a lawyer. This is a departure from Lance’s portrayals in other media, so we do not at this point know if she is destined to become Black Canary in the TV show. But having  only watched the first two episodes so far, there’s some real potential for recurring legal interest here.

Not a whole ton happens in the pilot episode. Oliver Queen, billionaire playboy, returns to society after having spent five years on a presumably deserted island in the North China Sea. A lot of the implications of that, and what actually happened, are going to be explored in future episodes. But Queen does take on the mantle of Green Arrow in this episode. And boy howdy does he not mind roughing people up. Getting shot with a broadhead arrow, the kind that Green Arrow mostly uses so far, is no laughing matter. They’re reputed to slice through ballistics vests, and that aside, they’re designed to cause large amounts of damage. Getting hit with one would be at least as bad as getting shot with a pistol or rifle. At least they don’t leave a huge honking shaft in you afterward. And several people get shot every episode, with no mention of Queen using non-lethal arrows with blunted tips, which would suck but probably not do much damage most of the time.

This puts Queen on pretty shaky ground, legally speaking.  In most (if not all) states he’s using a deadly weapon.*  He’s also using deadly force, as he’s causing serious bodily injury or at least engaging in conduct which is reasonably likely to do so. And at least so far, he isn’t using deadly force in his own defense or the defense of others. Not in a context that the law would recognize as a defense anyway. Defending self or others with deadly force has to be the in the context of immediate peril of serious bodily injury or death. The fact that someone is engaged in unjust litigation or has defrauded other people? Not grounds for violence of any kind.

* New Hampshire’s Supreme Court has held that a bow and arrow is not an inherently deadly weapon (and thus a felon may lawfully use one to hunt animals), but using a bow and arrow against other humans (as Green Arrow does) would make it a deadly weapon.  State v. Pratte, 959 A.2d 200 (N.H. 2008).

We’ll take a look at the legal issues that the series raises as we watch more episodes. Somewhat irritatingly for us it’s not clear what state Starling City is located in; maybe that will be cleared up in the future.  But for starters, this is a violent version of Green Arrow that runs on the darker side of what it means to be a hero. This is actually somewhat in keeping with the Green Arrow from the comics, as starting in the late 1960s with Denny O’Neil, Oliver Queen has been a somewhat anti-establishment figure. As we go through the Arrow series, we’ll also be taking a look at the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern pairing O’Neil wrote, which is widely regarded as a watershed moment in comics history. Look for those posts to come!

Castle: “Probable Cause”

There are a lot of spoilers in this one, so we’ll cover the setup inside. But the issue we’re looking at here is the nature of the criminal offense of escape and its potential sentence under New York Penal Law Continue reading

Captain America and Social Security

Today’s post was inspired by a question from David, who asked:

Wouldn’t [Captain America] be able to collect Social Security? After all, he must be in his nineties by now!

I. Age

Collecting Social Security benefits has a few different requirements, some of which vary according to the age of the beneficiary.  Earth-616 Steve Rogers was born on July 4, 1922, which would make him 90 now.  Most importantly, he was born before 1937, so his full-benefits retirement age is 65 (as opposed to 67 for someone born in 1960 or later).

We’re assuming that his age would be calculated according to the calendar rather than his biological age, but it isn’t 100% clear from the law which is correct.  The main part of the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq) refers to people having “attained the age of X” rather than referring directly to their date of birth.  Luckily, comic book Cap has been unfrozen long enough that it doesn’t matter.  Rogers was frozen, at the latest, on April 18, 1945 (i.e. at the age of 22) and then thawed out in 1964 (i.e. at the calendar age of 42).  That would give him a biological age of 70 and a calendar age of 90.  So however his age is calculated, he’s eligible to collect benefits.  The only question is: how much would he get?

II. Earnings

Although the Social Security program had started by the time Rogers enlisted, members of the military did not pay Social Security tax.  However, military service from September 16, 1940 through December 31, 1956 is credited at $160/month in earnings, if the service member meets one of the following:

  • They were honorably discharged after 90 or more days of service, or they were released because of a disability or injury received in the line of duty; or
  • They are still on active duty; or
  • They veteran died while on active duty and someone is applying for survivors benefits.

Rogers’s special circumstances don’t quite fit any of these, but let’s assume he was either honorably discharged or has returned to active duty.  Since we have no idea how much Captain America earned during his post-thaw years, let’s assume that $160/month was his only eligible earnings.

Rogers enlisted in 1941.  I’m not sure when, exactly, so let’s say March (when Captain America #1 was published).  That would give 48 months of service.  At $160/month that’s $7,680 in credited earnings.  Because Rogers was born before 1929, he only needs to have accumulated 6 credits in order to be eligible for retirement benefits.  Before 1978 credits were called “quarters of coverage” and required earning at least $50 in a 3 month calendar quarter.  Rogers’s $160/month earnings credit would easily cover that, so he would have no problem accumulating enough credits.

III. Benefits

Unfortunately, calculating Social Security benefits is complicated, and none of the calculators I’ve found know how to handle Rogers’s particular situation.  To get a rough idea of how much he might be eligible for, I calculated the benefits for someone born July 4, 1922 who made $11,086 in 1951 (i.e. $7680 in 1951 dollars) and then $200/year through 1959 (the minimum amount needed to become eligible for retirement benefits) and then retired at 65.  The result?  A whopping $73 per month, or $876 per year, and that’s in 2012 dollars!

Of course, Captain America almost certainly continued to earn money during his post-thaw years.  But because Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years, Rogers’s 20 frozen years (during which he presumably earned nothing) put a significant hole in his earnings history.  If he retired in 1987 (at calendar age 65) he would have only about 27 working years behind him.  Those missing 8 years could substantially reduce his benefits.  By delaying retirement until age 70 he could both add more working years and earn a delayed retirement benefit.

IV. Conclusion

Captain America is likely eligible to draw Social Security retirement benefits, regardless of how his age is calculated, but his limited wartime earnings and years spent frozen mean that his benefits might not be all that huge.  On the other hand, since he can continue working indefinitely due to the effects of the super soldier serum, he’s probably not dependent on those benefits.

New Books in Political Science

Ryan and I were interviewed by Heath Brown for his podcast New Books in Political Science.  We had a great time doing the interview and we think you’ll enjoy it.  Thanks again to Heath for having us on!

Hendrix College Reminder

Just a reminder that I will be giving a talk about Law and the Multiverse and our upcoming book, The Law of Superheroes, at my undergraduate alma mater, Hendrix College, on November 13 at 4:10pm at Mills Library.  The event is open to the public and will be followed by a book signing.  I hope to see you there!

Castle: “Murder, He Wrote”

This episode of Castle has Castle and Beckett interfacing with a police department outside New York City, specifically in “The Hamptons.” The Hamptons are actually a collection of municipalities at the eastern end of Long Island including Southampton and East Hampton, each of which are subdivided into villages and hamlets such as Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Amagansett, and Montauk. This post will look at local law enforcement agencies, their jurisdictions, and inter-agency cooperation. Some spoilers do follow. Continue reading