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!

23 responses to “Arrow: Pilot

  1. “And at least so far, he isn’t using deadly force in his own defense or the defense of others.”
    Does “so far” mean “as of the pilot” or “as of the date of posting”? If the latter, I’d say he’s got a defense of self for most of the people he’s shot, in the sense that they were actively trying to kill or maim him at the time. There’s still enough assaults (murders?) to keep him in prison for life, of course, but one of the complaints of the show is that he shoots the hired guns but turns over the big bad guy to the law.
    On the other hand, I assume the defense of defense of self on the guys shooting at him in the first six episodes is waived, since he didn’t raise it, (falsely) claiming actual innocence instead.

  2. There is one issue in the pilot I was wondering about. (So… *spoilers* …)
    Oliver hacks the bad guys accound and spreads the money around. Laurel tells people to not say they got the money, can she advise that? Is that a conspiracy?
    Because it will be obvious once (okay if, but highly likely as not everyone will be quiet about it) it gets out that the bad guy’s money went to these people. Can he do anything about getting it back? (Or would he be insured about it? I don’t know what is possible here.)

    • How many times have you seen TV lawyer tell their client to SHUT UP and not say anything about any crimes they may be suspected of being involved in?
      A lawyer can’t counsel their client to lie (ABA model rule 3.4) and can’t themselves lie or mislead the court (3.3) or third parties (4.1). But keeping silent is a Constitutional right, even for guilty people. And even guilty defendants’ lawyers have an ethical duty to keep the confidences of their clients (1.6) and former clients (1.9).

      • While that’s certainly true on the face of it… Is it necessarily good legal advice in this case? As of the moment that the clients receive the money, to my knowledge, they have not taken part in any crime, as they neither solicited nor even consented to receiving the stolen money. No mens rea, no actus reus.

        Concealing that fact, on the other hand, sounds quite a lot like receiving stolen goods to this non-lawyer’s ear. And if such an omission is the line between non-criminal and criminal, wouldn’t that advice be, well, bad?

      • If you assume that GA made the guy return money he’s stolen (which is implied, but not stated directly, if I recall), then there’s nothing wrong with keeping it.

  3. Christopher L. Bennett

    I don’t think a self-defense, err, defense would really cut it, since Oliver initiated the confrontations that led to the bad guys shooting at him. I think this has been covered in an earlier article.

    The show is unfortunately rather vague on how many of Oliver’s enemies are killed. We know the abductors in the pilot were killed, one in what was arguably self-defense, the other more cold-bloodedly by Oliver to protect his identity. I assume he adopted the hood and eye-makeup “mask” to try to avoid that in the future. One of the cops in episode 2 says the vigilante has wounded a lot of people, but doesn’t specify how many were killed. I’d been thinking that arrow wounds were usually survivable, but what’s stated here about the type of arrow gives me pause there. I guess, as with bullet wounds, it depends on how soon medical treatment can be obtained, as well as just where the impact is.

    I look forward to seeing you tackle the admissibility of coerced confessions, which I believe comes up in episode 2.

    • depending on where you are hit, an arrow would can actually be more dangerous. Arrows tend to be difficult to remove without causing more damage.

    • Seth Finkelstein

      Arrows shot by a good strong archer are often *deadly*. Guns won out over bow and arrow because you don’t have to be strong to shoot a gun, and fast multiple shots can make up for lack of targeting skill. But medieval archers – who extensively trained for their abilities – were able to kill horses, not to mention the riders.

      • Not to mention that today there are bowhunters to take down elk and deer. They tend to do so with a compound bow rather than a recurved one, though, because it has a more powerful draw and a “break” which makes it much easier to hold while drawn, which is important if you have to hold it and wait for a good shot.
        Obviously, bows were and are deadly. Ask Colonel Custer (historical accuracy not guaranteed… I’m too lazy to look up whether Custer was killed by arrow, by bullet, or by being bashed in the head with a mallet… You get the point, though.)

    • I am neither a gunner nor an archer, but my impression from talking to people of either strip is that arrows are more survivable as a “flesh wound” to an extremity compared to guns where the shock and blood loss frequently kill people even for getting winged. Less damage to the bones and joints from glancing shots too.

      • The danger of being killed by a hit to an extremity must be fairly low, or cops would wear bullet-proof suits instead of bullet-proof vests. (Yes, I know this reasoning breaks down if you think about the head, so don’t.)

      • {nods} There are a lot more organs to hit, but the trauma from blood loss and shock from a wound in the arm is very serious. As much as anything, as I understand it, the vests are a compromise between mobility and protection, and in part due to criminals (like most people) aiming for the center of mass.

  4. Terry Washington

    Like other comic book vigilantes, (marvel’s Punisher and Sangre -who in reality is a NYPD officer, Julia Concepcion), Green Arrow is hypothetically on shaky legal ground, but given that the Punisher is aware that(unofficially of course) to the cops he is a Godsend, I wouldn’t be surprised that if the law was something less than zealous in seeking his apprehension!


    • Some of them more than others. The cops did catch him after only a half-dozen episodes.

      • I found that particularly absurd. He basically let himself get caught so he could prove his innocence by having someone else show up as the vigilante while he’s being watched. Of course the police can think of this idea as easily as he could, so the plan should not convince them.

  5. Actually there’s enough information to definitely say that Starling City is on the West Coast, probably in Washington State.
    1. The three hour tour was into the Pacific Ocean
    2. Tommy offered to fly Laurel down to Coast City which is Los Angeles in the same way Gotham is New York.
    3. The specific comic book which is the greatest influence on Arrow is Longbow Hunter which was set in Seattle.
    4. The show is being filmed in Vancouver, which is as usual impersonating an American city.

    So my money’s on Washington State.

  6. Bullets are generally considered more deadly than arrows because:

    Bullets rip flesh, where arrows cut it.

    Arrows commonly remain embedded, staunching their wounds. Someone who holds still after being shot has a much better chance in a modern society of surviving until help arrives.

    While bullets do create a shockwave through the body due to the watery nature of human flesh, experiments have debunked this shockwave as being a major contributor to permanent injury (though no one claims it is fun).

    Rather, one of the major ways that bullets cause massive trauma is by striking human bone and pushing that human bone through the body, making the bone tear through flesh. This make a much larger wound than the bullet itself. Sometimes the bone breaks, and sometimes it fragments, and sometimes it bends.

    This is part of the reason why hollowpoints and things like Black Talon ammunition are considered more lethal. The blunt head of the bullet, when faced with watery pressure, opens up to be wider than normal. It both rips a wider cross-section through the body as well as having greater chance of catching a bone to push on. It’s well known that bullets with a sharp point, like military full metal jacket rifle bullets, more commonly go right through a target leaving a small neat hole.

    Arrows, being sharp, and usually going less than a third of the speed of a pistol bullet, generally don’t have the characteristic capability to snag on a bone, splinter it, and pull it through flesh.

    • That’s not going to save him from getting charged with using deadly weapons.

      • Yeah, but if you’ve been watching the show, gimmicked arrows are showing up more and more often. Can taser arrows be coming soon? (In place of the comics’ ludicrous boxing-glove arrows).

  7. so we do not at this point know if she is destined to become Black Canary in the TV show.

    Considering that there was a reference to her having a fishnet stocking Halloween costume, and considering that she was shown to have incredible combat skills, I would guess yes.

  8. Update: He has acknowleged that he has killed people in tonight’s (12/5/12).

  9. Starling City is theoretically based on Star City, Green Arrow’s traditional home in the comics. Star City is in northern California. However, the fact that this is explicitly NOT Star City may mean that it does not necessarily exist in California. The only other city of note that Green Arrow has operated in for an extended period of time is, as mentioned above by David Johnston, Seattle, which is in Washington. I haven’t been keeping up with the show (I mean to catch up over winter break), so clues within the show may help settle which one of those states Starling City may exist in.

  10. What kind of lawyer is Laurel Lance, exactly (in the first season)? I can’t seem to wrap my head around that. Thanks. 🙂

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