Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?

(This guest post was written by Kevin Lelonek as a response to a comment on this post from way back in January, 2012.  In his own words, “Kevin is a dual degree student pursuing his J.D. and M.B.A. in Buffalo, New York. He’s in his last year of the program and looks forward to starting his career. And of course, he’s a total nerd.”)

 

Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?

In the comments to a previous article about Batman’s relationship to the “State,” Crazy Jay raised some serious questions about how the Gotham District Attorney is able to prosecute Gotham’s criminals when Batman is involved in the apprehension of those criminals. Crazy Jay asked “how can the District Atty. Prosecute a criminal if the Batman had his mitts all over the evidence?” Crazy Jay asked about how Due Process, Miranda Rights, Cross Examinations, the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine, confessions, and Search Warrants, the staples of criminal law, work in a world with Batman.  How indeed? So let’s get started.

  1. Another Night on Patrol

The simplest case in which Batman stops crime infringes on no Constitutional protections. Consider the following: two masked men armed with shotguns enter a bank. One of the tellers quickly signals the silent alarm. The two armed men wave their shotguns around and demand the bank’s patrons lie face down on the floor. They turn their shotguns to the tellers and demand that the tellers empty their drawers. The armed men take the money from the tellers’ drawers and threaten the bank manager to open the safe. Before the armed men can leave with the money Batman intervenes, disarms the robbers, ties them up, and leaves them for the police. The police arrive as Batman disappears in the shadows.

Generally, criminal Constitutional protections only operate against the government. Due process, depending on which theory of it we are talking about, is a broad concept. We can conceptualize it as a series of steps and attendant procedures that the government must take to obtain a conviction.[1] For example, a police officer needs probable cause before he can arrest someone, and the government must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.[2]

Certainly in the above example the police that first arrive at the bank have probable cause to arrest the two armed men that Batman tied up.[3] At this point the two suspects are still masked and tied up, the two shotguns are presumably on the bank floor somewhere out of reach, and the police were summoned to the bank by the silent alarm. Statements by the patrons and employees provide further evidence of crime against the two men, making for a lawful arrest. Upon arresting the suspects, the police must read the suspects their Miranda rights. If the officers fail to do this, they risk having the suspects’ subsequent statements or confessions excluded at trial.[4]

In this situation there is nothing stopping Harvey Dent (pre-acid) from prosecuting the armed men. The fact that Batman thwarted the robbery does nothing to alter the fact that the two men forcibly stole property. To commit third degree robbery in New York, a person must: (1) wrongfully take, obtain, or withhold property; (2) with the intent to deprive the owner of such property or to appropriate the same for himself; and, (3) threaten another with the use of immediate physical force to prevent resistance to the taking of property or to compel the owner of the property or another person to deliver the property. [5]

Even if there were no surveillance cameras, the patrons of the bank and the bank’s employees can present evidence against the robbers sufficient to establish the elements of the crime.  Testimony to the facts above establishes that the armed men: (1) wrongfully took and obtained property that did not belong to them, the bank’s money; (2) intended to deprive the bank of its money and to appropriate the money for themselves when they demanded it from the tellers and bank manager; (3) used their shotguns to threaten the immediate use of force to prevent resistance to their demands. Further testimony to the effect that Batman intervened, disarmed the masked men, incapacitated them, tied them up, and left them for the police, who arrived shortly thereafter to unmask the armed men in front of the patrons and employees, establishes the identities of the defendants as those of the two armed men. The sum of all of this testimony seems to carry the prosecution’s burden of proof.

Of course the defendants are still entitled to their Sixth Amendment rights to put on a defense and to confront witnesses.[6] But Batman’s intervention does not alter these rights in any way: he is not preventing the defendants from presenting their own evidence in court or from cross examining the government’s witnesses against them. Assuming the defendants do not rat each other out for plea deals, we can imagine them putting on a common defense that attacks the credibility, perception, and memory of the witnesses with the intent to cast doubt on whether the defendants were in fact the robbers unmasked by the police. Lacking a population of witnesses that has sudden memory loss or that was lacking its required corrective eyewear (think My Cousin Vinny) it’s safe to say Dent gets his conviction on this one.

  1. Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine only applies to evidence that is discovered as a result of a violation of the Fourth Amendment.[7] The doctrine is an exclusionary rule that operates to preclude the introduction of evidence that was obtained as a result of a bad “search” or “seizure” (i.e. a search not based on a warrant or an arrest without probable cause).[8] Since the Constitution only restricts government action, it seems that the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine would never apply to Batman. But this raises the question of how evidence procured by Batman, which he then turns over to the police, would be handled. Consider Batman: The Long Halloween when Batman leaves Carmine Falcone’s ledger on the GCPD HQ’s rooftop after meeting with Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent there.[9] Seemingly, the issue the government would face is establishing the ledger’s authenticity, that the ledger is in fact Carmine Falcone’s and that it details his illegal operations.[10] Assuming Batman is not testifying, the government would need to produce a witness who could identify the ledger as the ledger Carmine Falcone used to document his criminal enterprises.

  1. Confessions

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, hearsay is generally not permissible testimony.[11] Hearsay is defined as a statement that the declarant makes while not testifying at the current trial or hearing.[12] However, a statement made by an opposing party is not considered hearsay. [13] Thus, a criminal defendant’s statement is not hearsay because the defendant is the opposing party to the prosecution in its case against the defendant. Accordingly, the confession Batman obtains from a suspect is admissible evidence at court. Getting the confession into evidence is another matter. Likely, Batman will not be testifying at the criminal trial. Unless Batman obtained the confession in the presence of another, who can testify to its substance, it probably won’t be used as evidence. Even if admitted, there is a credibility issue with the confession: if Batman “beat” the confession out of the defendant, the defense can attack its credibility by arguing that the confession was coerced.

  1. Search warrants

Now, the best (most interesting) for last: search warrants. In the ordinary case, police need a search warrant based on probable cause to search for and seize evidence.[14] Although inapplicable to the bank example above, we can imagine a situation in which Batman infiltrates a warehouse and identifies a large hidden cache of Penguin’s weapons. Batman alerts Commissioner Gordon to the location of the weapons. Before the GCPD can search the warehouse and seize the weapons it must first obtain a search warrant from a magistrate judge. In the usual case, a police officer who has witnessed what she suspects to be evidence of crime appears applies to a magistrate for a warrant based on what she witnessed. In the present case, Commissioner Gordon has not personally witnessed the weapons cache.[15] Being an honest cop, the Commissioner will not lie under oath to obtain a warrant. Luckily, under the Constitution the police, and our Commissioner, can obtain a warrant based on a tip from a reliable informant!

A search warrant based on an informant’s tip (hearsay) requires that the totality of the circumstances indicate to the magistrate judge that there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of crime will be found at a particular place. [16] The totality of the circumstances test takes into account the truthfulness and accuracy of the informant, as well as the basis of the informant’s knowledge.[17] Since this test is not rigid, probable cause could be found on facts provided by an informant either because the informant has been reliable in the past or because evidence of the informant’s basis of knowledge of those facts is strong.[18]

Lacking independent police obtained evidence of crime[19] (i.e. Harvey Bullock sees the cache of weapons himself), Gordon can appear before the magistrate judge (or provide an affidavit) to testify that: (1) he received a tip that there is a large cache of weapons in a warehouse in Gotham; (2) the warehouse is owned by Penguin; (3) the tip was provided by an informant with the alias “Matches,” (a named informant because Commissioner Gordon regularly relies on tips received from Batman); (4) “Matches” has supplied truthful and accurate tips in the past (meaning he has given tips in the past that resulted in the GCPD finding what “Matches” said it would find); and, (5) “Matches” personally gained access to the warehouse and saw the weapons cache. The more specific Commissioner Gordon can describe the weapons cache and the warehouse, the more likely the warrant issued on Batman’s tip is likely to withstand its subsequent challenge by Penguin after he is arrested. Thus, the tip is more reliable when Batman takes an inventory of the weapons and informs Gordon that Penguin has 20 cases of fully automatic Uzi’s and 10 cases of RPG’s. Likewise, the more the GCPD uses “Matches” as an informant who leads it to evidence of crime, the more reliable “Matches” becomes as an informant!

Conclusion

Now, this is not to say that Batman himself is not potentially criminally and civilly liable for his actions. If he crashes through the skylight window of the bank in the first example, in appropriately dramatic fashion, he would likely be liable for property damages. Also, his use of physical force against the two armed bank robbers likely constitutes assault.[20]

All of the foregoing indicates that Batman’s aid in stopping crime should not hinder the successful prosecution of criminal defendants by the Gotham DA. This of course makes the “revolving door” in Gotham all the more inexplicable. If Batman’s participation in law enforcement is legal, why are the super villains never successfully incarcerated?

We might consider the insanity defense to criminal charges. In New York, the defense is not called the insanity defense; instead it’s the mental defect or disease defense.[21] It requires that the defendant, at the time of the offense, lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate the nature or consequences of his conduct, or that his conduct was wrong. But one study found that the insanity defense was only raised in 0.85% of cases, and was only successful in 26% of those cases.[22] Perhaps we can imagine that the 0.22% (0.85% * 26%) of successful insanity cases are those made by the likes of Joker, Two-Face, the Ventriloquist, and the more colorful members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. In any event it seems Batman’s involvement in law enforcement does not prevent the successful prosecution of criminal cases.

 

[1] Allen, Stuntz, Hoffmann, Livingston & Leipold, Comprehensive Criminal Procedure, 87-97 (3rd ed. 2011).

[2] Miles v. U.S., 103 U.S. 304 (1880).

[3] Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200 (1979).

[4] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

[5] NY Penal Law §§ 155.05, 160.0, 160.05 (McKinney 2015).

[6] See, e.g., In re Oliver, 333 U.S.  257 (1948); Washington v.Texas, 388 U.S. 14 (1967).

[7] Wong Sun v. U.S., 371 U.S. 471 (1963); Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

[8] See, e.g.California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621 (1991); Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978); Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

[9] Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween, (2011).

[10] Fed. R. Evid. 901(a).

[11] Fed. R. Evid. 802.

[12] Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).

[13] Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2).

[14] U.S. Const. amend IV; see, e.g., Johnson v. U.S., 333 U.S. 10 (1948).

[15] Presuming the weapons cache is hidden and would require entry into the warehouse to identify, Commissioner Gordon cannot go to the warehouse to corroborate Batman’s tip and provide independent evidence of crime: such action would be an unlawful search.

[16] Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983).

[17] Id.

[18] See id. As an aside, the “accurate and truthful” and “basis of knowledge” aspects of the test can, as a practical matter, be established by the same evidence. The events happen in the following sequence: (1) the police appear before the magistrate to present evidence based on a tip from an informant for a search warrant; (2) the magistrate issues the warrant; (3) the police execute the warrant, search, find evidence of crime,  and arrest the defendant; (4) the defendant is charged and challenges the basis of the warrant; (5) the trial court reviews the magistrate’s determination of probable cause taking into account whether the informant has provided accurate information in the past, and on whether the police found what the informant said it would find.  The fact that the police found what the informant said it would find establishes that the informant was “accurate and truthful,” and that the informant had a reliable basis for his knowledge (how else would the informant know what the police would find!).

[19] Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983).

[20] N.Y. Penal Law § 120.00 (McKinney 2015).

[21] N.Y. Penal Law § 40.15 (McKinney 2015).

[22] Michael Perlin, The Jurisprudence of the Insanity Defense, 108 (1993).

34 responses to “Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?

  1. “If Batman’s participation in law enforcement is legal, why are the super villains never successfully incarcerated?”

    Super villains are often incarcerated. It’s a standard scene that the SVs are plotting to escape, actually escaping, cutting a deal for early release, or being visited by police for interview in prison.

  2. How can Batman be liable for “assault” against the bank robbers? The doctrine of “defense of others” applies, doesn’t it?

    • Yes, New York has two relevant defenses. First, the necessity defense is used when the offense committed (Batman’s use of force) was necessary to avoid an imminent public or private injury (bank robbers steal money) that was about to occur, and that injury was sufficiently serious by ordinary standards of intelligence and morality that it was better to avoid the injury (stolen money) than the illegal act (Batman’s use of force to stop the robbery). For this defense to be available to a defendant, the actor (Batman ) must have no responsibility in causing the underlying injury that was about to occur. (NY Penal Law 35.05(2)).
      Second, a person (Batman) may use force to the extent he believes necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by another person (robbers). However, this defense is not available if the person (Batman) is the initial aggressor unless he withdrew from the altercation and effectively communicated such withdrawal and the other party persisted in using or threatening imminent physical force. (NY Penal Law 35.15(1)).
      Interestingly, section 35.20(3) might permit Batman to use deadly force to stop the commission of a burglary.

  3. Enjoyable read, I was wondering if the author or others had thoughts as to whether if a defendant argued something like:

    1. Government actors – in particularly the police and Commissioner Gordon – frequently cooperate with Batman: requesting his help via Bat-signal or otherwise, not arresting nor attempting to arrest him for crimes associated with his vigilantism, not enforcing nor attempting to enforce traffic laws against him while driving (nor does the Federal government and the FAA appear to have problems with him flying around), etc.

    2. Given that extreme degree of cooperation, has the government crossed a line in which the actions taken by Batman can actually be considered to be akin to a state actor? I’m not familiar with the laws regarding government contracted-out services.

    3. Even if #2 above wasn’t generally applicable, are there specific situations – like Commissioner Gordon laments to Batman in a rooftop meeting that they haven’t been able to find evidence against suspected criminal X and Batman then goes out and gets evidence and delivers it to the police – in which evidence would be tainted for that reason?

    • My analysis above presumes that Batman is not a government actor. It probably should not have.
      Under New York law “private conduct […] may become so pervaded by governmental involvement that it loses its character as such and invokes the full panoply of constitutional protections.” People v. Jones, 47 N.Y.2d 528 (1979). Relevant factors of state involvement, which transform private action into state action, include: (1) a clear connection between the police and the private investigation; (2) completion of the private act at the instigation of the police; (3) close supervision of the private conduct by the police; and (4) a private act undertaken on behalf of the police. People v. Ray, 65 N.Y.2d 282 (1985).
      The use of the bat-signal certainly favors a finding that a clear connection exists between Batman and the GCPD. Likewise, when Gordon shares information with Batman it is not hard to imagine that his motive for doing so is to prompt Batman into action which could arguably be considered police instigation under factor (3). Without digging too deep into the case law on the matter, it is not hard to see that Batman’s actions would likely be considered state actions in many of the situations in the comics.

  4. David, my impression is the same; an agent acting on behalf of police must adhere to the same standards that police do; otherwise, every police department in the United States would have, essentially a “Shabbos Goy” whose job it is to break into warehouses and look for weapons.

    You raise a very good point with the Bat Signal; perhaps in cases where Gordon summons Batman and explicitly asks for his help, Batman is an agent of the police, and therefore 4th amendment concerns attach, but when Batman is simply listening to the police scanner or using batcave-based surveillance tools, he is acting on his own? In which case, how much acting on his own can he do before he becomes a de facto agent of the police?

    • “my impression is the same; an agent acting on behalf of police must adhere to the same standards that police do; otherwise, every police department in the United States would have, essentially a “Shabbos Goy” whose job it is to break into warehouses and look for weapons. ”

      I don’t think it’s that clear-cut. If the police paid for (that is, if it’s someone’s “job”) someone to break into warehouses and look for weapons, that would be one thing. But the fact is, the police do NOT pay Batman. He is an ally, not an agent. The GCPD couldn’t stop Batman if they wanted to.

      The issue isn’t one of agency, it’s one of hearsay. When the police say “and then Batman dropped off the guns and the tied up bad guys at the 7th avenue police station”, how do the jurors know that it was Batman and not officer O’Shaugnessy himself who raided the warehouse without obtaining a warrant? Since Batman himself is unlikely to testify and cannot be summoned to do so, should the court rule the evidence admissible or not?

  5. ” Seemingly, the issue the government would face is establishing the ledger’s authenticity, that the ledger is in fact Carmine Falcone’s and that it details his illegal operations.”

    Assuming, of course, that they introduce it as evidence and do not merely use it to discover his illegal operations and then introduce them as evidence.

  6. “How can Batman be liable for “assault” against the bank robbers? The doctrine of “defense of others” applies, doesn’t it?”

    Unreasonable force is certainly one possibility.

    • How does implicit assumption of risk play into the equation? Or invitation to mutual combat. What if Batman gets a license from the Boxing Commissioner? Or is that Wildcat’s thing?

  7. Terry Washington

    But what happens if and when Batman is called to testify for the Prosecution and is asked to reveal his true identity( whether or not he formally unmasks himself is besides the point)??? If witnesses wearing veils or hoods are inadmissible then why not one wearing a mask?!

    • Batman may be hard to serve with a subpoena

      • It’s simple. they summon him with the Bat Signal and then serve him.

      • “It’s simple. they summon him with the Bat Signal and then serve him.”

        Except… now they have to prove that the Batman they served is the same Batman who witnessed the events he’s being summoned to testify about. Cue Alfred and/or Dick wearing the bat-suit while Bruce holds his press conference…

  8. A long time ago, I remember sending in a question regarding the unsuccessful 2011 Wonder Woman pilot. I feel like number of issues I asked about were brought up here.

    Part of me is hoping that it’s a two-parter with Wonder Woman being a follow-up to this.

  9. Pingback: Episode #164 - 18 November 2015 - Not A Thing!

  10. “Upon arresting the suspects, the police must read the suspects their Miranda rights. ”

    This feeds a popular misconception… that being read one’s Miranda rights is part of an arrest and a failure to read the rights makes the arrest improper. Police do not have to read a suspect his (or her) Miranda rights in order to arrest them. They do not have to read a suspect his (or her) Miranda rights at all.

    Miranda rights are not related to arrest. They are related to custodial interrogation. It’s good practice to read a suspect his (or her) Miranda rights as soon after placing them in custody… but it isn’t required.

    The funny part is that, thanks to decades of police procedural television shows, nearly every person in America old enough to be convicted of a crime can recite the Miranda rights… but so many still do not actually understand them.

  11. You talked about them being able to challenge a confession given to Batman if Batman beat it out of them, but I suspect that wouldn’t be necessary. The threat of such force is sufficient. Batman is, by design, an intimidating presence with a reputation for violence. I suspect that in most situations, they may be able to challenge a confession as coerced merely if Batman was the one asking for it. (This may not apply to supervillains who feel the need to explain their plans in detail while Batman is letting them think they are winning, of course.)

    Other than that quibble, this was a fantastic article.

  12. I think that perhaps this analysis only fits with very limited circumstances that don’t take into account real life perspectives and precedents.

    I still see where Batman having handled evidence is going to be a big problem. It’s a guy, whose identity nobody knows, who just leaves a ledger laying around in the above example. He is kind of known for using advanced technology to help fight people with superpowers; planting fingerprints on a ledger would be simple for someone who built his own satellite, Brother MK I.

    Heck, just look what happened with the DNA evidence at the O.J. Simpson trial. Batman might as well be wearing an Andrea Mazzola mask when he drops off evidence.

    That’s not even counting all the times cops show up to an alley where someone’s tied up, with drugs from an interrupted deal around. Anyone could beat someone up in an alley, drop something frameable, and let them get caught by the cops. That kind of defense would be laughably easy.

    Then we come to the lairs. I’ll admit, I don’t know how much squatting can be prosecuted, but look at it from the perspective of someone not seeing things through the comic book panels. Some guy in a mask, who may or not be one a copycat of one of the city’s famous criminals, starts living in a place and gives it a weird renovation. Batman breaks and enters, assaults the guy, and hands him over to the police with his personal assurances that this guy in the mask is totally the same guy who pulled off that strange crime the other night. And he knows that, because he claims to have found something related to the crime, or he claims he figured out some extremely obscure piece of evidence, or he solved a mind-mushenizing riddle beyond the reckoning of mere mortals. Remember, part of the reason Batman’s there is his ability to do detective work and analysis that the police can’t replicate.

    No wonder there’s a revolving door.

    • Terry Washington

      I don’t agree that Batman has resources beyond the CSI labs of most big city
      PDs(such as Gotham, Chicago, New York or Boston), but I do agree that the possibility of illegal search and seizure or unnecessary force on Batman’s part are going to be matters that a smart defence counsel could possibly crop up.
      Can you imagine the Dark Knight on the witness stage and being asked by either prosecutor or defence counsel- “State your name for the record” and when he replies “Batman”, his testimony is disregarded- can you even testify in court wearing a mask or refusing to give your real name( I am currently working on a novel in which a superheroine(Russian incidentally) is asked to give her secret identity but she refuses as American heroes are not asked to do so)?

      • Given he is the head of a major multinational tech and industrial company AND has direct access to advanced alien technology from numerous alien races…yeah, I’m going to assume that his resources are a bit above that of CSI’s.

        As to calling him to be a witness, well technically if they only called the vigilante known as Batman then he could at least argue that he doesn’t need to actually unmask himself. More likely though, he either wouldn’t show up in the first place (and just try to serve him if you can’t find him) or try and claim special rights of privacy akin to an undercover cop or a secret agent whose work and identity need to be kept in the dark for the safety of others and self, which harkens back to the idea that he is at least a de facto deputised member of the GCPD.

        Batman has in fact given testimony before with no problem, but that is usually in older issues and I’m not sure if the legal issues were ever addressed. In most cases where he captures a villain though there is often a ton of other evidence (like eyewitness testimony of the people he saved, security footage etc.) or in the case of super villains and other notable miscreants, they are fugitives from justice already and wanted for other crimes regardless (often crimes like “broke out of jail / Arkham Asylum), so it doesn’t matter how they were caught.

      • Terry Washington

        Hmm- Batman(like most other superheroes in the MU and DCU – Marvel and DC Universes) could claim a right to secrecy not unlike that of a CIA operative of member of special ops groups like the Delta Force or US Navy SEALs, but the trouble is both “spooks” and members of the Delta Force or Navy SEALs work for Uncle Sam or the military whereas police officers are the most public of professions- they HAVE to be.
        This is going to be a really tough sell!

      • Well, he’s not actually working FOR the GCPD- they don’t pay him, for one thing- so he’s in that blurry line where he is more or less a deputised police officer but isn’t actually a police officer.

        Plus, you could argue that as a member of the Justice League, and given that he battles not only with notorious criminals and superhuman psychopaths, but also with international terrorists, alien invaders, supernatural monsters and a host of other world-threatening menaces, his (completely voluntary) responsibilities go far beyond that of just policing a city (baring in mind that Gotham and most other DC cities face far greater dangers than any real-life town; several of his villains qualify as terrorists (Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow and others have all utilised WMDs, even nukes) and Batman most certainly operates much more closely to an elite black op special forces operative than a typical cop. It may not be THAT hard a sell in a city, a planet even, where the ability to guarantee the safety of Batman and any of his family and friends is severely compromised and local, state and national law enforcement are completely ill-equipped to protect citizens or enforce the law without outside assistance.

        Basically, extraordinary circumstances. Frankly it’s rather illogical that Gotham as depicted isn’t under martial law just to maintain a modicum of order, given that the city has been turned into literal warzones on multiple occasions.

  13. Terry Washington

    yes, but whether Batman is actually a “state actor” has NEVER been made clear- he may work with the GCPD but he doesn’t work FOR them per se.
    Which of course brings us to things like unnecessary use of force, trespassing, inadmissible evidence and all the things that cops in real life have to address.
    As for being served with a subpoena, all the GCPD needs to do is to summon him via the Bat Signal(on Commissioner Gordon’s orders) and when he gets there just serve the papers on him!

  14. I was thinking what if the reason so many of Batman’s villains are taken to an Asylum rather then prison is because it’s easier for the cops to declare them insane then it is for them to convict them as criminals.

    • Terry Washington

      Batman on the witness stand would make an interesting subject for cross examination- first question “What is your real name” Answer: “Batman/I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may lead to self incrimination!”.
      And what happens if he suddenly unmasked himself as playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne?

      • He’s actually been on the witness stance before, though it happens extremely rarely and the only instance off the top of my head is a very early story where he testified against the Joker- ironically, he was arguing that the Joker was legally sane (and deserved the death penalty). Joker was executed, but his minions revived him.

        I would think that Batman (and all other costumed superheroes) would at least try and argue that revealing their secret identity would put themselves and others they know in mortal danger, though I’m not sure how that would stand up in court since even undercover cops aren’t allowed to do that and in US law at least the accuser is generally allowed to face their accuser in a court of law. I could be wrong but I think there is another article on this site somewhere that delves into this question.

      • Turns out the article I’m thinking of is this one XD

      • Terry Washington

        Given that (albeit in the Marvel Universe), superheroes have testified without being made to reveal their secret identities( such as when Iron Man did so in Hulk#153 and Captain America in X-Men vs Avengers #4-), I think this is at least possible. certain classes of US officials such as CIA operatives and elite military formations such as the US Navy SEALs are exempt from testifying and revealing their identities- but as I noted before, Batman is neither a member of the US military or a CIA “spook”!

      • I suppose it might help that certain members of the government do indeed know who he is behind the mask and can testify that yes, this is the same Batman they know and fear.

        One has as to wonder what the legal status of the Justice League of America is. They are basically a self-appointed international peacekeeping force that goes wherever the heck they want. One would assume that they have some kind of approval from the United Nations to operate as they do.

        In terms of skill, resources and the kind of threats he deals with, Batman works on a completely different level from Special Forces or CIA. It’s a situation where he is voluntarily doing the job that not only the government is failing to carry out but is arguably totally ill-equipped to. I suppose it’s only fair to cut him some slack.

      • Terry Washington

        You have raised an intriguing question_ despite calling themselves “The Justice League Of America”( several of their members are indeed US citizens by birth or naturalization, Batman, Superman and Plastic Man. others such as Aquaman, ther Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman are manifestly NOT- also unlike the Avengers or FF in the Marvel Universe, this express association with a single country(and presumably its governmental policies) could lead other governments and the world at large to presume that the JLA’s activities have the tacit or express approval of the US federal government.
        The Avengers sensibly call themselves “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and have sensibly downgraded their association with the US government (as have the FF presumably_ and other superhero groups such as the X-Men or Defenders have NEVER had any such association with Uncle Sam!

      • Aquaman may or may not be a US citizen, depending on his current background. The Golden and Silver Age Arthur Currys were; the more well known Silver Age Arthur was the son of a US lighthouse keeper. More recent versions have not been.

        As for the X-Men, don’t forget they started as a CIA deniable asset.

  15. (when you scroll through the comments and see that we’ve had this exact same conversation several months ago XD)

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