Is Batman a Murderer?

Nerdist’s Jessica Chobot interviewed me about an interesting legal issue from Batman Begins: is Batman criminally responsible for Ra’s al Ghul’s death?  A similar question was asked in a comment to this post back in 2012, but the answer had to wait until now.  So is Batman a murderer? What about Jim Gordon?  Watch the interview to find out!

9 responses to “Is Batman a Murderer?

  1. Nice job. Although depraved indifference seems to fit, there seems to be no end to the civil liability for Batman in TDK given all the property damage and the likely loss of life and limb.

  2. Seemed like a lot of this was edited. I mean, they didn’t really talk about how he was in the middle of preventing a terrorist attack or that the guy he killed was in fact a terrorist mastermind who, you could argue, was the one who truly initiated things (they touched on it, but they didn’t really discuss it).

    Seems to me the real issue is less “did Batman and Gordon have a legal right to blow up the bridge and crash the train knowing that they are putting people in danger” (because given the alternative was failing to prevent a city-wide chemical weapons attack, you could strongly argue “yes”) and more to do with the specific instance of Batman refusing to save Ra’s Al Ghul even though he could have and even after he technically foiled his plan.

    In other words, let’s say that Batman and Gordon WERE cleared in the aftermath of this attack for blowing up the bridge and crashing the train; put that to one side. What about the actual “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you?” thing specifically? And would the fact that he guy he killed was effectively a super villain version of Osama bin Laden in the middle of perpetrating 9/11 a mitigating factor in any way?

    • There is not a general duty to save lives, but there often are specific ones. Such as parents toward their minor children, teachers toward their minor students, and a number of others, one of which is — crucially — that you put the person in danger.

      Hmmm. One wonders Batman could argue that it was Ra’s Al Ghul who endangered his own life with his plan. Especially if he could argue that a reasonably prudent person would foresee that third parties would try to stop it and that could be dangerous.

      • Yeah, I’m not sure “putting a person in danger” is meant to apply to situations like this.

      • James Pollock

        I think Batman has a “Necessity” defense for derailing the monorail. (I forget the case name, but there was a case involving damages caused by dynamiting buildings to make a firebreak in the San Francisco Fire). If I recall, though, that was a case for civil damages rather than criminal liability, so it may not be fully on-point.

        Actually, I think the civil liability question is easily resolved… Ra’s al-Ghul came to the risk, and can’t prevail on a civil claim because of unclean hands, both of which are fatal to any claim against Batman he might have raised.

      • It’s a rather unusual case to be honest. The problem in this situation is that Batman flat-out said “I don’t have to save you”, meaning that he could indeed have saved him if he wanted to and was choosing to let him die. If he had said nothing, it wouldn’t be such an issue. Heck, if he beat Ra’s to death with his bare hands then and there, he could easily claim it as justified.

        But in this specific instance the fact that he pretty much said “I won’t kill you….but I sort of am killing you” puts this in a sort of “legal murder” category, whereby Batman is practically taking advantage of a legal loophole (that there are certain scenarios where it is permissible to kill someone) and taking advantage of it (and you, Bruce Wayne, are in that scenario- with a guy you just so happen to have a bunch of reasons to want to kill already. Wanna go through with it?).

      • James Pollock

        “It’s a rather unusual case to be honest. The problem in this situation is that Batman flat-out said ‘I don’t have to save you’, meaning that he could indeed have saved him if he wanted to…”

        Well, no. He could have tried. Batman doesn’t always save the people he tries to save.

        Suppose I see someone drowning as I walk down the dock. Am I required to throw a line? No. Am I required to jump in? No. Am I (legally) required to do anything, anything at all? No. Wait… what if they’re in the water because I accidentally bumped them off the dock? Still, no. What if I actually, intentionally, with malice aforethought, pushed them off the dock into the water? Amazingly, the answer still might be no. I’m not required to throw a line, if there isn’t one to throw. I’m not required to jump in, if I’m not qualified as a rescue swimmer. I’m not even required to call 911… if I don’t have a phone.

        I think Batman might even be able to make an argument that he isn’t required to rescue Ra’s al-Ghul, even having partipated in creating the danger that threatens him, because triage… there are multiple, competing claims for his time and effort, and he chose to save them instead.

  3. The answer is definitively given in The Dark Knight Rises.

    Batman is NOT criminally liable for the death of Ra’s al-Ghul for the simple reason that Ra’s al-Ghul is not dead. (Although with Professor Crane sitting as judge, that fact might not be admissible.)

    • I thought Ra’s in TDKR was a hallucination? But even so, if Ra’s wasn’t dead, wouldn’t Batman be liable for some lesser thing to the same extent (whatever that extent may be) he would be liable for a dead Ra’s’s death? ie if letting him die were judged murder, wouldn’t failing at letting him die likely be attempted murder?

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