Author Archives: James Daily

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!

More News From My Day Job

As many readers may already be aware, my day job is a Lecturer and researcher at the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at Washington University in St. Louis.  Recently I became the lead developer for the Supreme Court Database, one of CERL’s flagship projects, and yesterday we released the newest version of the database, including coverage of cases from 1791 through today.  The database is used for a variety of legal research and journalism projects, so if you’re a stats & analysis nerd in addition to a comic book and legal nerd, check it out!

Daredevil Season 2, Part 2 – The Trial

Following my previous post about Daredevil Season 2, we now move to the main event, the trial of…

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Daredevil Season 2, Part 1

There is so much to discuss about Season 2 of Daredevil that I’m not going to follow the usual post format.  Spoilers ahead, naturally.

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Daredevil Season 2

I’ve received a few different questions about the second season of Daredevil, which puts Matt & Foggy’s legal practice front and center in a key storyline, which I won’t spoil here.  I’ve just gotten through watching the season, and wow is there ever a lot to discuss—and not in a good way.  More to follow.

Bound by Law: A Copyright Law Comic Book

Hat tip to Kohel Haver for pointing me to Bound by Law, a free comic book created by the Duke Law School Center for the Study of the Public Domain.  Bound by Law is a funny but educational introduction to the basics of copyright law, including fair use, infringement, and the public domain.  The book uses a documentary filmmaker as an example, but many of the issues apply equally to other arts and media.  Check it out!

Batman v. Superman and Import Licenses

(Lawrence M. Friedman is a partner at Barnes, Richardson & Colburn, LLP and an adjunct professor at the John Marshall Law School’s Center for International Law.  He is also the author of the Customs Law Blog and a previous guest poster here at Law and the Multiverse.)

Heading into Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I had some trepidation mixed with anticipation. You’ll have to judge the movie for yourself. My short review is that it is filled with great fan service and universe building, but continues to mistreat Superman as a character. To make up for that, Wonder Woman is great and Ben Affleck is perfectly good in the cowl and cape. That’s all I will say on the quality of the movie. What about the legal issues?

Very early in the movie, it becomes clear that Lex Luther and Lexcorp could use my professional help. Explaining why requires at least a minor spoiler. Consider yourself warned.

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Guest Post: Insurance Fraud is No Laughing Matter

(This guest post was written by Kevin Wheeler, an associate attorney at Schlichter & Shonack, LLP.  Thanks to Steven Jones for sending in the question, and thanks to Kevin for a great guest post!)

INSURANCE FRAUD IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

Cameron Kaiser tries to play the Joker

I. Introduction 

In episode 41 of Batman the Animated Series, Cameron Kaiser, a casino mogul, opens up a brand new casino, “Joker’s Wild.” Gotham is shocked to see the casino is themed after one of Gotham’s most notorious villains. However, after some investigation by the world’s greatest detective, it is discovered that *spoiler alert* the Joker theme was part of an elaborate scheme to bait the Joker into destroying the hotel. Mr. Kaiser’s overspending on the casino had left him on the verge of bankruptcy, so he hatched this plot to collect the insurance money. Despite Mr. Kaiser doing everything he could to facilitate an attack on the casino, including assisting the Joker in escaping from Arkham Asylum and even letting the Joker deal in his casino, in the end, Batman is able to thwart Mr. Kaiser’s plans and lock the Joker back in Arkham to escape another day.

The topic of this article is whether Mr. Kaiser is liable for insurance fraud. This article will not focus on Mr. Kaiser’s ability to obtain insurance against an attack by the Joker, as that was discussed in a previous post. Instead the focus will be on the legal ramifications of intentionally baiting the Joker with the “Joker’s Wild” theme. As Mr. Kaiser would contend, “The joker is a classic symbol, long associated with cards and games, [he] can’t help it if there is a passing resemblance to some criminal fruit cake.”

Insurance fraud is an issue affecting everyone. At its core, the insurance business is simply the market of risk. Insurers take upon themselves the risks of their insureds, who in return pay the insurers insurance premiums. This system works because the insurers are able to assess the risks and distribute the costs evenly amongst all of their insureds. Fraudulent claims change the risk assessment for insurance companies. Insurance companies are forced to transfer the additional burden onto their insureds in the form of increased insurance premiums.

Each state has enacted its own statutory scheme to prevent and punish insurance fraud. Generally, when dealing with Gotham city this blog has applied New York law, I will continue in this tradition and use New York law in my analysis.

II. Insurance Fraud

New York Penal Law § 176.05 defines the commission of a fraudulent insurance act as taking place when a person “knowingly and with intent to defraud, presents, causes to be presented or prepares with knowledge or belief that it will be presented to or by an insurer, self-insurer or purported insurer or purported self-insurer, or any agent thereof, any written statement as part of… a claim for payment or other benefit pursuant to an insurance policy which he knows to: (i) contain materially false information concerning any fact material thereto; or (ii) conceal, for the purpose of misleading, information concerning any fact material thereto.” NY CLS Penal § 176.05.

On its own, the commission of a fraudulent insurance act constitutes insurance fraud in the fifth degree and is a misdemeanor. Insurance fraud rises to the level of a felony, when in addition to a fraudulent insurance act, the defendant also “wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds, or attempts to wrongfully take, obtain or withhold property,” the value of which determines the severity of the offense. NY CLS Penal §§ 176.05-176.30. Wrongfully taking insurance proceeds from the destruction of a $300 million casino would classify as insurance fraud in the first degree. NY CLS Penal § 176.30.

A. Knowingly and With Intent to Defraud

The first element of insurance fraud is that the fraud is committed knowingly and with the intent to defraud. “A person acts intentionally with respect to a result… when his conscious objective is to cause such result… A person acts knowingly with respect to conduct… when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature.” NY CLS Penal § 15.05. The question before us is whether Mr. Kaiser knew that his actions would result in a fraudulent act, and committed those actions with fraud as the intended result. Because direct evidence of a defendant’s mental state is rare, circumstantial evidence is sufficient.

Here, there is likely enough circumstantial evidence to show Mr. Kaiser acted with the requisite culpable mental state. The Joker and his crimes are well known to the citizens of Gotham city. Knowing of Joker’s tendencies toward destruction, Mr. Kaiser aided the Joker in his escape from Arkham Asylum on the same day the Joker’s Wild casino was unveiled. Mr. Kaiser clearly knew that the Joker would seek to destroy the casino and that thereby Mr. Kaiser could collect the insurance money. Similarly, this evidence shows that Mr. Kaiser’s acted with intent to defraud. There is no other reason Mr. Kaiser would help the Joker escape and even allow the Joker to act as a dealer in the casino.

Mr. Kaiser’s aid to the Joker is not the only evidence of his culpable mental state. We also discover through Batman’s sleuthing that the original theme for the casino was a medieval theme. As Mr. Kaiser is sure to argue, the joker is a perfectly reasonable theme for a casino, so the change in theme was innocent. The theme change, however, was recent enough to the opening that instead of a complete remodel, they simply placed joker wallpaper on top of knight wallpaper. This shows that it was not planned to be the theme of the casino, which puts into question his motive behind the switch. Combine that with the history of the Joker in Gotham city and his intentions become more clear.

There is also evidence of financial motivation to commit fraud. Mr. Kaiser basically bankrupted himself on this casino. He would not likely be able to make back the money he spent on the casino, no matter the theme. Choosing the Joker’s Wild theme in Gotham, however, would also likely be seen as a poor business decision. At the unveiling, the citizens of Gotham are disgusted by the choice of theme. Given the traumatic experiences most of them have likely had with the Joker, it would be foreseeable that this particular theme would cause potential patrons to avoid the casino.

These circumstantial facts taken together likely show that Mr. Kaiser knew that choosing the Joker’s Wild theme as well as breaking the Joker out on the same day as the unveiling would likely result in the destruction of the casino. Despite the known result, Mr. Kaiser still themed his casino after the Joker and broke the Joker out of the asylum which, combined with Mr. Kaiser’s financial state, shows an intent to defraud.

B. Prepares a Statement Concealing a Material Fact

The next element of the crime of insurance fraud is preparing a statement concealing a material fact. Here, Mr. Kaiser has obviously not presented or even prepared any sort of written statement, as he was foiled by the caped crusader before his scheme could be accomplished. Mr. Kaiser is not off the hook, however.

The absence of a written statement will not preclude a prosecution for attempted insurance fraud. In People v. Vastano (App.Div. 1986) 117 A.D.2d 637, 637 [498 N.Y.S.2d 87, 87], the court found sufficient proof of attempted insurance fraud even though no claim had been submitted. In that case the defendant plotted out a crime of insurance fraud in which he arranged to have the car of one of his coconspirators disposed of; so they could split the insurance money. The coconspirator, however, never reported the car stolen to the insurance company. The court held that “The necessary overt act for an attempt need not be the final one towards the completion of the offense. Whenever the acts of a person have gone to the extent of placing it in his power to commit the offense unless interrupted and nothing but such interruption prevents his present commission of the offense, at least then he is guilty of an attempt to commit the offense.” People v. Vastano, 117 A.D.2d at 637.

Here, Mr. Kaiser has acted to the extent that he would “commit the offense unless interrupted and nothing but such interruption prevents his present commission of the offense.” Batman was the interruption that both prevented the destruction of the hotel and the insurance fraud. Similar to the Vastano case, Mr. Kaiser had almost completed his portion of the fraud. Without Batman’s “interruption” the Joker would have destroyed the casino, and Mr. Kaiser could have collected the insurance money.

III. What If Mr. Kaiser Had Not Helped the Joker?

If we change the episode slightly, this time removing Batman’s interruption and Mr. Kaiser’s aid to the Joker. What would be the result if Mr. Kaiser, had simply realized he had spent far too much on the Casino, and simply changed the theme to Joker’s Wild knowing the Joker would destroy it. Here, the facts are a little closer as Mr. Kaiser is no longer an accomplice to the arson of the casino. However, he is still would likely be guilty of insurance fraud if he seeks to collect the insurance money on the destroyed casino.

“The essence of insurance fraud is the filing of a false written statement as part of a claim for insurance.” People v Alfaro, 108 A.D.2d 517, 520, affd. 66 N.Y.2d 985; see also People v. Michael (App.Div. 1994) 210 A.D.2d 874 [620 N.Y.S.2d 637], holding that although the defendant was found not guilty of arson, it did not mean that she could not be convicted of third degree insurance fraud where proof was overwhelming that defendant was aware that fire was intentionally set to collect on insurance policy.)

Even if Mr. Kaiser had simply changed the theme of the casino in order to entice the Joker to destroy it, he would have to either a) misrepresent or conceal his change of theme, or b) report the change of theme to the insurance company.

If Mr. Kaiser elected to simply misrepresent or conceal the change of theme, then he would be committing “the essence of insurance fraud” by filing a false written statement as part of a claim. Even if his policy would have covered the loss of the casino had he been truthful, he would still be guilty of insurance fraud. In People v. Stevens, the defendant falsely reported to her insurer that her truck had been stolen, when in fact it had been driven into a pond. The court in that case held that “The commission of the crime of insurance fraud is not dependent upon whether the insured is ultimately entitled to be paid under the policy; it is committed when the insured knowingly files false information with the carrier in an attempt to collect under the policy.” So any material misrepresentation or concealment to an insurance company constitutes insurance fraud.

So what if Mr. Kaiser was truly innocent, and had changed the theme of the casino, not to bait the Joker, but because he truly believed that “The joker is a classic symbol, long associated with cards and games.” New York and other states require that all insurers must obtain an anti-arson application for all property insurance policies covering peril of fire or explosion. NY CLS Ins § 3403. An anti-arson application is an application for insurance or renewal of insurance, that includes certain questions that the applicant must answer in addition to the basic information normally supplied to an insurer. NY CLS Ins § 3403(a). This information includes financial and background information about the property and the applicant. NY CLS Ins § 3403(c).

The improvements entailed with the change of theme of the casino would also need to be insured. Therefore, Mr. Kaiser would have had to complete an anti-arson application for the improvements. During the application process, the property would need to be appraised and inspected. During these inspections, the insurance company would likely find out the nature of the improvements. If Mr. Kaiser were honest in this anti-arson application concerning his financial condition and the financial condition of the property, and the insurance company still chose to insure him, then a court would likely find that the insurance company accepted the risk of the Joker destroying the casino and Mr. Kaiser could collect. All that being said, an insurance company is not likely to insure a Joker’s Wild casino in Gotham.

 

News From My Day Job

If you’re curious about the kind of thing I do for my day job, here’s a short research article that was published today: James E. Daily, An Empirical Analysis of Some Proponents and Opponents of Patent Reform, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Review 1.

Defending Kilgrave

(Spoilers for Jessica Jones ahead!  Trigger warning for discussion of rape.)

Jessica Jones features a private investigator, an attorney, accused criminals, and a killer on the loose.  There are so many legal issues it’s hard to know where to begin.  The Legal Geeks have written about the feasibility of Kilgrave’s victims raising an insanity defense, but I’m interested in a related but trickier question: what defense could Kilgrave offer if he were hauled into court (and prevented from influencing the case using his powers)?  At first glance it might seem like Kilgrave is guilty of numerous instances of murder, rape, theft, and countless lesser offenses.  But as Kilgrave claims, he isn’t a murderer himself, he just tells other people to do it.  I will consider three possible crimes: Hope Shlottman killing her parents, Kilgrave’s rapes, and Kilgrave taking money from the poker players.  The show is set in New York City, so I’ll be using New York law for the analysis.

I. Intent

Before looking at each crime, I should first talk about intent.  Not all crimes require intent; there are strict liability crimes such as driving over the speed limit.  But most crimes require some form of intent, which can be divided into two classes: specific intent and general intent.

Specific intent means the state must “prove that the defendant has intended to commit some further act, or has intended some additional consequence, or has intended to achieve some additional purpose, beyond the prohibited conduct itself.” 35 N.Y. Jur. 2d Criminal Law: Principles and Offenses § 26.  Murder is the classic example of a specific intent crime.  The degree of guilt depends on the additional consequence or purpose intended by the defendant.  If the defendant intended to kill the victim, that’s intentional homicide.  If the defendant did not, then that may only be manslaughter.

General intent means that the state only has to prove that the defendant intended to commit the prohibited conduct.  Rape is the typical example of a general intent crime.  What matters is that the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim and the victim did not consent.  It does not matter whether the defendant was aware of the lack of consent or intended for the intercourse to be nonconsensual.

II. The Killing of Hope Shlottman’s Parents

In this case, Kilgrave instructed Hope Shlottman to shoot her parents, which she then did, resulting in their deaths.  This was done under the influence of result of a virus that Kilgrave produces, which causes others to obey Kilgrave’s commands literally and unflinchingly.  Hope herself has a few solid defenses: involuntary action, legal insanity, duress, and involuntary intoxication.  But what about Kilgrave?  Is he culpable?  After all, he just told Hope to kill her parents.  He didn’t pull the trigger himself.

Alas for Kilgrave, this argument is more effective as a delusional rationalization than a legal defense.  What Kilgrave did is a solid, though unusual, example of solicitation, the basic form of which is this:

A person is guilty of criminal solicitation in the fifth degree when, with intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a crime, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes or otherwise attempts to cause such other person to engage in such conduct.

N.Y. Penal Law § 100.00.  The higher degrees of solicitation depend on the defendant’s age and the seriousness of the offense solicited (in this case, very serious).  Kilgrave both commanded and “otherwise attempt[ed] to cause” Hope to engage in conduct constituting a crime, which she then did.  Once the crime was carried out, Kilgrave became fully liable for the murder. N.Y. Penal Law § 20.00.

But wait!  Isn’t the whole point that Hope isn’t guilty?  How can Kilgrave be guilty of something that wasn’t a crime for Hope?  The New York legislature thought of that, and both the general accessory liability statute § 20 and the solicitation statute § 100 have provisions covering this scenario:

In any prosecution for an offense in which the criminal liability of the defendant is based upon the conduct of another person pursuant to section 20.00, it is no defense that:
1. Such other person is not guilty of the offense in question owing to criminal irresponsibility or other legal incapacity or exemption, or to unawareness of the criminal nature of the conduct in question or of the defendant’s criminal purpose or to other factors precluding the mental state required for the commission of the offense in question; or
2. Such other person has not been prosecuted for or convicted of any offense based upon the conduct in question, or has previously been acquitted thereof, or has legal immunity from prosecution therefor

§ 20.05.  Similarly:

It is no defense to a prosecution for criminal solicitation that the person solicited could not be guilty of the crime solicited owing to criminal irresponsibility or other legal incapacity or exemption, or to unawareness of the criminal nature of the conduct solicited or of the defendant’s criminal purpose or to other factors precluding the mental state required for the commission of the crime in question.

§ 100.15.

So Kilgrave is criminally liable for the intentional murder of Hope Shlottman’s parents, even though he only “asked” Hope to do it and she herself is likely not guilty of murder (and in any case was not convicted of it).

III. Rape

This is an even clearer case than the murder of Hope’s parents.  New York criminal law is clear that “A person is deemed incapable of consent when he or she is … mentally incapacitated.”  Penal Law § 130.05(3)(c).  Mentally incapacitated is defined as when “a person is rendered temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling his conduct owing to the influence of a narcotic or intoxicating substance administered to him without his consent, or to any other act committed upon him without his consent.” § 130.00(6).

In this case, Kilgrave rendered his victims temporarily incapable of controlling their conduct owing to a) the influence of an intoxicating substance (the virus) administered to them without their consent or b) the intentional viral infection, again without their consent.

Notably, the prosecution does not have to prove the exact nature of the intoxicant.  People v. Di Noia, 481 N.Y.S.2d 738, 740 (1984).  The considerable circumstantial evidence (Hope lying in bed for hours, refusing to leave, shooting her parents for no reason) is sufficient to show that her mind had been incapacitated.  Similarly evidence exists for Jessica (e.g. the injury to her ear).

Lack of consent could also be proven by Hope and Jessica’s physical helplessness.  § 130.05(3)(d).  Physical helplessness is defined as when a person is “unconscious or for any other reason is physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act.” § 130.00(7).  Hope and Jessica were conscious, but they were physically unable to communicate their unwillingness to engage in sexual intercourse (as a result of Kilgrave’s compulsion).

Kilgrave can offer no defense to charges of rape.

IV. Theft

Here there is a glimmer of hope for Kilgrave’s defense team (though even this is illusory, as we shall see).  Kilgrave took hundreds of thousands of dollars from a group of wealthy men at a poker game by commanding them to go all in and then promptly fold.  However, at least under New York law, that may not have been theft (technically larceny).

Unlike murder, the end result was not inherently illegal.  Killing a person is generally a crime unless some exception applies.  But it is generally legal for one person to give another a large sum of money.

Unlike rape, the larceny statutes and case law are primarily concerned with the perpetrator’s evil intent, not the victim’s lack of consent or true knowledge.  Larceny most encompasses taking by fraud, embezzlement, extortion, false promises, and keeping lost property.  But Kilgrave didn’t do any of that.  He didn’t make any false representations or promises, he did not embezzle the money, he did not extort it on pain of some injury, nor was the money lost.

So here is one crime that Kilgrave may not be guilty of, at least arguably.  But there’s a catch: rather than simply tell the men to give him the money, Kilgrave nominally played along with the poker game.  This is not a crime in itself: New York appears to allow private, social gambling (although contracts for wagers are unenforceable).  But there is a catch:

Every person who shall, by playing at any game … lose at any time or sitting, the sum or value of twenty-five dollars or upwards … may … sue for and recover the money or value of the things so lost and paid or delivered, from the winner thereof.

NY Gen. Obligations Law § 5-421.  In other words, the men can sue to recover the money from Kilgrave because, technically, it was lost in a poker game.

V. Conclusion

Although perhaps unsurprising, it is reassuring to know that the nature of Kilgrave’s powers does not put him outside the reach of the criminal law.  And even in cases where it does, he might not be able to keep his ill-gotten gains.