Category Archives: criminal law

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!


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).

Jim Gordon and the Felony Murder Rule

Today’s post was inspired by a question from Christopher about the first episode of the new season of Gotham.  His question presents an interesting twist on felony murder.  Spoilers below:

Continue reading

Super Heroines in the Pub

This Monday, September 28th, I will be giving a talk on Batman villains and the insanity defense as part of a Super Heroines, Etc. event here in St. Louis.  Super Heroines, Etc. (aka SHE) is a St. Louis-based 501c3 nonprofit focused on empowering women through educational events, classes, and workshops.  I’m looking forward to it and hope to see many of you there!

Ant-Man: Robbery vs Burglary vs Theft

I saw Ant-Man this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Appropriate to the title character, it’s a movie that deals in seemingly small things with larger implications.  Largely disconnected from the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe plot arc, Ant-Man is a pleasant break from the Dramatic Global Crisis or Dramatic Cosmic Crisis themes of the Avengers and their individual films.

But you didn’t come here to read a movie review.  So let’s take a closer look at a fine legal distinctions that the protagonist, Scott Lang, makes a few times in the movie: robbery versus burglary.  Some minor, early spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Age of Ultron, Part 3

(This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  You have been warned.)

Continue reading

Age of Ultron, Part 2

(This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  You have been warned.)

Continue reading

Laurel Lance’s Drug Problem

This guest post was written by Tracy Douglas, who is an attorney in the Illinois Governor’s Office. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and not those of the Governor’s Office.

Arrow season 2 includes a plot about Laurel Lance’s drug and alcohol addiction. This raises several legal issues about public employees and legal ethics.


1. Can Laurel be fired?

In “Blind Spot,” Laurel investigates Sebastian Blood. After finding drugs in her apartment, the cops arrest Laurel for drug possession (she’s been using her dad’s prescription drugs). When she’s released from police custody, she’s kidnapped, and it appears a cop was behind everything, not Blood. Assistant District Attorney Adam Donner tells her the drug charges were dropped, but she’s being fired because she has a drug problem. He tells her it’s not coming from District Attorney Spencer but from him because he hired her.   Whether her firing is proper depends on if Laurel had a right to notice and a hearing.

In certain situations, public employees have a right to notice of termination and a hearing before they are terminated. This is guaranteed by the 14th amendment’s due process clause, which protects government employees from being fired without notice and a hearing if they have a protected property interest and can only be dismissed for cause. Bd of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 578 (1972); Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 602-603 (1972). In this analysis, it must be determined if the public employment at issue is a protected property interest. Roth at 571. A property interest can be created by “existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law.” Roth at 577. Further, where a person’s reputation is at stake, notice and an opportunity to be heard are important. Roth at 573. A public employee who can only be dismissed for cause is entitled to a limited pre-termination hearing to be followed by a more extensive post-termination hearing. Cleveland Bd. Of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 545-546 (1985). Therefore, to be a proper firing, Laurel needs notice and a hearing if she has a property interest in her job. To have a property interest, reputation can be looked at, but state law must be examined.

Arrow is not clear where Starling City is located. The DC comics have shown it as a stand-in for San Francisco or Seattle. For this discussion, California, Washington and Illinois law will be used to see how public employment and legal ethics are treated by different states. In Washington and California, Laurel would have more job protections as a county employee than in Illinois.

In California and Washington, Laurel has a protected property interest established by county rules and possibly the collective bargaining agreements. This means she has a right to notice and an opportunity to be heard. County attorneys in San Francisco county and King County, Washington (Seattle) are represented by unions. The collective bargaining agreements might include more protections than the county rules. In the absence of the labor agreement, her employment is protected by county civil service rules. She would have notice of her termination and a right to a hearing before she is officially terminated. San Francisco County Civil Service Rule 122.1.3; 122.1.4; King County Code 3.12.270.   This satisfies the 14th amendment’s due process requirement. So, if Starling City is in a state with laws like California and Washington, then Donner could not fire Laurel without a written notice and a hearing.   His informing her may be an informal hearing under Loudermill, but she has a right to a fuller hearing. This is important because under Roth her reputation is at stake and she needs the chance to tell her side.

On the other hand, if Starling City is in a state like Illinois, Laurel may not have those protections. The state’s attorney has complete control over the office, including the ability to hire and fire employees. 55 Ill. Comp Stat. Ann. § 5/3-9006 (West 2014). Laurel may have an argument based on Roth and Sindermann that she has a protected property interest in her job. However, both Roth and Sindermann talk about public employees who are protected from being fired without cause. Without a union or contract, Illinois assistant state’s attorneys are at-will employees, and that means Laurel likely won’t have a right to notice and a hearing because firing is not limited to for cause. She could claim a right because her reputation is at stake, but the firing seems proper under Illinois law.


II. Would a state bar investigation make her unemployable?

In “Tremors,” Laurel refuses to seek help through counseling, and she finds out from her colleague, Joanna, that she’s under investigation by the state bar. It is looking in to her fitness to practice based on her arrest. It’s not clear how much time has passed from her firing, so it’s not clear if this is an initial investigation or if charges have been filed. Joanna’s partner sits on the disciplinary committee of the state bar, and he found out Laurel was under investigation when they thought about hiring her.   This is probably its own violation because if it is not public information yet, then he is revealing confidential information. Joanna says that while the investigation is out there, they can’t hire her. Usually, only the most egregious violations of legal ethics result in disbarment. For other cases, there are suspension and censure punishments. Laurel’s actions may have violated professional rules, but punishment depends on the severity of the violation. If the investigation is beyond the beginning stages, then Laurel will know about it. If she knows about it, then she should tell potential employers. While there is an ongoing investigation, she would likely be unemployable unless the person is a friend doing her a favor or doesn’t care about the bad optics of hiring someone under investigation.   State legal ethics are overseen by the courts, but the process varies.

In California, the state bar court oversees the rules of professional conduct and disciplinary matters. Cal Bus. & Prof. §§ 6076, 6077 (West 2014).   Under the California rules, lawyers face discipline if they “intentionally, recklessly, or repeatedly fail to perform legal services with competence” or commit an “act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption.” Cal. Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3-110; Cal. Bus. & Prof. § 6106. When a lawyer is charged with a crime, the bar must be notified, and it could start its own investigation even when the charges are dropped. Cal. Bus. & Prof. § 6101; California Rules of the State Bar, Title 5, Rule 2402. Any of these might cover what Laurel does in the show. What’s problematic about this situation is that Laurel seems to not know about the investigation. It’s possible that Laurel would not know about it if it’s at the preliminary stage, before she’s been notified. However, the lawyer who is being investigated would eventually be notified when charges are filed, and that would be public information. California Rules of the State Bar, Title 5, Rule 2403; Rule 2604. So, being investigated by the bar and being rendered unemployable rings true, but she would probably know about the investigation.

Washington and Illinois have similar Rules of Professional Conduct. Washington’s misconduct rule says that misconduct includes “commit[ing] a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.” Washington Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b); Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b) (2010). Washington statute provides grounds for disbarment, including “any act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption” and “gross incompetency in the practice of the profession.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 2.48.220 (West 2014). A criminal conviction is not required to begin disciplinary action. Washington Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(i). Washington’s rules also have a catchall “engage in conduct demonstrating unfitness to practice law.” Washington Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4 (n). In Illinois, however, the rules drafters clarified that lawyers are “professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice.” Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct Comment 2 (2010). Laurel could face an investigation for any of these, especially if her arrest was reported to the bar and an investigation began. It’s possible that her arrest, even though the charges were dropped, would reflect adversely on her fitness as an attorney. If she was reported, an investigation would begin.

Washington and Illinois have similar investigation practices. The Washington Disciplinary Counsel investigates complaints against lawyers, and Laurel would have an opportunity to respond during the investigation. Washington Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct (ELC) 5.3 (a)(b) (2014). In Illinois, it is the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which investigates when it receives a complaint and may give the accused an opportunity to respond. IARDC Rule 53. If sent to a hearing, then the attorney would receive notice of the filing of charges. ELC 10.3 (a) (1)(2) (2014); IARDC Rule 55. Complaints are also published on the ARDC’s website, so a potential employer who searched the attorney’s name would be able to find the complaint Like California, the point about being unemployable seems correct, but not knowing seems wrong unless it’s in the very beginning.

Substance abuse is a real problem among lawyers. Most states have Lawyer Assistance Programs to help deal with these problems. The Washington State Bar Association has one, and Illinois law provides one ran by the Supreme Court. 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 235/1. California seems to have a unique program, the Attorney Diversion and Assistance Program. Cal. Bus. & Prof. §§ 6230, 6231. The State Bar can refer the attorney under investigation to this program, but the attorney will be on either inactive status or have practice restrictions, which will be lifted when his time in the program is over. Cal. Bus. & Prof. § 6232.


III. Can she get her job back?

In “Birds of Prey,” Donner invites Laurel to prosecute Frank Bertinelli. Laurel mentions the bar investigation is ongoing, but Donner says he has a friend on the committee who can fix it. By saying this, he commits his own ethics violation in Washington and Illinois by “stat[ing] or imply[ing] an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official.” Rule 8.4 (e) Given that he was willing to put one criminal on trial in the hopes of getting another criminal to appear, it’s not surprising that he would commit an ethics violation. This is questionable because there is usually more than one person on the committees that hear lawyer complaints. He would need to convince others to vote with him. However, it turns out to be a plot by Donner to catch the Huntress, Frank’s daughter. The Huntress comes, takes hostages in the courthouse, and is eventually captured. In the aftermath, DA Spencer tells Laurel that Donner wasn’t authorized to rehire her, but Laurel manages to keep her job by pointing out that Spencer wouldn’t want the fact that Donner was behind the hostage crisis to get out. Whether this is realistic depends on the rules governing rehiring.

If Starling City is in a state with laws like California and Washington, then this part of the plot would not be realistic unless Laurel had gone through a due process hearing to get her job back after her termination. In San Francisco county, a termination could affect the ability to be rehired. San Francisco County Civil Service Rule 122.1.4. If she were to reapply, she would have to go through the examination process after completing a year of service outside the county, and her appointment would have to be approved by the Human Resources Director. San Francisco County Civil Service Rule 122.3.   Donner would not have the ability to rehire her. If she was properly fired and didn’t challenge it, then she would not be able to be rehired quickly given these rules.

Similarly, in King County, Washington, prosecuting attorneys are subject to a competitive process because they are not career employees. KCC 3.12.090. Laurel would not be able to be rehired unless she either challenged her dismissal or went through the competitive process again. Since the episode shows Donner offering her the job without a competitive process and without a challenge of the dismissal, then getting the job back quickly is not realistic. Depending on who is the appointing authority within the King County prosecuting attorney’s office, Donner may have had the ability to rehire her. But the process wouldn’t be as easy as shown on the show.

On the other hand, if Starling City is in a state like Illinois, then she would be able to get her job back without going through a competitive process because state’s attorneys control their offices. The state’s attorney is in charge of the office and can hire and fire assistants. 55 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/3-9006. However, a bar investigation would be a hindrance because it would reflect poorly on the state’s attorney. Donner said he hired her in the first place, so Laurel might have an argument that he had apparent authority through agency principles to re-hire her. In a state like Illinois, getting rehired quickly is more believable even if unlikely given the investigation.


IV. Conclusion

Arrow season 2 looks at Laurel’s professional descent and drug addiction. It skips some steps that would be required if it took place in some states (notice and a hearing before being fired, notice of an investigation, rehiring steps). These could have been mentioned, but not shown, if they were required, depending on state law. The writers may have had to ignore some things and not show them because it is not the main plot. The beauty of not defining which state Arrow takes place in is that the law might not be wrong because state law differs on this topic. In the real world, though, she would probably not be able to get her job back that easily, assuming her firing was proper. If the state bar investigation is beyond the initial phase, Laurel would know about it and would not find out from a colleague. Unless the person hiring her is okay with hiring someone under investigation, then the investigation would render her unemployable. And Donner should not imply that he can fix it with a friend on the committee. As a device to show character growth and continuing corruption in Starling City, it works.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider…and Wanted Felon

(This guest post was written by unapologetically geeky gamer lawyer Angelo Alcid, who writes about real-life video game law issues at his blog The Geek Law Journal.)

Since the release of Tomb Raider in 1996, millions of people have been happily raiding tombs as intrepid archaeologist Lara Croft; however, back in April of last year, Mark asked: how legal is anything Lara Croft does? (Note: Since I am a U.S. attorney, this analysis will be based on prevailing U.S. law. Ms. Croft’s fate in the courts of her home country of England is best left to experts across the pond.)

The UNESCO 1970 Convention

The single most significant law affecting Ms. Croft’s globe-spanning archaeological pursuits is the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The UNESCO 1970 Convention was drafted to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by giving member nations the right to recover stolen or illegally exported antiquities from other member countries.

At the time of this writing, 124 nations are signatories to the treaty, including almost every nation that Lara Croft has visited during her various adventures (except for Tibet and Thailand). The United States ratified the UNESCO 1970 Convention and implemented it with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CIPA), codified in 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601-13.

That being said, the UNESCO 1970 Convention and CIPA only come into play if the items in question were in fact 1) cultural artifacts, and 2) stolen or illegally exported. While UNESCO provides model provisions regarding state ownership of cultural objects, such model provisions are not themselves legally binding, and it is up to each member nation to implement laws concerning the ownership and exportation of cultural artifacts.

The Raiding of Foreign Tombs

Whether Lara Croft could face liability for the actual act of “raiding” would depend upon the local laws governing the tombs in question. The games are notably silent as to Lara having the proper permits to conduct her excavations, but it seems safe to assume that her tomb raiding is being done without the permission of the local governments and would almost certainly subject her to civil and/or criminal liability. (To be fair to the game developers, a cutscene or level wherein Lara visits a Peruvian government building to file for permits might not have made for the most exciting game.)

The question of whether or not Lara’s tomb raiding are illegal in the countries in which the tomb raiding is rather straightforward – the answer is almost certainly yes, as in each case she goes in without government sanction, guns blazing, often resulting in the complete destruction of the tomb in question.

For example, in Egypt, Article 6 of Law 117 states that “[a]ll antiquities are considered to be public property . . . It is impermissible to own, possess or dispose of antiquities except pursuant to the conditions set forth in this law and its implementing regulations.” Furthermore, Article 41 states that anyone who “unlawfully smuggles an antiquity outside the Republic or participates in such an act shall be liable to a prison term with hard labor and a fine of not less than 5,000 and not more than 50,000 pounds.” There are prison terms and fines outlined for removing an antiquity from its place, for transporting it outside of Egypt without express government permission, and for defacing artifacts and monuments, all of which Lara does during her brief time in Egypt looking for the final piece of the Scion in the first Tomb Raider game.

Rather than list off the innumerable fines and jail terms Lara would no doubt face in the various nations from which she retrieves artifacts, instead I will examine the legal consequences Lara may face after her adventures are concluded and she brings these artifacts home to hang up on her wall. (Lara Croft’s official home is in England; however, as previously stated, I will be analyzing her situation in the context of U.S. law. I would welcome a British lawyer’s perspective on how Lara would fare over there.)

National Stolen Property Act

In the U.S., a person may be subject to both civil and criminal liability for the sale and transport of illegally exported cultural artifacts. While Lara doesn’t ever actually sell any of the artifacts she finds, the fact remains that she is transporting all of these artifacts across state/national borders all the time, with many of them winding up in her personal collection at home. (For example, she has the Ark of the Covenant just sitting in the main hall of her mansion.)

The National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) prohibits the transportation “in interstate or foreign commerce [of] any goods, . . . of the value of $5,000 or more,” with knowledge that such goods were “stolen, converted or taken by fraud.” 18 U.S.C. § 2314. Enacted in 1948, the NSPA was originally intended to aid states in their pursuit of thieves, as the states’ ability to prosecute thieves was often limited when the thieves (or the property) would cross state lines.

United States v. McClain

However, in addition to interstate commerce, the NSPA also specifically mentions foreign commerce, and as a result it has been applied to the illegal import of artifacts stolen from foreign nations. In United States v. McClain, the defendant was prosecuted under the NSPA for illegally importing several pre-Columbian artifacts from Mexico.

On appeal, the defense argued that the NSPA could only be applied if the artifacts were  “stolen” as defined by the NSPA, and that the term “stolen” only covers “acts which result in the wrongful deprivation of rights of ‘ownership’ as that term is understood at common law. United States v. McClain, 545 F.2d 988, 994 (5th Cir. 1977). In other words, he couldn’t have stolen them if they weren’t officially owned by anyone.

The court reasoned that an explicit declaration of ownership by the government would be sufficient to consider the illegally exported artifacts “stolen” under the NSPA. (Without such an explicit declaration of ownership, prosecuting people in the U.S. for illegally exporting artifacts from foreign nations would simply amount to the United States enforcing the laws of other nations for them.)

While the respondents argued that Mexico had passed laws protecting their archaeological interests dating back to 1897, the court did not find a law specifically declaring ownership over the type of artifacts in question until 1972, when Mexico passed the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Monuments and Zones. 312 Diario Oficial 16, 6 de mayo de 1972. Article 27 states that “[a]rchaeological monuments, movables and immovables, are the inalienable and imprescriptible property of the Nation.”

Because court could only establish that Mexico had officially declared its ownership interest over the artifacts in 1972, and it could not be established precisely when the defendant had exported the artifacts, the defendant was eventually acquitted of all but the conspiracy charges.

The McCain decision was cited 25 years later, in Unites States v. Schultz, 333 F.3d 393 (2003), in which the defendant was also prosecuted under the NSPA for the receipt of stolen Egyptian antiquities. In Schultz, the court looked to a law passed in Egypt (“Law 117”) that declared all antiquities found in Egypt after 1983 to be the property of the Egyptian government, and upheld the defendant’s conviction. Schultz was sentenced to 33 months in prison and a fine of $50,000, and nearly all of the artifacts he received were returned to Egypt.


On top of all the possible fines and jail time Lara Croft would likely face in each nation she visits in her tomb-raiding adventures, for each artifact she brings home she may also be prosecuted by the U.S. government for the transport of stolen goods under the National Stolen Property Act as long as the artifact’s nation of origin has enacted a law officially declaring state ownership of such artifacts. Furthermore, all of the various artifacts she retrieves will likely be returned to their nations of origin under the UNESCO 1970 Convention and CIPA.


This analysis was focused specifically on the legal ramifications of the act of retrieving and transporting the artifacts central to the Tomb Raider games. In the course of the first game alone, Lara Croft also breaks into the corporate headquarters of Natla Technologies, kills a number of endangered animals (like wolves and gorillas, not to mention the sasquatch and dinosaurs), and also straight up shoots a guy without (much) provocation.

How legal is anything Lara Croft does? The short answer is, “Not very.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past and Thoughts on Due Process

This guest post was written by Joe Suhre, of Suhre & Associates, LLC, a firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois, Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio. Joe previously wrote guest posts on Defending Loki and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Most Important Movie of the Year?

Recently, US-authorized drone strikes killed several American citizens accused of being a threat to the country based on their terrorist affiliations and unapologetic rhetoric opposing US policy.

Oh, wait . . . that was the beginning of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

You probably already know that this article will have multiple spoilers, so if you haven’t yet seen the latest iteration of Marvel’s X-Men, you should go see it soon. Then come back and tell me in the comments whether you believe in my assessment of this film or not.

What’s the Big Deal?

If you have seen Days of Future Past already, did you see what I saw? I will admit it is somewhat hidden, but only because we are trained to ignore it, since it just gets in the way.

I am talking about due process—due process, as in the opposite of capricious verdicts and judgments based on prejudice, fear, and political expediency; as in that little right we inherited from our Founding Fathers, who had experienced the lack of due process first hand and decided the Constitution wasn’t complete until we included it in the Bill of Rights.

You might disagree with me when I say the framers of the Constitution had the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past in mind when they insisted that due process be inviolate, so let’s review the instances in the movie and then see if we face the same issues today.

First Class 

Everything really started at the end of X-Men: First Class when, in a mercurial moment, mutants went from heroes to goats on the beach in Cuba, incurring the wrath of the instantly allied US and Soviet fleets. The Soviets would obviously have no problem firing on a small contingent of Americans, but why did the generals calling the shots in Washington order the execution of US citizens without due process? And why were the American Sailors, so soon after World War II, willing to “just follow orders,” especially after hearing Agent MacTaggert screaming over the com that the situation was contained?

I guess their justification for such an attack was fear; fear based on ignorance and concern for safety. Which, by the way, is the same tactic currently exercised by law enforcement across the country. In fact, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police kill 400 – 500 innocent people each year out of fear for their own safety, significantly more than the 33 officers killed by firearms each year in the line of duty.

A 2012 example of irrational fear in Cleveland, not unlike the attack levied against the mutants on the beach, involved a man and woman whose car backfired. The retaliation by police to the possible gunfire from the car resulted in a force of 60 police cars pursuing the now frightened couple and ended with 115 officers firing 140 bullets into the car in less than 30 seconds. The unarmed couple was pronounced dead on the scene.

Kennedy Assassination

Speaking of no due process, although the details were sketchy on how the US government accused Magneto of complicity in the JFK assassination, it is clear that government suspicion that Magneto manipulated the “magic bullet” was justification for his incarceration.

Of course, in 1963 Erik Lehnsherr’s incarceration was illegal, but now after several rounds in congress and many court challenges, the President on December 26, 2013 signed into law that the government can arrest anyone on suspicion only and detain them indefinitely without trial. Welcome to Magneto’s world.

Not that I subscribe to the rhetoric of Magneto, but you have to admit that being thrown in solitary without due process, tends to sap any loyalty one might have for King and country; whether you are a German Jew or a US Citizen of the wrong color, species, or ideology.

Vigilante Justice

One element of vigilante justice that makes it not only illegal but immoral as well is that the vigilante, lynch mob, or angry villagers with torches and pitch forks don’t feel bound by due process. Their aim is to dispense justice, quickly—right or wrong. What drives the vigilante is fear that justice won’t happen without them taking over.

Vigilante justice in Detroit occurred in April of this year when a man hit a 10-year old boy with his truck. The driver stopped to help but was immediately beaten into a coma in retaliation even though surveillance cameras would later show the boy ran in front of the oncoming truck leaving no time to stop. Concern for due process would have allowed the mob to see that the man was not at fault after a thorough investigation.

But in another universe, maybe the boy was a mutant, and his fellow mutants felt that there would be no justice unless they acted on their own. Thus was the mindset of Mystique as she set about finding and executing Trask. It all seemed clear what she had to do since nobody else was willing to stop Trask from continuing with his plans against mutants. Due process wasn’t on her mind, and as it usually does, her vigilante justice backfired.

Due Process and Personhood

Without getting into a history lesson on civil rights in America, one doctrine that kept slaves and minority races under the boot of the majority was the belief that they didn’t fully qualify as human. The majority claimed belief in rule of law, due process, and justice, yet denied an equal share of this philosophy to those deemed as “less human.” This belief also fueled the Holocaust in Germany, where enslavement and execution of “untermenschen” or “subhumans” was ok, to the tune of eleven million dead.

Trask was quick to play on this flaw in humanity when he was able to convince the powers that were, that mutants, by virtue of their differences also didn’t deserve consideration as humans and should be targeted as enemies. His deep seated prejudice was made plain when, suspecting a Vietnamese general to be a mutant, he said to others in the room driven to panic, “Don’t shoot it.”

Denying Due Process 

I dare say, in a classroom most students would see the injustice and immorality of denying human rights to any individual based on race. Maybe racist attitudes are fading away in our culture. Let’s hope so. But my discussion has not been about the obvious ethnic lessons of X-Men: Days of Future Past. I have been talking about due process and why we should be aware of its importance.

To whom are we willing to deny due process today? Do you think we should afford all people the right of presumed innocence? Or are some crimes so heinous that it is hard to restrain us from rushing to judgment and bypassing due process? Unfortunately, I have seen instances where many people feel that for some crimes due process isn’t important and should be suspended. Let me toss around a few words. Let’s see what your emotional response is to arresting:

  • Drunk drivers;
  • Terrorists;
  • Child molesters;
  • Rapists;
  • Drug dealers

A police officer arrests and handcuffs a man.

You have the right to . . . oh never mind, just get in the car @$&hole.

The question is, are we willing to trust our system of justice when it comes to these types of crimes? Or do we treat these individuals as “mutants . . .” to be feared and condemned as guilty before they are even tried? In the case of a drunk driving arrest, you are presumed guilty. Your license is suspended and you are given a notice of suspension. Police officers in these cases are judge, jury, and executioner. It is a very efficient system.

However, putting justice in the hands of the people can be slow. It was a risky move by the founding fathers. Many feel that people show too much mercy and not enough justice. They fight for mandatory sentences, new laws, and regulations that take authority away from the judge and jury. They allow exceptions to every right we have in an attempt to control our “unruly” system.

I like what Charles Xavier said to Raven at the end of X-Men, “I have been trying to control you since the day we met and look where that’s got us . . . I have faith in you Raven.” Perhaps we should have faith in each other as well.

Due process isn’t perfect, but it is fair. It is foundational to our freedom. In light of the alternative, it is a pretty big deal. Is it significant enough to suggest that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most important movie of the year?

Ask me again in ten years.

She-Hulk #4

She-Hulk #4 brings up one legal issue and a host of ethical issues.  Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing earth-shattering.

Continue reading