Category Archives: Batman

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).

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!

A Comic Book-Inspired Law School Final Exam

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.  He sent me this final exam, which he recently gave in his Trade Remedies class.  According to Prof. Friedman, “I stressed to my students that the names and locations were not particularly relevant. Nevertheless, I have no doubt they are wondering what I was thinking. It is a bit of a scavenger hunt for random DC universe references, from the well-known to the obscure.”  Thank you to Prof. Friedman, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I did!

IBT 705 International Trade Remedies Law

Spring 2014

Final Exam: The Dark Knight Edition


  1. To complete this exam, you may rely on your class notes, textbook, and a calculator. No other resources can be consulted.
  2. Read the facts below and respond accordingly. Credit will be earned by properly identifying legal issues, stating the relevant rules, applying the facts to the rules, and logically stating your advice to the client.

You are an associate in the International Trade Department of Grabemann, Loring and Ross in Ivy Town, USA. Jean Loring, one of the name partners, has called you into her office. She is meeting with a Mr. Alfred Pennyworth, who is there on behalf of your firm’s biggest client, Wayne Enterprises.  Ms. Loring and Mr. Pennyworth relayed the following facts to you.

From 2011 on, there have been only three companies in the United States that produce high quality bullet proof body armor. Those companies are Wayne Enterprises, Queen Consolidated, and Kord Industries. Wayne Enterprises produces approximately 60% of the body armor made in the United States. The remaining approximately 40% is divided evenly between Queen Consolidated and Kord Industries (each with 20%). Because of the nature of the product and federal government restrictions, there is a limited U.S. market for body armor.

The basic technology underlying the design and manufacturing of this body armor was invented by Lucius Fox, an employee of Wayne Enterprises. In 2008, Mr. Fox secured a patent covering the technology and its production. He assigned that patent to Wayne Enterprises, making Wayne Enterprises the owner of the patent. Wayne Enterprises has granted non-exclusive licenses to exploit the patent to both Queen Consolidated and Kord Industries. Wayne Enterprises also owns the U.S. trademark rights to “Ballistic Armor Technology” and “BAT” to describe the body armor. Both marks are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and appear on the principal register of trademarks.

Somewhere in the central Asian republic of Nanda Parbat (a WTO member), a shadowy company called Demon’s Head Ltd. has been making inferior body armor and supplying it free of charge to the local criminal market. Mr. al Ghul, the president of Demon’s Head, has vowed to enter the U.S. body armor market with the express intention of pushing Wayne Enterprises, Queen Consolidated, and Kord Industries out of the market. That will allow Demon’s Head to sell BAT® body armor to members of the criminal underworld, making al Ghul the leader of a criminal army in the United States. To do that, al Ghul has enlisted the League of Corporate Assassins to launch his four-step plan.

  1. First, in 2011, al Ghul instructed his associate Antonio Diego to kidnap Mr. Fox in a successful effort to secure the information needed to produce BAT® body armor using the patented production methodology. Fox was later rescued unharmed by Wayne Enterprises Chief of Security Barbara Gordon.
  2. AlGhul then convinced RamaKushna, President ofNandaParbat, that additional exports to the United States would be good for the local economy. To help encourage economic activity, the President made three declarations having the force and effect of law as of January 1, 2012.
    1. All companies in Nanda Parbat that export goods are entitled to a credit against their overall corporate income tax liability equal to 1% of the value of the exported products.
    2. No bank in Nanda Parabat making loans to domestic producers of textiles and apparel may charge interest in excess of 3% per annum but the government will pay the bank to make up any difference between the 3% fixed rate and the prevailing market rate of 15% per annum.
    3. Every company in Nanda Parabat that employs more than 100 people will receive an annual grant to support on-site child care for workers’ children.
  3. Next, al Ghul instructed Anthony Ivo, Chief Scientist at Demon’s Head, to begin production of BAT-style body armor suits using Wayne Enterprise’s patented BAT® technology. This product proved to be far superior to his prior efforts, due to the stolen BAT® technology. As a result, in January 2012, Demon’s Head began selling body armor to the Nanda Parabat police and army for the dollar equivalent of $5000 per full suit (not including optional cape). At the same time, Demon’s Head continues giving away body armor suits to criminals in Nanda Parabat.
  4. Simultaneously, Demon’s Head began shipping body armor to the U.S., where it is imported by the Talia Distributors, a company set up and wholly owned by Demon’s Head. Mr. al Ghul is the president of both companies. Talia Distributors repackages, markets, and sells the body armor at wholesale to Cobblepot & Co., H. Dent Corp., and Sionis Systems Ltd. who sell to retail customers in the United States (both legal and criminal enterprises). Under a strict transfer pricing methodology, Talia Distributors pays Demon’s Head $2500 per full suit. The price to Cobblepot, Dent, and Sionis is set at $3000 per full suit. Talia Distributors keeps the $500 as a commission to cover its costs.

The influx of body armor from Nanda Parabat is taking a toll on the domestic industry. Felicity Smoak, who works for Queen Consolidated, prepared the following report showing declining sales of body armor suits in the U.S. At the same time, sales are increasing in Nanda Prabat. She also confirmed that Demon’s Head has no customers outside of Nanda Parabat and the U.S. However, Smoak identified significant potential markets for body armor suits throughout Europe; but, she does believes Demon’s Head is producing at capacity and lacks resources to serve additional markets.

United States
Wayne Queen Kord Demon Total US
2011 60,000 20,000 20,000 100,000
2012 57,000 19,000 19,000 5,000 100,000
2013 54,000 18,000 18,000 10,000 100,000
Nanda Parabat
Free Sales Total Nanda Parabat
2011 2,000 2,000
2012 2,500 2,000 4,500
2013 3,000 4,000 7,000

According to Pennyworth, to support its continuing massive investment in research and development, Wayne Enterprises wants to raise the price of BAT® body armor suits in the U.S. The U.S. price for a BAT® body armor suit from any of the three domestic producers is approximately $8,000 (not including optional cape). However, neither Queen nor Kord have moved prices upward to offset lost sales. To meet the competition, Wayne has been unable to increase prices and has, therefore, reduced R&D. To cut costs, Queen has fired Chief Marketing Office Roy Harper and will be consolidating its three sales and distribution centers into its main campus in Star City.

Kord has taken another approach. To cut costs and improve its overall profitability, Kord has decided to start production of BAT® body armor in the Balkan country of Markovia. As on January 1, 2014, Kord has shifted 50% of its production from the U.S. to Markovia. All of the Markovia-produced goods will be exported to the U.S. and imported by Kord.

Thus, the expected 2014 industry snapshot is as follows:

United States Sales
Wayne Queen Kord Demon Total US
2014 50,000 17,000 10,000
13,000 100,000
Origin USA USA Markovia/USA Nanda Parbat

The Kord and Demon’s Head imports will be competing for the same few legal customers in the U.S. while the imports from Demon will also supply the criminal market (about 10% of the total U.S. sales).

In January of 2013, Barbara Gordon of Wayne Enterprises’ reported that she has identified the unauthorized use of the BAT® trademark on inferior body armor being sold in the U.S. market. Her sources have provided shipping and commercial documents indicating that the unauthorized BAT® products are coming from Nanda Parabat.

Ms. Loring called you into the meeting with Mr. Pennyworth to help determine whether any U.S. trade remedy laws might help Wayne Enterprises offset the commercial competition from Demon’s Head. Mr. Pennyworth ominously suggested that fending off the threat from Demon’s Head and Mr. al Ghul has larger implications for the fate of the nation. He asked that you consider all options involving the trade laws. According to Pennyworth, the CEO of Wayne Enterprises is considering other options involving independent acts of self-help.

Ms. Loring has asked you to prepare a memo outlining any potential administrative or judicial actions you see as possible support for Wayne Enterprises. For each potential action, she wants you to explain in as much detail as time permits:

  • Whether Wayne Enterprises, alone or in conjunction with other companies, has standing to commence the action.
  • In what forum is the action commenced and how.
  • What proof will be necessary to secure a remedy?
  • What data will be considered and how will it be used?
  • What problems or opportunities do you see for Wayne Enterprises and the other companies?
  • For administrative action, what judicial review is available?
  • What is the standard of review applied by the relevant courts?
  • Will Wayne Enterprises be likely to prevail?

For no credit other than respect and bragging rights, provide the correct first and last names and popular aliases of the CEOs of Wayne Enterprises, Queen Consolidated, and Kord Industries and the first name of Mr. Pennyworth.

Judging Batman and Superman

Today I have something a little different, a draft of a paper by Jeremy Greenberg titled Batman v. Superman: Let the Courts Decide, 33 Quinnipiac L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2014).  Mr. Greenberg analyzed 1449 mentions of Superman, Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Clark Kent in US state and federal court cases to determine how judges used references to these characters to explain their decisions.  After weeding out false positives such as actual people named Bruce Wayne, intellectual property decisions about the character of Superman, and statements made by witnesses, Greenberg was left with 55 references in the judicial opinions themselves.

Mr. Greenberg’s analysis of the common themes in the references is interesting, as is the underlying data.  I won’t reveal any more than that, lest I spoil some of the surprises.  Go check it out!

Batman: Court of Owls

Batman: The Court of Owls is the first few issues of Batman in the New 52. It concerns a shadowy conspiracy referenced in a child’s nursery rhyme apparently common knowledge in Gotham City. The story itself does have a few things to discuss, but this time we’re going to talk about shadowy conspiracies generally. How realistic is it, legally speaking, for a group of people trying to control Gotham City (or the world for that matter) to pull off something like this? Continue reading

Lawyer2Lawyer Podcast

[Spoiler Alert for The Dark Knight Rises.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.]

Last month I was invited onto Lawyer2Lawyer to discuss legal issues raised by the end of The Dark Knight Rises, as originally discussed in this guest post by Mike Lee. Lawyer2Lawyer is a podcast that analyzes contemporary news topics from a legal perspective on the Legal Talk Network. Normally they cover serious news stories, but this time the question was “is Batman legally dead?”  I was joined on the show by Michael Baroni, General Counsel at Palace Entertainment and a long-time Batman fan.

Listen here: Is Batman Legally Dead?

Batman at the Volokh Conspiracy

Ryan has a guest post at The Volokh Conspiracy today: Batman, Appropriations, and “Augmentation.”  It discusses events from the very end of Volume 1 of Detective Comics, right before the New 52 reboot.

Guest Post: The End of The Dark Knight Rises

Today we have a guest post from Mike Lee, who wrote an analysis of an issue from the end of The Dark Knight Rises.  Just describing the issue is a pretty big spoiler, so I’ll save the description for after the jump.

Continue reading

Batman and the Unavailable Declarant

Today we have a post based on a question from David, who asks:

I just watched Batman: Year One on Netflix, and there was an interesting issue presented that I thought I’d share. Toward the end of the movie, the corrupt Detective Flass is under indictment for involvement in a big drug scheme. Commissioner Gordon (through Batman’s intimidation) gets one of the crooks involved in the scheme, Jefferson Skeevers, to agree to testify against Flass.

Upon hearing this, Flass tells Gordon something along the lines of “he won’t testify if I have something to say about it…” The scene cuts to Skeevers unconscious in a hospital bed. Assuming Skeevers has confessed in a police statement out of court, wouldn’t this still be admissible against Flass under the forfeiture exception to hearsay as long as the prosecutor can show Flass had something to do with Skeevers hospitalization?

The Batman: Year One movie David mentions is a faithful adaptation of the classic Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, several elements of which were integrated into the Christopher Nolan Batman films.  The book or animated version are well worth checking out.  We even gave away five copies of the book to celebrate our own year one.

Anyway, back to David’s question.  Before we worry about whether any hearsay exceptions or exemptions apply we have to decide whether Skeevers’s statement would be hearsay in the first place.  We don’t know what rules of evidence apply in a local criminal case in Gotham, but we’ll use the Federal Rules of Evidence, since many state rules are based on or are very similar to the FRE.

I. Is It Hearsay?

Under FRE 801, hearsay is an out of court statement (i.e. an oral, written, or nonverbal assertion) offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.  In this case, we’re supposing that Skeevers made an oral or written assertion that Flass was involved in the scheme, Skeevers did so out of court, and the prosecution would offer Skeevers’s statement in order to prove that Flass was, in fact, involved in the Scheme (i.e. as proof that what Skeevers said was actually true).  It doesn’t matter whether the prosecution did this by offering a recording, a signed statement, or the testimony of a police officer who interviewed Skeevers.  All of that would be hearsay.

You might think about the exemption for statements “made by the party’s coconspirator during and in furtherance of the conspiracy”, but although Skeevers and Flass may have been coconspirators at one time, these statements were not made during or in furtherance of the conspiracy.  Indeed, they were probably made as part of some kind of plea bargain or immunity deal.  Without any applicable exemptions, the statements are indeed hearsay, which is ordinarily inadmissible.

Normally this could be overcome by having Skeevers simply testify in person, which would give the jury a better opportunity to judge the truthfulness of his statements, and it would give the defense an opportunity to cross-examine him.  But Skeevers is lying unconscious in the hospital, apparently because Flass or someone acting at his behest put him there.  So now what?

Now we turn to the hearsay exceptions, of which there are several.  Some of them apply whether the declarant is unavailable or not and some of them only apply if the declarant is unavailable.  That said, it appears that only the latter will apply in this case.

II. FRE 803 and Recorded Recollections

You might think that if Skeevers had made a written statement for the police that his statement could be introduced as evidence under the recorded recollection exception of FRE 803(5).  After all, FRE 803 states that “The following are not excluded by the rule against hearsay, regardless of whether the declarant is available as a witness” (emphasis added).  And such a written statement would seem to fit the bill for 803(5):

A record that:
(A) is on a matter the witness once knew about but now cannot recall well enough to testify fully and accurately;
(B) was made or adopted by the witness when the matter was fresh in the witness’s memory; and
(C) accurately reflects the witness’s knowledge.

Skeevers clearly once knew about Flass’s involvement but also clearly cannot now recall it well enough to testify fully and accurately: he is unconscious.  The statement was made when the matter was fresh in his memory, before the incident that caused his injuries.  And we’ll assume that it is an accurate statement.

But despite the phrase “regardless of whether the declarant is available as a witness“, the courts have been uniform in holding that 803(5) only applies when there is a witness available to testify that they can’t recall the matter reflected in the record.  See, e.g., Steinberg v. Obstetrics-Gynecological & Infertility Group, P.C., 260 F.Supp.2d 492 (D.Conn. 2003) (the argument that 803(5) applies to an unavailable declarant “borders on frivolous”); Jacobson v. Deutsche Bank, A.G., 206 F.Supp.2d 590 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

None of the other 803 exceptions are likely to apply in this case, so let’s move on to the heart of the matter: exceptions that apply only when the declarant is unavailable.

III. FRE 804 and the Unavailable Declarant

Declarants can be unavailable for a lot of reasons, one of which is when they “cannot be present or testify at the trial or hearing because of death or a then-existing infirmity, physical illness, or mental illness”.  FRE 804(a)(4).  That definitely describes Skeevers.

Once a declarant is unavailable, there are some special exceptions that can apply to statement they made before they became unavailable.  Two might apply in this case.  David alluded to one of them (804(b)(6)) in the question:

The following are not excluded by the rule against hearsay if the declarant is unavailable as a witness: … A statement offered against a party that wrongfully caused — or acquiesced in wrongfully causing — the declarant’s unavailability as a witness, and did so intending that result.

If the prosecution can prove that Flass caused (and that includes indirectly causing via an agent or conspirator) Skeevers’s injuries, then it’s pretty much a slam dunk to introduce Skeevers’s statements against Flass.  After all, we already have Flass indicating his intent: “he won’t testify if I have something to say about it…”

Another possibility is 804(b)(3), statements against interest:

A statement that:

(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if the person believed it to be true because, when made, it … had so great a tendency … to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability

This exception might apply if Skeevers made the statement before he struck an immunity deal.  If he spilled the beans about his role in a criminal conspiracy in which Flass also played a part, confessing to multiple crimes in the process, then that would definitely be a statement against interest.  But if he signed an immunity deal first and then talked, then his statements wouldn’t actually be exposing him to criminal liability and so the exception wouldn’t apply.  If this did apply, however, it could be a useful backup in case the prosecution couldn’t prove Flass’s involvement in Skeevers’s unavailability.

IV. Conclusion

Apart from the issue of proof, this is a classic example of 804(b)(6), which is a rule that meshes very well with most people’s intuition about fairness—and gives criminals a disincentive to intimidate or kill witnesses.

Quick Questions from the Mailbag

In today’s mailbag we have a couple of quick questions from a couple of Christophers.

I. Batman and Bats

The first Christopher had two questions about Batman and actual bats:

In Batman: Year One, and in the film Batman Begins, Bruce has that little gadget that essentially summons swarms of bats, which always looks really cool. But is he responsible for any of those bats dying? Because you just -know- some of them got smushed, or died somehow in the confusion. Also, if someone gets rabies or otherwise gets seriously injured by said bats, is that Bruce’s responsibility?

A. Injuries to the Bats

With regard to the bats themselves: it depends on the kind of bats and the laws of the state.  There are some federally protected bat species, and messing with an endangered species in that way would almost certainly run afoul of the Endangered Species Act, which  makes it a crime to “harass, harm, pursue, … trap, capture, or collect [an endangered species], or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” 16 U.S.C. § 1532(19).

Even if the bats weren’t endangered, state animal welfare laws may prohibit what Batman was doing.  If any of the bats were “unjustifiably injured”, for example, then under New York law that would constitute “overdriving, torturing, and injuring animals.”  N.Y. Agriculture & Markets Law § 353. Whether summoning a swarm of bats to confuse or evade criminals makes any resulting bat injuries unjustifiable is a difficult question to answer, but one has to wonder if someone has smart and well-connected as Bruce Wayne couldn’t have come up with a less risky alternative.

B. Injuries to Others

By ‘others’ I mean innocent bystanders.  We’ll assume self-defense, defense of others, or some other justification applied to any injuries inflicted on the criminals.

Ordinarily the owners of wild animals (such as bats) are strictly liable for injuries caused by those animals, assuming the injury is a result of the kind of danger that the animal poses.  Bites and rabies transmission from bats certainly fall into that category.  The trick is that Batman isn’t necessarily the owner of these bats.  There is a bat cave on the Wayne Manor property, but I don’t remember if it’s clear that these particular bats came from there.  Merely exercising some degree of control over the wild animal may not be enough to result in strict liability.

However, even if a more typical negligence standard were applied, Batman could still lose out.  He may be justified in using force against his attackers, self-defense will not necessarily prevent a negligence claim.  Would a reasonable person exercising ordinary care summon a swarm of wild bats in a crowded city?  I think a reasonable person might have opted for a less risky method.

II. Animal Transformations

The second Christopher had a question about the magician Zatanna turning people into animals:

I was reading Zatanna and she has a habit of turning people into animals (briefly, in one case, just to get rid of annoying guests.).  Later her father transforms someone into an inanimate doll?  This seems like assault … Can she be arrested and/or sued?

I think the answer is yes, such a transformation would be both a tort and a crime.  If the transformation were effectively permanent—it could not be treated and the responsible magician refused to undo it—it would be murder, particularly if the animal form was truly an ordinary animal and not the person’s mind trapped in an animal’s body.  From a legal point of view, the person would be dead.  Their cardiopulmonary and brain functions would have permanently ceased, since their body had been effectively destroyed.

In the case of a temporary transformation, that would be a very serious injury, albeit one that the victim recovered from.  That would affect the sentencing or damages, but it would still be a crime.  You might think: hey, she changed the victim back, no (permanent) harm, no foul, right?  But what if Zatanna had performed the transformation and then been killed or incapacitated?  Or if Zatanna and the victim had been separated?  We don’t want to encourage her to take the risk that she might not be able to change someone back.  This is similar to why factual impossibility is not a defense to an attempted crime: the defendant could not actually have committed the crime they were trying to, but we don’t want to let them off the hook just because they got lucky.

And then there’s the psychological harm of being turned into an animal, even temporarily.  So even a temporary transformation would be a criminal assault or battery (depending on the term the particular state uses) and a tortious battery.