A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

She Hulk #1: The Conference Room

She-Hulk #1 by Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo

She-Hulk #2 hit shelves today, so it would be remiss of me to fail to comment on the first issue. I've already finished the new issue, and since I find myself with enough material to fill several posts, I'm going to focus on one scene for now.

As of her last series, She-Hulk (or rather, her human half, Jennifer Walters) is an attorney with the New York firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway*. More specifically, she works in the firm's Superhuman Law division.

Halfway through the first issue is a conference scene. It seems that the Young Avengers caught the villains Ox and Boomerang peddling illegal guns, and now Shulkie's firm is representing the bad guys. Around the table are Ox and Boomerand, their attorney Mallory, a prosecutor, and the Vision and Stature (Ant-Man Scott Lang's daughter).

I'm not sure what kind of conference this is supposed to be exactly. We have attorneys for both sides, the defendants, and the effective arresting officers. And it's in the defense attorney's office. That's not a common lineup for informal meetings. Moreover, I'm not sure why they're meeting. I would say that they're meeting to work out a plea agreement, except that all the defense attorney has to say is that she's motioned to exclude all the evidence and "fully intend[s] to bring both Stature and the Vision up on harrassment -- and numerous other charges." That doesn't sound like someone open to a plea deal. And since she's a private attorney, I'm a little curious as to how she plans to bring criminal charges against the heroes.

Boomerang and Ox are presumably out on bond, since they've already been arrested and charged. So why are they both wearing their supervillain outfits and (at least in Boomerang's case) carrying their supervillain weaponry? Judges tend to impose a number of terms when a defendant bonds out of jail, and in the MU, I would expect that judges would have a standard 'No carrying super-weaponry' requirement for a spandexed defendant. Then again, maybe Boomerang just broke the terms of his bond.

The defense attorney says the Young Avengers caught the two villains selling illegal weapons out of a warehouse, but that "they had neither my clients' permission nor any right to search the premises." The prosecutor counters by saying the weapons were in Stature's line of sight, which is rebutted with the fact that Stature was ant-sized at the time and "a miniaturized person looking through a crack under the door hardly meets reasonable expectations of 'line of sight'."

I'm not sure if all this is referring to a scene in another book, and this is frankly a little short on details. The gist of it has to do the legal consequences of evidence found during illegal searches. Any evidence found in an illegal search is deemed 'fruit of the poisonous tree,' and cannot be used to show guilt at trial. And since it sounds like the prosecution's entire case is built on what the Young Avengers discovered when they entered the warehouse, there's not much hope of the prosecution winning if the evidence of the weapons is excluded.

But based on what's given, the defense attorney's 'illegal search' claim has a few holes. One is that the search and seizure requirements of the Fourth Amendment only apply to the government, and the Young Avengers are (as far as I know) not government agents. The heroes might be guilty of trespass or breaking and entering (as mentioned in the issue), but that doesn't mean what they found can't be used in the villains' trial.

Also, I doubt that Ox and Boomerang have the necessary standing to object to the search. For a search to be illegal, the person must have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that place. Unless these two are villains of the Dr. Drakken variety, and lease their hideouts, I think it's fair to guess that they didn't own or rent or lease that warehouse. (Then again, I just read the new JSA: Classified, where the Injustice Society does in fact lease their headquarters.) They were more than likely squatters utilizing an abandoned facility, and if they have no legal interest in the location, then they have no legal expectation of privacy there. Thus, the search would be OK even if the police did it, and the evidence would stay in.

When the prosecutor mentions Stature's point of view, he is referring to the 'Plain View' doctrine. One exception to search and warrant requirements is if the evidence was initially seen from a legal vantage point. For instance, the police don't need a warrant to search your car if they can see a person tied up in the back seat when they look through a rear window. There are also 'Plain Smell' and 'Plain Hearing' exceptions, which is why walking drug dogs around your car isn't an illegal search.

Now this is the best question to come out of the scene: does a miniaturized person looking under a door qualify as 'Plain View'? It's an easy to imagine scenario, and one the Marvel Universe would naturally have to confront and answer.

The Supreme Court has handled a number of 'Plain View' cases, but alas, none to my knowledge involve microscopic cameras. As far as other superpowers go, there is a fairly notable case called Kyllo v. US, where the Court said that a thermal imaging device pointed at a home constituted an illegal search. But homes carry a greater sanctity, and a greater amount of Fourth Amendment protection, than warehouses. Simply put, this is a good question, and depending on certain facts not clarified (e.g., was Stature beyond the plane of the door's exterior), I could see a court going either way on it. After all, Kyllo itself was a 5-4 split**, so intelligent minds could well disagree on Stature's scenario.

Finally, there's a little mention a couple of pages later about a bargain being struck, which involved "the bad guys got their shipment of weapons confiscated." I'm not sure how this was an upshot, since illegal weapons would be confiscated regardless of a conviction. It sounds like the bad guys managed to strike a deal that didn't involve giving up anything on their part.

That's it for this time, and I think it's more than sufficiently long for a single post. And I still have the whole trial to go.

* The firm's name is one big Marvel reference. Martin Goodman founded Marvel Comics, and I'm sure that Stanley "Stan Lee" Lieber and Jacob "Jack Kirby" Kurtzberg need no explanation.

** One of the neat aspects of this case is how the votes broke down. The Justices who said that the thermal imager was an illegal search were Scalia, Thomas, Souter, Ginbsberg and Breyer. The Justices who said the search was OK were Stevens, Rehnquist, O'Connor and Kennedy. It helps to remind us that the Justices aren't as one-note as their critics would claim.