A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Manhunter #27: The 'Trial' of Wonder Woman, Part 1

Synopsis: Max Lord was revealed to be a mind-controlling supervillain, in the employ of the US government agency Checkmate. He took control of Superman's mind, and threatened to sic him on the world. He gave Wonder Woman the opportunity to kill him and prevent the damage Superman would do, and Wonder Woman turned Max's head around backward.

I covered Diana's last trial at the UN one year ago today. She was apparently exonerated by the World Court, so here we are, one year later and One Year Later, and Wonder Woman is again on trial for Max's murder.

Now, however, Diana is on trial in the United States, and she has Kate "Manhunter" Spencer as her defense attorney. So how does this prosecution stack up against the last one?

For starters, Diana is now being prosecuted in a court that actually has jurisdiction over the alleged crime. The last time I failed to consider the possibility of the United States having jurisdiction over a Theymysciran killing a man in Switzerland, but it's possible.

Jurisdiction may exist here because Max Lord was an American. One option is a federal statute (18 USC 2332) that makes it a federal crime to kill an American national outside the United States. But prosecuting under that statute requires requires the written certification of the Attorney General, and more importantly, the issue suggests that the U.S. is trying Diana because Max was a federal agent.

18 USC 1114 makes it a federal crime to kill an officer of the U.S., and even though the statute doesn't explicitly allow for prosecutions of murders that took place outside American territory, there's caselaw that says it applies to killing a federal officer anywhere. It also provides for the death penalty. And since we now see that the video feed of Diana killing Max had no sound, appearances (Diana pausing to think, then turning his head 180°) do allow for the viewer to reasonably view her act as rather malicious.

But even with a he also had to get Wonder Woman into an American court. Rucka established Diana as a United Nations ambassador, so she should be entitled to diplomatic immunity with regard to U.S. law. (See Diplomatic Immunity.) Even if the act took place in another country, she should still be protected from prosecution under U.S. law., unless Themyscira (or possibly the UN Secretary-General) waived her immunity.

It's not entirely uncommon for countries to waive immunity, particuarly if a crime as heinous as murder is at issue. Here, though, we have a couple of aggravating factors. One is the fact that Wonder Woman killed Max in the defense of others, and not with the sort of malice required for murder. The tape may not show it, but Themyscira is pretty likely to side with Diana. (Incidentally, who's ruling Paradise Island these days, with Hippolyta dead?)

They do, however, have a certain interest in seeing Diana exonerated, and it's possible to imagine the island granting a waiver with full expectations of her acquittal. Oftentimes countries resist waiving immunity in the U.S. out of opposition to the death penalty; once the U.S. agrees to not pursue the death penalty, then a prosecution is allowed to proceed. Themyscira seems to have neglected to make such a bargain, and so Diana is facing a death penalty prosecution. Poor form, Paradise Island.

Personally, I find myself wishing things had gone differently simply for story purposes. If Themyscira had refused to waive immunity, the U.S. could have stripped Diana of her diplomatic status, declared her persona non grata, and expelled her from the country. Then if she returned, she'd be subject to a murder prosecution.

I think there would have been a lot of story potential in an extended arc where Wonder Woman is banned from the United States, forcing her to take her mission of peace to other parts of "Man's World." I even have a title for the arc and inevitable tpb: "Woman Without a Country."

Next time: Grand jury.