A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

She-Hulk #7: The Trial of Starfox, Part 2

Recap: Starfox is on trial for sexual assault. The prosecutor has just called five women as witnesses, all of whom testify that they slept with Starfox, but have nothing negative to say about him.

Now to continue...

Deprived of her five female witnesses, the prosecutor then calls a male one. A HYDRA agent who claims that Starfox mind-whammied him into seeing Starfox as his hetero-life-buddy. This does a better job of illustrating Starfox's powers for the jury, as it's someone who has clearly has an unexpectedly positive attitude toward Starfox. (Of course, it turns out a couple of issues later that he's lying through his teeth.)

Frankly, for proving the extent of Starfox's powers, the prosecutor would be best off just finding an expert on superhuman powers. If nothing else, maybe a fellow Avenger could testify as to the nature of his abilities.

At the tail end of the HYDRA agent's testimony, after the prosecutor says she has no further questions, we get these three panels:

In panel one, Jen shows a spark of legal acumen, stating the flaws with this witness. Of course, she chooses to simply state these flaws as fact to the courtroom at large, rather than attempting to prove them through cross-examination. Good idea, poor execution.

Then in panel two, the judge, having apparently decided that the prosecutor is incompetent, decides to do the prosecutor's job for her. He practically tells the jury 'You ought to believe this guy.' Strangely, this doesn't get an objection from Jen.

And neither does the judge's sudden dismissal of the witness in panel three, before Jen has gotten to ask a single question on cross-examination.

When the judge said "Get both of them out of here!", this turns out to be the solution:

I love that first caption. Apparently, the judge was perfectly fine with Starfox being in the courtroom so long as he could only influence the minds of women.

Jen, once again doing something right, isn't too happy with this arrangement:

And she's right to be unhappy, because this is highly prejudicial to Starfox. After all, the extent of his powers of persuasion are kinda a central issue in the trial; by excluding him mid-trial, the court is taking a clear side on the issue, and I don't think a jury instruction ("Members of the jury, please ignore the fact that I threw the defendant out of the courtroom") will solve the problem.

The judge does have a valid concern, though, and it's similar to the one with Jen's cousin, Bruce Banner. Here we have a concern that is foreign to our courts, and I think a two-way video linkup would be a plausible solution. But it would need to be an arrangement that was in place from the start of the trial, and in this instance, it would require some careful instructions to the jury, both before and after the trial, that they should place no value on Starfox's physical absence. If possible, no mention would be made as to why he was on video at all. Switching things up mid-trial sends a definite anti-Starfox message to the jury. If convicted, Jen could probably get a conviction overturned on appeal on this ground.

Jen chooses not to wait for an appeal, though, and her demand, which the judge accepts, is a problem.

Not any piece of evidence can be presented during a trial. There are extensive rules on what kinds of evidence is admissible, often dealing with the relevance, reliability, and the prejudicial effect of the evidence proposed. One kind of evidence that is often controversial is character evidence, and that's what Jen is proposing here. Starfox is accused of sexual assault, so the defense wants to put witnesses on the stand to basically say "I know Starfox, and he's a swell guy. He'd never rape anyone."

Courts generally frown on this type of evidence, and New York specifically does. The prosecution is essentially forbidden from introducing bad character evidence against the defendant (which may be what the prosecutor appeared to be doing with those five women last time), unless the defendant chooses to put his character into issue. And that's precisely what Jen has chosen to do. She wants the jury to hear that Starfox is a fine, upstanding young Titanian.

But Jen can't do this by simply parading a series of Avengers to the stand, with each saying that he/she likes Starfox. New York doesn't allow personal opinion evidence; only community reputation evidence is allowed. So Janet Van Dyne cannot say "I think Starfox is a morally upright guy." She has to be able to testify that the community at large (say, the Avengers, or the superhero community) has a positive view of Starfox. And judging by the number of Avengers Jen had to talk to in order to find one good witness for Starfox's defense, his community reputation might be a little rough around the edges. Plus, since the introduction of good character evidence would 'open the door' for the prosecutor, the state could then call witnesses to say that Starfox's reputation was that of a scoundrel and a lothario. This would probably not play out in Starfox's favor, I'm betting.

We never get to see any Avengers called, though. The last witness we're privy to is the Defendant herself, as Jen cross-examines her. And here, Jen probably does her best work of the issue. It turns out that the victim is a superhero fanatic, and flirted with Starfox herself. Introducing this evidence and testimony, Jen manages to inject reasonable doubt into the case. She might've even been on her way to a win, if she didn't suddenly start accusing Starfox of assaulting her in the past, and then fleeing the courtroom to battle Starfox in the sky over New York.

Potential acquittal to mistrial in under two minutes. When the defense attorney starts accusing her own client of crimes during the trial, and then she fights her client as he escapes from custody, no judge is going to let that trial continue.

And it didn't. In later issues, when he's standing trial again on Titan, we find out that Starfox was guilty. Kind of. It seems his powers were malfunctioning, and he could end up 'seducing' someone without knowing or intending it. Does that make him guilty of rape? That sounds like a good question for another post.