A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Freedom of Power Treaty Help?

Civil War gave us the Superhuman Registration Act in the Marvel Universe, but unbeknownst to myself, it turns out that 52 solidified something called the Freedom of Power Treaty in the DCU. I only bought the first 10 issues of 52, and I recall the Treaty being mentioned, but I had no idea it had come to have any sort of real impact.

Apparently it's even a significant plot point over in Green Lantern. I say "apparently," because I haven't read the issues myself, and I hesitate to make a stab at any analysis without some more thorough information. Could anyone help to catch me up to speed? I'm especially curious as to the details of how this has affected Hal and the Outsiders.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Capitalism in Action

I'm in the process of doing some spring cleaning and weeding out of my comic collection, and I'm unloading some of my books on eBay. I've already sold off my Nightwing comics, but my auctions this week include a bunch of JLA, Powers, and Ultimate Spider-Man comics.

Showcase Presents...


Monday, May 07, 2007

Ultimate Spider-Man #53

Ultimate Spider-Man #53
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley

Delving into the back issue bin, here we have an Ultimate Spider-Man issue from 2004, part of the "Claws" arc that introduced the Ultimate Black Cat. In the arc's last issue, Peter Parker discovers a newspaper article about a formative event in the childhood of Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat:

In case you can't make out that last paragraph, it reads "Attorney Franklin Nelson, who is representing Jack Hardy in the trial, had a different opinion. 'These crimes are much larger than Jack Hardy. He does not deny involvement, but this is much larger than him.'"

Ultimate Foggy Nelson is either a phenomenal lawyer, or an incompetent one. I'm leaning toward the latter, since comments later in the issue imply that he lost this trial, and Jack Hardy went to prison.

Here we have him essentially saying to the world, "Yes, my client is guilty as charged...but he wasn't the only one involved!" That's a tough hole to dig yourself out of, when your client is already on trial. Since Mr. Hardy is charged with committing a string of cat burglaries, and his attorney just admitted that Mr. Hardy is guilty of committing a string of cat burglaries, what exactly does Foggy expect to accomplish at trial?

There are occasions when a criminal defendant can admit to committing an act, but avoid conviction. In these instances, certain extenuating circumstances exist that negate the 'intent' aspect of a crime. If a defendant chooses this path, his attorney has to present what is called an "affirmative defense." The burden is on the defense to prove that the defendant should not be held criminally responsible for an act he admits to committing.

What are these affirmative defenses? And do any of them apply to Jack Hardy?

- Entrapment. Here the defendant alleges that he was induced into committing a crime by overzealous law enforcement, and that he wouldn't have committed the crime without significant prodding by the police. No luck for Hardy here.

- Insanity. This is perhaps the most complex of these, but it basically boils down to having committed an act but not understanding that it was wrong. And Hardy wasn't insane.

- Necessity. A defendant may argue that his actions were necessary to avoid some greater harm. There's a test for this, and Jack doesn't pass it. Burglarizing people's houses isn't in the service of some greater good.

- Self-defense. Pretty self-explanatory. But committing cat burglaries in self-defense? Nope.

- Duress. Some states recognize an affirmative defense when one commits a crime in response to a threat of physical force against himself or another person. And New York is one such state. Hypothetically, if Jack Hardy was committing cat burglaries because Kingpin had threatened to kill Felicia if he didn't, then Jack might have a valid duress defense.

Ah, but New York's duress statute has a second part: "The defense of duress...is not available when a person intentionally or recklessly places himself in a situation in which it is probable that he will be subjected to duress." So if Jack went to work for Wilson Fisk, and then found himself threatened when he tried to give up the criminal life, then Jack can't claim duress. He surrounded himself with criminals; he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt when they act as such.

Plus, there's no indication in the text that Jack Hardy was committing crimes under threat of force. All signs point to him being a willing participant. Rather, his defense, per Foggy, appears to be that there are simply bigger fish to fry. And unfortunately for Jack, 'Minor Player' is not a recognized affirmative defense. How does Foggy plan to convince a jury not to convict his client, who admits to willingly committing a string of inexcusable cat burglaries? It's easy to see why Foggy lost this trial.

If Jack Hardy really was part of a bigger scheme, and he really did have the dirt on his superiors, then the rational approach for the defense is to avoid trial entirely, and work out a plea bargain. Admit to his crimes, and get a lesser punishment in exchange for assisting in the prosecution of the higher-ups. It happens in every other episode of "Law & Order."

Incidentally, such an approach does remind me of a real-life trial, albeit a civil one (an important distinction), and also perhaps the most absurd and outrageous trial in modern memory. It was the wrongful death case filed by the King family against Loyd Jowers, accusing him of murdering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You can read the transcript here. The whole thing was a farce, with a defense attorney who was in cahoots with the plaintiffs, and a judge who was willing to allow anything as evidence (including the showing of an anonymous videotaped deposition). The Plaintiffs' allegation? That Mr. Jowers played a huge role in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King. The Defense's argument? The Mr. Jowers played a minor role in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King. Not surprisingly (since there was no evidence presented to the contrary), after 14 days of trial, the jury concluded that there was a conspiracy to kill Dr. King.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

She-Hulk Summary Judgment

Since it appears that I may not be doing any more She-Hulk posts for a bit, given the current direction of that title, here's a recap of all the posts I've done on the series:

Volume 1
She-Hulk #1
She-Hulk #2: Danger Man
She-Hulk #3: The Ghost of Bailey Briggs
She-Hulk #4: Web of Lies

Volume 2
She-Hulk #1: Young Avengers
She-Hulk #1-2: Jury Duty
She-Hulk #2: The Trial of Charles Czarkowski
She-Hulk #6-7: The Trial of Starfox, Part 1
She-Hulk #7: The Trial of Starfox, Part 2
She-Hulk #8: DestroyAllWarriors.com, Part 1
She-Hulk #8: DestroyAllWarriors.com, Part 2

And please tip me off whenever Jen ends up back in the courtroom.

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.