Superheroes are pretty amazing. They can fly, lift cars, dodge bullets, see through walls. Some can run faster than the speed of sound. Others can compel the truth out of someone just by using the power of their mind. All in all, superheroes can do some unbelievable things. But in reality they don’t exist. Now, there obviously are real people in this world that perform heroic acts all the time. But actual, real-life “super”heroes, like what you see in the movies, aren’t real. But what if they were?
What would the world be like if there really was a man of steel or caped crusader watching over all of us? Safer? Maybe. I’ll admit that going to the bank would be far less stressful if we knew that some masked vigilante with super strength was keeping watch. And how nice would it be if we could finally lay our heads down at night not having to worry about some evil scientist unleashing a cosmic death ray and wiping out all of humanity? It goes without saying that there would be many benefits to having the protection of an actual superhero. But before you rush out to flip the switch on the bat signal, lets consider the problem with superheroes first.
Here’s the scenario: It’s Friday and you’ve just walked in to your local bank to cash your paycheck. As you’re standing in line a masked-man with a gun busts through the doors. “EVERYBODY ON THE GROUND!!! THIS IS A ROBBERY!!!” he shouts. You drop to the ground and cover your head hoping and praying you get out of this alive. Meanwhile, the armed idiot jumps behind the teller’s counter, grabs a whole bunch of cash and takes off. Everyone is scared but still breathing. You breath a sigh of relief just as law enforcement shows up. The first question they ask is whether anybody got a look at the suspect’s face. But sadly no one did. He was in and out in minutes and he never took off that mask. But just before you head to the bathroom to clean out your underwear, you hear a sound coming from outside. It sounds like a 747 just landed in the parking lot. You look through the window and see the Amazing (insert favorite superhero). “Officers, I believe this is the man you’re looking for,” you hear him say. “I’ve been watching him for some time now and, thanks to my super vision and super strength, I caught him fleeing the scene with a big bag of cash in hand,” he says as he hands over the suspect to police. “His days of robbing banks are over.” The day apparently has been saved…….or has it?
If that scenario were a movie, it would probably have ended at that point. But lets play it out to its real end for just a moment.
In the real world our suspect would have a constitutional right to a trial by jury. If he exercised that right and requested such a trial, the state would have the burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the state would have to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect in question is the same person who robbed that bank. They way the state does this is by offering evidence for the jury’s consideration. This is were the problem with superheroes arises.
Lets break it down:
One of the very first things that the state would have to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and one of the most important, is identity. That is to say, the state has to prove that the person standing trial is the same person who entered the bank and robbed it. The only problem is that nobody in the bank saw his face. He was wearing a mask. So, the only person that could establish his identity is our superhero.
Now, if this particular superhero was agreeable to appear in court and offer testimony on behalf of the state, then there likely wouldn’t be any issues. But if our superhero has a secret identity (like most movie superheroes do) then we’ve got a problem….and it’s all about confrontation.
You see every person charged with committing a criminal offense has a constitutional right to confront the witnesses against them. It’s called the “Confrontation Clause.” I’m not talking about the type of confrontation where you puff your chest out and invade someone’s personal space. I’m talking about confronting witnesses in a court room via cross-examination. In other words, if our superhero has a secret identity (i.e. Batman/Bruce Wayne, Aquaman/Arther Curry, etc.) that he or she refuses to reveal, the suspect has no way to confront them.
For example, lets say our superhero in the scenario above was Batman. Lets even assume that Batman has an address and was served a subpoena to testify. Well, if Batman shows up in court in his Batman attire, how do we know the person under that attire is the same person that showed up at the bank? “Batman” is not a recognized person. He doesn’t have an I.D. He doesn’t pay taxes, etc. Similarly, if Bruce Wayne shows up (which likely wouldn’t happen if he didn’t want the world to know he was Batman), how do we know he was the same person that showed up at the bank.
But even that is an unlike scenario.
What would likely happen is that the state wouldn’t be able to subpoena our superhero because of his/her secret identity. Consequently, unless they had some other additional evidence, they couldn’t prove the suspects identity. You may be wondering, “But the superhero delivered the man without his mask directly to police. Can’t the police testify that the man sitting in court is the same man delivered to them?” Well, yes. But that would be it. They couldn’t testify that the person delivered to them was the same person that robbed the bank because they weren’t they there. They didn’t see anything. They would have to rely on the information given to them by the Amazing (again, insert favorite superhero). Not only would that information be considered hearsay (which is inadmissible in court), without the superheroes testimony, it would violation the Confrontation Clause.
Every bit of information our superhero may have possessed would not be admissible in trial unless he/she showed up and testified. But keep in mind, not only would they have to testify, they would have to convince the judge that they are who they say they are and that he/she was the same person/superhero who apprehended our suspect. Thus, they would have to reveal their secret identity.
So yes, I’ll admit that it would be pretty awesome to live in a world where superheroes existed. I’ll even admit that the world, in general, would be a much safer place. But the fact is, we all have constitutional rights. These rights are the highest in the land. They are also the strongest and most protected. So strong in fact that not even a man of steel could bend them.
Oh and by the way, if our superhero had the ability to compel the truth out of suspected criminals, that would be a violation of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (aka “The Right to Remain Silent”).
The end result: No confrontation. No conviction. No jail. No justice.
That is the problem with Superheroes.