BOB INGERSOLL: THE LAW IS A ASS #347: THE THING HAS GONE NON CORPUS MENTIS
Things have been better for Thing. Not to mention for Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, and the Human Torch. Over the course of the past year in the “The Fall of the Fantastic Four” story line, the FF was forced to vacate their home and headquarters in the Baxter Building. The government took custody of Reed and Sue’s children Franklin and Valeria. Johnny lost his powers. Ben was accused of murdering the Puppet Master. Oh yeah, and they’re wearing these silly red costumes.
But even though “The Fall of the Fantastic Four” is a massive year-long epic, it still has some quiet moments. In Fantastic Four v 5 #12, we find one of those moments. Find it, in all places, on Ryker’s Island. I know what you’re saying, Ryker’s Island is the New York island prison that sits in the East River, what kind of quiet moment could we find there? This kind.
The Thing is imprisoned on Ryker’s Island, waiting trial after being framed for murdering the Puppet Master. Johnny Storm, the now-powerless, former Human Torch – who will, if the cover to the up-coming Silk # 4 is to be taken at face value, be the re-powered, present Human Torch before this story is over and does that surprise anyone? – went to Ryker’s to visit the Thing. Johnny told Thing that “Puppet Master’s body’s gone missing. Pre-autopsy, too.” Then he asks,” What’s that rule of law? Habeas corpus, right?”
The phrase Johnny meant was corpus delicti. But I’m not going to jump all over Johnny because he doesn’t know his habeas from a hole in the ground. He never studied law. How was he supposed to know one obscured-by-Latin legal phrase using the word “corpus” from another?
Other than asking me, that is.
Habeas corpus is a Latin phrase that means “that you have the body.” In and of itself, that doesn’t seem all that much. However, when you add “writ of” in front of habeas corpus, then you’ve got something.
The writ of habeas corpus, also known as the great writ, is one of the many writs that exist in our system of jurisprudence. Of course, saying that doesn’t help much unless one happens to know what a writ is. So let’s move one step back so that we can go forward; and I have it on no less an authority than Matthew McConaughey that sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward.
A writ is not the thing from which the Moving Finger moves on. Rather a writ is a written order issued by a judge or magistrate or similar in-charge type authority. So writs are written. See, sometimes even Latin can’t obscure the meaning.
Petitions for a writ of habeas corpus are filed on behalf of people being detained, such as in a prison or a jail or a mental hospital. Usually it’s a lawyer but detainees may also file pro se petitions. The petitions allege that the detention is unlawful or without authority and ask that the judge release the prisoner.
Many such petitions – no, most such petitions – are denied out of hand. But sometimes the judge will order that whomever is the custodian of the detainee – like a prison warden – bring the detainee before the court for a hearing, so that the court can determine whether the detention is lawful. If the judge finds that the custodian has the legal authority to hold the detainee, said detainee is returned to detention and another Latin phrase comes into play; status quo. If the judge finds that the detention is unlawful, the judge will order that the detainee be released and another Latin phrase comes into play; etgay outyay ofyay ailjay eefray.
In the case of the Thing, a writ of habeas corpus would go about as far as a melodrama heroine tied to the railroad tracks. The judge would ask why was the Thing being held on Ryker’s Island. The warden would answer, because he’s been arrested and charged with murder. The judge would find Thing’s detention was lawful and would not issue the writ. That’s how I know Johnny erred when he said habeas corpus, because a writ in Things case wouldn’t be worth the paper it was writ on.
Johnny was talking about the fact that Puppet Master’s body had disappeared from the Medical Examiner’s office before an autopsy could be performed on it. The Latin phrase that would apply to this situation is not habeas corpus, it’s corpus delicti.
For those of you who slept through your foreign language class because it was scheduled Latin the afternoon, corpus delicti means the body of the crime. It doesn’t refer to the physical body in a murder case, such as Puppet Master’s missing corpse. It means body in a more metaphysical way, the elements of a crime. It means that in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the body of the crime; that is must be able to prove the essential elements of the crime exist.
In a murder case, the corpus delicti would be that the defendant unlawfully caused the death of another person. Here the corpus delicti would involve an actual corpse. (Unless the defendant were Hannibal Lecter, then the case would involve the corpus delectable.) In a theft prosecution, the corpus delicti would be that the defendant took the property of another person without the owner’s permission. It would involve no actual, physical dead body.
Johnny had a valid point, the corpus delicti rule probably does apply to Thing’s situation. If Puppet Master’s body disappeared before the autopsy, then no one has been able to determine the cause of Puppet Master’s death. Maybe he wasn’t murdered, maybe he died of a heart attack or a heart break or having literally left his heart in San Francisco. If no one knows how Puppet Master died, than no one knows whether someone killed him. More specifically, no knows whether Thing killed him. Without Puppet Master’s actual corpse and the necessary autopsy on said corpse, the prosecution might not be able to establish the corpus delicti in Thing’s case.
So, if Thing is smart, he’ll just sit things out in his cell and wait for the charges to be dropped as they, inevitably, will. The last thing Thing should do is…
Exactly what he does in Fantastic Four v 5 #13.
What does Thing do? Well that would be telling. So come back next week, when I’ll be telling.