The Law Is A Ass #442: Daredevil Shouldn’t Give A Testimony-Al
It’s nice to know Daredevil paid attention. I just wish he had stayed for the whole lecture.
For as long as there have been costumed heroes, there’s been the problem of what do those heroes do with the bad guys after the heroes catch them. Mostly they just left the bad guys behind for the police to arrest and hoped that the criminal justice system would sort it all out. As I have mentioned in the past, that wouldn’t work.
When the costumed hero was the only witness to the bad guys’ badness – as was frequently the case – the criminal justice system would need the costumed hero to testify. And that could be problematic. Problematic? Compared to that task, booking Alexander Hamilton himself to join the touring national company of Hamilton is just problematic.
Nevertheless, in Daredevil Vol 5 #22, Matt Murdock, Daredevil’s secret identity and an assistant district attorney, devised a plan by which masked heroes could testify without taking off their masks. His first step was to have Daredevil testify at the trial of Simon Slugansky, AKA Slug.
(Wait, wasn’t there already a Marvel villain, Ulysses X. Lugman, who went by the sobriquet Slug? We really have run through all the good names when we’ve got people claim jumping Slug?)
I’ll spare you the long-winded legal arguments that went down in the case, mostly because the story spared us those arguments. It didn’t actually tell us what arguments Matt made to convince a court that having a masked super hero testify didn’t violate the Sixth Amendment’s right of confrontation. All it did was play coy lip service to the arguments with lines like, “You like the section that responds to your Rovario argument and the U.S. v. Sanchez argument is particularly clever as well.”
So the story knew enough to know that Rovario and Sanchez were leading cases on the question of whether an anonymous witness may testify without revealing his or her identity but not enough to know what arguments could be raised to counter their holdings. That’s kind of like knowing that two plus two equals, without knowing what it equals.
All we know is that after an in-chambers hearing, the judge presiding over the case came out and said, “The prosecution has convinced me that the man who wears this mask is not anonymous. In fact he is very well known. He is Daredevil. We know his powers and his long-standing stance against crime. He has helped this city and this world in countless ways. Various courts have affirmed the idea that under certain circumstances, witnesses can offer confidential testimony – the Seventh Circuit, even the U.S. Supreme Court. In my view, Daredevil satisfies these conditions.”
Which is where I call BS, even though BS is usually called something a little bit stronger. It is true some courts have held that witnesses may testify while concealing their identities from the jury, the defendant, and their attorneys. In the 1987 espionage trial of Clayton Lonetree, the courts agreed to let a government intelligence agent testify without revealing his true identity to the defendant or his attorneys. In 2008, a Chicago court allowed Israeli intelligence officers to testify against a man accused of aiding Hamas without revealing their identities to the defendant or his attorney. But here’s the thing, in each of those cases, the witnesses testified confidentially but not anonymously. I say not anonymously, because somebody knew the witnesses’ real names.
In order to balance the prosecution’s need of the confidential witness with the defense’s right to cross-examine the witnesses, courts have required that before it would allow a witness to testify without revealing his or her identity to defense counsel, people who knew the witness’s true identity answer some preliminary questions about possible impeachment information. Information such as, Has the witness ever been convicted of a felony? Does the witness hold a bias in this case that would affect his or her testimony? In this way, the prosecution could protect its witness, but the defense would get some of what it needed for cross-examination.
So when the judge ruled that Daredevil was not an anonymous witness, the judge was just wrong. The court, the attorneys, the jury and the public at large might know what Daredevil stood for and how many times he helped the city or the planet. However, Daredevil was still an anonymous witness, because after the Purple Children used their mind control powers to make everyone forget Daredevil’s secret identity, no one knew who Daredevil was. Which meant that the prosecution could not supply Mr. Baden, Slug’s defense attorney, with any information which Baden had a right to know so that he could cross-examine Daredevil.
Had Daredevil ever been convicted of a felony? Who knows. Certainly not the state. Was Daredevil secretly dating Slug’s ex-girlfriend so had a personal reason to want to see Slug behind bars? Your guess is as good as mine and probably better than Baden’s. However, Baden shouldn’t have had to guess, he and Slug had a constitutional right to know the answers before Daredevil ever took his oath.
I think the judge was wrong in allowing Daredevil to testify when no one knew who he was or what impeaching information might exist in his background. The trial court didn’t agree with me – but after twenty-eight years as a public defender I’m more than a little used to trial courts not agreeing with my opinion, even when my opinion was correct. In fact, I’m a lot used to it.
So the trial court ruled that Daredevil could testify as long as he could prove that he was actually Daredevil under his red costume and mask. How a masked super hero would actually prove that he was who he claimed to be under that mask is something I actually covered in my very first column back in 1983. A column you can read again in – here comes the plug – The Law Is a Ass: All Rise, a recently-published book that collects my first twenty columns and which you can buy right here.
Was Daredevil able to convince the judge that he actually was Daredevil under that costume and testify against Slug? I don’t have the room left in this column to answer that question. So be with us next time for “Who Was that Masked Man?” or “Witless For the Prosecution.”