Once upon a time, there was a very bad man who got caught committing armed robbery. Caught red handed. But the very bad man was never brought to trial. Never convicted. Never even arrested. In fact, the bad man got away scott-free.
And no one lived happily ever after.
Except for the very bad man.
I wish this were only a fairy tale. It isn’t. (Isn’t, that is, if we pretend the adventures of the Teen Titans are real and not, in themselves, fairy tales. But if you grant me that little wish, then this story, unlike those stories where wishes are actually granted, isn’t a fairy tale.)
It was all there in cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and white in Teen Titans v 5, # 3. Beast Boy and Bunker were walking around New York’s Battery Park (which is a park in lower Manhattan and not the answer to that age-old question, where do you park your batteries). They were minding their own business when the very bad man pointed a gun at them, and demanded they empty their pockets.
As I doubt this was the preamble to a street magic act and the very bad man wasn’t about to produce a piece of paper inside a sealed envelope on which he had previously written the exact contents of Beast Boy’s and Bunker’s pockets, I must assume the very bad man was about to commit armed robbery. That’s what made him a very bad man.
Neither Beast Boy nor Bunker were inclined to give the very bad man the contents of their pockets, especially as they were both in costume so didn’t have any pockets. So instead, Bunker formed a massive psionic brick fist and punched the very bad man somewhere into the next panel. Bunker then said, in a rather self-congratulatory tone, “Far as I see it, I was doing my civic duty!” Bunker called the police on the cell phone he got from somewhere, but not his pockets as he didn’t have any, and told them, “A man tried to mug us in Battery Park. Oh no, he’s caught. No he won’t be going anywhere.” Then Beast Boy and Bunker calmly walked away from the scene of the crime, leaving the battered very bad man lying on the ground behind them, while Bunker said, with no small amount of pride, “See? One less criminal loose in New York. Already the streets feel safer!”
Bunker may have thought he was doing his civic duty, but his civic duty apparently included flunking middle-school Civics class. Let us, then, examine Bunker doing his civic duty from the perspective of a middle school civics class. Who can tell me what Bunker and Beast Boy did wrong?
Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?
That’s right, Beast Boy and Bunker walked away from the scene of the crime before the police arrived. When the police got there, they found the very bad man lying battered on the ground and no one else around to give them a statement. At which point, the police helped the very bad man to his feet, asked him whether he was all right, inquired whether he wanted to press assault charges against whoever hit him, and then let the very bad man go on his merry way.
The police don’t know who called them to report the mugging. They didn’t know who to seek out for a statement about the incident. They didn’t know who the victim of the alleged mugging was. They didn’t have anyone to call as a witness in the very bad man’s trial.
Without any witnesses to call and testify about what happened, the police and the prosecution had no evidence to prove that the very bad man tried to rob anyone. Without any evidence, the police and prosecution couldn’t possibly get a conviction. There wouldn’t have been any point in bringing the very bad man to trial. In fact, without anyone around to give a statement, the police didn’t even have anyone to press charges, so they couldn’t even arrest the very bad man.
And, no, the police couldn’t testify that they received a phone call reporting a mugging and found the very bad man at the site of the reported mugging with a gun lying next to him. Not without violating the Sixth Amendment, they couldn’t have.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees all defendants in criminal trials the right to confront the witnesses against them. That means they get to cross-examine the people who accused them of whatever it was they were accused of doing. In the case of our very bad man, it would mean he would get to cross-examine the people who accused him of mugging them.
If the police tried to testify about the anonymous phone call that reported a mugging, the defense attorney, even a bad defense attorney – you know, the kind who airs low-budget commercials with doggerel rhyming slogan in between late-night infomercials – would know to object to the testimony as hearsay. The police would be testifying about someone who wasn’t in court and told them that the very bad man tried to mug them in order to prove the very bad man did, indeed, try to mug someone. That’s the very definition of hearsay, an out of court statement made by someone other than the witness in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.
At least, that’s what I said the definition of hearsay was three columns ago, and I don’t think it’s changed in the past three weeks. Let me check…
Nope, it hasn’t. So the police wouldn’t be able to testify about the anonymous phone call and there would still be no evidence to prove the very bad man guilty of anything.
Tony Isabella once told me he always had his obligatory fight scenes take place in front of lots of people other than the masked super heroes for just this reason. So there would be lots of witnesses who could testify as to what the very bad men in his stories did and the very bad men would go to trial and would be convicted.
So, once upon a time, there was a very bad man who committed armed robberies only against people who flunked middle school civics. The very bad man enjoyed a long and prosperous career. And he lived happily ever after.