Law and the Superhero

From Know Your Powers, Know Your Rights: Legal Issues for Superpowered Beings

A Publication of the Titan City Department of Public Safety

From Page 5, Legal Status of Superhuman Beings

Question 3: Are there any laws against being super or any requirement of registration just for existing as a superhuman being?
A: No. Superpowered status is a constitutionally protected classification, along the lines of race or religion. You are not required to register simply because you are not a baseline human being.

In New York v. Tygron (1970) and United States v. Spess (1970), the Supreme Court held that “superpowered status” is constitutionally protected “suspect classification” under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court struck down the New York City and Washington, D.C. requirements that all superhuman beings register with local governments, regardless of their powers, as unconstitutional. States and municipalities cannot impose special requirements on superhuman beings absent a compelling state interest. Titan City, of course, follows these laws and does not require universal registration.

Tygron is better known, however, for establishing that species is also a protected classification. Tygron, a tiger-like humanoid created by strange scientific experiments, had been required to undergo additional layers of registration. The Supreme Court struck these down as well, holding that all sentient species are entitled to equal protection under the law. Notably, California v. Prototype 8-A-1[i] (1979) extended the term “species” to cover sentient robots and AI’s. Other cases created extensive tests to determine legal “sentience.” In general, if a creature is self-aware, can reason, and can communicate with humans, it is entitled to the same legal rights as a human.

If you are unsure of your sentient or nonsentient status, consult an attorney specializing in superhuman law.

From Page 15, Regulation of Use of Superpowers: Registration

Question 21: When does a superpowered being need to register powers, if ever?
A: Any [i]dangerous or intrusive power must be registered before public use for a nonemergency purpose or within thirty days of first use for an emergency purpose (including initial manifestation). This includes weapons and gadgets, magical abilities, and even special skills, as well as inherent powers.

Titan City law requires registration with the Department of Public Safety before using dangerous or intrusive powers in public for a non-emergency purpose and thirty days to register after using them in public for the first time for an emergency purpose. Initial manifestation counts as an “emergency purpose.” The Department of Public Safety handles the registration process.

Registration does not involve any background checks or psychological assessments; it is a recordkeeping operation. Additionally, registration carries no other obligations. However, many registrants choose to engage in crimefighting because of the extensive legal protections registration confers, such as arrest powers and limited immunity from civil suits. Refer to Page 35, Questions 60-68, for more details.

You do not need to disclose your real name upon registering, but if you choose not to, you must select an appropriate alias. See Page 25, Question 40, for details on choosing an alias.

Question 22: What powers must I register?
A: Any dangerous or intrusive power.

Registration applies to dangerous or intrusive powers of all types, whether derived from a device (magical or technological), a ritual or operation, or the wielder’s inherent abilities.

“Dangerous” powers are anything that could be used as a deadly or dangerous weapon. This is broadly construed and includes items that are part of your body or training, such as the fists of martial artists.

“Intrusive” powers are those likely to interfere with the privacy or peace of ordinary, reasonable people. These include special senses, including extrasensory powers and telepathy, and powers whose use would constitute a noise or light complaint if used after 11 p.m.

If you are registering a power that provides flight by means of a device, you should also consult the Department of Public Safety/FAA Joint Publication, “Aeronautics and Aviation with Human-Portable Aircraft” (available on our website).

If you are unsure if your powers must be registered, consult an attorney specializing in superhuman law, or refer to Appendix 4, “List of Dangerous and Intrusive Powers” (pages 60-135).

From Page 23, Confidentiality of Registration Records and Secret Identities

Question 31: If a registrant testifies in court, does he have to disclose his identity or remove his mask?
A: No. The Supreme Court has ruled that testimony in a costumed identity, even in a costume that conceals the witness’s face, is permissible, so long as “independent guarantees of identity,” such as a powers registration record, are present.

The Confrontation Clause of the Constitution (“the accused shall have the right to … be confronted with witnesses against him”) provides a further concern for registrants with secret identities. The courts have generally interpreted this rule strictly, requiring that all witnesses’ faces be visible to criminal defendants. However, from the days of the first boom in superpowered heroism in the 1930’s, the courts have held that this rule does not require a hero to unmask in court so long as “independent guarantees of the witness’s identity and truthfulness” are available to the judge. After much litigation throughout the twentieth century, the Supreme Court settled in Moebius v. Massachusetts (1996) that status as a powers registrant furnishes such guarantees. Moreover, the courts have also held, citing privacy and safety concerns, that registrants need not answer questions about their identities on the stand.

From Page 29, Arrests, Searches, and Other Police-like Operations by Registrants

Question 43: How do freelance crimefighters arrest criminals?
A: A person is “under arrest” whenever he’s in a situation where a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. This can happen when a superpowered being says, “You’re under arrest” and flexes his super-muscles, when the superbeing has knocked the person unconscious, or any one of a huge range of situations. This rule, by the way, is the same for police and non-police.

Question 44: When can a registrant legally arrest someone?
A: Whenever he has probable cause to believe the person has committed any felony or has committed a misdemeanor in his presence. “Probable cause” means more than mere suspicion but much less than certainty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Question 45: When can a registrant use deadly force, such as a “dangerous power,” against a foe?
A: Whenever the registrant reasonably believes that his life or the life of another is in danger (notably, when the foe is using deadly force, too), or when the foe is a fleeing, violent felon. These criteria have historically been interpreted in favor of the registrant.

Registration is not just a way for governments to track powers. It also confers major legal benefits on registrants. This section discusses benefits for registrants who choose to investigate crime and apprehend criminals: in other words, superpowered crimefighters.

In general, if a hero captures a foe, whether by grabbing him, beating him senseless, or just telling him, “don’t go anywhere,” that counts as an arrest. Heroes can make such arrests whenever they have “probable cause” to believe a person has committed a crime. (Whether the person actually committed a crime is irrelevant.) Probable cause is more than mere suspicion but far less than the formal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied in trials.

If you have further questions related to arrest, an attorney for the arrestee specializing in superhuman law is likely to contact you.

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