“The Spider-Man Defense” used by lawyers in New York City gives the NYPD plenty of reason to target Spider-Man even ahead of Devil’s Reign.
The morality of superheroes has always been at the heart of the Marvel Universe, with questions over how far the heroes take their work lingering in many of their minds. It’s a conflict about to take center stage due to developments from across the recent Daredevil series, and the police might have more than one hero they want to deal with.
Ahead of Devil’s Reign — which has teased the authorities of New York City turning their attention against Daredevil and the rest of the hero community — it’s worth looking back to a time when Spider-Man’s work to put away criminals was confirmed to make things worse for the New York Police Department.
Devil’s Reign is already beginning to take shape within the Marvel Universe. From his perch as the Mayor of New York City, Kingpin has made life more difficult for the heroes multiple times over. But with his upcoming marriage to Typhoid Mary set to be ruined by the hero community, he decides to take things to the next level out and outlaw all superhero activity. The police are set to help him try to enforce these laws, with the NYPD being shown on-page in Daredevil #35 to be losing trust in the hero community. But if there’s one hero that the NYPD already have a complicated history with, it’s Spider-Man. Despite his occasional allies in the police force like the late Jean DeWolfe, other members of the NYPD have had their good intentions complicated by the Wall-Crawler in the past.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web was an anthology series that brought in different creative teams to explore unique chapters in the lives of Spider-Man, his allies, his enemies, and the strangers impacted by his fight against crime. The series’ final issue — “The System” by Brian Patrick Walsh and Alberto Dose — largely doesn’t focus on Spider-Man at all. Instead, it focuses on members of the New York Police Department dealing with the fallout of Spider-Man’s encounter with a pair of criminals. Terry Dunn and Walter Bukowski are accused of attacking an elderly shopkeeper while robbing his store. Although there’s evidence that can allow NPYD Detectives Harrison and Donavan to pin the crime on them, the fact that they were caught by Spider-Man makes matters far more hectic.
With no other witnesses, the criminals could argue they were attacked mistakenly by Spider-Man and arrested falsely by the police. Defense lawyers in New York City have developed the “Spider-Man Defense,” which allows them to introduce reasonable doubt into any investigation. Multiple criminals who’d been caught by Spider-Man ended up walking free because of the thorny legal issues at play with trusting a masked vigilante’s word over suspects. The detectives’ best hope is to elicit a confession from the criminals before the defense attorney can arrive on the scene. Some of the officers have even become increasingly furious with Spider-Man over his interference. Ultimately, the police are unable to charge Bukowski and Dunn with a crime before their lawyer arrives and leads them out of the station.
Ultimately, the two men are presumably arrested for good when a picture of their confrontation with Spider-Man appears in the Daily Bugle — and it does lend an additional reason why it’s important for Peter Parker to take pictures of himself as Spider-Man and spread them to the public in this manner. It allows Spider-Man’s actions — and the actions of those he fights — to be showcased in the public eye, where the criminals can’t escape prosecution. But it all goes to show just how tough it can be to legally follow the letter of the law when someone like Spider-Man operates in the city as something of an unrestrained wild card. It also gives a good reminder of why the authorities of Marvel’s New York City might not be wholly opposed to trying to stamp out hero activity whenever possible.
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