In Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, Vanessa Marianna goes from art dealer to dinner date to girlfriend to fiancé of Wilson Fisk. Vanessa learned of Fisk’s criminal activities from domestic terrorism to killing his father. Could Vanessa also be convicted for Wilson Fisk’s many crimes?

As a preliminary matter, Wilson Fisk could be tried in Federal Court for Racketeering. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) states, in relevant part:

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity or through collection of an unlawful debt in which such person has participated as a principal within the meaning of section 2, title 18, United States Code [18 USCS § 2], to use or invest, directly or indirectly, any part of such income, or the proceeds of such income, in acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce.

18 USCS § 1962.

Racketeering Activity is a long list of criminal activities, including any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical or any act relating to bribery, mail fraud, and many other crimes. 18 USCS § 1961.

Vanessa was never directly involved in planning drug deals, murders, and illegally evicting tenants from their homes. The closest Vanessa ever comes to outright engaging in an agreeing to a crime was when she was hospitalized. Fisk told her, “I will make them suffer for what they have done,” to which she replied, “I expect nothing less.” This is not exactly a conspiracy and there are no further actions by her.

Did Vanessa Aid and Abet the Kingpin?

Vanessa provides a large amount of emotional support to Wilson Fisk. Could this be considered aiding and abetting Fisk in his crimes?

New York law on aiding and abetting states:

When one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another person is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission thereof, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct.

NY CLS Penal § 20.00

Would Vanessa providing “emotional support” be considered “intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct”? Vanessa did stand by Fisk for his big press conference, attended public parties, and knew Fisk engaged in criminal activities. However, she was never actually present at any criminal action. Moreover, she likely had plausible deniability of planning any event, but did have knowledge, such as the bombing of the Russian mobsters.

Case law states that “Silent approbation or pleasure in an assault and battery inflicted by another does not make a person, who has not encouraged or aided the perpetrator, liable in damages therefor.” Duke v. Feldman (1967) 245 Md. 454, 457-458.

In the Duke case, a husband assaulted a victim while the wife was unaware in the family car. The wife drove the husband away after the assault. There was no evidence that the wife in any way aided or abetted in the crime. As the Court explained, there was no evidence that she “assisted, supported, or supplemented her husband’s action or that she instigated, advised, or encouraged the commission of the tort. There was nothing in the evidence which would enable the jury to do more than speculate that her driving her husband away was part of a design to perpetrate the assault.” Duke, at *458.

Vanessa admitted being with Fisk would be “complicated.” The same could be said for prosecuting her. There is a very strong argument that she knew her support of Fisk was intentionally aiding him. However, there is a very strong argument she lacked the required intent for the crimes being committed. Moreover, she appeared to be outside of the planning for criminal activities. This would make prosecuting her a challenge, but probably would not stop charges from being filed. Federal prosecutors would likely charge Vanessa in order to get her cooperation in prosecuting Wilson Fisk.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.