“As I live and breathe, the Wolverine!”
The movie “Logan” has already had a number of articles on this site devoted to it. After watching it a second time I realized someone could easily fill a book with the legal analysis of this movie. One of the biggest legal questions to me however is what, if anything would Charles Xavier be guilty of after the Westchester incident. This article will examine laws in the state of New York as well as some federal law.
In the movie the audience is given snippets of something referred to as the “Westchester Incident” this is when Charles has a seizure which causes his psychic abilities to lash out and paralyze anyone within close proximity to him. In his first attack he injured over 600 people and kills seven mutants, though unmentioned this is believed to be the X-Men.
Causing the death of anyone in the United States causes the court to examine the situation surrounding these events and determine intent. In New York Murder in the first degree has such a requirement (PEN § 125.27 Murder in the first degree). This aspect of intent is also present in second degree and aggravated murder. A seizure caused the death and injury there has no aspect of intent as such this eliminates every class of murder under the New York penal code. Further a defense of mental disease or defect is a defense to all classes of murder as well.
Mental Disease or Defect
Mental Disease or Defect Under New York Penal Code (New York Penal § 40.15 – Mental Disease or Defect) the defense of Mental Disease or Defect is what is known as an affirmative defense. The defendant is saying “yes, I did this act but there is a reason that I should not be held accountable for that.” The prosecution then no longer must prove that the defendant committed the crime but they were not suffering from a mental disease or defect. The most common example being an “Insanity” plea. Charles would undergo both mental and physical examinations and it would show that he did suffer from seizures and when the seizures happened his powers would lash out in destructive manner.
Without intent there can be no murder but could it be manslaughter? Under New York Penal code (PEN § 125.15 Manslaughter in the first degree) there is also a matter of intent. The actions of the person charged must have been of a negligent or intended act that will normally cause harm but not kill. Once again, because the act was of mental disease or defect he is not guilty of manslaughter.
Criminally Negligent Homicide
New York has another offense that may fit. Criminally Negligent homicide lacks the intent requirement of the aforementioned crimes. For this charge to stand the prosecution would have to prove the incident was caused by Xavier’s negligence and normal use of such would have the expectant result of damage. Thinking does not normally result in damage to others and even in a powerful mind such as Xavier’s the usual result is communication not paralysis and death. From the films and comic books we know Xavier does not have a history of seizures so the court would likely find that because he had no prior history he could not be criminally negligent.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weapon of Mass Destruction We learn that Charles Xavier’s brain is considered a weapon of mass destruction by the HSI. The HSI is the investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Under Federal Law a weapon of mass destruction is defined as:
(2) the term “weapon of mass destruction” means—
(A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
(B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
(C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
(D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life;
This is a federal offense under Use of a weapon of mass destruction (18 U.S. Code § 2332a).
Section 921 lists explosive devices and section 178 lists many toxins such as animal venom and poison. Under the federal code Charles Xavier could not be charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction because a human being cannot be defined as a weapon of mass destruction. The incident however could lead to a new addendum adding a mutant component to the definition which would mean any time Xavier used his powers he was committing this federal offense. Without knowledge of any changes to the law in X-Men universe we must consider this akin to a suspect being considered armed and dangerous. This effect has no true legal recourse however it tells any authority to approach with caution as well as increasing the priority of answering such a call.
Could the victims and families of the victims gain any level of compensation for the incident? Here there is some possibility though when comparing having a seizure to other potentially hazardous activities such as driving we find that the court is reluctant to rule against those that have suffered a seizure if there is no history of them. However due to the power of Xavier’s mind those victims could potentially win damages in a court setting. This is entirely due to the standard of proof going from beyond a reasonable doubt to on the preponderance of evidence.
So it looks like Xavier would be free and clear as long as he maintains his medication regimen and keeps his doctor’s appointments… or is it?
If you are not familiar with the story of Mary Mallon, who later became known as Typhoid Mary, this was the first known case of an asymptomatic carrier of the virus that causes typhoid fever. However, she was the cause of at least six deaths in New York in the 1920’s because she worked as a cook. Though she was not subject to criminal prosecution she was medically quarantined twice for a period of 26 years until she died. It is not clear under what authority the state of New York had to quarantine Ms. Mallon though. How does this have anything to do with Xavier?
Doctors could rule that Xavier is a threat to the public health and be placed under medical quarantine because of this. Under modern medical practices this could be done through psychological commitment. In a way Logan did exactly what the authorities of New York would have been able to do had they captured him.
Though legally Xavier likely would not have been found guilty of any crime he could have faced potential damages in lawsuits and possible quarantine or psychological commitment. The important acts of intent and negligence are absent, despite his innocence on a legal basis he is punished by his knowledge that it happened because of him and he feels responsible.