Star Wars 40th Anniversary Podcasts

Happy Anniversary Star Wars! The Far Away Galaxy from a long time ago has inspired lawyers and judges for 40 years. We recorded three podcasts to celebrate the Ruby Anniversary with friends who all love Star Wars. Join us for lawyers geeking out over why people love Star Wars, legal analysis, and more.

Enjoy, and remember, the Force will be with you. Always.

Baby Groot – From Custody to Child Endangerment with Nuclear Weapons

Baby Groot is adorable…and a dancing his way into great legal issues.

Just who is Baby Groot’s legal guardian? All of the Guardians acted as Groot’s guardian. Who would a court actually appoint as the guardian?

Baby Groot was grown from the remains of the original Groot. The law is not designed for adoption of talking trees, so a court could view the original Groot as the “parent” of Baby Groot. As such, Baby Groot would be an orphan.

A court would not appoint all of the Guardians of the Galaxy as the parents of Baby Groot, as custody is awarded to either a couple or single person. One likely option is for Rocket Raccoon to be the guardian of Groot. However, that would mean a court is deciding whether a scientifically enhanced raccoon could be the legal guardian of a sentient tree. A court on Earth likely would decline jurisdiction, unless Peter Quill was the petitioner. Gamora and Drax would also be cases of first impression for extraterrestrials to seek adoption of an infant tree.

States generally require a preliminary assessment on the eligibility of adoptive parents by examining their social history, criminal records, and the capability to meet the child’s needs. See, In re Carl R. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1051, 1062–1063. Moreover, the adoptive parents must understand their legal and financial responsibilities in adopting a child. Id.

Rocket, Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax, all had substantial criminal records, which would raise significant red flags for any adoption. However, the Guardians had been pardoned for past crimes and their records expunged. Their individual social histories are also complex, with bar fights, space pirates, and galactic war criminals. Moreover, how is it even remotely safe to have a child dancing during a fight with an inter-dimensional monster?

Child Protective Services would agree Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord had a bad plan: Giving Baby Groot a nuclear weapon in order to stop a galaxy threatening celestial being. The weapon had one button for a 5-minute detonation and a second button to immediately set off the bomb. Baby Groot demonstrated a lack of understanding for which button to push, raising significant issues of child endangerment.

“Child endangerment” includes situations where a person “willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered.” CA Pen. Code, § 273a, subd. (a). While there are [thankfully] no court opinions with children entrusted with a nuclear weapons directly on point, most judges would agree giving a toddler a weapon of mass destruction with a dead man switch, would endanger the health of the child. No expert testimony would be required.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have a substantial number of warning signs that go against entrusting them with raising a child. That being said, each one demonstrated concern for Baby Groot’s well-being, from battles with monsters to wearing a seatbelt. Moreover, they provided a nurturing home, such as Drax holding Groot while he fell asleep. A court might overlook the issues, as no family is perfect, and who better to raise Baby Groot, then those who saved the galaxy twice?

Yondu Was Right to Not Give Star-Lord to Ego in 1988

The first Guardians of the Galaxy film established that the Ravager Yondu was hired by Peter Quill’s father, to bring the young Peter to his biological father, after the death of Peter’s mother. Yondu admitted he breached his contract with Quill’s father on the grounds the father was a “jackass.” No rules on anticipatory breach of contract have a “jackass” exception, but Yondu was correct to do so on other grounds.

As we learned in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, there were other reasons for Yondu to not return Peter to his father. Spoilers ahead, so do not read further if you have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. 

Meredith Quill stated on her deathbed that she intended Peter to live with his grandfather until Peter’s father returned for the boy. Meredith was not married to Ego the Living Planet, and it is not clear if Ego ever met Meredith’s friends or family. Moreover, it is unstated whether Meredith listed Ego on Peter’s birth certificate. As Meredith had sole custody of Peter, it is reasonable she could have stated in a will her intent that Peter’s father should have custody of Peter. However, if Meredith had known the truth about Ego, she would not have ever intended Peter live with his biological father.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act is enacted in every state in the United States. As Peter was born and raised in Missouri, The Show Me State would have been Peter’s “home state” for a court to decide who had custody of Peter. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.445(4).

Ego would have had multiple challenges in bringing a petition to assert his parental rights over Peter. First, hiring mercenaries to kidnap a child from Earth would qualify as “reprehensible conduct,” and a court would decline to exercise jurisdiction over Ego’s case. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.475(1). Moreover, courts will not give a person custody of a child if they have caused the death of another child through abuse or neglect. See, CA Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300(f). The mass grave of intergalactic children would be Exhibit A to Ego’s unsuitability as a parent. Additionally, a Missouri Court would not be obligated to recognize an “out-of-state” decree from Ego himself, as the United States does not have any treaties or formal relations with the Living Planet. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.500. As there were limited legal means for Ego to take custody of Peter, Ego resorted to hiring Yondu to kidnap Peter from the lawful care of his grandfather.

Yondu had been hired multiple times by Ego to bring Ego’s children to his planet. Ego further represented that the children would not suffer; as such, Yondu arguably did not have actual notice that all of the children he brought to Ego the Living Planet were going to be killed. However, kidnapping children was one of the forbidden crimes for any Ravager (and parents in the United States). Moreover, Yondu should have been alerted that something was wrong with delivering multiple children to never be seen again to Ego. While Yondu could have justified to himself he was helping reunite children with their father, at the end of the day he was wrongly kidnapping children.

Yondu arguably had constructive notice that Ego’s children were being killed, because of the number of children who disappeared after being delivered to Ego. If Yondu suspected that Peter Quill was going to be killed, not delivering Peter to Ego was the correct action. Furthermore, there is a legal exception to kidnapping if a person takes or conceals a child in order to protect that child from “imminent danger.” See, CA Pen. Code, § 207, subds. (f)–(f)(1). Yondu could have reasonably believed he was in a better position to protect Peter from Ego than Peter’s grandfather, because Ego was an “imminent danger” to Peter’s life. However, no Missouri judge would ever rule in favor of a child being raised by a space pirate instead of a grandfather, in order to avoid the child being used by the biological father to conquer the universe, who also murdered the mother of the child in the custody dispute.

Yondu made the right decision in breaching his contract [criminal conspiracy] with Ego the Living Planet, albeit extremely late after multiple other crimes had been committed. Despite those shortcomings and teasing the Ravager crew wanted to eat Peter, Yondu seemed to be a good dad for a space pirate.

Star Wars: The Legality of Vader’s Boarding Parties

It’s May the 4th, which means that all Star Wars fans are morally bound to immerse themselves in the galaxy far, far away for an entire 24 hours. The Legal Geeks is no exception, so let’s turn our attention to the ultimate symbol of power and general bad-assery in the universe: Darth Vader. As the perennial winner of the “Best Star Wars Character with a Breathing Problem” category (sorry, General Grievous), Lord Vader is a shining example of the Galactic Empire’s might and menace. However, despite his general awesomeness, he is not quite the best example of how to do pretty much anything legally.

Vader has no time for silly concepts like proper interrogation techniques or the due process of law.

One might argue Vader’s effectiveness is fueled by his penchant for taking action. He doesn’t take time to discuss things as a committee; he simply fires up his lightsaber and goes to work. Vader possessed that trait long before he donned the iconic armor—after all, Yoda could count on one of his three-fingered hands the number of times Anakin mindfully planned something out with an eye towards possible consequences.

One of his boldest gambles was chasing down and boarding Princess Leia’s ship at the beginning of A New Hope. Vader’s pursuit, capture, and boarding of the ship are undoubtedly some of the most iconic scenes in all of film. While Vader’s tactics were certainly decisive, were they legal?

You may not have realized it at the time, but some of the first lines in A New Hope allude to some very real legal issues that Vader created by capturing and boarding Leia’s ship, the Tantive IV.

Princess Leia and Captain Antilles (may his crumpled body rest in peace) are not just delivering catchy lines in those opening scenes. Their comments to Vader touch upon some very real laws. Unfortunately, even though there are actual laws governing outer space, those laws have not quite advanced to the point of dealing with conflict between manned space ships. Fortunately for us, there is an entire collection of international and domestic laws that govern civilian and military naval operations. That body of law provides an excellent framework for judging Vader.

When confronted by Vader, both Captain Antilles and Leia immediately tout the ship’s diplomatic status. Prior to A New Hope, Princess Leia took very careful steps to protect the Tantive IV’s status as a diplomatic vessel. The ship itself belonged to the House of Organa on Alderaan, making it a vessel of state. Its hull was marked with distinctive scarlet stripes, which were the standard galactic marker for diplomatic ships. Leia routinely used the ship to ferry her on diplomatic missions related to her service in the Imperial Senate.

You can’t see it, but the Tantive IV sports a bumper sticker that says “DEFINITELY NO REBEL TRAITORS IN HERE.”

There is a very good legal reason behind all of those actions. As a matter of customary international law, all vessels that are owned or operated by a state and used only for government service are entitled to sovereign immunity. As an official governmental vessel of Alderaan, a sovereign planet, the Tantive IV would enjoy sovereign immunity so long as it was used for government service. This is why Leia was especially cautious when using the Tantive IV for missions related to the Rebellion—because doing so would risk the ship’s immunity.

That immunity was of critical importance because of the protections that come along with it. Under international law, any vessel that has sovereign immunity cannot be arrested or searched, whether sailing in national or international waters. Additionally, that privilege protects the identity of personnel, stores, weapons, or other property on board the vessel. Given those substantial legal protections, you don’t have to be Yoda to understand how important it was for Leia to maintain her ship’s immunity. She was free to operate the ship without fear that Imperials would stop and board. Similarly, she could transport important personnel, weapons, and other material (*cough cough* Death Star plans) under the same umbrella of protection—so long as secrecy was maintained.

In the real world, both the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard adhere to the law surrounding sovereign immunity. The protection is taken very seriously and any decision to stop and board foreign vessels is made with the utmost care. Under normal circumstances, Darth Vader would have violated a serious tenet of international law if he had stopped and boarded Leia’s ship on a whim.

Obscure International Law 101: Any ship deemed to be “flying casual” is also immune from search and seizure.

Darth Vader made it clear that he seized the vessel because he believed it had received the Death Star plans from Rebel agents. Fans were left to wonder what sort of intelligence Vader was acting on when he chased down the Tantive IV—after all, Leia’s incredulous reaction certainly made it seem as if he had gone out on a limb.

Rogue One filled in that story gap and we now know that Vader personally witnessed the Tantive IV and its crew escape with the plans to the Empire’s prized battle station. This new chapter in the saga greatly weakens Leia’s legal position. Sovereign immunity is not an absolute right. State vessels risk losing those protections if they violate the law, which means they can then be stopped, boarded, and searched.

The act of intercepting a vessel at sea is known as a “maritime interception operation.” Maritime interception operations can include stopping, boarding, searching, and even seizing cargo from a vessel. There are a number of legal bases to conduct interception operations, including a state’s need to protect its forces and antiterrorism operations.

States can legally conduct maritime interception operations pursuant to international law in self-defense to protect its forces. Naval commanders have an inherent right and an obligation to defend their units and other nearby friendly forces from hostile acts or hostile intent. That means that a commander may stop and board another vessel if necessary in self-defense.

During the Battle of Scarif at the end of Rogue One, Rebel forces openly attacked a major Imperial facility and made off with critical classified intelligence. Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer exited hyperspace to a chaotic scene in which Alliance warships were still in open combat. Under the circumstances, Vader had ample reason to exercise the inherent right to self-defense and attack the Rebel fleet.

The Rebel flagship, The Profundity, presented the biggest threat, which meant that Vader could legally disable and seize the vessel. Even though his Star Destroyer made short work of disabling The Profundity, the Rebel flagship still housed enemy personnel and weapons, which presented a threat to Imperial forces. The theft of the Death Star plans also presented a threat to Imperial forces that arguably triggered the need to act in self-defense. The plans were critical classified information that, if exploited, could endanger the lives of millions of Imperials aboard the battle station. Given the Rebels’ evasive abilities, it was imperative that the plans be recovered as quickly as possible. Vader thus had sound legal footing to disable and board the Rebel flagship.

 

 

Vader prepares to defend himself against vicious and threatening Rebel terrorists.

In spite of Leia’s outrage at the start of A New Hope, Darth Vader was also on solid legal footing when he captured and boarded her ship. Even though Leia and her crew did not actively participate in combat above Scarif, their actions still forfeited the ship’s sovereign immunity.

Vessels can be legally intercepted if they take part in acts of terrorism. The 1988 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) established a legal framework governing acts of violence against ships. The SUA convention happened in response to the 1986 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in which an American tourist was killed. In 2005, major amendments were made to the SUA treaty in order to combat terrorism. Under SUA, a ship can be stopped, seized, and boarded if it has committed or taken part in terrorist acts, even if there is no need to do so in self-defense.

The Empire generally regarded the Rebel Alliance as a terrorist organization, which means the attack at Scarif would have been characterized as a major terrorist act. Darth Vader had absolute proof that Leia’s ship was involved in the attack, as he witnessed Leia’s ship receive the Death Star plans before narrowly escaping. After Vader caught up to the Tantive IV above Tatooine, there was no real need to stop the ship in self-defense. After all, Leia’s diminutive corvette posed little threat to Vader’s colossal Star Destroyer. However, Vader was legally justified to stop and board the Tantive IV because of its participation in a terrorist act.

 

Don’t you go lying to your father like that, General Organa. You’ll find yourself grounded aboard the Death Star.

The fact that Leia’s ship was branded as a Rebel vessel is also problematic for her. When Leia incredulously accuses Vader of boarding a diplomatic ship, he declares that she is part of the Rebel Alliance. This hints at a critical aspect of the law. Under international law, vessels that are not legitimately registered in any one nation are known as “stateless vessels.” They are not entitled to sovereign immunity and may be boarded by warships or other governmental vessels. Once Leia’s ship was declared part of a stateless terrorist organization, it lost its diplomatic protections. That is why it was so important for Leia to mask the ship’s participation in Rebel operations.

Even though we normally associate Vader with some of the worst war crimes in Star Wars, he actually managed to do things by the book when he stopped and boarded Leia’s ship. Just be sure not to tell him that unless you want to join Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa in the throat hug club.

 

Tale as Old as Crime: Maurice’s False Imprisonment

While Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, the fact is Beast may have violated some historically recognized criminal law. Most jurisdictions recognize claims for false arrest, also referred to as false imprisonment. For those familiar with the 1991 Disney animated film, Beast goes through a journey of self-discovery that ends with him becoming a much better person at the end. This change in character doesn’t absolve him of his earlier crimes though.

As you will recall, when Maurice, Belle’s father, was traversing the forest he fled to the safety of Beast’s castle to escape the wolves chasing him. Although he alerted the residents to his presence, Beast chose not to reveal himself at first. Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Chip, against the advice of Cogsworth, proceed to provide Maurice with shelter and tea. It is at this point that Maurice comes face to face with Beast. Promptly afterward he is thrown into a dungeon with as much thought as Lumiere put into dating a presumably flammable feather duster.

Falsely Imprisoning Maurice

By detaining Maurice, Beast may be guilty of what Connecticut calls false imprisonment. False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another. Felix v. Hall-Brooke Sanitarium, 140 Conn. 496, 499, 101 A.2d 500 (1953). To prove a claim of false imprisonment, the Plaintiff must be able to show, (1) that his or her physical liberty has been restrained by the defendant, and (2) that the restraint was against his or her will. Lo Sacco v. Young, 20 Conn. App. 6, 19 (1989).

As to the first point, it shouldn’t be too hard for Maurice to show that his physical liberty was restrained. A quick look to his predicament after entering the castle shows him confined behind bars in one of the castle’s holding cells (which should call into question how often this was occurring). As to the second point, whether or not this was against his will, this is evidenced in the conversation Belle had with Beast to release her father. Belle asks Beast to release him, and Beast promptly accuses Maurice of trespassing. Beast then refers to Maurice as his prisoner. It’s apparent at this point that Maurice was being held against his will.

Potential Claims Against Maurice

However, Beast may have a point in calling out Maurice for his trespass. Since Maurice clearly went past a gate which was designed to exclude intruders, and he remained in the castle without being licensed or privileged to do so, he may be liable for trespass. Connecticut General Statutes 53a – 107 to 109. However Connecticut General Statutes 53a-110 provides for affirmative defenses to criminal trespass, which include that “the actor reasonably believed that the owner of the premises, or a person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him to enter or remain.” The tricky issue here is whether or not Lumiere, or anyone in the castle could have given Maurice license to be in the castle. Even more of an issue is that, at that point per the power of the witch, no one in the castle was actually a “person” so Maurice’s defense may fall flat.

Beast could also claim that Maurice is guilty of violating statutes for home invasion or burglary. This would seem apropos as both would involve Maurice entering, or remaining unlawfully in a dwelling, with the intent to commit a crime therein; burglary would have the added element of Maurice coming under the cover of night. See Connecticut General Statutes 53a-100aa; see also Connecticut General Statutes 53a – 101. The entering element would certainly be satisfied, as would the “at night” element. However, Maurice would have to have intended to commit a crime. He would likely not be found to have the proper mens rea for this, as he himself thought he was being properly invited in by the staff of the castle. Without establishing the requisite intent to commit a crime, Maurice would not succumb to these claims.

A Defense of Citizen’s Arrest

Even if Maurice were found guilty of criminal trespass, this does not mitigate charges against Beast for false imprisonment. Beast may think that he was somehow able to perform a citizen’s arrest for Maurice’s wrongdoing, but he would be mistaken. The law for a citizen’s arrest is clear under Connecticut General Statutes 53a-22. Pursuant to the statute a private citizen may use reasonable force in arresting an individual whom he reasonably believes has committed an offense. State v. Smith, 63 Conn. App. 228, 238 (2001). Here Maurice would have committed an offense, however the statute also requires that the offense constitute a felony. Under Connecticut law though, all forms of trespass are misdemeanors; thus, even if Maurice committed trespass against Beast, Beast would still not be justified in detaining Maurice.

Conclusion

As a result, Beast would be susceptible to Maurice making a claim of false imprisonment. False imprisonment is an intentional tort, the remedy for which is an action for trespass. Green v. Donroe, 186 Conn. 265, 268 (1982). Ultimately, Maurice may be able to claim trespass against Beast, as a remedy for his false imprisonment, despite the fact that Maurice himself may be guilty of trespass.  The fact that Maurice was later released does not extinguish the liability Beast would have for any term of imprisonment. Sure Belle and Beast may live happily ever after, but that won’t necessarily stop Maurice from taking Beast to court. In the grand scheme of things, having to pay out a settlement or even a jury verdict because of how you treat the people that come to your door for help is probably a lot easier to stomach than some quasi-botanical curse.

Star Trek Panel at Silicon Valley Comic Con

We had an amazing time at our first Silicon Valley Comic Con. Thank you to everyone who filled our seminar room on Sunday morning. We were thrilled Rod Roddenberry even saw our discussion on Space Seed. Below please find the slides from our panel and the live recording of our presentation. Thank you Silicon Valley Comic Con for a great show; we hope to return in 2018.

SVCC_Star_Trek

What Countries Can X-23 Claim Citizenship?

Logan is an excellent X-Men movie. One basic human question in the film is the legal status of the “new mutants” that were born in Mexico. The multi-national company Transigen genetically engineered these children. The children were conceived from the DNA of other mutants and born to mothers of Mexican women. Just what is their citizenship?

Laura, aka X-23, had a Mexican mother and her father genetically was James “Logan” Howlett, who was born in Canada in 1832. While she might have been conceived through genetic engineering, there is no doubt her father’s DNA was Logan.

Laura can claim citizenship in Mexico, because she was born in Mexico City, pursuant to the 30th article of the Constitution of Mexico. However, Laura’s options do not end there.

The Canadian Citizenship Act allows for citizenship by descent to the first generation of a Canadian parent born abroad, pursuant to paragraph 3(1)(b). Logan technically is a Canadian citizen by birth (arguably the oldest one at 197 years old by the time of Logan). As such, Laura has a colorable claim to being a Canadian citizen due to her father.

There is also the possibility Laura could be a US Citizen. Logan served in the US military in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam (it is unclear if Logan also fought in the Spanish-American War or the Korean Conflict). Logan would have qualified for US Citizenship because of his military service dating back to at least World War I.

Logan could have been a naturalized citizen if (1) at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, extension of enlistment, or induction such person shall have been in the United States, the Canal Zone, American Samoa, or Swains Island, or on board a public vessel owned or operated by the United States for noncommercial service, whether or not he has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, or (2) at any time subsequent to enlistment or induction such person shall have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. 8 U.S.C.S. § 1440.

If Logan was a naturalized US Citizen, Laura could claim she is a “natural born” US Citizen, because her father was a naturalized citizen from his military service spanning 1861 to 1970.

Transigen argued that the “new mutants” were patents and copyrights, thus property, and ignoring their humanity. The United States fought a war over the belief that people could be property, which is effectively Transigen’s position. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1824 and Canada in 1833 by British Parliament across the entire United Kingdom. As such, no country in North America would recognize human children being “property” as patents and copyrights.

Laura has colorable claims to have dual citizenship with Mexico and either the United States or Canada. Logan did fight in over 90 years of wars for the United States and was eligible for citizenship, but it is not clear if he ever because an US Citizen. As such, the most likely scenario is Laura having dual citizenship with Mexico and Canada.