Sep 18 2011
Assuming that the hero is a vigilante and the district attorney is furious, which felony charges might apply under U.S. law?
1. Assault and battery, probably aggravated if superpowers are involved. The superhero will claim that he was acting in self-defense or the defense of others. That’s fine if he was just responding to a crime in progress. However, if he initiated the action (like attacking a gang stronghold or hunting down a supervillain), self-defense is probably off the table because the only imminent danger was created by the hero’s actions. In particular, a self-defense claim is awfully tenuous if the hero was breaking-and-entering.
2. Felony murder, if anybody dies (criminal or bystander). Assault is a violent felony, and any deaths caused even indirectly by a violent felony are deemed murders even if the superhero didn’t intend to kill anybody. If a superhero breaks into a hostage situation and a hostage-taker kills a bystander in the crossfire, the superhero will probably get charged with murder unless he was authorized to be there.
3. Reckless endangerment, if any bystanders get hurt. In severe cases, this could be a felony. Fortunately, superheroes might be able to cover themselves with self-defense here, if the hero acted prudently and in response to an imminent threat. Likely vehicular manslaughter as well, if Batman happens to hit anyone while driving several hundred miles per hour through Gotham traffic.
4. Obstruction of justice. For example, breaking into a hostage situation while the police are still trying to negotiate with the hostage-taker would be a felony in some states. (Note: if nobody gets hurt, the DA might knock this down to a slap on the wrist, particularly if the superhero is extremely popular).