Fantastic Legal Weirdness

In a world where Death is Cheap and magic can alter reality, legal proceedings can be knocked for a loop.

A necromancer, instead of raising an army of undead, might find legitimate work as a consultant dealing with probate cases or solving murders. Maybe the Jedi Mind Trick or magical illusions can be used for Jury and Witness Tampering. Can The Nth Doctor be held liable for crimes committed by his previous incarnations? Does resurrection invalidate a conviction and death sentence?

Supertrope to:

Sister Trope to Fantastic Religious Weirdness, where religions and religious practices interact oddly with Speculative Fiction elements. See also Undead Tax Exemption, where such problems are handwaved away.

Examples:

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    Anime And Manga 
  • Log Horizon: The Round Table Conference runs into this when they try to set up a legal code for the people now trapped in an RPG-Mechanics Verse. It's mentioned, for instance, that since Adventurers will respawn with no permanent harm done when killed, murdering an Adventurer is a far less serious crime, on about the same level as assault and battery. Theft of property and enslavement are considered the more serious crimes in comparison.

    Comic Books 
  • In general, both Marvel Comics and DC Comics have it established that superheroes can testify in court without giving away their Secret Identities.
    • Civil War compared people having superpowers to people having firearms: registration and training was a must to prevent trouble (because of a penchant of mass destruction that followed), and so the Superhuman Registration Act came to pass. The situation became much more complicated when people in the government decided to use it as a reason to unleash the Day of the Jackboot upon innocent Americans. Its continuation was mostly fueled by a discussion whether applying the Pre Crime Arrest was unconstitutional or not (doubly so when the visions that led to said arrests were proven to be unreliable).
  • Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk is a professional lawyer when not superheroing, and the Dan Slott and Charles Soule runs on her solo title, in particular, concentrated on weird legal issues such as somebody suing for compensation because they didn't like the results of their accidental Superhero Origin, or Doctor Doom's son claiming political asylum after a fight with his dad.
  • In one Astro City storyline, the lawyer defending a mobster who had murdered someone in front of dozens of witnesses used a "superhero defense", pointing out known cases of crimes actually committed the accused's evil twin from another dimension, supposedly dead people getting up and walking away none the worse for wear, etc. Between the sheer audacity of the argument and a mood of public guilt over the recent condemnation of the hero Silver Agent (who had been framed for murdering a supervillain who turned out to be very much alive), it worked.
    • A subsequent storyline looks at legal services in Shadow Hill, the city's supernatural district. Ghosts can be called up to settle their disputed wills; when a magician discovers their spells are contracts with higher powers, they can get a lawyer to figure out the terms; and vampires and other quasi-immortals can hire professional Renfields to help with their financial holdings, transferring the holdings to the Renfield when they die or appear to die, and the Renfield transferring the holdings back to them when they show up with a new identity.
  • In Watchmen's backstory, vigilantism was legalized at some point to make costumed heroes (none of whom had actual superpowers until Dr. Manhattan) legal crime-fighters. However, in The '70s a major police strike and nationwide protests led to the passage of the Keene Act, which repealed their legalization.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Star Trek Online fanfic A Good Compromise, Jolin Tabris, a Trill lawyer, is fighting a probate case against a joined Trill whose previous host illegally bequeathed half his estate to his next host. Tyria Sark suggests the symbiont is trying to take the case constitutional, and Jolin says he might cite legal precedent to get the will thrown out, namely the case from the last time the same symbiont tried this stunt.
  • In A Peccatis, Aurors are saddled with a wonderfully verbose version of the British police caution in order to plug in the extra legal loopholes that being magical might present. Legal buffs might care to notice that in the Wizarding version, the right to remain silent (which is front and center in the Caution and Miranda) is the second-to-last thing mentioned. Also please note that unlike the caution, this one is to be recited upon arrest (or when the suspect wakes up from all the stunning spells), not interrogation. It reads as follows:
    It is my duty that you be made aware of your standing under the Provision of Magical Rights and Liberties. You have been apprehended by officers of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement while engaging in activities reasonably believed to be criminal in nature, and there is intent to hold you in violation of the law. Your wand has been confiscated and may not be returned to you unless you are exonerated of charges by the Wizengamot or equivalent legal due process. Officers of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement may use physical or magical force against you, including such as may cause permanent harm, injury, illness, incapacitation, or death if and only to the degree as is necessary to retain you in custody and to safeguard their own welfare as well as that of others. Any statement or incantation you may say or perform, including via non-verbal means may be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding. You are considered to be innocent until such time as guilt is reasonably proven, however your apprehension in situ is considered temporary grounds upon which you have waived your right to liberty at this time. You have the right to refuse to answer questions, however any false or misleading answers given will result in additional criminal charges. If you believe yourself to be operating under a curse, hex, jinx, or otherwise engaging in your current activities under magical coercion, you may indicate as such at any time. Additional rights and exclusions under wizarding law will be explained to you fully and completely as relevant. Do you understand these rights and exclusions?

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The basis of the film Minority Report (and the Philip K. Dick Short Story it was based on) is a system called Precrime that uses precognition to alert homicide cops to murders before they happen, letting them charge and convict the suspect of first-degree murder before the crime actually takes place (which evidently took law changes or else the suspect could only be charged with attempted murder or possibly conspiracy). Precrime procedures include having two judges monitoring the investigation by video conference. The legal ramifications are discussed early on: it's noted that the American Civil Liberties Union considers the system unconstitutional, though protagonist John Anderton insists that just because you stopped the murder from happening doesn't change that it would've happened. Logically though, it would require at least one Constitutional amendment for this to be allowed. Not only that, but the precogs are more or less slaves, and the mass scans would also be quite illegal in our time (which is why early on it is mentioned that Precrime is still on an experimental phase and thus all the scrutiny before it is passed to cover a larger area than D.C).
  • In Rashomon, one of the witnesses at a murder trial is a medium speaking on behalf of the victim. It doesn't actually help much; in this case, there was never any question about who killed him and the hearing is more about why and whether there were mitigating circumstances, on which points the victim is just as self-centered and unreliable as all the other witnesses.

    Literature 
  • This is Older Than Radio. Thomas Paine briefly wonders about the risen saints mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew: did they try to reclaim their property and spouses, or just go back into their graves after walking around Jerusalem? The Gospel doesn't say.
  • In Harry Potter, there's a whole magical government called the Ministry of Magic which has laws about Dark curses, ownership of magical animals, the rights to carry a wand, etc. Two of the main laws in the story are that a.) underage wizards cannot do magic outside of school (unless it's an accident), and b.) wizards cannot break The Masquerade. Harry himself was once charged for breaking these, but acquitted on the grounds of self-defense (against dementors).
  • In the Dante Valentine novels, Psions (the official name for magic-users in the books' Science Fantasy world) are often legally accredited professionals whose abilities are admissible in court. Necromances like Danny are often hired to settle probate matters by asking the deceased what they want done with their estate. She also mentions she charges extra for criminal cases, and gets very cross with the attorney when hired for a probate only to discover that the decedent was murdered by one of the heirs.
  • In the Anita Blake series, Anita's day job as an animator often involves raising the dead to settle estate matters. Zombies can be raised to settle things like disputes over which version of a will is accurate or not, but they make terrible witnesses in court cases, since they can really only respond to the animator who raised them, and the animator has to ask very specific questions, thus opening them to objections for leading the witness. Zombies are also useless when they've been murdered, as a murdered zombie will, no matter how powerful the animator who raised them is, beeline straight for their murderer and attempt to kill them. It might be useful for the police to track down the killer, but not exactly admissible evidence in a court of law (to say nothing of potential countersuits for siccing a mad zombie on someone without due process).
  • A short story in the anthology Blood Lite III: Aftertaste takes place post-Zombie Apocalypse. The zombies targeted lawyers and politicians first, and got all the laws changed to grant themselves rights. The protagonist is a ghost who uses this precedent to assert possession rights on his former home and evict the current tenants, and uses that precedent to then possess his zombie lawyer and regain a body—zombies are easier to possess than living humans.
  • Two of Robert J. Sawyer's books feature this. In Mind Scan, there's a trial over whether or not a character who just uploaded her consciousness into an android body can still be considered the same person, or legally dead, with her property going to her son. Illegal Alien involves a milder example, with an alien charged in the murder of a human.
  • Jill Kismet has werewolf and hunter units working as credentialed FBI Agents (as well as independently a la the title character) and mentions a few times that FEMA funds can be used for major supernatural incidents.
  • Given its universe is largely dominated by a Society of Immortal Transhumanist Space Elves who consider oaths and contracts to be the cornerstone of civilization, the Eldraeverse frequently examines how various matters of law might work out in a society where death as we know it is more of an inconvenience.
  • Sapient artificial intelligences in the early Aeon 14 books have a parallel legal system to deal with crimes committed by AI, set up by the same treaty that provides for their civil rights.
  • Through Violet Eyes by Stephen Woodworth revolves around "Violets" (named for their eye color), essentially mediums who can channel the spirits of the dead. The results are admissible in court, though it requires being hooked up to EKG and brainwave readers to prove they're really doing it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • "Dax" has the Klaestrons try to extradite Jadzia Dax to try her for a murder allegedly committed by the Dax symbiont's previous host Curzon. Ben Sisko argues extensively that Jadzia and Curzon are not the same personnote  and therefore Jadzia can't be tried in place of Curzon, though the entire proceeding is rendered moot by Odo proving Curzon had an alibi.
    • Sisko's plot in "The Storyteller" has him mediating a border dispute between two Bajoran tribes. An ancient treaty had set a river as their border, but then during the recently ended Occupation the Cardassians diverted the river twenty kilometers to the west. One tribe wants to use the river's old location as the border, the other wants to use the new one.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was once a hearing to determine whether or not Data, an almost-unique sapient android, was Starfleet property or a legal person. The Betazoid empaths also can be used to tell whether witnesses are lying or not, although this does result in false positives at times if the witness is holding back about something that isn't related to the matter they're being questioned on.
  • On Star Trek: Voyager, the Doctor, a sapient hologram, sent in a holo-novel he wrote for publication; however, the publisher then decided to publish an early draft without his permission, on the grounds that he had no legal rights to stop it. A trial ensued, and the Doctor won the legal definition of "author," though the judge stopped short of giving him full legal personhood (interestingly, Captain Janeway's testimony of the Doctor having disobeyed orders in the past was used as evidence that he did, in fact, have free will).
  • In Jessica Jones, one of Jessica's major hurdles is that it's nigh-impossible to force a psychopath with a Compelling Voice like Kilgrave to stand trial, especially when most people don't believe that his powers are real.
  • Given that Grimm combines a fantasy show with a police procedural, this happens every once in a while. For example, one episode has a trio of supernatural creatures (or Wesen as the show calls them) rob a series of banks while in Game Face. It's implied that they can't be indicted since it can't be proven it was them and their "masks" can't be found. A Vigilante Execution renders those issues moot.
  • The series Century City was completely structured around the legal struggles of various people 20 Minutes into the Future, anything from the legality of cloning a child (the original was long dead, and it was well-accepted that it would only biologically be the same) to a baseball pitcher that got a cybernetic eye to replace one lost in an accident being kicked out of his team (because of the belief that the eye was an unfair advantage) and in an unproduced episode a scientist taking Cure Your Gays to the most literal extreme (having created a procedure that could be applied to unborn children that would reduce the possibilities of them becoming gay when they aged, and essentially dooming all minority sexualities to extinction if it became widespread).
  • Babylon 5:
    • One of the established rules of Earth Alliance law is that evidence obtained via telepathy is not admissible in legal proceedings.
    • One of the show's funny moments is a glimpse of the station's courtroom that is completely unrelated to the episode's plot, where a human is suing a Vree (one of the show's alien species, which visually resemble The Greys and In-Universe are the reason this Ufology belief exists) for reparations because the Vree's ancestor abducted his ancestor (the Vree's defense essentially is that all Vree look alike, while the man boasts of having apparently bullet-proof evidence that identifies said Vree's ancestor as the one who did the abduction). The judge's response is essentially to roll his eyes and allow them (and their lawyers) to bicker and wait for everybody to cool down before he can rule on the matter.
    • In "The Geometry of Shadows", the Drazi select a new government by drawing scarves colored green and purple from a barrel, then dividing themselves up by color and beating the crap out of each other. After the Green Drazi on the station start killing Purple Drazi, Ivanova grabs the Green leader's scarf while arguing with him, and is informed that she is now the Green leader.
      Ivanova: Wait a minute. You're saying just because I'm holding this right now, I'm Green leader? But I'm human.
      Former Green Leader: (rather sheepishly) Rules of combat older than contact with other races. Did not mention aliens. Rules change... caught up in committee. Not come through yet.
      Ivanova: Yeah, bureaucracy, tell me about it. Well, what do you know? All right. (puts on the scarf) Greens follow Green leader? Green leader says: you're all coming with us down to the Quartermaster's office. I'm sure there'll be some dye hanging around. Those of you not in the brig for assaulting an Earth Alliance officer are gonna look absolutely gorgeous in purple.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Eberron sourcebook Sharn: City of Towers has a Law and Order chapter which specifies among other things that the use of various forms of mind control magic is considered a form of fraud, witness stands are commonly placed upon diases enchanted to make it harder for a witness to knowingly lie (and witnesses are required to relieve themselves of any items that may help them resist such magic before taking the stand), and Bestow Curse is among the range of punishments in use against repeat offenders.

    Video Games 
  • A Courtroom Episode in Knights of the Old Republic has the Player Character acting as attorney to a man accused of murder. One option is to use the Force Persuade power to force witnesses to commit perjury for you, which is considered a Dark Side action.
  • A defense option in your murder trial in Neverwinter Nights 2 is to use a boy with True Sight to cast doubt on eyewitness testimony that you led the massacre of a village (it was really Luskan soldiers under a magical illusion, which he saw through). Your opponent, Luskan ambassador Torio Claven, tries to counter by disputing the boy's ability, but he proves it by telling her about the medallion she has in her pocket.

    Web Original 
  • This is basically the concept of the blog Law and the Multiverse, which is written by a professional lawyer who speculates on how would the plots of superhero comic books work within the framework of American law.
  • The Superhero Law blog deals with this as well.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Krillin tries to scam his insurance company by collecting a life insurance policy after he died and was wished back to life with the Dragonballs. It doesn't end well.
  • In The Jenkinsverse humans were considered non-sentient indigenous fauna by the Dominion before the Kevin Jenkins incident. Furthermore, the Dominion's bureaucracy considered it impossible for sentient life to evolve on a Deathworld like Earth, thus even individual abductees couldn't be considered sentient. However, one Xiú Chang got around this rule because she was adopted by the Gaoian clan of Females, and thus legally a Gaoian. After the incident on the Outlook to Forever station got enough public attention, the "no deathworld sentients" rule was scrapped and the requirements for sentience were lowered from having invented Faster-Than-Light Travel to calculus, giving humans the same legal rights and protections everyone else enjoyed.
    • Additionally, a Corti swore on a printout of the universal physical constants in court because non-deathworlder aliens are all atheists. note 

    Real Life 
  • As noted by Forbes here, the emergence of practical self-driving cars poses some interesting legal conundrums, such as who would be liable for damages if the driverless vehicle was judged to be at-fault in a wreck. Should it be a rider in the vehicle? The owner? The car manufacturer? So far, though, Google's tests of driverless cars showed them obeying traffic laws to the letter and only getting into accidents because a human driver screwed up. In one case where a driverless car actually was pulled over (for driving too slowly and holding up traffic), Google was held responsible, as it was one of theirs out on a test run.
  • The Internet created (and to a large extent, still does) all sorts of legal weirdness in the 90s and 2000s. The first "internet crime" was actually committed in the 80s, when a man on the east coast sent a man on the west coast an e-mail asking if the latter if he could send the former his toothbrush, which was left there when he was attending a conference. Back then, using the internet for personal use was not allowed. Now, most legal weirdness tends to surround privacy.
  • There are lots of border disputes that can involve rivers that have changed course and the like, islands claimed by multiple nations, pieces of countries within in other countries within other countries (see Pakistan and India for example) but one especially odd example is Bir Tawil, a piece of land that ends up claimed by no one.

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