Defending a Defender: Daredevil, Charles Soule, and the Public Defender

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

This is a guest post written by Jesse Grove. Jesse is a public defender for the people of Massachusetts. He is a life-long comic fan, and he has dedicated that life to ensuring justice for all he serves.

daredevil-1

Daredevil #1 by Charles Soule, Ron Garney

Charles Soule is an attorney. He brings to the table a certain authenticity when writing comics that involve the law and the courtroom. After a fantastic run on She-Hulk, Soule was the obvious choice to pick up the Marvel Universe’s most famous (infamous?) attorney-by-day/vigilante-by-night, Daredevil. When issue one drops on December 2nd, I will be first in line to see what he can do. For now though, Soule has given us a hint about the bold new direction he has planned. Matt Murdock, long-time defense attorney and champion of citizens accused, is walking to the other side of the aisle and becoming an assistant district attorney for the city of New York.

I am also an attorney. Specifically a public defender. That is a defense attorney working exclusively for my state’s poorest criminal defendants. As such, hearing that Matt Murdock is about to become Assistant District Attorney Matt Murdock is kind of a bummer. Especially because Matt Murdock’s decision to become a defense attorney was based in his ideology and personal philosophy. It was never as simple as applying for a job and seeing where you end up.  He believed in the work he was doing.

Matt_Samnee

The first issue comes out in early December, and it could be great. Maybe there is something to this that Soule sees; he almost certainly has a plan. I am trying to keep an open mind. However, Soule made some comments in an interview for the AV Club awhile back that are not only cause for concern, but go all the way to being offensive to me and the work that I do as a public defender. Soule laid out a three-point plan for what being a prosecutor means for Matt Murdock. I’m going to take these points in turn.

First Point:

Throughout most of his history, Matt Murdock the lawyer has been a defense attorney, with his own practice. So, his clients have been bad guys, or wrongfully accused individuals. (emphasis in original).

It is great that this point comes first because it gets at a basic and fundamental problem with Daredevil and superheroes in general. Soule reduces Matt’s clientele to “bad guys, or wrongfully accused individuals.” This is not just Soule, the classic Daredevil arc involves him using his uncanny lie detection ability to establish his client’s innocence for himself, and then working tirelessly to establish that innocence in court. Ed Brubaker plays with this storyline a little with Matt Murdock’s defense of Melvin Potter, the Gladiator, but for a clear and straightforward example look no further than the defense of Karen Page in the very first episode of the Netflix TV show.

DD_&_Gladiator

Most of, if not all, of Matt Murdock’s clients are “wrongfully accused individuals.” The offense lies with writing off everyone not wrongfully accused as a “bad guy.” A person that breaks the law is not necessarily a “bad guy.” Super hero stories have a tendency to be reductionist in this way, so it’s not the most surprising thing to read, but it needs to be stated that there are a variety of circumstances – poverty, addiction, mental illness, and so much more – that lead people to commit crimes. Society has its hand in each and every offense, and writing them off as “bad guys” doing “bad things” is a way of distancing ourselves from the very real part we all play.

We see this in the way crimes are depicted by both “good” and “bad” guys in books like Scalped, where the main driver of criminal behavior is poverty rather than D&D alignment. Or even Saga which manages to humanize both the chased – Marko and Alana – and the chasers – Gwendolyn and Prince Robot IV – despite that none of those characters are actually human.

Second Point: 

Now, though, he is working as a prosecutor–an Assistant District Attorney, or ADA, to be specific. His job is to make a case against the bad guys the cops bring him and send them to jail. His only clients are the city and people of New York. (emphasis in original)

There is more “bad guy” talk here, and that continues to be problematic, but what follows provides more actual insight into what we can expect from Soule’s run. ADA Matt Murdock has the potential to do a lot of real good. With his power set and his strong moral compass, he could do a lot of real justice by dismissing trumped-up charges and providing good plea deals where appropriate. Soule indicates a very different path, reducing the job to taking “the bad guys the cops bring to him,” and sending those people to jail. Prosecutorial discretion, i.e. a prosecutor using their judgment rather than blindly following the police, is not a part of the three-point plan.

Charlie_Cox_as_Matt

Also, while the goal is accurate depictions of the law, people are generally sentenced to prison, not “jail.” This is a nitpick, but lawyers are all about the details, especially when it comes to taking away a person’s freedom.

Third Point:

This is important, because it means that for the first time, his actions as Daredevil and his lawyering gig are aligned, instead of pushing and pulling against each other. Everything he does is in pursuit and service of justice. He’s pretty psyched about it… (emphasis in original).

Now I am really offended. Soule is no longer being injudicious with his language, and has strayed into nearly calling me a four-letter words. The proposition is that with Matt becoming an ADA, “Everything he does is in pursuit and service of justice.” The inverse implication being that Matt Murdock’s prior day job was not in the service of justice. I have worked as a defense attorney for two years. Every day I go into work, I go in pursuit and service to justice. As citizens accused, my clients are entitled to every bit as much justice as their accusers.

Matt_&_Foggy_Maleev

I want to re-emphasize that I do want the story to be good, so I’m not just nitpicking for the fun of it. I, like any person with a deep understanding of a particular topic, am used to these kinds misconceptions regarding the criminal justice system by non-attorneys in the entertainment business, but Charles Soule brings the cred of an attorney-writer. Most actual assistant district attorneys would not make statements like this – at least not publicly. Charles Soule should know better. Let’s hope Matt Murdock does.

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