Holy Misdemeanor Batman!

bamKeeping the streets of Gotham devoid of criminals is undoubtedly hard work because for some reason, criminals (and especially arch-criminals) have always been drawn to this urban enclave. It may be due to the historically low rents for the many available abandoned factories that dot the city. These rental units seem to be the perfect place for foes such as the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin to set up shop and plan their next crimes alongside their hired henchmen. Or it may be that criminals are attracted to that location because the Gotham City Police Department always seems to be so woefully understaffed and less than competent. Whatever the reason though, there’s never a shortage of criminals, despite the fact that Batman is always just a Bat-signal away.

Is the Caped Crusader a Legitimate Police Authority?

Everyone likes to receive help now and then, especially Commissioner Gordon, who so often finds himself outsmarted and outnumbered by villains. So much so in fact, that he installed a Bat-phone in his office and a Bat-signal on the roof in order to reach Batman at all hours of the day (whether the purchase of these Bat-items is a permissible use of public funds remains a subject for another blog). But who is the Batman exactly? Is he a duly deputized member of the law enforcement community? Or is he just a really rich guy who has the desire, time, money and costume to run around fighting wrong-doers. All indications point to the latter, which would suggest that he is a vigilante and not a police officer vested with legitimate police authority.

So, is the Dark Night Performing a “Citizen’s Arrest”?

Vigilante justice is generally frowned upon in virtually every major American city including Chicago, while Gotham seems to be much more tolerant when dealing with regular citizens who fight crime. Although Gotham City laws and ordinances are not easily available for our review, we can however examine Illinois laws that relate to this subject to provide a general idea of what a “citizen’s arrest” means.

725 ILCS 5/107-3 is the law that governs Chicago and the rest of Illinois in relation to arrests that are effectuated by private persons. This law allows just regular citizens to arrest another person when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime (other than an ordinance violation) is being committed. Note that the law only allows such an arrest if the crime is in the process of being committed. Police are allowed to serve arrest warrants and take defendants into custody for crimes that may have occurred years ago. Citizens are not.

Also, if it’s later determined that a citizen made an arrest improperly and without probably cause, they may find themselves sued for money damages or possibly arrested for committing a crime, so performing a citizen’s arrest is not without risk. A Chicago Police Officer on the other hand is largely protected under these circumstances and would likely suffer no repercussions at all unless his/her actions were particularly egregious. The law excludes ordinance violations, which are low level offenses and might include traffic offenses like failing to reduce speed, petty shoplifting or other crimes that are punishable only by a fine. This may explain why Batman is never seen pulling over speeders in his Batmobile. Because it’s not likely an authorized act under the “citizen’s arrest” law.

Can Batman Use Force to Effectuate an Arrest?

Batman always seems to be punching criminals (Kapow!) or dropping heavy objects on them (Oooff!). But is that even ok? Assuming that the arrest involves a crime in progress, the law in Chicago and across Illinois indicates that it is, as long as the force that’s being used is what’s necessary to make the arrest. So, for instance, if an offender is caught exiting the Gotham Supermarket with a canned ham in his pants and offers no resistance to the caped crusader, it’s not ok to hit the offender in the head with a Batarang (Zwap!). On the other hand, a sharp blow to the stomach with a 2x4 (Biff!!) might be just what the doctor ordered if the pork thief tries to resist or attack the crimefighter.

Whether a citizen is arresting another or just involved in a confrontation with another person, the laws in Chicago and across the state allow a person to defend himself or herself. Although normally the touching of another person would constitute the crime of battery, if the evidence reveals that the touching was necessary to prevent harm to oneself, to another person, to one’s dwelling, or to one’s property, these protections would apply.

Deadly force however, is a completely different matter as it can never be used during a citizen’s arrest except when necessary to prevent great bodily harm or the death to another. The Chicago Police and other departments are (depending upon the circumstances) authorized under the law to use such force to prevent an escape, whereas a regular citizen (like Batman) is not.

Is it Legal to Wear a Mask?

There is nothing illegal about wearing a mask in public. Although up until the recent Covid Pandemic virtually no one ever did except for crime-fighters and arch-criminals, now almost everyone wears one (or should). So, wearing a mask is fine. But be aware that there are a great many crimes in Illinois that can be increased (also referred to as enhanced or upgraded) to a greater, more serious felony case if the offender is shown to have hidden his or her identity by the use of a mask. Kidnapping, illegal discharge of a firearm and battery are just some of these offenses. So, wear your mask. Just don’t commit a crime while doing so.

Contact an Experienced Legal Team

Since 1990, the Chicago criminal and traffic attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping people charged with misdemeanors, felonies, DUIs and other traffic offenses in the counties of Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane, Will and McHenry. Call Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (312) 644-0444 or contact us online for a free consultation today.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : January 13, 2023