The Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer that dropped earlier this week confirmed what the mid-credits scene of Far From Home teased—our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is a murder suspect. Mysterio’s doctored video that makes it look like Peter used Stark drones to kill him in cold blood is no doubt the government’s favorite smoking gun. Not to worry, though, even if young Parker gets put on trial, he won’t be found guilty—but not for the reason that you think.
First of all, let’s just assume no one was able to prove that Mysterio’s video was fake or altered. If they had, I assume we wouldn’t see Peter and friends being interrogated by the police in the Now Way Home trailer. It would also be too easy and null the plot point Mysterio created in the first place. We should also ignore the fact that if the alleged crime happened in London, British law enforcement would be in charge, not New Yorkers. At the end of the day, what lets Peter walk free is probably even simpler than these two easy outs.
But first it’s worth noting that any self-defense theory will almost certainly not work here. The common assumption is that Spider-Man — or any superhero in general — couldn’t possibly be a “murderer” because if he happened to kill someone, it would be for a good or necessary reason, namely that the bad guy would kill him and/or others. In terms of self-defense, in New York, state criminal law provides that any person who is being attacked or otherwise threatened has a “duty to retreat” before they use lethal force. So, if someone has the ability to literally run away from their attacker, they cannot claim they acted in self-defense. Mysterio’s video clearly shows what looks like a wounded Mysterio and a Spider-Man not in any immediate danger. Even if Mysterio looked at all dangerous, no one could argue that Peter couldn’t have just run the other direction rather than commanding his drones to “execute them all.” So that won’t work.
The real key for Mat Mur—sorry—Parker’s unknown lawyer lies in the legal rules of evidence. Considering that the Mysterio video is presumably the strongest piece of evidence the prosecutors have, keeping the video from being used at the trial would likely be certain victory for Peter. Specifically, if the video is found to be inadmissible evidence, it means that the jury wouldn’t be able to see it, know anything about it, or consider it at all in deciding whether or not Peter is guilty of murder.
A major buzzword in legal dramas is “hearsay.” In very simple terms, something is hearsay if it is said outside of the courtroom. So, if Ned got on the witness stand and testified that “Peter told me he didn’t do it,” Peter’s statement there would be hearsay and wouldn’t be evidence the jury could consider. But, for the video, if Peter’s lawyer stood up while it played and said, “Objection, your Honor—hearsay!”, would that be it? Unfortunately, no, but it’s interesting why not. Among the several exceptions to the hearsay rule, there is a specific rule that allows in statements made by someone who was dying when they said them. So, Mysterio wins again.
Finally, to the best strategy and maybe the least interesting one: whoever Peter’s lawyer is should take advantage of one of the most practical and overlooked rules of evidence. To get the video into evidence, the government is required to “lay a foundation” for it. In other words, they have to prove that it is what it claims to be in a legal way. Even if they are completely convinced that the video is real and accurate, Parker’s lawyer wins this very tedious and technical legal chess match. Simply put, the government would be required to put a witness on the stand that could say, “Yes, this video is authentic—I know because I was there,” or “I know because I filmed it.” Since the only two involved in the video were Peter and Mysterio, and Mysterio is gone, Spidey’s prosecutors would come up ever so short in using the video against him.
The moral of the story is that no matter how amazing or super someone or something is, soulless, unimaginative, and mundane laws still apply and can still make a difference. The Sokovia Accords certainly introduced us to the potential legal implications of superheroes in the MCU, but they seemed to have gone their own way since Captain America: Civil War. Perhaps in No Way Home and beyond we will explore more extensively how superheroes might be held accountable. With great power comes the need for great lawyers.