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Gauntlet

Heroes and the Law

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I am running a campaign where the characters are members of the CPLED (California Paranormal Law Enforcement Division) and just wanted to create a discussion as to how would a superpowered police officer have to act towards villains. What can be used as evidence and such.

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I would expect "no different from any other officer." 

 

I mean, your guy might be a super-strong brick, but there are still brutalitity and excessive force charges to be concerned about, and just because you can knock a door down doesn't mean you don't need a warrant. 

 

Your guy might be a mind-reader, but you've still got to get a warrant prior to searching, and you might not be able to get one for mental probes because "how are you going to present that to the jury and the defense in court?". You could tell them what you saw, but how do you prove that is what you saw, and that you saw _only_ X? 

 

The very nature of the HERO System shows us there is no difference between an energy blast and a gun or a taser, so you would have to periodically qualify to be able to use it, and departmental regs would likely limit you to a specific range of firearm calibers, etc, so likely your Kinetic Boom Fist is a no-go. 

 

Super running or swimming is probably okay-- most movement is probably okay, really, assuming it doesn't have unfortunate side-effects that might cause collateral damage or noise ordinance issues. 

 

At the end of the day, I'd have to say you'd be expected to act and conduct yourself just like any other officer or detective or whatever your job is. 

 

However, we _are_ discussing fiction, so go nuts with it: full-on AD Police if you want.  No reason not to, if you can justify it within the campaign. 

 

Have fun! 

 

 

Duke

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38 minutes ago, Gauntlet said:

I am running a campaign where the characters are members of the CPLED (California Paranormal Law Enforcement Division) and just wanted to create a discussion as to how would a superpowered police officer have to act towards villains. What can be used as evidence and such.

Depends on your world. In the Champions Universe, they have the Three Telepath System for information and evidence gathered by Telepathy and other means. All three telepaths have to agree upon the evidence before it can be summited as evidence.

 

Super-police can use lethal force, but like when a police officer uses a gun to kill someone, they have to make sure that the kill is 'good' (i.e. there is no other way to apprehend the subject).

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27 minutes ago, steriaca said:

Depends on your world. In the Champions Universe, they have the Three Telepath System for information and evidence gathered by Telepathy and other means. All three telepaths have to agree upon the evidence before it can be summited as evidence.

 

Super-police can use lethal force, but like when a police officer uses a gun to kill someone, they have to make sure that the kill is 'good' (i.e. there is no other way to apprehend the subject).

 

Telepath is definitely one that could be a problem for law enforcement heroes. My thinking is that it probably would be like using a lie detector, they would have to have the villain's written consent to use something like telepathy to be able to use it in court.

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Actually, the three-telepath requirement is from the GURPS Supers setting. The Champions Universe has a "mentaphone," a device which records the thoughts which a telepath reads during an investigation. In states in the United States which admit telepathic evidence (many don't), mentaphones are required for mental scans, and only telepaths sanctioned by the American government may conduct them.

 

The first thirty pages of the Stronghold source book for Fifth Edition Champions deal in detail with real-world legal issues and procedures, and how the presence of superhumans on Champions Earth has affected the law. Stronghold was written by a lawyer, and his background shows in the depth and coherence of this presentation. That could form a solid basis from which to extrapolate how you want the legal system to deal with supers in your own setting. The rest of the book is pretty cool, too. ;)


 

 

 

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    I was part of a campaign where the characters were part of the State Police.  Our responsibilities were more like that of a S.W.A.T. team than a standard Detective squad.
  We had an A.D.A. assigned to us to make sure we stayed inside the law as far as search warrants and not hanging suspects out of windows for information and such......wimps.

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Gauntlet, thanks for starting the topic!

 

In my campaign, the heroes have settled on starting a company - the analogy is this:

 

As Blackwater (ex-military hiring out as combat contractors) is to the U.S. Army, (and I know Blackwater renamed themselves after debacles in Iraq) H.E.R.O. is to the local police, at first, with plans to expand, franchise, and go regional and then national.

 

The Mega-rich no-secret-id Brick acted as frontman to the precinct commander for the sales presentation, had lawyers draw things up before, during , and after.

 

He wants to take deputization in order to gain local police powers, while at least half the team remain pure civilian contractors with no more power than citizen's arrest until the Brick or another deputized team member can do the arresting act. (Half the team have good reason to not reveal their secret IDs to the police/public, even with ID protection equivalent to SWAT officers)

 

They want to be an extension to SWAT rather than beat cops, basically, to start.

 

I am looking forward to seeing whether the non-deputized members can avoid losing self-defense/defense-of-another legal protection if/when there are civilian casualties during a super-battle!

 

Lord Liaden, thanks for the reminder on Stronghold - it goes on the wishlist!

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These sorts of things would vary by state, and of course they'd be different based upon the history of your world.  Judges are people too, and if Doctor Psycho just blew up a football stadium six months ago, and if Sergeant Telepath NYPD comes in with a request for a warrant based upon some things he ripped out of a henchman's mind, that judge is going to sign off on it.

 

If your supercrime is more Silver Age in nature (i.e., very few casualties), then the courts are more likely to have strict standards for law enforcement behavior.  But if it leans more towards super-terrorism, then I'd say almost anything goes.  There's also going to be a constant back and forth between prosecutors and defense attorneys, trying to shape the law to best fit their side.  And courts will come down on different sides based upon what state they're in (liberal hippy California vs gun-toting Texas, for instance).  In the real world, courts tend to lean towards protecting the rights of defendants during periods when crime is low, and then shift more towards allowing questionable police conduct when crime is high.  This is a decade-by-decade shift, not something likely to change over the course of the campaign.

 

Prosecutors will also have seminars where they instruct police (and supers) in the correct procedures.  There will be some "wink wink" conversations about what not to say in their reports, and the proper way to "fix" a mistake.  Eventually, word gets around and officers will know enough that only the rookies will have their arrests thrown out.  For instance, let's look at telepathy.  If you describe telepathy as an invasive "reading of the mind", where you're peering into someone's brain and sifting through their thoughts and memories, then courts will probably see telepathy without a warrant as an unlawful search.  They might even see it as a 5th Amendment violation, effectively forcing someone to provide evidence against themselves.  However, what if your telepathy is merely observatory?  You are walking down the street, and suddenly you are struck by these images of Bob committing a horrible crime.  You realize that Bob is planning that crime right now, and he's so excited about it that he's broadcasting it out to everyone in range.  Mentally, he's shouting it out for everyone to hear.  In the law, there's a "plain view" exception to the requirement for a warrant.  If you walk by somebody's apartment, and they've got the front door open and they're sitting right there smoking crack, you don't have to get a warrant.  You can see the crack right there, search over.   What if your officer tells the very non-telepath judge that the bad guy's thoughts were just being broadcast to him, that effectively they were in "plain view"?

 

Suppose that Captain Super Eyes has a power where he can see blood stains and gunshot residue, even days after they've been washed clean.  His eyesight is just that damn good.  A murderer walking down the street may look normal to you or me, but the good Captain can see traces of blood, can see the signs of a struggle, sees little bits of skin under the bad guy's fingernails, etc.  Will Captain Super Eyes need a warrant just to look at people?  Of course not.  The court will allow his testimony as far as what he could perceive with his natural senses when he happened to look at the defendant.  The fact that most people wouldn't notice these things doesn't mean that the Captain was conducting an illegal search.  All the evidence was in plain view for him.  Well, what happens when a creative cop testifies that way about telepathy?  "Judge, I can't read minds.  All I can do is pick up powerful thoughts that are being screamed out into the air?  These thoughts are in 'plain view' for anyone with this sixth sense."  At some point, a judge will buy that explanation.  And then it won't take long before every cop telepath will describe his powers working the same way.

 

Even if the judges don't buy that explanation, what's to stop a cop from lying about it?  Read Bob's mind, find the evidence you need, pretend you didn't, and then make an anonymous phone call to yourself.  "There's something strange in the shed at 228 Johnson Ave.  I heard screaming coming from there, you should hurry!"  Having PCs act as cops is going to change the genre somewhat.  It will go from superhero game to police procedural, depending on how much of it you include.

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The Wearing the Cape book series does a good job of examining the ramifications of widespread super powers and the law. It gets pretty thorough and uses the challenges of super law-enforcement as a major plot point in all the books.

 

Basically supers are organized at the state level as first responders and SWAT teams. Heros are regulated and certified but those who are are allowed to keep Secret ID's known only in a top secret federal database. Civilians with powers are not required to register but are not allowed to fight crime though they can use their powers in everyday life with minor restrictions.

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It's your campaign and you get to decide what happens. Go with the flow; unless you really want to go into details of court procedures and court trials, I wouldn't worry much about it. I've got a couple characters who are police officers for jobs and this is maybe come up, what, once in 30+ years of the campaign.  I'd go with what Duke and steriaca said. For the campaign I'm in, we don't sweat things like this.

 

 

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I remember someone starting a SLED game (Super Law Enforcement Division) game using a homebrew called Omnibus. I wasn't invited to join/test it, but hey.

 

Also reminds me of a thread here, CSI Millennium City. That would of made an intresting campaign.

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As noted above, involve the law so that it suits your play style, as intrusive or lenient as you want.  But note that you can use the law to steer players away from scenarios you would like to avoid - e.g. maybe supers can be fined for property damage that occurs during fights which will make your heroes more careful during battles which might handicap them against villains who don't care.  This also allows for good role-playing conflicts between supers who follow the law to the letter vs. those who want to stop the villains even if it means bending/breaking a few laws along the way.

 

One note on Telepathy, if you don't want your team telepath solving mysteries too easily, having strict laws against mind reading can help keep their powers in check.  Same for super-senses and other powers that can short-circuit some otherwise complicated plots.

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