Saturday, May 30, 2009

Up: Watch Out For Flying Canes

Up (2009)

Carl Fredricksen is old and living alone in the house he shared with his recently deceased wife, Elie. The neighborhood around the Fredricksen house has changed over the years, particularly since a development company purchased all of the surrounding land and started building around the Fredricksen lot. Mr. Fredricksen refuses to sell his house due to the significance it played in the life he shared with his departed wife.

One day Mr. Fredricksen sees a construction truck driving near the front of his house. The truck driver accidentally strikes the Fredricksen mailbox, knocking it slightly off its axis. Concerned that the driver will destroy the mailbox--it has sentimental value to Mr. Fredricksen, Mr. Fredricksen maneuvers over and struggles with the truck driver who is trying to set the mailbox back on its post. Threatened and confused, Mr. Fredricksen hits the truck driver over the head with his cane, grabs the mailbox, and scampers back inside his house. The truck driver falls to the ground and has a bleeding (but superficial) wound on his head, which is attended to after witnesses call for medical and law enforcement assistance.

Issue: Did Mr. Fredricksen commit a crime?

Law: A battery is an intentional, harmful, nonconsensual touching of another.

Analysis: Maybe. This is a clear case of battery: Mr. Fredricksen intentionally struck the truck driver with his cane. To make matters worse, the driver had an actual injury and there were many witnesses to this incident. But what about a defense?

Mr. Fredricksen could argue that he was acting to defend his property that he believed the truck driver was trying to steal or otherwise damage. A rightful property owner may use non-deadly force to repel someone trying to take his property if he reasonably believes such force is necessary to stop the dispossession, which must be imminent and unlawful. Because Mr. Fredricksen reasonably believed the truck driver was trying to take his property and he did not use deadly force, he may be able to convince a sympathetic finder of fact (i.e., a jury) to accept this defense. He would also have to show that he was under a reasonable, but mistaken, belief that the truck driver was trying to unlawfully take his mailbox. It's not an insurmountable hurdle for Mr. Fredricksen, but it's not clear that he was acting completely reasonable in the situation.

Barring a jury accepting this excuse, Mr. Fredricksen committed a textbook battery.

I suppose one strategy would be to get Mr. Fredricksen declared mental incapacitated, which might make any criminal case go away since the truck driver was not seriously injured. But in the film Up, it is unclear what happened in court. We saw Mr. Fredricksen respond to his court summons and then we saw that Mr. Fredricksen was forced to leave his house and move to the Shady Oaks retirement community. Based on the smiling faces on the cover of the community's brochure, I assume this was not a state-run facility, so I'm confused as to why or how a court would force someone out of his house and into a private retirement community. But Mr. Fredricksen avoided jail time, so I guess that's a good thing.

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