What's the difference between a superhero and a vigilante? There really isn't one. Vigilantes are often seen as menaces who feel they are above the law when the systems fails to accomplish what they have set out to do. Superheroes tend to be embraced by the public, and sometimes even the authorities in being the saviors or protectors of mankind. Neither fully have the authority to do what they do to fight evil.
Superheroes have taken it upon themselves to dedicate themselves to their profession. Just because they have the power and the willingness to fight supervillains and put their lives at risk, does that exempt them from the laws already in place? Superheroes break a number of laws while pursuing criminals. Should they be held accountable or can these infractions be overlooked?== TEASER ==
It's easy to say that because superheroes sacrifice so much and save so many lives, the minor laws they may bend or break are insignificant. The important thing to consider is no one should be above the law. The laws that exist have been made and passed for a reason.
Superheroes do have abilities and the willingness to go above and beyond but as citizens of the city, state or country they operate in, that doesn't mean they can do whatever they want. If it was truly believed heroes have the right to take matters into their own hands, wouldn't a superhero exemption clause be officially passed?
In order to capture the evil masterminds in the world, superheroes break numerous laws. Here are just a few of the big ones they constantly break (and it just happens that Batman is guilty of breaking most of these).
Breaking and Entering
Sometimes capturing a supervillain means tracking them down. Information needs to be obtained. Superheroes won't visit their local library or city hall to try to find public records on individuals. What they tend to do is break into the offices or residents of the suspected criminal in order to find out where the person is or what illegal activities they might be part of. All of this is done without a warrant or court order. They break in when no one is around and rifle through the files as they please.
Hopefully when the hero does break into someone's office or home, part of their skills include gaining access without destroying personal property. Some heroes have smashed their way in to gain the information. This would lead to further laws being broken.
Miranda Rights and Coercion
Once a superhero corners a bad guy, they often need more information on the criminal's boss. Many evil geniuses use henchmen who tend to fall prey to the heroes' crusade. The heroes will do what they can to force the individual to tell them what they want to know. There isn't the option for a lawyer to be present. The hero will threaten violence or dangle them in a precarious manner in order to frighten them to talk.
In this situation, the criminal or henchman seems to have no personal rights. The hero sees it as because they have aligned themselves with a criminal mastermind, all their rights have been relinquished. Of course any information gathered would be inadmissible in court but that's the prosecutor's problem apparently.
What happens when a superhero confronts a villain? It's not a matter of placing them under arrest. It tends to always come down to physical violence. The hero has to usually beat the villain into submission in order to have them ready for the proper authorities to arrive and take them away. When lives are at risk or in the heat of the moment, the hero might have to act brashly. But it's a rare occurrence when the hero actually asks the villain to simply give themselves up. It might happen occasionally but heroes tend to barge in with fists raised. Whoever has the greater power or fighting skills in the victor.
How many traffic violations has Batman racked up with the Batmobile? How many traffic accidents has he caused or nearly caused? The modern Batmobile most likely has computer sensors that can detect and probably even predict traffic patterns. I could see the car taking control, swerving left or right, knowing where cars are likely to appear.
Realistically, car chases are never a good idea. There aren't many heroes that actually use vehicles to get around town. Even Batman doesn't use it all the time these days. The heroes that use motorcycles have more maneuverability but there is still the risk of causing accidents especially since they don't have police sirens.
Tampering With Evidence
Superheroes are often the first to arrive on the scene. Some heroes feel they can better analyze the evidence and could do so in a quicker manner. They're never sure if the entire police force could be trusted. Evidence sometimes has a way of 'disappearing' when it's needed to pin a crime on those responsible. The detective heroes may know better but they may not have all the information. One piece of evidence they remove could have a link to another case in the police's possession. The hero may be able to solve the crime quicker but by removing the evidence in order to do so, that evidence becomes inadmissible in court. Capturing the villain may prevent others getting harmed or killed but if they can't be convicted, they'll be free to cause more mischief afterwards.
This is a topic on its own and one that has been brought up before. Superheroes that use sidekicks run the risk of getting these children killed. We all know how things turned out for Jason Todd. He may have been brought back from the dead but it was a pretty brutal killing. Bucky was harmed. How many times did Rick Jones get into trouble? We recently found out that Spider-Man is going to try to teach responsibility to a new sidekick. But it doesn't seem too responsible thinking he can properly train a young hero and ensure they will not be put in harm's way.
Heroes are far from perfect. In order to protect the innocent and save the world, they have to break several laws. Some might say that makes them criminals as well instead of just vigilantes. They are needed since they can accomplish things the regular law enforcement agents can't and are unable to given the restrictions of society.
Tony Guerrero is the Editor-in-Chief of Comic Vine. You can follow him on Twitter @GManFromHeck. He now has "Breaking the Law" as sung by Beavis and Butthead stuck in his head.