WHEN DO POKEMON GO TO JAIL?

Pokémon are a lot like human pets. They have to be trained, they work with people to accomplish tasks, and they’re usually cute. So how does the legal system in Pokémon deal with a Pokémon that breaks the law? Can Pokémon even comprehend laws? If not, is it fair to do anything to them? This week I would like to explore what kind of legal system must exist in the Pokémon universe using some parts of the first generation of games and the anime series from the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. This just deals with when it seems like Pokémon are breaking the law. It doesn’t even start to look at when humans actively commit crimes.

The actions in the Pokémon game series takes place is a universe similar to ours on a planet aptly named Pokémon world. The first series of games take place in the Kanto region. Pokémon romp about in the tall grass and dark caves and deep waters. There they can be captured by Pokémon trainers and then trained into stronger Pokémon. When a person walks around or swims in areas where Pokémon roam they are likely to be attacked by a wild Pokémon. Wild Pokémon are all over. This is a fact of life in Kanto. In the video game you are taught that in the first half hour of the game.

Some tentacruel coming to town
Some tentacruel coming to town

Some Pokémon go out of their way to do things that seem like pretty serious crimes, crimes more nefarious than just attacking travelers. In one episode of the Pokémon television show an army of Tentacools and Tentacruels attack a city. Eventually the people convince the Pokémon to stop destroying the city, but not before a Tentacruel smacks a woman and sends her flying into the sky. That’s the extent of the criminal justice system in that episode, just send the Pokémon back to where they came from.  In the first Pokémon movie, titled Pokémon: The First Movie, Mewtwo kidnaps Nurse Joy and plans on overthrowing humanity with an army of cloned Pokémon. At one point he realizes he is wrong and just wipes everyone’s memory and leaves. There is no trial.

Why are Pokémon allowed to just do as they please? It makes sense for wild Pokémon to not be prosecuted for attacking people traveling in the wilderness. We don’t send bears to court after they attack people. Sometimes we shoot the bear that attacks people, and that seems to be a valid option over in Pokémon world. In both examples from the last paragraph the Pokémon trainers tried attacking the Pokémon engaged in a nefarious plot before there was a resolution. Sometimes we take animals that have been domesticated and put them in jail. That seems to happen sometimes in Pokémon world as well. In the final episode of the first season of the television show Jesse and James are put in jail along with their Pokémon Meowth. What it looks like to me is that the criminal justice system in Pokémon world is just understaffed and woefully unprepared for what it might have to encounter. There appears to be one or two police officers in each city. When a Pokémon commits a crime and the officer is there and the officer has the power to subdue the Pokémon and the jail is open and the officer can get them to that jail then it looks like the Pokémon will be locked up. If though, the Pokémon is too strong, or apparently, if the Pokémon changes its mind then it is just free to go wherever it pleases.

When it comes to Pokémon that already have a trainer we also have to deal with whether that trainer will have legal problems. When we deal with injury done to a person in America by a pet the fallback rule is given in the Second Restatement of Torts. It states that, “A possessor of a domestic animal that he knows or has reason to know has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class, is subject to liability for harm done by the animal to another, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent it from doing the harm.” Restatement of Torts, 2d at § 509. So if you know that your pet has the chance of being abnormally violent and that pet does harm to someone, you are liable for that harm, even if you did everything you could to prevent it from happening. Other jurisdictions in America have enacted their own rules that state that the owner of a dog is liable for any injuries caused by that dog, even if the owner does not know about any violent tendencies of that dog.

Some squirtle that spray graffiti and loiter
Some squirtle that spray graffiti and loiter

In Pokémon world there may be Pokémon that are more dangerous than average Pokémon of their species, and that would be an interesting investigation to look at. In the Pokémon television series Ash, the protagonist, constantly lets his Pikachu attack the ever present antagonists Jesse and James from Team Rocket. We never see any consequences for Ash’s actions. He just continues on his adventure. If the Restatement of Torts carries over to Pokémon world, or just Kanto, it is reasonable to believe that Ash’s Pikachu is not any more dangerous than any other Pikachu. All Pikachus, owned by any person have the risk of striking you with a lightning bolt. It’s like when you know you’re going to get a static shock by touching your car door, but one hundred times more violent. Or more simply, there is probably just a statute on the books that says Pokémon trainers are not liable for the damages their Pokémon cause to other human beings. If people are ok with traveling the world with the risk of being attacked by wild Pokémon they might also just be alright with the risk of being attacked by trained Pokémon.

So with a cursory overview of a few events in Pokémon world history it looks like it is a fairly lawless land. There is a legal system of some kind because there are jail cells and police officers. But, it looks like Pokémon are rarely put in jail. Humans can still be sent away for doing more traditional crimes, and Pokémon can be locked up if they are subdued, but the majority of the time the system just lets people fight out their differences and battle rampaging Pokémon.

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