Why you should care
Because the questionably supernatural is often legally questionable as well.
In the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle gets hauled before a judge to determine whether he is insane or, in fact, the real Santa Claus. Putting the benighted benefactor of millions of children across the world on trial in a common city courtroom makes for a powerful scene. And it got me thinking: Whether Santa is a fraud or not is really the least of his legal problems, and perhaps even a red-suited herring that’s been distracting us for years from the true extent of St. Nick’s transgressions.
Have you ever wondered how many crimes and other offenses Santa would be guilty of if he were indeed everything he’s cracked up to be? Let’s build the prosecution’s actual case against Kris Kringle. We’ll make an indictment and check it twice and see if we can find out whether Santa is naughty or nice.
Santa makes the NSA look like a bunch of ham radio enthusiasts.
Home Invasion: Trespass and Burglary
Let’s start with the most obvious: Santa is the Al Capone of home invasion and could get hammered on multiple counts of criminal trespass and burglary. Santa may not be your typical thief — arguably the opposite of one — but the crime of burglary is more about preserving the sanctity of a person’s home than protecting against theft, and nearly a third of all burglaries occur while someone is in the home. To be found guilty of burglary, Santa only needs to be shown to have had the intent to commit a crime inside the building, and the intent to swipe a little liquor and a snack while inside could be sufficient.
But doesn’t Santa have our consent to enter the premises? Well, if I were him, I would not be comfortable holding up the gift wish list of a property owner’s child in court as proof of the owner’s implicit consent to enter the premises unannounced at night. And of the millions of chimneys he slides down on Christmas Eve, I would guess a fair number haven’t even provided any such documentary evidence of consent.
Unlawful Surveillance and Privacy Violations
Long before his annual Christmas Eve crime spree, Santa is engaged in a global surveillance enterprise that makes the NSA look like a bunch of ham radio enthusiasts. Sure, Santa receives a great deal of the intelligence for his massive “naughty-or-nice” list from disgruntled parents, but knowing when each of the estimated 526 million Christian children under the age of 14 are sleeping — and when they are awake — requires a remarkably intrusive spying operation, for goodness’ sake. We may only be able to guess at the sophisticated technology necessary to pull off such intelligence gathering, but it is not difficult to imagine it running afoul of most privacy laws.
Labor and Employment Law Offenses
Santa also is the CEO/Dear Leader of some sort of fascist Arctic labor colony. There is no evidence to suggest that the elves who man the North Pole’s toy factory receive a salary or compensation, other than room and board, which makes them closer to serfs toiling on the land of their lord’s estate than paid employees or even independent contractors. It is also hard to believe that Santa provides anything in the way of elf pensions or disability benefits or that he has sufficient procedures in place to ensure workplace safety. Fortunately for St. Nick, he runs his feudal factory operation in international waters, and while the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 does set some minimum protections for maritime workers, compliance with such measures is only sporadically enforced against exploitative, seafaring bosses like Mr. Kringle.
Miscellaneous Crimes and Misdemeanors
But we’re just getting warmed up. Santa’s potential rap sheet and civil liability goes on, including:
Animal Cruelty: Forcing eight or nine captive reindeer to engage in a jaw-dropping feat of globe-trotting labor seems callous and inhumane and would constitute deliberate, premeditated cruelty to an animal.
Driving Under the Influence: Even with a superhuman tolerance, imbibing tens of millions of units of alcohol in less than 24 hours is going to result in some seriously impaired sleigh driving.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Naughty children may deserve those lumps of coal in their stockings, but that’s not a sufficient defense for the resulting emotional distress.
Aggravated Assault: How else to characterize the nonconsensual hugging of millions of minors on Santa’s lap every year at the mall?
Alienation of Affection: In several U.S. states, if someone sees mommy kissing Santa Claus, then daddy can sue that third party for disrupting his marriage.
Airspace and Customs Violations: Flaunting sovereign air spaces and carrying contraband items across international borders has legal consequences.
Antitrust Violations: There can be no question that Santa has a monopoly over the Christmas gift market, and giving away commercial items for free undoubtedly reduces competition and hurts competitors.
Tax Evasion: There are no records of Santa having paid taxes to any tax authority, and while the enormous losses he accrues from gifting the estimated $142 trillion in toys he manufactures may negate any income tax liability, he could owe a number of other tariffs and taxes for his activities, including payroll taxes for his elves if a court were to deem them employees.
In short, jolly St. Nick would need a jolly good lawyer, assuming we could detain him and bring him to justice in the first place. What other charges would you like to see levied against the man in red? Add your comments below.