His status as an undocumented immigrant has been debated in the United States Congress, he has been the target of law student claims charging him with a multitude of crimes, he is known by a slew of aliases, and his very existence is a source of serious, probing inquiry by children around the world.
He goes by the names Saint Nicholas, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, and Pelznickel, among others, but most folks know him as Santa Claus. And he has been said to openly flout the law, committing such crimes as violating child labor laws, using and possessing non-domesticated animals, and possessing and distributing unregulated toys. Add to that intentional infliction of emotional distress, burglary, trespass and theft. Oh, and defrauding the IRS, along with international tax evasion, and “serious” international airspace violations. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), in speaking about past immigration bills introduced to Congress said, “… according to the Republicans, Santa Claus himself would be a criminal for trekking from the North Pole to deliver holiday gifts without a visa.”
What a list of hefty accusations leveled at the beloved annual do-gooder!
We asked a few big-city lawyers to address the supposed crimes of Christmas committed by Santa Claus in making his annual holiday rounds and the possible consequences for these offenses.
Janet P. Ford, Esq., an attorney from Brooklyn, says she would divide Santa Claus’ violations into civil and criminal crimes. She breaks it down this way:
Possible Civil Offenses:
- Trespass and nuisance, definitely, from landing on private property and rooftops, sliding down chimneys and littering houses with foreign objects.
- Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress for frightening and startling small children.
- Engaging in illegal surveillance to see who has been naughty or nice.
- Illegal possession of wild animals (particularly in NYC).
- Flying without a license.
- Violating airspace regulations, including flying with out proper radar and communications equipment.
- False imprisonment of elves by chaining them in the basement to work on constructing toys.
- Traffic violations, driving with out head or tail lights, forcing poor Rudolf to carry the burden in violation of animal rights laws (see below, under “Criminal”).
Ford says possible damages for these acts include compensatory monetary damages in connection with property damage and medical bills resulting from mental anguish, punitive damages to deter outrageous conduct that shocks the consciousness of a civilized society, fines for all the reindeer poop that Santa fails to pick up, and a permanent injunction from engaging in any future chimney-shimmying.
Possible Criminal Offenses:
- Animal abuse.
- Conduct alerting suspicion of terrorist activity, including the clandestine flying of a chariot pulled by animals and intrusion into private property to engage in suspicious activity.
- Mail fraud by instigating letters from unsuspecting targets requesting goods and services that don’t exist.
- Assault and Battery of the elves that are chained in the basement.
- General disorderly conduct.
Possible criminal penalties include a hundred hours of community service for an association dedicated to the betterment of the lives of little people, detention at Guantanamo with potential torture tactics doled out by Dick Cheney, himself; and monetary payments to the overburdened Postal Pension system.
For Santa’s defense, Joyce David, from the Brooklyn-based Law Office of Joyce David, says, “I would challenge any crimes allegedly committed in the North Pole on jurisdictional and venue grounds – anything to do with the use of children in the manufacturing of toys.”
David continues, “Once Santa got to U.S. airspace, then he would be violating certain no-fly zones and other aviation regulations, including safety regulations regarding the sled. Federal sentencing laws are often very fact specific and sentencing would take into account various mitigating factors.”
“In New York,” she said, “I would argue that there is no burglary because there’s no intent to commit a crime inside dwellings. I would also argue that any house decorated for Christmas creates an implied invitation for Santa to bring presents, so no trespass either.”
(This brought to mind this Curb Your Enthusiasm clip in which Larry David is told something similar by the cops on Halloween — that he was more or less asking for it when he opened his door to trick-or-treaters.)
We also know that in some cities in the U.S. it is illegal to feed the homeless, so it may be illegal to give them toys as well.
David also indicated that Santa might be violating certain animal cruelty laws in New York City once the NYC ban on horse-drawn carriages goes into effect, since it might apply to reindeer as well.
David said her best defense for any crimes Santa is alleged to have committed, however, would be that he doesn’t really exist — unlike the movie Miracle on 34th Street where the lawyer won his client’s case by proving Santa did exist, and that his client was Santa. To make her case, David will have to contend with the app Kringl, which proves the existence of Santa Clause. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
For more on the philosophical inquiry into the existence of Santa, see this NPR interview with Eric Kaplan, author of “Does Santa Exist?”