EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow White & The Real Huntsman: U.S. v. Dade & How Modern Depictions Of Snow White Might Change The Way Courts Use Her Name

With today's release of Rupert Sanders' directorial debut, "Snow White and the Hunstman," there have now been three pieces of pop culture in the last few months tweaking the classic fairy tale of "Snow White," with the other two being Tarsem Singh's cheeky "Mirror Mirror" and the ABC TV show "Once Upon a Time." Critics have contended that the version of Snow White played by Lily Collins in "Mirror Mirror" is a "feminist reincarnation," "both innocent and powerful, able to fight her own battles and make decisions independently." Kristen Stewart's Snow White in "Snow White and the Hunstman," has been described "as a warrior princess who saves a ravaged kingdom from an evil Queen..., after being trained by a huntsman...instructed to kill her." And Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White in "Once Upon a Time," transported to present day, ends up engaging in an affair with a married Prince Charming. In other words, in each of these three modern retellings, the story's the same: This isn't your grandmother's Snow White. So the question becomes: As we drag Snow White into the 21st Century (literally, in the case of "Once Upon a Time"), do we change the way that we use her name as she is transformed from the essence of purity and innocence to something a good deal more complicated (and realistic)? And what effect will this have on litigation? Specifically, could we see a case like last year's United States v. Dade, 2011 WL 6301123 (D.Idaho 2011), in the next decade or so?

American case law is certainly replete with references to Snow White. Just last year, in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n, 131 S.Ct. 2729 (U.S. 2011), the Supreme Court found that a California law prohibiting the sale or rental of "violent video games" to minors and requiring their packaging to be labeled "18" violated the First Amendment. According to Justice Scalia,

California's argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children's access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers "till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy."

And then there's Oden v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 1997 WL 842407 (N.D.Ala. 1997), in which Peggy Oden brought an age and sex discrimination action against Norfolk Southern, claiming misbehavior by superintendent Timothy Heilig. According to the court,

although Oden claim[ed] that Heilig said "mirror, mirror, on the wall" to compare Oden to the "ugly old witch" in Snow White, this court's review of the applicable fairy tale literature indicates that the character who states "mirror, mirror, on the wall." Snow White's stepmother, is neither old nor ugly, but merely evil. See white ("Though [Snow White's] stepmother was a wicked woman, she too was very beautiful, and the magic mirror told her this every day, whenever she asked it") (emphasis added). Even if Heilig may have intended such a comparison, the court cannot reasonably conclude that Title VII was intended to protect employees from comparison with villain.

But most cases that reference Snow White make the reference to emphasize the innocence and purity associated with the character. In last year's United States v. Lopez, 649 F.3d 1222 (11th Cir. 2011), the Eleventh Circuit found that the defendant

could be as innocent of the murders as Snow White and there still be probable cause to believe that the house he shared with several others contained evidence of those crimes.

Several cases, including In re Kimmell, 367 B.R. 174 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Cal.,2007), have found that "the Devil himself could effectively receive a discharge in bankruptcy if he were married to Snow White." In disparaging a defense witness's accounting of the events leading to the defendant being charged with murder, the prosecutor in People v. Ramos, 920 N.E.2d 504 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 2009), told the jury, "And they want you to believe that, what is this, Snow White and Doc meet the drug dealers? This is preposterous." 

In analyzing Idaho Code § 32-705, which allows for the grant of a maintenance order for "the innocent spouse" under certain conditions, the Court of Appeals of Idaho in Marmon v. Marmon, 825 P.2d 1136 (Idaho App 1992), found that the term innocent spouse "does not require the fictional character and purity of Snow White." And, in In re M.M., 2008 WL 4140787 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2008), which involved a custody dispute, a psychiatrist found that

M.M.'s characterizations of father were "so extreme in terms of her criticisms of him and her assertions of his physical disciplining of her that her reports were not credible." This was "reflective of a 'Hitler and Snow White' mentality which reflects her mother's negative view of [father] rather than [M.M.'s] own view of him."

This last case underscores the point that we traditionally have defined Snow White by way of contrast. She is the gentle to the Queen's wicked, the pure to the Queen's tainted, the passive to the Queen's aggressive, the good to the Queen's (or Hitler's) evil. But again, in her three current incarnations, Snow White isn't lily white: She's complicated, she's troubled, she's real.

And what that means is that we might not see litigants and courts talking in the terms used in Dade in the near future. In Dade, John Dade was convicted of making threatening interstate communications, interstate stalking, interstate domestic violence, use of a firearm in relation to a violent crime, and interstate domestic violence. These convictions came in large part from the victim confiding in Bishop Huntsman (no lie) about the alleged crimes committed against her by Dade. After he was convicted, Dade filed a § 2255 motion, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel.

In pursuing that motion, Dade, inter alia,

incessantly vilified the victim's character utilizing the most derogatory terms, claimed that several people would testify regarding her immoral character, and accused her of perjury for leading the jury to believe that she was "snow white" and a member in good standing in her church. He believes that if the jury knew the "truth" about her character and that she had been "disfellowshipped" from her church, they would have not believed her testimony

But according to the court,

Contrary to Dade's assertions, the victim did not portray herself as "snow white." Rather, she testified that although she grew up in a Christian home, she started "doing things [she] shouldn't do," pulled away from her church, started drinking, started dating people she shouldn't have dated, married someone she "wasn't real proud of," and started dating Dade while she was still in that relationship....She testified that in 1998, she wanted to get back into her church, change her life, and repent to her bishop....She testified that she ultimately did start attending church again and that, on occasion, Dade accompanied here.

Of course, that's neither here nor there because Dade's point in making this argument was that his trial attorney was ineffective in failing to present evidence at trial of the victim having intimate relationships with other men while they were together, with the court finding such evidence inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 412. According to the court,

As much as Dade has would like to make this case about the victim, it is about his conduct and not hers. Her relationships with other men—whether intimate or not—and her standing with her church were not the relevant issues. The relevant issue was whether Dade engaged in the conduct alleged in the Second Superseding Indictment. To have allowed inquiry into the victim's sexual behavior would have been prejudicial to her and of little value to Dade given the overwhelming evidence against him.

Dade was thus an interesting case and one that we might very well not see in the future in a world in which Snow White is no longer synonymous with a romanticized notion of innocence and purity.



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