The long-anticipated return of Willie Soke – Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal of a thief disguised as a department store Santa Claus – happens Thanksgiving weekend with the release of Bad Santa 2. The sequel to the holiday cult classic centers on Willie’s attempt to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

Willie isn’t the only Santa behaving badly, according to an analysis of criminal court cases on Thomson Reuters Westlaw, the leading legal research service. Crimes involving real-life bad Santas range from the bizarre to the shockingly heinous.

On the lighter side is a 2002 case in Ohio, involving a defendant charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for possessing a fake I.D. The case was dismissed when the judge held that possession and display of state non-driver’s identification card in the name of “Santa Claus” did not amount to possession of a fictitious identification card.

A 1972 prosecution for disorderly conduct in New York shows that Santa Claus cases are nothing new. The case involved a defendant dressed as a turkey, with another person dressed as Santa Claus, giving speeches and handing out literature – and impeding traffic. The defendant refused police orders to move on, and the court ruled his conduct was not protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech and free assembly, and he was found guilty.

At the other end of the spectrum, several bad Santa cases involve serious crimes, including sexual assault and murder. A 2006 bankruptcy proceeding in Missouri centered on a defendant convicted of first-degree sexual misconduct with a seven-year-old girl, while working at a mall as Santa Claus.

In a 1993 murder case in Arizona, the defendant convinced a four-year-old boy he was taking him to a mall to visit Santa Claus, but instead drove him out to the desert and killed him. The defendant was convicted of felony murder. A separate murder trial in Connecticut in 2006 included testimony about the defendant dressed in a Santa Claus costume to rob a bank. This case also ended with a murder conviction.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Santa-related cases also include accusations of copyright infringement and unfair competition. A 1959 case involving two candy companies’ suit and countersuit over the design of a  chocolate bar ended with a judgement for the defendant, noting the “idea of Santa Claus as part of the Christmas motif belongs to the public domain and cannot be withdrawn by a copyright.”

Hopefully this holiday season’s revival of Willie Soke will not inspire a new generation of bad Santas.

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