Earlier today, NBC News reported that Justin Roiland, the mind behind Rick and Morty, has been charged with felony domestic battery in relation to a 2020 incident with an unnamed woman.

The full charges, according to court documents, are “one felony count of domestic battery with corporal injury and one felony count of false imprisonment by menace, violence, fraud and/or deceit.”

This is a developing story, but here’s what we know about Roiland’s charges.

What are Roiland’s charges, and what do they mean?

The incident in question allegedly took place in January 2020, between Roiland and a then-girlfriend in Orange County, California. 

Roiland, however, wasn’t charged until May 2020, and he subsequently pled not guilty in October 2020 to felony domestic battery and felony false imprisonment. In the more than two years between his plea and NBC breaking the story earlier today, there have been a series of pre-trial hearings and motions, and no court date has been set, but we do know that someone filed for and was granted a protective order against Roiland in October 2020, and that he was present at a pre-trial hearing today.

How severe are the charges?

Felony charges are a much higher bar than misdemeanor charges, especially when it comes to domestic violence. Often, it indicates not only more evidence of a crime but evidence of a more serious crime, which means that the crimes of which Roiland is being accused are gravely serious.

Roiland was charged with domestic battery with corporal injury, which means prosecutors believe not only that he used force or violence against the victim, but that he caused a physical injury. The felony charge tells us that prosecutors believe Roiland committed violence resulting in a significant injury.

Further, the second charge—felony false imprisonment—means that Roiland is alleged to have prevented the victim from leaving during the incident. The felony charge further indicates that this was allegedly more than standing in front of a door but likely involved violence or other menace.

Who is Justin Roiland?

Justin Roiland, in many ways, is Rick and Morty—including literally. Not only did he co-create the animated sci-fi comedy with Dan Harmon, but he voices the titular characters, without whom the show wouldn’t exist.

Is this news surprising? In all the ways that matter, yes. Allegations of—and charges for—domestic violence are always surprising. Despite the fact that one in three women and and one in four men have reported some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, and roughly 54 percent of all arrests for interpersonal violence are due to domestic violence, partner abuse is rarely talked about and often misunderstood.

At the same time, Roiland’s most famous character, Rick Sanchez, is a self-destructive misogynist, and while the show itself takes great pains to tell the audience that he is, if not a downright villain, at least an anti-hero, the fanbase has a huge problem with sexism. 

Further looking at Roiland’s oeuvre, his approach to female characters and women in general is not, shall we say, the best. Take Rick and Morty spin-off, Solar Opposites, which takes a very libertarian—dare I say South Park-esque—approach to gender and sexuality (particularly in the “P.A.T.R.I.C.I.A.” episode) that reads like, “Women, amirite??”

What does this mean for the future of Rick and Morty?

Rick and Morty just aired its sixth season in September 2022, and a seventh was ordered by Cartoon Network as part of a 70-episode deal. Neither Roiland and Harmon, the co-creators, nor Warner Media, Cartoon Network’s parent company, have commented on the allegations thus far, and Roiland’s career has, in many ways, skyrocketed in the past two years.

But it’s hard to see a path forward for Roiland, given the gravity of these allegations. And while cartoons have replaced voice actors in the past, it’s hard to see a path forward for this particular show without Roiland. 

Harmon himself is no stranger to being accused of untoward behavior, even apologizing publicly for sexually harassing Community writer Megan Ganz at the height of the #MeToo movement. That said, he has also publicly reamed the Rick and Morty fanbase for sexism and harassment of women in the writers’ room, and given the high bar set for bringing domestic violence charges against someone, Roiland’s legal woes are not something to be swept under the rug, even in an industry that is something of a good old boys’ club.

At this moment, I feel a bit like the screaming sun, because although Rick and Morty is no stranger to well-deserved feminist critiques (see: Rick’s treatment of Summer and, you know, Rick’s whole personality), there were clear signs of narrative growth in the series as a whole, and even in the seemingly unmovable Rick Sanchez.

(featured image: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

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Lisa Dunn

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