The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Showing posts with label Crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crime. Show all posts

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Talk About a Plot Twist! Jury information with Judge Hopkins

Today our guest is the Honorable Judge Hopkins.
Judge, would you introduce yourself to everyone?

Judge Hopkins-
My name is Bill Hopkins and I have been in the legal profession since 1971. I have been a civil attorney, criminal defense attorney, prosecutor, administrative law judge, and trial court judge, all in the state of Missouri.

Fiona - 
This article is "Jury Nullification in Criminal Trials" which is not something I've ever heard of before. But you're going to walk us through this new way of twisting our plots. I'm just going to let you have free rein.

Judge Hopkins -
Doug Linder wrote an article about jury nullification, which I recommend to you. It’s found HERE

“Jury nullification” is a fancy legal term for what happens when a jury doesn’t buy the prosecutor’s reason for the state’s case even though the defendant is truly guilty of a crime. In other words, the jury cancels the effect of a law that they don’t like. The law may be in their minds immoral or unfair or wrongly applied to the defendant (the one on trial).

Now, as a writer, you could develop a thousand or more plots just on the information set out above. For example: 
Is there a defendant who admits to killing his ailing wife who was suffering from terminal cancer and was in pain so extreme that no drug could alleviate it? A jury may have a great deal of sympathy for the surviving husband. The jury lets him go although he is definitely guilty of murder. But, wait! A month after the trial, a juror finds out that the “grieving husband” had his wife take out a million dollar life insurance policy when she was healthy. The insurance carrier has paid off. Now the defendant is going to Belize with his sweetie who he’d been seeing long before his wife got sick. The informed juror convinces all the other jurors to help him kill the grieving husband. The Case of the Informed Juror. Sounds like an Agatha Christie plot. Or maybe Perry Mason.

Linder, in the article cited above, asks if juries have the right to nullify. Juries clearly have the power to nullify. But that doesn’t mean they have the right to nullify. If the jury in a criminal case finds a defendant not guilty (which, by the way is not the same as “innocent”) then the state can never prosecute the defendant again. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states (in part) that no person shall “ subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb....” The state is allowed to try a defendant only once.

Today, courts not only don’t want to tell juries that they can nullify (or cancel) a criminal law they don’t like, they are often actively discouraged to nullify. In Missouri, for example, jury nullification is not allowed. Things could be different in whatever jurisdiction you’re writing about. Checking with the state bar in the capitol would be the best way to find information about legal questions where you live.

Judges in Missouri instruct jurors that it is their duty to apply the law as it is given to them, whether they agree with the law or not. And, I suspect, it would be reversible error for a defense lawyer in my state to use jury nullification in a closing argument for a client.

The Case of the Unwelcome Snitch. Another plot might be that a jury really wants to free a person who is clearly guilty. One of the jurors who wants to send the defendant to prison, sneaks a note to the judge, explaining that the jury’s deliberations are wandering into forbidden territory. There’s a hung jury and later the snitch is found dead behind the courthouse, beaten to death with the judge’s gavel. That’s kind of flimsy, but you get my drift.

Linder reports that many legal scholars “have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant's fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.”

I won’t comment whether I think jury nullification is fair or unfair. However, I know that judges worry that courtrooms will become hotbeds of anarchy if jurors are told they have the power (but not necessarily the right or duty) to nullify a law. Judges also worry that jurors do not have the legal training to decide what the law is or isn’t. Jurors should decide facts only and apply the law that the jury instructions give them, whether they agree with the law or not. That’s what most judges (I suspect) believe today.

As I said, this is an article about criminal trials. Today, in America, there is very little control over prosecutors, who, in some ways, have more power than judges do. I was a prosecutor once. I could’ve announced in the newspapers that I was investigating Suzy Saintly Citizen for smuggling dope from Canada. There would be a flurry of news. Then I could say, “Sorry. There’s not enough evidence to charge Suzy Saintly Citizen for this serious crime.” If I were a deceitful prosecutor and knew she had never so much as stepped on a crack in an attempt to break her mother’s back when she was in kindergarten, I have now ruined her reputation. Nothing could be done to me as a prosecutor. Note that everything I said to the newspaper was true: (1) I’m investigating a leading citizen of the town, and (2) I’ve decided that there’s not enough evidence to charge her. 

Another plot: The Case of the Slimy Prosecutor.

Linder’s article concludes: “[J]ury nullification provides an important mechanism for feedback. Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about...what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid—it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.”

I could go along with that. A good book on criminal law that every crime writer should have is by Leslie Budewitz:

Full disclosure: I am in the book!

Fiona - 
So fun!

Thank you so much for this information. Would you please take a minute and tell us about your latest book?

Judge Hopkins -
My latest book DISHONEST CORPSE was out last year: 

The ebook versions of my first two books (COURTING MURDER and RIVER MOURN) are FREE from Amazon. Courting Murder.

Free books? Woohoo!!!

Thanks for joining us. Happy reading and writing!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

That's Correct! An Interview with a Corrections Officer: Information for Writers with Harriet Fox

Amazon Author Link

ThrillWriting welcomes HARRIET FOX who comes to us today to give insight into the life of a corrections officer in a jail system in California.

Here's a handy link to my article with an explanation of the differences between jails and prisons etc.

Fiona - 
Corrections officer - can you tell us how you arrived in your career?

Harriet - 
I have been a correctional officer starting my 14th year. No one ever says they are going to be a correctional officer when they grow up. 

I wanted to be a dentist, a brain surgeon and a race car driver when I grew up. I worked 6 years in the law enforcement field prior to becoming a correctional officer. I applied for this job as a stepping stone to becoming a police officer and never left. 

I think society truly does not know what a correctional officer does. In television and movies and in stories covered on the news, correctional officers are usually heard to be corrupt, heavy handed or abusive with their authority. That is far from the truth. While there are bad apples in every line of work, correctional officers are not the bad people we've been portrayed as being.

The work on a daily basis dealing with violent and manipulative criminals is challenging but I do know I am protecting society from the evil and potential harm. The teamwork and camaraderie in law enforcement is a way of life, a brotherhood, lifelong friendships, and I have made some of the best friends I have ever had in this job.

On a daily basis, not only are we making sure inmates do not escape or harm anyone, we wear many hats. We are authoritarians, disciplinarians, parents, counselors, helpers. Our hats may change at the drop of the hat, many times through a single shift.

Fiona - 
How long does a shift last? 

Harriet - 
Some jails work 8 or 10 hour shifts. I work 12 hour shifts, graveyard. We call it the dark side. It is a very different way of life, not only working nights, but working inside the walls of a correctional institution.

Fiona - 
So you write as well, do you find what you learned from working in the jails informs your writing?

Harriet - 
I write for a nationwide corrections website, and I use my daily experiences to do so. 
I use my experience to write about things I think other correctional officers can benefit from. It's a stressful job, always having to be on guard, ready in the event someone wants to attack us while we are doing our daily duties face-to-face with these inmates. We can learn from each other and I am constantly learning each and every day, even after all this time.

Fiona - 
Why kinds of things does your job entail?

Harriet - 
The job itself is so complex. It includes: 
  • Conducting daily duties, making sure inmates receive their necessities which are laws and regulations governed by the state that we follow, along side of our facility policy and procedures 
  • Conducting Safety and Security Checks hourly to make sure all inmates are alive and not ill 
  • We do investigations 
  • We handle crimes committed in our jail
  • Medical emergencies 
  • We deal with assaults and contraband. 

Fiona - 
Does media get it right when they show a jail setting? 

Harriet - 
One thing that the media usually shows or implies is that inmates are housed behind bars. This is the old school way of jail. Since about the '90s, jails use a different style of jailing. Direct supervision is one of the terms where inmates are in a 2-man cell but when they come out for their recreation time, they are all around the deputy station where we work, type, sit, eat, etc.

Fiona - 
Can you give us an example of an "out of the blue" event a "holy cow" moment?

Harriet - 
I don't get the "holy cow" feeling during an event. If it is a really stressful situation, I sometimes feel the “holy cow” after the adrenaline wears off. Every day we have to deal with so much that you get used to just subconsciously changing your hat and diving in.

I recently had an inmate who was banging his forehead on the metal bed. He has mental issues and apparently the psychiatric medications weren't controlling this problem. You do your best to negotiate and try to get through to an inmate in crisis. This inmate did listen thankfully and stopped inflicting self harm. You learn the gift of gab in this job. We call it verbal judo, and it is fulfilling when you are able to talk someone down from a violent state.

Training kicks in (and we get a lot of it) and you get to be creative when handling situations. You try to become a problem solver in so many ways. I guess the only holy cow moment I can think of is fighting with inmates who are trying to harm you and you're attempting to gain control and restrain them as its happening.

Another holy moly moment could be something like this: an inmate who is severely mentally ill and hearing voices and does not recognize pain. He continually bangs his leg on the metal stool in his cell until there is blood everywhere just so he can get a trip to the hospital for better food or for a field trip.

Fiona - 
I'd say that would be a "holy cow" moment for sure. You're a woman working in a men's jail. What training helps you play your role successfully? And what's it like to be a woman in that position?

Harriet - 
I am very grateful for my experience as one of the only females on the Emergency Response Team. We are basically the SWAT team of the jail; highly trained. 

We respond to natural disasters or dangerous incidents including riots, cell extractions, any disturbances too dangerous for normal staff to handle. This has taught me much about the importance of training, preparation, the importance of teamwork, and has made me better at my job. I remain more calm and handle situations differently now.

I spent a majority of my career with men. I have done a few stints at the women's facility, and it's very different. While there are few of us women in the job per ratio of employees, I am proud that I work equally with my counterparts. 

I did have to prove myself as a female - that I could do the job; not all women in this line of work can. I worked hard to be as close to equal as I can be. I will never be as strong as the big guys I work with, but I can do the job just as well, just differently. 

I don't think about being a female. I just go to work and do my job. I think sometimes I may be able to handle an inmate more easily because of the respect some inmates have for their mothers and grandmothers who raised them. But at times, I can have an issue with inmates. It is apparent when one of the inmates has an issue with women or especially as female authority. It is quite fascinating actually to observe inmates. Many have mental health issues, many come from horrible dysfunction.

I will say an annoying part of being female amongst men is the gawking, but you get used to it. Some of these inmates have been locked up for years. Aside from the nurses and few female officers, they don't see women. I guess it's human nature. Usually once the inmates know me, it stops.

Fiona - 
Can you describe a modern jail set up? How the inmates day goes, what's available to them for passing time? Work?

Harriet - 
I can't speak fluidly for day-shift (I've never worked days). However, I do know on day-shift they:

  • Courts get pulled once in morning, once in the afternoon and inmates are transported to the courthouse.
  • Lunch is served 10am
  • Dinner at 3pm.
  • Staff usually relieves each other a half hour to the start of shift allowing us time to brief the oncoming team on what happened during the previous shift.

As for jail life, it is monotonous and very routine. Jail life runs on a set schedule.... in the midst of everything that goes wrong and fires that need to be put out and reports that need to be written and investigations that need to be handled. The job teaches you to be a multi-tasker master. Some shifts can have down time and some may feel like 12 hours is not enough.
  • Courts get pulled once in morning, once in the evening and transport to court. 
  • Lunch is served 10am 
  • Dinner at 3pm. 
  • My facility works days 6am-6pm, nights 6pm-6am. 
  • We usually relieve each other in the half hour window prior to 6pm allowing us time to brief on what happened during the previous shift.

At the beginning of shift, we:

  • Do Count and Inspection. We advise inmates over their cell intercoms (which can be activated from either end) to
  • Be awake and out of bed
  • Fully dressed
  • Have their armbands on (which have their picture, name and identification number)
  • Their property bins opened for inspection (rubbermaid style blue bins issued at time of getting dressed in and housed)
  • Nothing affixed to their walls (sometimes hang family pics or a calendar)
  • Have their beds made
  • Standing on the wall.
  • As we go by, we are checking their welfare, their property, as well as the walls and windows of their cells to inspect for damage and attempts to break out.
  • We need to check for hoarding of bread and fruit to ensure they are not making pruno (jailhouse alcohol).
  • We do more thorough searches for contraband, drugs, weapons at other times.
  • We have visiting and pill call (nurse comes to housing unit for medication) and the finger-stick nurse (checks diabetic levels/gives insulin, if necessary) within the first few hours of shift and the last few hours.
  • We have to conduct recreation where inmates come out of their cells in which inmates have the ability to: spend time outside on the recreation yard, watch TV, make telephone calls, shower, etc.
  • We have to finish before midnight because judges require inmates to have proper rest when attending court.
  • We have workers that go to the kitchen and they are housed separately.
  • We feed breakfast at 4am.
  • On a general housing unit, recreation is twice daily, once on day, once night. Time out of their cells could range from 45 minutes to 2 hours on average.
  • They can receive items off Commissary (Canteen is prison lingo) where they can purchase:
  • Hygiene products
  • Envelopes and stamps and writing paper,
  • Food
  • Some inmates stay busy with a self-made schedule for their down time.
  • Family can purchase books and magazines from the publisher so many read. They share their books with each other too.
  • Some have a workout regimen inside their cells
Fiona - 
What would you like writers to know before they write that character or scene about a jail and a corrections officer?

Harriet - 
As for writers, I guess I would say it would be nice to see correctional officers written in a positive light. There is such a negative stigma in the media, with law enforcement in general. People tend to forget we are normal people too, working a very hard job. We have personal lives, families, a life outside of the job. We work long hours and weekends and holidays. We miss family functions many times. You learn in this way of life to celebrate on days before or after the actual event. We spend more time at work locked up in jail then we are home, or so it feels. For writers, things to think about...

Imagine going to work every day where people hate you, want to harm you, attack you, con you. Imagine having to do this career in a negative, dank, monotonous environment. Imagine having to have two identities in a way: a superhero wearing every hat imaginable to switching it all off and coming home to being a husband, father, wife mother. Imagine always having to watch your back since it is unknown if you will run into an inmate on the street that you had a problem with inside. Imagine trying to balance family or personal life and errands when you're working graveyards and finding time to sleep. Imagine having to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of 100 inmates at a time (in prison, maybe more per officers' responsibility).

Fiona -
Thank you so much for sharing that. At the bottom of this article Harriet has include a handy glossary for us. First, Harriet has a true crimes book out.

Amazon Link

Preying on middle-aged Native women in Vancouver's Skid Row district, Gilbert Paul Jordan's insatiable taste for drunken sex led to at least ten cold blooded killings. 
Unlike any others in the known history of serial homicide, Jordan used alcohol to murder his victims. All of these young women were found dead with blood-levels many times over the safe range. The driving force behind Jordan's evil was his egocentric desires that led him on a fifty year criminal record path causing havoc along the way. Delving into Jordan's crimes, alcoholism and mental illnesses, his life tells a story all his own, and it is no wonder why, Gilbert Paul Jordan became one of Canada's most notorious serial killers.

GLOSSARY of some handy jailhouse lingo - 

•Snitch: rat. give information/talk to staff.

•Shank: handmade knife

•Kite: small note, usually with very small handwriting passed from inmate to inmate for communication purposes, usually gang related.

•On the wire: talking on telephone or through cell vents

•PC: Protective Custody; housing unit or in terms of what type of inmate one is

•Write up: jail reports written; can be disciplinary

•The Joint: prison; we say “on the joint run” if some is leaving on bus in morning

•Hole: solitary confinement, disciplinary housing

•Mule: someone moving contraband

•Boot: new CO (corrections officer)

•Jailhouse lawyer: an inmate who knows legal stuff or has received some form of training/class, maybe in prison

•Schooled: taught the jail way of life

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I am NOT Hostile (I'm just adverse): Trial Witness info for Writers with John Higgins, Esq.

A few of you have written to me asking for an article that explains what a hostile witness is. ThrillWriting friend, John Higgins, has kindly stepped in to illuminate this for us.

John spent 26 years in government, the last 15 years as a Deputy Attorney General and statewide prosecutor. John prosecuted cases in 19 of New Jersey's 21 counties, from simple assault to homicides including writing the plea agreement for the serial killer nurse Charles Cullen. (Information about Cullen HERE) 

Fiona - 
John, welcome and thank you for coming. We've all heard about hostile witnesses on the stand, but I'm assuming this isn't referring to their in-the-moment demeanor. Can you explain how and why a witness would be addressed with that adjective?

John - 
Well actually, it can be in-the-moment demeanor. Depending on the court rules in a specific jurisdiction, there are different requirements for someone to be considered hostile, actually.

Let me go back one step and explain how the whole witness testimony procedure works.

I will do it from a criminal trial perspective. If your readers want to do it in a civil lawsuit setting substitute plaintiff for prosecutor.

In presenting a case, the prosecutor must provide evidence for each of the elements specified in the statute that makes a criminal offense.

Under United States law, an element of a crime (or element of an offense) is one of a set of facts that must all be proven to convict a defendant of a crime. Before a court finds a defendant guilty of a criminal offense, the prosecution must present evidence that, even when opposed by any evidence the defense may choose to present, is credible and sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the particular crime charged. The component parts that make up any particular crime vary depending on the crime. (link)

  • Mental state (Mens Rea) - intent related blog link
  • Conduct (actus Reus) - the illegal act
  • Concurrence -  you have an illegal action and the intent to do that action at the same time
  • Causation - harm ocurred

Witness testimony is often used to fill those elements, but so can evidence in the forms of documents, pictures, DNA, etc.

The prosecutor always goes first as he or she has the burden of proof.
Witnesses are prepped before trial so we know what they will testify to or about.
Often times, there are statements already given under oath by a witness to a police officer, detective or even in front of the grand jury. (related blog post)

As prosecutors, we

  • Expect the witness' testimony to be in accord with their previous statements.
  • Prepare a witness close to trial to also make sure they remember.
  • Allow them to read any pre-existing statement of their own if need be to refresh their recollection as part of trial prep (this can also be done in while they are on the witness stand – they can review their statement but not read from it). Remember, often a case can take 2 years or more before it goes to trial.

So as we go into trial we know the lay of the land. The prosecutor in putting on his case in chief (meaning his main testimony and evidence supporting his version of the case) must elicit what is known as direct testimony - that is we are required to ask open ended questions.
to trial
So as we go into trial we know the lay of the land.

The prosecutor in putting on his case in chief ( meaning he's the one with the burden of proving his case) must elicit what is known as direct testimony - that is we are required to ask open ended questions.

We can do a bit of guided testimony to move along preliminary areas - this means we are looking for yes or no answers, which has in effect the information we are looking for as part of the question.

After we get direct testimony from our witness the defendant's attorney gets to cross examine, which means that they can ask questions that should elicit a yes or no answer.
They can ask open ended questions as well but using the yes or no answers they can box in a witness and confine them to the specific information in the question asked.

Follow me so far?

Fiona -
What if the witness wants to expound beyond a yes or no to indicate a shade of grey?

Are cross questions only supposed to be black and white?

John - 
Well a witness under cross will often try to get the information in and generally a judge will allow them to give a fuller answer to some extent. If that witness gets cut off, I can do what's known as re-direct. I can ask them to fully answer that question after the defense attorney is done with cross examination.

Fiona -
Good thank you.

John -
Now one other parameter, cross examination is limited to the topic areas covered on direct examination unless it's bringing in information like a prior criminal conviction that would impeach their truthfulness.

So redirect is also limited to the areas covered in cross examination. That way a whole new area doesn't open up. If you missed it the first time, you can't then go into it afterwards unless it's some form of rebuttal.

Generally, any witness one calls in the case in chief is a friendly witness - one who supports the prosecutor's view of the case, confirmed of course in pre trial preparation.

Now, there can also be a witness that I would rather not call because they are tied to the defendant in a significant way but for whatever reason I need information that they have and therefore have to call in my case in chief. I'm trying to think of a good example...let's say someone who can put the defendant at the location of the crime, but they are the boyfriend or girlfriend of the defendant. They do not want to testify against their loved one. (And they don't like me, lol.) They would be considered an adverse witness.

  • It’s obvious they will not want to testify for me because of their tie to the defendant.
  • I know they will be trouble for me.
  • I can argue (ask the judge) to call them as an adverse witness. (Remember, I know this ahead of time.)
  • So, I get to cross examine them from the very start, eliciting mostly yes or no answers not asking them open ended questions, confining their testimony to the certain topic

Now we get to hostile witnesses

A hostile witness technically is someone who is expected to testify consistently to what they testified to earlier. I believe they will do that but when they get on the stand they change their testimony drastically.

Fiona - 
What are some things that could make them hostile? My mind goes to threats and intimidation.

John -
That could be true, or they are playing games and trying to protect the defendant.

Generally, the prosecutor would ask a couple of questions confirming this change in testimony, and to make obvious this new version. To be safe, us their surprise I would ask for a sidebar, and then argue to the judge that I did not expect this testimony. It came out of nowhere. They had testified much differently before or told me other information.

I would then request that I be allowed to treat the witness as a hostile witness. Then I can keep their testimony much more confined through cross examination type questions.
That can also happen in pre-trial preparation, where you find out that they will be testifying as a hostile witness. Some jurisdictions require you to show more evidence to the judge if you know before hand. Similar to an adverse witness but on steroids.

A wise prosecutor is careful about these things, wanting to keep the judge up to speed. If it goes wrong in front of the jury, you could walk into mistrial territory.

Fiona - 

John -
You have to be careful what's heard in the jury's presence often in a trial the jury is kept out of the courtroom while these type things are dealt with. Once a jury hears it, they can be given a corrective instruction by the judge, but that only does so much.
If one of your witnesses just becomes really argumentative with you, you can request the court to have the witness just answer the question, but it certainly makes your case weaker.

I know that was a lot to digest....

These things present themselves on a case specific basis. Doing a trial is in many ways an art form.

Sometimes the prosecutor just elicits all the damaging information about their own witness, prior convictions, or weaknesses in the beginning of a case, admitting the problem and not giving the defense attorney the chance to make it appear that we were hiding something from the jury, or that the defense found this gaping hole in the case.

Fiona - 
Okay here they are 2 different scenarios:

1) An ex-wife wants to see ex-hubby go to jail. She is testifying. The guy is innocent, but she can put a spin on things that makes it not so clear that he's innocent - what do you do with her?

John - 
Her testimony would be in support of the state's case from what you describe. So I don't know that I would have her in hostile or adverse witness territory at all.

Now if she was lying, and I knew it. I wouldn't use her as a witness in support of my case at all.

The defense attorney will bring out her lies on cross if I didn't know she was lying. Prosecutors are not omniscient.

Fiona - 
Could the defendant's lawyer say she was hostile?

John - 
No. He gets to cross examine her if I use her as a witness first anyway. If I never called her, and he decided to call her, and he knew she was lying, he could then seek to have her treated an adverse or a hostile witness, yes.

The defense attorney is also confined to direct questions when he puts on his case.

Then I get to cross examine his witnesses.

So ...testimony in a trial goes like this:

  • Prosecutions goes first puts on a witness and has to use direct (open ended) questions.
  • Defense atty then gets to cross examine..prosecution can than redirect, defense can then recross for each of the state's witnesses.
  • After all the State witnesses are called, the State rests its case.
  • The defense gets to put on his case and calls a witness. Defense must use direct (open ended) questions.
  • Prosecution gets to cross examine.
  • Defense gets to do redirect.
  • Prosecution gets to recross
  • When all of the defense witnesses are done, then the defendant rests its case.

Fiona - 

Scenario 2) Defendant's fiance is called to testify against the love of her life. Agh! She witnessed the crime, but she doesn't want Cuddle Bear to rot in the slammer. She is on the witness stand, defiant and protective. What do you do? 

John - 
In scenario #2 she would qualify as an adverse witness right off the bat from what you describe. Mainly because of her status as the defendant’s fiancé. A better example would be: We cut a deal with the fiancée to testify against Cuddle Bear so she gets lesser charges in exchange for testimony against the guy. She remains consistent about testifying against the fiancé all through trial preparation. Now, she gets on the stand and does what you said above, becomes belligerent and now untruthful.

I would then request she be considered a hostile witness. And I would confine her testimony tightly -- get exactly what I needed from her and get her off the stand.

Remember, I can always request that the court advise her to confine her answers to the questions asked. If the defense attorney attempts to follow up on whatever she just mentioned, I can object on the basis that it's beyond the scope of the direct testimony.

Of course, any objection is at the discretion of the trial judge. He may sustain or overrule the objection.

A hostile witness can be fatal to a case.

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for that explanation. Are you sure I can't convince you to write a book - Courtrooms Explained: Information Writers?

John -
Right now, I am working on my memoirs. I'm still in the proposal stage. I'm not sure if that will take two months or two years. 

In the meantime though, we can listen to your sagesse, John is on Practical Solutions For America at 11 pm EST on the Barb Adams show every Saturday night, discussing problems in american and solutions

I know you'll want to tune in. Listening to professionals speak gives you a rhythm and tone quality that you can use in your writing. Word choices, thought processes, all of it adds to depth of character. (And you'll probably enjoy the subject matter, too.)

Here is John's website

Thank you to John for sharing his expertise and his willingness to help. 

Fiona Quinn's Newsletter Link, Sign up HERE
Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. Cheers,When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Easy Evil: Interview with Crime Reporter Doug Cummings



Fiona - Hey, Doug. I guess the street lights are just popping on in the windy city.

Doug - ...and the crickets are chirping.

Fiona - I've spent a little time in Chicago - I wish it were more. Can you tell my blog-readers
            how you spend your days and maybe give them a little of your background?

Doug - In reverse order... I grew up in Kansas where I went to college and worked as a deputy
           sheriff for half a dozen years. I got a degree in radio-TV and had interned at a local TV
           station. I was getting tired of cop work, as sometimes happens, and one night I had a
           reporter from a radio station as a ride-along. He was leaving the station to go to law
           school. I asked if his job had been filled, and it hadn' I had the perfect segue.
           I ended up working at the station, and he became a deputy while in law school. I think
           they make TV shows about things like that nowadays. I worked as a crime reporter in Kansas City
           for two years, and then I moved to Chicago and spent fifteen years covering crime and disasters
           in this area.

Fiona - Did you have to go through a police training program to be a deputy sheriff?

Doug - Yes, training is required...more now even than back then. With regular weapons qualification and
            continuing education. I completed about half the work for a Masters in Criminal Justice, in fact.

Fiona - Because I have a lot of international readers, can you explain the differences between a sheriff and a
            police officer? Link to more information about sheriffs

Doug - The differences are mostly in name. Sheriff's are elected officials.
            The name comes from the old English, I believe...shire-reeve. If
            you remember Robin Hood...Anyway the sheriff is the chief law
            enforcement officer of most counties and his deputies usually
            have authority in unincorporated areas of the county.

Fiona - Shire-reeve. Now there's a fun little tid-bit of information that I
            can drop at  my next cocktail party.

Doug - Police officers typically patrol in cities. Having said that, some states countywide police departments
           and the sheriff is relegated to administration of the jail. It depends on where you live.
           In Kansas and Illinois, sheriffs are elected county officials and have police and jail administration

Fiona - So, I know that guns are near and dear to your heart. Have you ever had to use one in the line of
            duty? Or for self-protection?
                                                              This is Doug's Colt Python

Doug - Thankfully, no and I hope I never get into such a situation. I was on my way to a shootout once...
            but  the bad guy was killed before I arrived. I appreciated the timing.

Fiona - No kidding! That must be an odd experience to have the adrenaline flowing and then know that it
            was over - but badly.

Doug - It's not uncommon...I've certainly been in hairy situations that weren't diffused quickly enough for
            me to avoid them.

Fiona - Okay, give me a hairy example, LOL.

Doug - Well, the hairiest was a chase and head on crash. We were chasing a couple of armed robbery
            suspects (we thought), and they turned around and came back at us. It was odd to have the right,
            front fender appear three inches from your head while sitting in the passenger seat.

Fiona - No kidding! YIKES! Was everyone okay?

Doug - My then partner still has back issues but other than that everyone was fine. Yep, wrecked a squad
            car with only a couple of hundred miles and all new equipment tho.

Fiona - I bet that went over big with the budget office. Okay, I'm going to throw out my typical question -
            what in books, TV, movies etc. do you see being portrayed incorrectly, and it ticks you off?

Doug - What annoys me most...when cops are portrayed as bumbling or stupid. While I have met some
            book stupid cops, most of the people I've known in law enforcement are street smart, really care
            about the work and put 100 percent into it. With 500-600 hours of basic training now, and
            sometimes 40-60 hours of in service training every year, they know the business.

Fiona - But they also aren't super-heroes. No one should expect a cop to shoot a gun out of a perpetrators
            hand with eagle vision. They can't take down a whole gang single-handedly. So how can a writer
            write a cop correctly?

Doug - I think research can be as easy as finding a real cop in the town or area the author is writing about.
            Going on ride-alongs or enrolling in a citizens police academy are good resources too. Another
            thing that annoys me is when I read a book and can tell the author has done his research watching
            cop shows, not talking to or even reading about real cops.

Fiona - How can you tell the difference? What is wrong in the shows that a cop would relate differently?

Doug - Cops aren't fashion models for one.

Fiona - Hahahaha! (I think they should be.)

Doug - And not every case requires chases and shootouts... but for
            dramatic effect, nothing beats a good  fight or shootout.

            Also, seldom do you arrest someone and immediately give
            them their rights. I only read folks their rights if I needed to
            question them. Most often I was telling them to shut up!

Fiona - Hahahaha! Okay, Doug, at this point of the interview
            you have a choice -
           A) Tell me about your favorite scar
           B) Tell me about your newest book  - or-
           C) both.

Doug - I have a tiny knife scar on the pointing finger of my left

Fiona - How did that happen?

Doug - Domestic dispute...lady swung a piece of broken glass at me.

Fiona - So, not a knife-scar a glass-scar. That sounds like a gang name. Victor Glasscar.

Doug - Ha! Writing that down as a character.

Fiona - Okay, I picked "C" for you. Tell us about your book.

Doug - Easy Evil, yes.

Fiona - I think evil is darned easy.

Doug - You have the point of the book right there! My new
            protagonist  is a deputy police chief in a wealthy
            Chicago suburb...he's got a checkered background as
            an ATF agent. He thinks the PD job will be rubber
            chickens and golf, until someone shoots a
            judge and her daughter in their driveway. The task
            force that's called in takes off in one direction, but
            Harry Cork sees evidence that they're wrong, and the
            real culprit may be a professional killer. As he follows
            his theory, others die, and he discovers a money
            laundering scheme run by some nasty
            international thugs, and his past comes back to bite
            him in the tookus.               LINK

Fiona - In the tookus no less!                                              

Doug - Indeed

Fiona - And Reno Mc Carthy is your protagonist?

Doug - No, Reno was the lead character in the first two books...he appears in Easy Evil, but Harry Cork
            is the protagonist. Reno has a walk-on as himself.

Fiona - That was nice of you, otherwise his feelings would have been hurt. Well, Doug, thanks for
            playing along. It was great chatting!

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Criminologists: Information for Writers with Diana Bretherick

Fiona -
Welcome, Diana. Can you tell the readers where you're from
and what you do (besides, of course, write fabulous books.)

Originally I am from Warwickshire in the heart of England, but I now live and work in Portsmouth, on the South Coast. I started my working life as a lawyer - a barrister. But after working in the law for 10 years, I wanted a change. So I worked as a counselor for prisoners in Brixton, London. At that time, I also began to study criminology - the theory of crime. I fell in love with that and became an academic.

Fiona -
Can you tell me more about the academic studies of criminal subjects?

I studied for a Masters in criminology and followed it with a PhD in Criminology - where I specialized in Crime and Popular Culture. I did a second Masters in Creative Writing, and I am now studying for a second PhD in Creative Writing. I have brought into my work my love of crime fiction - reading and writing it. The best thing about criminology is that it can incorporate lots of disciplines including policing, criminal law, forensics and psychology as well as cultural criminology. That's why I love it!

As a criminologist I study the causes and consequences of crime and teach at the University of Portsmouth. My particular interest is how crime and criminals are represented in the media and popular culture - so anything from the news to films and TV drama as well as crime fiction. My novel, City of Devils, is a historical novel set in 19th century Turin, home of the first criminologist Cesare Lombroso who is one of the central characters in my story. He believed that some criminals were born rather than bred into crime and that they shared characteristics of primitive man. He also thought that you could identify a criminal by looking at their physical characteristics. The novel tells the story of what happens when he is challenged to use his theories to solve a series of macabre murders. Each victim is horribly mutilated and left with a note, written in blood, saying 'A Tribute to Lombroso'.

Cesare Lombroso, Wikipedia
Very cool premise for a novel. So you don't study criminals directly. You are studying their portrayals?

Diana -
Correct, I look at news media, crime fiction, TV Drama, Films, Theater, etc. and analyse examples to see how crime and criminals are portrayed. This is how most people get their information about crime, so it is important to examine how these messages are conveyed to us. Also, I get to watch a lot of TV and movies and read lots of crime fiction which is a definite plus!

I want that job! Can you tell us where the media gets it wrong? For example - if I am a writer, and I am basing criminal actions on a news account for my fictional work - what aspects would I be missing?

The news media has a different agenda to just reporting news.
(Though they would like us to think they are devoted to giving us the facts.)
They are interested in selling newspapers, television
News Time
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
programs, etc. They present things in a way that we, the audience, will find 'entertaining'. An example is with sex crimes. Usually offences committed by strangers get into the news, but it is acquaintance rape and other sexual offences that are more prevalent. We get the idea that there is more of this kind of crime than is the case. We also see individual offenders represented in particular ways. Women who commit violent offences are often portrayed as being either plain evil
or mad [crazy]. There may be a thousand other reasons for their
actions, but these are not reported. The drama of danger is perceived
as being much more interesting and salable, so that is what makes it
into the news. If you are researching a story for a novel, you will get a
distorted version. The facts may be there, but they are presented
according to the media's agenda. That can mean that accuracy is lost and/or blurred.

Fiona -
How are your studies applied? And are they funded by government grants?

As a cultural criminologist my work informs my university teaching. I don't do funded research although some of my colleagues do on different subjects. I write about crime and culture and teach my students how to be discerning about the information they receive. I feel that it is important to inform people that what they see and read isn't always as reliable as they might think

 In your book, City of Devils, with James Murray on the cusp of the new study of criminology - how does your research inform the book and your writing in general?

Amazon Link
The idea for the book came from my teaching. I was in a seminar discussing with students about the beginnings of criminology. In particular we were discussing Cesare Lombroso, the Italian who is known as the "father of modern criminology." My students asked me whether or not he investigated crimes. I'm not sure that he did in reality, but he could in fiction. I decided to write about it and use a fictional character, James Murray, to ask the questions that we might want the answers to. He is though very loosely based on Arthur Conan-Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories (created around the corner from where I live!) I drew on my knowledge of criminology and also early forensics. I wanted to show how people thought about crime and criminals then, and how it isn't that different today. The media tend to focus on individual criminals and so did early criminologists like Lombroso. Most crime fiction is packed full of criminological theories even though not all the authors are aware of them.

Fiona - 
Can you give me an example of a theory that you see writers using - that they may not know is a criminology theory at work?

English: Old postcards and a magnifying glass.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you have a character who is motivated by the need for material goods, perhaps affected by a desire to have what others do, then they may be an example of Robert Merton's strain theory. People are surrounded by advertisements for things but may not be able to afford them, so they respond to the strain of this by stealing. Someone may commit a violent offence because they have a psychological propensity to do so, perhaps because of a brain abnormality or injury (neuro-criminology).

Fiona - 
Is there a resource that you can recommend to writers who want to write about criminals - their motivations and realities?

First of all, check out a criminology text book that outlines the theories. Then try reading some accounts of their crimes written by criminals or criminologists. There are some great examples and most of them are from the US. Examples include:
* Sutherland, E. H. (1956).
* The Professional thief. Thrasher, F. M. (2000).
* The Gang: a Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago.
* And of course there are classics like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood - one of my absolute favorites.
* But the best book I've come across is by Jack Katz - Seductions of Crime.

Fiona -
One final question - please tell us about your favorite scar.

Diana -
I have two scars - each from an episode where my brain seems to have gone missing. The first is from chasing my dog in our garden when I was 5. I tripped over and cut my lip. The dog was fine! The second is from when I broke my arm. I had a plaster cast up to my elbow, it was itching and I stuck a pen down there to scratch it. You guessed it! The pen had a top but when it came out of my plaster - no top there. Embarrassing!

Thanks, Diana! 

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hostage Negotiations: Information for Writers with Lt. Matthew Sherley

Lt. Matthew Sherley
Fiona -

Good evening, Lt. can you start by introducing yourself to the readers, including your background and your now projects and book?

Lt. Sherley - 
I'm Matthew Sherley. I am a retired police detective from a medium sized (360 officer) department in Amarillo, TX. I currently work for the U.S. government as a contract employee. I have completed my first novel, Insider Trading, a spy thriller. I am seeking representation for it, and it is currently out on multiple submissions.

Fiona - 
Best of luck with your journey. Lt., tonight we're talking about hostage negotiation. That sounds like a horribly nerve wracking job. Innocent lives are at risk. Can you tell me about the training which would qualify someone to take on such a task?

Lt. Sherley - 
The primary source of training for hostage negotiation is the FBI. They offer formalized training for negotiators. In my case, the commander of the hostage negotiation unit had a master's degree in psychology, and he developed an internal training course. There are also state and national groups affiliated with negotiators. Those organizations have annual conferences which always feature in-service training.

Fiona - 
And you have performed this duty - is there a frequent need for hostage negotiators or is there time for your expertise to grow rusty?

Lt. Sherley - 
If the duty was strictly limited to hostage scenes, it could become rusty. However, we were also used for all crisis negotiations. That would include suicidal subjects threatening themselves with weapons where they could easily hurt someone else.

Fiona - 
So in a mid-size center is this a weekly occurrence... ?

Lt. Matt Sherley - 
More like once a month or every three weeks.

Fiona - 
Are there many trained officers who could fulfill this duty? Or were you called in from wherever you were - like a doctor on call?

Lt. Sherley - 
Our department had a team of negotiators (four plus the commander). We were attached to the SWAT team. Any time there was a SWAT call out, we were all deployed. The negotiators acted as a team also, so we were all called out every time, rather than just one negotiator. One functioned as the primary, and one as the secondary. The other two did research on the subject, kept equipment up and running, liaisoned with the SWAT commander, etc. There are a lot of moving parts to a SWAT call-out/hostage negotiation.

Fiona - 
What are the duties of the primary?

Lt. Sherley - 
The primary is the person who conducts the actual negotiation and does all the talking with the subject.

Fiona - 
So they call up on the phone, "Hey there..."

Lt. Sherley - 
Yes. the primary will make the initial call and identify himself or herself and open a dialogue with the subject. Team members then try to help each other identify the psychological type of the person we are dealing with. Also, based on what the person has said, we try to determine among ourselves what's important to that person.

Fiona - 
Does that dialogue (and I know this is sensitive so just flag me if I step on hallowed ground) go somewhat like the rapport building in an interrogation? (blog link to rapport building article)

Lt. Sherley - 
Somewhat. The negotiator is searching for common ground, something that we can have a conversation about that will ultimately lead to the issue at hand.

Fiona - 
I know there are certain questions that you ask - like, "Do you need medical assistance?" Can you share any of the pat questions?

Lt. Sherley - 
We always want to know how many people are with the subject and if they need medical attention. We always want to know what is going on that caused the incident to occur. That's a little trickier. That can be a little easier if the negotiator was successful at establishing common ground and is building rapport.

Fiona - 
Do you find the hostage takers are open to that kind of rapport building? What kind of demeanor do you find on the other line?

Lt. Sherley - 
It can be at either end of the spectrum. I've had subjects that were scared and realized they had made a mistake, and I've had others who were openly hostile, threatening to kill the people with them or the police if we came close.

Fiona - 
What kinds of situations end in hostage taking? And statistically, what is the outcome for hostages?

Lt. Sherley - 
Statistically, the outcome is good for the hostages. Often, hostage taking is a result of failed relationships or crimes gone wrong. I've dealt with estranged husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend situations, and I've dealt with escaped prison inmates who took hostages in the first neighborhood they came to.

Fiona - 
Which are easier to deal with (generally) crimes of passion or crimes of opportunity?

Lt. Sherley - 
Hostage incidents that result from failed relationships (crimes of passion) are generally harder to resolve than hostages incidents resulting from opportunity (crimes interrupted by police). The reason is because there is already a highly volatile, emotionally charged issue between the hostage and hostage taker. It is more difficult to humanize the hostage during negotiations if there is already hatred there before the negotiator ever makes contact
Crimes gone wrong are just that. Criminals that got caught by the police before they could make an escape after committing their crime.

Fiona - 
You've seen plenty of crisis negotiation on TV and read scenes in books. First, is there a title you could suggest where you thought it was pretty spot on? And my follow up questions, how do they get it wrong? And how can writers get it right?

Lt. Sherley - 
I would highly recommend the book Crisis Negotiations: Managing Incidents and Hostage Situations in Law Enforcement and Corrections by Wayman Mullins and Michael McMains.

The primary thing I see on TV is negotiators using the term "hostage" when talking to the hostage takers. We never do that. We don't want to plant the seed that the person they have with them is a hostage. We want to help them realize that the person is a real person. We try everything we can to humanize the victims.

Fiona - 
Is there any special jargon/vocabulary that would be used in a hostage situation that needs to be peppered into the dialogue?

Maybe not part of the public face - but more a part of the behind the scene correspondence?

Lt. Sherley  - 
We try to keep the jargon to a minimum (or none at all). We want to use common language to set the subject at ease. Constant reminders that nothing bad has happened (assuming that's the case), and we can help them out of the situation without being hurt themselves.

Fiona - 
How long is a typical hostage crisis from call to resolution? How tired do you get working under the stress?

Lt. Sherley - 
There is no typical length. I've had negotiations as short as 30 minutes and as long as several hours. One of the most famous hostage incidents in Sweden lasted six days. It is very emotionally draining to spend that much time on the phone with someone, trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution. It's even more draining for the negotiator if the subject ends up committing suicide.

Fiona - 
In search and rescue, we have a book that tells us what various groups will do and how far away/in what direction we need to look and the probability of finding them alive at various time intervals. Do you have such a resource - if you have type Aq3 then use this tactic...?

(statistically derived probabilities)

Lt. Sherley - 
Yes, we use loose guidelines based on psychological types.

Fiona - 
What would you like to tell me about writing a hostage negotiation scene into a plot line that I didn't know enough to ask you about?

Lt. Sherley - 
Maybe the traits of a negotiator. We look for officers that are calm, experienced, and intuitive. So much of negotiation is based on the feel of the negotiator and his/her ability to relate well to people.

Perhaps one of the key principles involves the very nature of negotiation - a give and take on the part of both parties. The principle we try to always abide by is to never give up something without getting something in return.

Fiona - 
Interesting. So as an investigator shows his abilities working with interview and interrogation, her skills would be observed, and she'd get sent to training school? Where is training school and how long does it last?

Lt. Sherley - 
In my case, I was still a patrol officer when I was involved in the incident that the negotiating team noticed. I was able to talk a suicidal subject who had climbed over the rail on a bridge over an interstate highway down. Then, later when there was an opening for a negotiator on the team, they asked me to apply. 

Training can vary. FBI schools are usually either 40 hours or 80 hours. They are generally sponsored by a local LE agency. Also, some universities specialize in that kind of training. Here in Texas, Texas State University does (one of the authors of the book I recommended is a professor there as well as a peace officer)

Fiona - 
Now, you just got back from an exciting event - do you want to tell us about Crime Writers' Police Boot Camp?

Lt. Sherley - 
I'd love to. I just finished teaching a week long session of Crime Writers' Police Boot Camp. It was part of the West Texas Writers' Academy sponsored by West Texas A&M University. 

We spent mornings in the classroom with sessions such as creating believable police characters, the importance of research and authentication, interrogation, the smells of law enforcement and introduction to forensics and death investigation. Then, every afternoon, we were out in the field. We spent one afternoon at the firing range for a a firearms demonstration and learning about the various types of firearms. We had our students drive a pursuit driving course. We had them investigate a mock crime scene. They went to a firearms simulator for shoot/don't-shoot training. They toured the county jail, saw the state police helicopter and its capabilities, and got to see a K-9 working first-hand. It was a long and tiring week, but the students had fun and learned a lot.

Fiona - 
And you understood the writers' perspective because you are an author too. Can you give us a quick synopsis of your novel (not yet in print).

Lt. Sherley - 
My debut novel, Insider Trading, is a spy thriller. The tag line is: What if a terrorist attack during the State of the Union Address was sanctioned from within the White House?

Fiona - 
Very fun! 

Our time has quickly flown - I am going to conclude with our ThrillWriting traditional question. Would you share the story behind your favorite scar? Or - if you are one of the people who made it this far without any scars, would you could share a harrowing experience you lived through?

Lt. Sherley - 
Fortunately, I have been pretty lucky, only one surgery on my knee as a result of a New Year's Eve brawl started by a guy who refused to go home from his neighbor's party. The more harrowing experiences were when I was a motorcycle officer doing funeral escorts and people would pull out in front of us as we were trying to get to the next intersection. It's like dodge-ball on a motorcycle!

Fiona - 
Thank you for sharing your expertise, Lt. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.