Wednesday, July 30, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

What is a crime?

A crime is a misdemeanor or a felony.  Violations and infractions are not defined as crimes, and as such generally result in citations (parking or speeding tickets) and fines.  There are no common law crimes, meaning your character can't be arrested for bad behavior unless said behavior breaks a written law, such as lewd  behavior in public or disorderly conduct.  Examples of non-arrestable and non-finable bad behavior might include emotional abuse, cruelty, or cheating. 

Only the legislature can create laws (criminal statutes).  The courts and the police cannot create a new crime.  Oftentimes in court the judge will explain the law associated with the crime to the jury and add that although the jury may not agree with the law, say a marijuana charge, it is their duty to uphold the laws of the state as they are written today.

You can only be convicted if the state/commonwealth can prove you committed each and every element of the crime.  That's important.  Each and every element.  Failure to do so will result in an acquittal.

According to

"Four key components must be present: intent, conduct, concurrence, and causation. Without one of these elements, a case can start to fall apart. This fact explains why sometimes the defense will freely admit to something which seems incriminating, only to still win the case; it accepts that one element was present, but denies other elements of a crime and uses these to deconstruct the prosecution's case.

For example intent, also known as mens rea or “guilty mind,” requires someone to intend to commit a crime, and to have the mental capacity to have intent. For example, someone who plans to commit a  robbery clearly meets the condition of intent. If the robber hits and kills a pedestrian with the car on the way to the robbery, however, the robber cannot be charged with murder because he or she did not intend to kill the pedestrian. The pedestrian is still dead, of course, and the robber will be liable for manslaughter."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Appearing in issue #30, July 28, 2014

Title:  Scared of his shadow

By Author:  Mary L. Johnson


Tag line:     The detective wondered if the burglary victim would recover from the shock!

Police characters:   Officer Glen Stills, Det. Becka Davis

The gist:    A house was burgled.  The victim, Henry, lived a quiet life.  He didn’t go out and never had visitors.  His house was spotless.  He said he was agoraphobic and suffered from xenophobia; that he feared crowds and strangers.  He also had severe claustrophobia and pathophobia; fear of tight places and disease.  The detective had taken a psychology course in college and knew what he was talking about.  She clued in the officer, who seemed to have little patience for all this man’s problems.  He sighed heavily, for example, when the man was talking.  Henry reported that he had left his home to get his mail and must have forgotten to lock his door, which he almost always does.  A while later when he was in the kitchen he heard someone in his study, a lovely room filled with bookshelves.  Henry said he had an on-line business of buying and selling rare editions but lately those e-readers had cut into his profits.  Henry peeked into the study and saw a man wearing a ski mask and gloves taking jewelry from his late mother’s jewelry box that had been kept in a locked drawer.  The drawer had signs of being forced open. The jewelry was valuable and had been insured and Henry had a list of the items he had prepared for the insurance company. Henry did not confront the thief because he has a severe case of traumatophobia, fear of injury.  He said he was scared and fled into a tiny coat closet and hid until he heard the man go away.  Det. Davis peeked in the closet.  It was overstuffed with coats and boots, and it smelled like moth balls. The officer whispered to the detective that he was getting a phobia just listening to the victim. 

Det. Davis answered that Henry did not have a fear of money and that she was going to canvas the pawn shops as she didn’t believe him.  How did she know?

Crime scene:    Henry’s home.

Clues:    All the phobias.   Henry’s business.  Insurance on the jewelry.

Suspects:  Some unknown intruder…or Henry.

Red herrings:    Perhaps all the phobias acted as a drug to put the reader to sleep so they missed the clue.

Solution:  Henry slipped up when he claimed to have hidden in the closet.  A man with severe claustrophobia could never have done that.  He faked the break-in for the insurance money because his book business was failing.

My two cents:    I have stoopidaphobia.  Fear of wasting my time on dumb stories that don’t gel.  Henry bought and sold rare books.  But his business was being hurt by e-readers.  Huh?  The detective was going to canvas the pawn shops.  I guess she missed the clue that the jewelry was insured.  

The title fits, but the tag line is off base.  Although no one says the police have to be nice, usually WW likes kind people in their stories, not police who make fun of victims. Maybe Johnene has a little mean streak in her?  Mean enough to make us suffer through this story.

Two stars.  At least it was paced well.  There were lots of phobias to keep the reader busy missing the clue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is any minor crime that is punishable by a jail term in the county or local jail of under one year and can range from 10 days up to 364 days.  A felony conviction warrants a prison sentence.  In fact in Florida to make it very clear that the sentence is for prison and not jail, the judge will impose a sentence of a  "year and a day".  A person will not lose their civil rights if convicted of a misdemeanor unless the crime is one of dishonesty, such as theft, and it should not affect the ability of the offender to obtain professional licenses in most states.  Generally a conviction of two misdemeanors will result in a felony charge, but not always.  It will depend on the crime.

So what kinds of crimes are misdemeanors?  Assault.  Theft of under $250 ($500 in some states).  Indecent exposure, unless it's in front a child, then it becomes a felony.  Traffic violations such as speeding or driving without a license.  Most first-time misdemeanor offenders don't get jail time; they will get a fine and/or some type of probation.  That type of sentence is often referred to as a 'slap on the wrist'.

Writers, remember that misdemeanor charges are handled in the lower courts.  Don't have your character facing a superior court judge for trespassing and don't have him sent to prison.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Issue #29, July 21, 2014

Title:  The telltale clue

By Author:  Kendra Yoder


Tag line:    The killer mistakenly believed he’d left no evidence behind…

Police characters:   Detective Jillian Bennett and her partner Ed Mackin.

The gist:    A divorce attorney, after a struggle, was felled from a head wound and died.  His receptionist told police she arrived at work at the usual time, began to log into her computer, then heard a loud thump coming from her boss’s office.  Before she could get up to check it out a tall male, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, burst through the door, ripped his raincoat from the wooden coat hanger in the closest and ran out the door. He was not wearing gloves but had a handkerchief and opened the door with his forearm.  Video surveillance captures this man using the stairs instead of the elevator but he was slick enough to hide his face when in camera range.  Hoping for a fingerprint, Detective Bennett asked crime scene to sweep the office and reception area, but they were unable to find any prints, even on the large paperweight which was the murder weapon.  The CS techs told Bennett the place has been wiped clean; paperweight, doorknob, chair arms, etc.

Detective Bennett realized there was one place that he didn’t wipe.  Can you figure out where?

Crime scene:    Divorce attorney’s office.

Clues:    The raincoat.

Suspects:   One of the attorney’s disgruntled clients, or one of their husbands.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:   The killer arrived at the office, hung his coat on a wooden hanger in the closet, and went in to have it out with the attorney.  Things went bad.  The killer wiped off every spot he could think of but in his haste to leave forgot that he had handled the hanger when storing his coat.  

My two cents:     This story had a clever clue.  Where oh where could that fingerprint be?  What did he forget?  Except the timing is off here.  The receptionist heard a loud thump, presumably her boss hitting the floor, and in the next second the killer bursts out the door.  He didn’t have time to wipe the door knob, the desk, the arm chair, the weapon, etc.   This altercation was planned.  He dressed like a man who didn’t want to get caught and wanted to keep his identify unknown, he snuck in up the stairs -- yet he takes the time to hang up his coat?

The story was well paced.  The police details were good.  But the timing and the fact that he even stopped to hang up his coat in the first place marred the story.

Three stars.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Can I get a DUI on a bicycle?


In most states you can lose your driver’s license if you are riding a bicycle impaired, even though a bicycle is not motor powered.  The reasoning is that you are not in control of moving equipment and could swerve into the road and cause a motor vehicle accident or pedestrian injury.   Or even property damage.

Also if you’re riding your bike without safety equipment, such as a working headlight, you can be stopped by law enforcement and issued a civil citation.  Once the officer has you stopped, just like a motor vehicle stop, he can engage you and conduct a DUI investigation if he observes any signs or indications of impairment.  

Some states use DUI, driving under the influence, which covers alcohol and drugs.  Some states use DWI, driving while impaired.  Same street, different corner.

By the way, the penalty for operating a boat while impaired is the same as for operating a motor vehicle and you can lose your driver’s license.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

101 Things
An Author Needs to Know
About the Police and the Law

Can I rely on legal advice from the police?
A Fort Lauderdale lawyer told me to never rely on the police for legal advice, and in fact, you can depend on them giving you bad advice.  Now, I don’t know if that lawyer was just trying to advocate for his craft, but generally the police know the law, know how to arrest someone, and are taught techniques on how to deal with people.  But they’re not lawyers.  Ask a cop if you can get bail and he won’t know.  He’ll say something like that’s up to the courts.  Which is true.
Bottom line:  If you’re in some kind of legal jam, don’t hesitate to consult with a lawyer.  It will be money well spent and may keep you out of jail.
Writing prompt:  have your hero get bad advice from a police officer and end up in a lot of trouble.   Maybe even in cuffs in the back of a cruiser.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Appearing in issue #27, July 7, 2014

Title:  Recipe for crime

By Author:  S. Furlong-Bolliger

Tag line:   Would the sheriff be able to sift through the facts and solve the crime?

Police characters:  Sheriff June Clark, Deputy Beau Hicks
The gist:    The Corner Café Bakery had been trashed with most of the damage in the kitchen. Nothing appeared to be stolen, and in fact the cash box was still full and under the counter.  The refrigerator was open and the contents strewn.  The drawers were overturned.  All the shelves, which were floor to ceiling, were emptied.  Sheriff Clark noticed a flour bag had been emptied onto the floor but no footprints were in the mess. The owner came up with the names of three people who might want to harm her business. The first suspect, a short plump woman who was the bakery owner down the street, said the Corner Café had a lousy baker and it didn’t affect her business one bit. She had flour on her apron. The second suspect, a fired employee, a tall lanky male, said he was mad that he got fired but he didn’t trash the place.  The third suspect was the estranged husband, a short balding man, who said his wife was a lousy baker and even worse cook and that she was wasting their money on the bakery.
Sheriff Clark knew who did it.
Crime scene:    Bakery.
Clues:    The flour all over the floor, the tall shelves emptied, the height of each of the suspects.
Suspects:  Competitor bakery owner, fired employee, estranged husband.
Red herrings:    Flour on competitor’s apron.
Solution:  Only the fired employee was tall enough to reach the high shelves.
My two cents:    I think the clue was planted well in this story.  It was hidden in the info of each suspect, something the reader barely pays attention to. 
Of course this works only if it really was the fired employee.  Just because a finger was pointed at him, doesn’t mean he did it because he’s tall.  Could have been random vandals out on a destruction spree and craving a cupcake.
All in all a decent story, paced well, with a not-so-obvious clue.  Even the tag line was clever.  My only complaint is that the word lousy was used twice.  Find a thesaurus.
Four stars.  Who can tell me what crime was committed here?
PS  Speaking of thesauruses here’s a joke:
A truck carrying a load of thesauruses careened off a bridge.  The bystanders were dazed, astonished, dismayed, shocked, startled, speechless and dumbfounded.  
Hee hee.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Appearing in issue #26, June 30, 2014

Title:  The train to Graceland

By Author:  John M. Floyd


Tag line:    Angela Potts was enjoying a leisurely train ride home, when, naturally she ran into trouble…

Police characters:    Train security guard.

The gist:    Angela did not like trains but found it necessary to be on one.   She started talking to her dining seat companion who was the security chief for the railroad.  He gossiped with her about the English female and her two male companions who were seated on the other side of the car.  One male was dressed in proper British tweeds and was burly.  The second male was a young US Air Force officer.  The woman paid no attention to the Brit, but was making eyes with the officer, who had blue eyes and curly hair that hung to his silver captain’s bars.  His name tag read Prescott.   The security guard told Angela the woman was traveling to Graceland, that she was a big Elvis fan, and had two body guards with her; one was her own and the other had been assigned by the government as she was the daughter of the Deputy Prime Minister.  Ms. Potts wondered how an Air Force officer had come to be assigned such duty. The train security guy told her that government decisions are not always logical.

Later the security guard told her that the woman’s quarters had been burgled and all her possessions were gone. They were still a half hour from the next train stop.  The guard had the only key to the baggage compartment, so he decided to search everyone’s compartments.  Ms. Potts accompanied him.   They met the two body guards in the hallway by the first passenger car they were going to search, which happened to belong to the body guards.  The train security guy lays out the plan to them. Ms. Potts wanted to know if the woman’s cell phone had been taken.  It was.  The cell phone tone was Jailhouse Rock. Angela told the body guards to call the phone.  The guard glanced at the security chief and the Air Force guy and said, Now?  Ms. Potts said, Yes, now.  And sure enough the phone rang in the Air Force officer’s compartment.  “Is that Captain Prescott’s door?” “Yes,” the train security guard said.  “What’s –“ and he trails off.  Apparently confused.  A search of that compartment revealed all of the woman’s stolen property.  The real Captain Prescott was tied and gagged and in his underwear back at the train station.

Ms. Potts told the security chief that she knows a bit about US military and that some things never change. 

Crime scene:    On the train.

Clues:    The officer’s hair length.

Suspects:  I would think everyone on the train, but apparently the list boiled down to the two body guards.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:   Officers in the US military do not have long hair.

My two cents:    First of all, I appreciate not having an ! in the tag line.  Very unusual.  Thank you WW for restraining yourselves.  Either that or this story is not ! worthy.

Have you ever ridden on a train?  It’s hard to gossip about someone who is seated on the other side of the car from you and not have them hear you.  He must have been whispering in Angela’s ear. 

Security guards do not eat with the passengers and certainly do not gossip about the other travelers.

Ms. Potts wondered how an Air Force officer had come to be assigned such duty.  She’s right.  Most visiting dignitaries are afforded security through the Secret Service.  But I guess the author needed a military man for the part so we have to believe that the Air Force became involved.

The train security guard runs and tells Ms. Potts there’s been a crime.  What the heck kind of security guard is this?

 She accompanied him as he investigated the crime…of course.  I’m sure he was thrilled to have an old woman trailing around behind him. (That’s what he gets for opening his mouth.) Why he didn’t think she might have been a suspect is not clear.  And why would train security not suspect one of the body guards?  He told them the search plan for gawd’s sake.

The bit about “Should I call the phone now?  Yes, now.” is a waste of words.  Also these men don’t take orders from another passenger.

So the stolen cell phone rings in one of the guard’s compartments and the train security guy acts all confused.  Puulleeeze.  How dumb is everyone on this train?  How dumb is the crook to steal when he has nowhere to run? How dumb is this story?

Two weary stars.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Can the police look into my yard?



Bottom line: The police can peep into your yard or home as long as he/she is in a legal place from which to do it.  They can use binoculars, dive-bomb your property with a helicopter, stand in a neighbor’s yard with their permission, or use the high-rise across the street.

What else can they do?  They can pick up your trash if you left it out on the curb.  They can take photos of you and your guests coming and going. 

They cannot listen to your phone conversations without a search warrant.