Saturday, November 29, 2014

Appearing in issue #48, December 1, 2014

Title:  I spy

By Author:  Marianna Heusler


Tag line:     Had the person who’d stolen the brooch been seen by the neighborhood watch?

Police characters:   Detective Kevin McCarthy and Detective Lola Wheeler

The gist:    Mrs. Middleton came home to find her valuable brooch had been stolen.  There were no signs of forced entry.  The home at been locked and the alarm activated. Three people had keys and alarms codes; Iris, the housekeeper; Larry, the contractor; Alison, the dog walker.  While Mrs. M was speaking to the detectives a neighbor came over and reported that she saw someone dressed in all black with a black baseball cap and sunglasses come out of Mrs. M’s house this afternoon.  She couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman but she believed the perpetrator saw her in the window watching.

The detectives speak to the dog walker and asked where she was between 1:00 and 2:00 today.   She said she picked up a customer’s dog and took him for a 45-minute walk, then went to her next job.  She was at Mrs. M’s at 10:00 in the morning to walk her dog.  The police told her someone had broken into Mrs. M’s home and stolen several pieces of jewelry including a brooch and that there was a witness.  The dog walker said she had nothing to worry about with regard to a witness because she wasn’t there.

The detectives next spoke to the contractor.  Again the cops told him what was stolen.  He claimed he wasn’t there today and that he was waiting for some kitchen cabinets so he could work on her kitchen. He said he saw the brooch when he was last there.  He said that Mrs. M was showing it to the cleaning lady and then left it on the window ledge, which he thought was odd as it looked expensive.  He claims he saw the cleaning lady pick it up and examine it closer.  He said today he had been working on another customer’s house but that he left for lunch.  When told about the witness he said, “Well, she didn’t see me because I wasn’t there and the diner is in the opposite direction.”

The housekeeper admitted to seeing and handling the pretty brooch last week when Mrs. M showed it to her, but denied stealing it.   She said she was home today cleaning her own home.  She said Mrs. M was careless with her jewelry and perhaps misplaced it herself.  When told about the witness, she said, “Then that clears me.”  

Crime scene:    Mrs. Middleton’s home.

Clues:    Only the real thief would know it was a woman who was the witness because he saw her, and that the diner was in the opposite direction of where she was.

Suspects:   The three people with keys and the alarm code.

Red herrings:    Mrs. M was careless with her valuables.

Solution:   The contractor took the jewelry.  He referred to the witness as she, something only the burglar would know.

My two cents:    So the neighbor sees someone suspicious, wearing all black, coming from her neighbor’s house but she doesn’t call the police?  Hmpf.  Thanks neighbor.

The cops are running around telling everyone what was stolen.  That’s just not done.

This was pretty easy to figure out.   The solution didn’t mention that the diner was in the opposite direction of the neighbor who saw him.  Maybe they ran out of words?  This is not the author’s fault.  This is poor editing.

I think the tag line was supposed to be funny.  Not sure.  It wasn’t.

Other than the police blabbing about what was stolen, there were no other real problems with this story.  It read well, the pacing was good.  I thought the clue was too obvious but at least there was a red herring and three suspects.  I can’t give it 5 stars because it’s quite boring, but I can’t give it less than 4 either.

Old women and their brooches.  Can’t we come up with something more modern?  How about having the bad guys steal a Wii? 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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

           The cop said it was in "plain view".          
                  What does that mean?

The plain view doctrine allows an officer to seize, without a warrant, what he considers to be evidence and/or contraband found in plain view during a lawful observation. 

So let's break that down. What is evidence?  It can be a physical thing or it can be the spoken word, but basically it is something that will establish a point.  Let's say you have an open bottle of alcohol in the car and you're pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving.  If the cop sees the open container, it will be seized as evidence that you were driving while impaired. 

And contraband is simple.  It's goods that have been imported or exported illegally. Drugs are a perfect example.

So you're pulled over on the highway by the police for speeding and the cop comes up to the window with his flashlight.  Can he look inside your car?  Yes.  With that flashlight?  Yes, again. This is considered a lawful observation. 

In order for him to seize something that is in plain view the courts apply a three-prong test called the Horton test. 
     1)  The officer has to be lawfully present at the place where the evidence is plainly viewed. (He's on patrol, he's in a lawful place on the streets.)

     2)  The officer has to have lawful right of access to the object.  That means the officer could not seize the evidence if he has to look/enter into a place in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Can he look in your trunk?  No, not without your permission.  Can he look in your handbag or the backpack in the rear seat?  NoYou could have a human head in there but you were speeding, so what does your trunk or the backpack have to do with it? Nothing.  Therefore, he can't poke around in there.
     3)  The incriminating character of the object has to be immediately apparent.  So, you've got a joint in the ashtray.  (I know, who has ashtrays these days, right?)  If the cops sees it while he's asking for your license and registration, you're in trouble. He will ask you to step out of the car and he will seize the contraband, which is now going to be evidence in your trial.

How about if you have a gun on the front seat?  Not illegal if you have the proper permits to carry in most states.  It is your responsibility to know when you have crossed a state line where the rules differ.  My driveway where I used to live in Massachusetts was 40 feet from the state border. So if I turned left I was in Connecticut.  Different set of regulations there.  Carrying a weapon that is accessible to passengers in a vehicle is not recommended.  If you are stopped by a police officer and the weapon is visible, cooperate fully with the officer's commands. When the officer approaches the window, tell him right away that you have a weapon in the car.  Do not make him nervous.  Do not joke around.  Do not make sudden moves or touch the gun for any reason. If the officer wants to see it, the officer will remove it himself. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Appearing in issue #47, November 24, 2014

Title:  Death takes a tumble

By Author:  Aimee Deschaine


Tag line:     One thing was certain, Della’s descent had not happened by accident!

Police characters:   Officer John Francisco and newspaper reporter, Cora.

The gist:    Ms. Della Reed, the town’s wealthiest woman, had been found dead in her home by two of her school chums who had come back to town for a class reunion.  Cora, a newspaper reporter, showed up at the home when she heard the news.  When Officer Francisco, who was speaking to the two chums, saw Cora Reporter arrive, he walked over to her to fill her in.

Della had not shown up for the reunion event, and the next day her two chums came to the house, saw her through a glass door lying at the bottom on the staircase, and called the police.  Officer Francisco at first thought the death was an accidental fall down the stairs, but became suspicious when he saw a large lump on the back of her head.  

The three women had met for lunch the day before the reunion.  Della’s brother, Carl, who also lived in the house, had been there during the lunch.  Della liked to take Polaroid photos and Cora Reporter found three photos sitting beside the plate of cookies Della had planned to take to the reunion. Cora Reporter picked them up and examined them. The first photo showed the two chums standing in front of a coat rack that held umbrellas, hats, a couple of rain slickers and a man’s raincoat.  Photo number two, taken by Carl, showed the three women on the couch drinking tea.  The last photo showed the two chums leaning on a Mercedes in the driveway, while Carl in a plaid jacket and holding a briefcase waved from the driver’s side door.  Carl was leaving for a business trip.

One of the chums said that a contractor’s truck showed up as they were leaving and that Della did not seem pleased to see it.   Della and her brother had been warding off developers who wanted their property to turn it into a high-priced condo community.

Cora Reporter had heard that Della and one of the chums had been rivals all through school and wondered if that had played a part in Della’s death.

Carl, having been called when his sister had been found, came rushing in, dropped his raincoat and briefcase, and broke down when he saw his sister’s body.

Cora Reporter told the officer she knew who the killer was.

Crime scene:    Rich woman’s home.

Clues:    The photographs.

Suspects:  Two female friends, her brother, a strange contractor.   

Red herrings:    The high school rival.  And then Just a lot of stupidity to throw you off.

Solution:   The brother, Carl, killed his sister after an argument over selling the house.  The first photograph showed a raincoat hanging on the rack.  Carl was not wearing a raincoat in the second photo where he was in the car leaving, but Cora Reporter saw him throw one down  when he rushed in today.  He must have come back, argued with his sister, killed her, and grabbed his coat on the way out.

My two cents:    Okay, let’s start with the police.  Officer Francisco is suspicious of a lump on the back of a woman’s head, a woman who fell down a flight of stairs?  Really?  Did he think she would fall to her death and not get a mark on her somewhere?  Did you ever see the scene in Death Becomes Her where Meryl Streep falls down the stairs?  It’s pretty horrific. She’s all twisted up and broken when it’s over.  There’s even a bone sticking out of her neck.  Anyway, my point is that a lump on her head is not suspicious in this circumstance.

Next, let’s talk about the photographs.  So there’s a raincoat on the rack in one, and Carl is not wearing a raincoat while pictured seated in the driver’s seat.  Um – maybe it’s in the back seat?  Maybe after the photo was taken, Carl said, oops, I forgot my raincoat and he went back in and got it.  This was a terrible and unbelievable clue.

 “When Officer Francisco, who was speaking to the two chums, saw Cora Reporter, he walked over to her to fill her in.”  And then he turned in his badge before the department had a chance to fire his butt. Any police officer that gives info to the press will be on desk duty for months, and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for him to sit at a desk with most of his ass chewed off.    And a newspaper reporter is not going to be allowed to walk around the crime scene and talk to the witnesses for Pete’s sake. The detective bureau and crime scene haven’t even been there yet.  She handled the photographs!  She touched evidence!  She’s dropping DNA and leaving prints all over the crime scene!   Now look at that.  This author made me use exclamation points.  I must be really perturbed.

There was motive, barely.  The pacing was okay.  The writing was okay.  The characters were unbelievable and the clue that was used could easily be explained, so really it was a non-clue.

Two stars.  Reluctantly. Exclamation point.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Get out your pencils. You should ace these....

                 POP QUIZ!
1)  Where does the term Miranda come from?
   a) It’s Spanish for ‘no question’. 
   b) It was a defendant’s name.
   c) It’s a combination of letters from a procedure in the police    training manual.
2)  You just robbed a store at gunpoint.  Did you …
   a)  commit a robbery?
   b)  commit a burglary?
   c)  commit a hate crime?
3)  Your brother was sentenced to 3 years in state prison.  Was his crime a …
   a)  Misdemeanor
   b)  Felony
4)  Your friend walked up to and hit another guy in a bar for no apparent reason.  He was arrested for…
   a)  Battery
   b)  Assault
5)  In order to be an accessory after the fact a person:
   a)  assisted or gave aid knowingly in a crime
   b)  knew the other person was committing a crime
   c)   split the proceeds of the crime
   d)   did all of the above
6)  Criminal mischief means?
   a)  pranking someone
   b)  causing damage to someone’s property
   c)   acting willfully and maliciously
   d)  A and B
   e)  B and C
7)  To be convicted of a DUI (driving under the influence) in most US states your blood alcohol level must be over…
   a)  .15
   b)  .08
   c)  1.0
8)  The cops said you were fleeing.  You were:
   a)  failing to stop when the police said to
   b)  making false statements to the police
   c)  driving an unregistered vehicle
9)   An element of a home invasion charge would include:
   a)  entering someone’s home uninvited
   b)  making yourself a sandwich while you’re in there
   c)  leaving threatening notes
10)  If you are convicted of a felony, what rights could you lose?
   a)  the right to have an attorney
   b)  the right to vote
   c)  the right to apply for a driver license
11)  You hit a parked car and took off without leaving a note.  You are guilty of:
   a)  aiding and abetting
   b)  car jacking
   c)  leaving the scene of an accident
12)  She says you kidnapped her.  What did you do?
   a)  You wouldn’t let her leave the house when she wanted to
   b)  You took money from her purse
   c)  You locked her out of the house
13)  You were accused of being lewd.  What did you do?
   a)  You burped in public
   b)  You acted in an unchaste manner
   c)  You gawked at a woman/man on the street
14)  To loiter is to linger or dawdle or remain or move about without a lawful purpose.
   a)  True
   b)  False
15) A car is speeding, hits a person crossing the street, and kills that person.  What is the charge?
   a) murder
   b) manslaughter
16)  You lied on the witness stand in court during a legal proceeding.  What crime did you commit?
   a)  uttering a false statement
   b) perjury
   c)  withholding evidence
17)  When is a borrowed car a stolen car?
   a)  after 7 days
   b)  overnight
   c)  when the owner says so
18)  Can you get a DUI on a boat?
   A) yes
   b) no
19)  Is it against the law to share prescription medication?
   a) no, when the other person says it’s okay
   b) yes, unless that person is over 18 years of age
   c) Yes, period.
20)  Is a rent-a-cop a real cop?
   a) yes
   b) no


1)b 2)a 3)b 4)a 5)d 6)e 7)b 8)a 9)a 10)b 11)c 12)a 13)b 14)a 15)b 16)b 17c 18)a 19)c 20)b

17 or more correct - you've been paying attention. Excellent.
13-16 correct - You better go back and review some old posts.  Good.
9-12 correct - You're just guessing, right?  Poor
Under 9?  Law is not your thing.  Maybe you'd do better to write romantic comedies.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Appearing in issue #46, November 17, 2014

Title:  Lights out!

By Author:  Tracy Green

Tag line:     Everyone was in the dark about who had robbed the jewelry store!

Police characters:   Detective Angela Chu

The gist:    In the middle of a city-wide power outage the city’s most famous jewelry store had been robbed. Police speculated that only a skilled thief could have pulled off that stunt, someone who familiarized himself with the work habits of the partners, became familiar with the building layout, and understood the state-of-the-art security system.  At the time of the blackout and the theft, the night before, there were only two people in the building; one of three partners (Kirk) and a trusted security guard.  Kirk claimed he had been working late to get the books in order for the accountant who was coming the next day.  As he was preparing to leave the building, the lights went out. He said he called for the security man but he wasn’t at his station in the lobby.  He said he was concerned for the guard, as he was a bit elderly and went to look for him.  He took the elevator to the parking basement and found him in his car passed out drunk.  He said he was agitated and just left the man in the car, and he went home.  

Partner #2 (Lincoln), who was not present when the theft occurred, said he and the partner #3 (Paul) had attended the gem and mineral show at the convention and had been there the entire day.  He said he went home after the show and assumed Paul did, too.  Lincoln told Det. Chu that Kirk has a large art collection and had recently been scrambling to gather money to purchase a painting he desperate wanted.  Det. Chu thought perhaps Lincoln was telling her this to divert suspicion from himself.  Chu also learned that partner Paul had hefty alimony payments.

When Det. Chu interviewed partner Paul he told her that partner Lincoln had a gambling problem and that the jewelry store was insured to the max.

Det. Chu spoke to the security guard who admitted he had been drinking and even left the premises for awhile to meet his friends in a bar.  He said he had had too much to drink and decided to sleep it off in the car, never thinking he’d be found.  He told Chu that Paul had overseen the installation of the new security system and had bothered the technicians with endless questions. 

Det. Chu knew who her man was.

Crime scene:   jewelry store.  

Clues:    the power outage.

Suspects:  the three partners, or the security guard.

Red herrings:    Paul’s detailed knowledge of the security system.  The fact that the accountant was coming in the next day to look at the books.  Det. Chu’s thoughts on Lincoln trying to throw her off the track.

Solution:  Kirk is the thief.  He said he took the elevator to go check on the security guard, but the power was out, so how could he?  He took advantage of the outage, and when it came back on he found the guard, so he used him to lie about how the events unfolded.

My two cents:    I guess no one has ever heard of backup generators.  This is a high-buck jewelry store in a multi-level building that has an elevator and a lobby, with a state-of-the-art security system -- that goes down and leaves them vulnerable when the power goes out.  Backup generators keep the security system operational, the emergency lights on, and the elevators running and are part of every “state-of-the-art” system.  This is where the author made his/her biggest mistake.  He/she should have kept it a bit low key in the security department.

The tag line was cute but the title was ho-hum.  I know these are not the author’s doing.

Sometimes we have no red herrings; here we have three good ones.

Well, every-single-body had a motive here.  I sure can’t squawk about ‘no motive’.  Gambling problems, pesky alimony payments, art lust.   Everybody pointing fingers at everybody else. And to top it off they have a drunk for a security guard.

 I have to give this story 3 stars.  The pacing was good, no problems with the writing, and it had motive out the kazoo, but the clue was not believable and the characters were all sharks and drunks.  A bit over the top.  Sort of a 180 from last week’s story that had blah characters and no motive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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

                        What is hearsay?

Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the person speaking while testifying at trial or a hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. It is sometimes a difficult principle to follow.
Let me give you an example.  Martha Rogers is testifying about a fight she and Jane got into. It might go like this:

Q:  Tell us, Ms. Rogers, how did the fight start?
A:  Well, Jane came over to my house and told me that Jim saw my husband out with another woman.     
     DEFENSE:  Objection, Your Honor, hearsay.

This is really double hearsay.  Martha is testifying what Jim said to Jane. Martha Rogers can’t testify about what someone else said or heard or saw.  She can only testify about things she herself said, heard, or saw.  Yes, it is true that she heard Jane say it, but to get Jane’s statements into evidence, the state must call Jane as a witness and ask her about what she said. The attorney for the state has to try to elicit what happened without getting into third party statements.  Not an easy task. Attorneys have meetings with witnesses before they get on the stand to let them know what can be said and what not to say.

More likely it would go like this:
Q:  Tell us, Mr. Rogers, how did the fight start?
A:  Well, Jane came over to my house and started making comments about my husband.
Q:  And did that make you angry?
A:  Yes.  Very.
Q:   So what did you do when you became angry with Jane?
A:  I told her to get out of my house.  She was standing in my doorway, so I pushed her out the door.
Q:  And what happened next?
A:  She slapped me.  That’s when I lost it and went after her.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about hearsay.  People commonly believe that you cannot be convicted based on hearsay. That's not true. Hearsay evidence is often excluded, but if it meets an exception, of which many exist, it may be admissible and used to convict you.People also believe that hearsay only applies to what other people say. In fact, hearsay applies to everyone, as long as they are not under oath.