Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2014

Private Investigator reviewing evidence

 

Going Back to the Early 1970s

We’ve had a few cases where clients asked us to identify people who were either employed at, or did contract work for, two different buildings (one a former business) that existed over 40 years ago. In both cases, our clients didn’t know the people’s full names, and the business had been closed for several decades.

Case #1: Finding a Car Mechanic

In one, a lawyer hired us to find a car mechanic who had worked in Denver some time in the early 1970s. We had his last name (which fortunately was unique — better than trying to find someone with the last name of Smith or Jones!), his wife’s first name, and the name of a dealership (which had closed over twenty years ago) where he had once worked. Researching proprietary databases wasn’t useful because their information didn’t go back that far. Surprisingly, old local telephone books from that era didn’t contain any people with that last name.

One track of investigative research that was fruitful, however, was researching business owners of the former car dealership through our state’s Secretary of State database, then researching contact information for these people and their family members. It took a lot of calls and hitting dead ends, but eventually we found a contact who remembered this car mechanic. Unfortunately, he had died years ago, but we were able to conduct an interview with one of his-coworkers from that former dealership, who gave us information useful for the lawyer’s case.

Case #2: Finding a Building Contractor

In a current case, we needed to determine the identities of building contractors who built a school building in 1970, and later remodeled a school gymnasium in 1972. Our client, a law firm back east, only knew the names of the buildings. Fortunately, in our state, school districts are mandated by law to keep business records, contracts and architectural plans on file in case the school requires any remodeling.

To our amazement, we learned that this school district had gone above and beyond the mandate by also keeping every scrap of paper associated to a contract, even scribbled notes. Such a find is a PI’s dream come true. We visited the off-site storage facility where boxes of these notes had been stored, and sifted through box after box, looking for any mention of a contractor’s name…eventually, we found the names of contractors and subcontractors for these buildings, nearly 40 years later!

This last case shows how, even in this digital age, old-fashioned footwork can solve a case. If we had relied solely on the documents faxed to us by the school district, we never would have learned the identities of the contractors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford

Posted by Writing PIs on July 20, 2014

Rockford 2

We’re both long-time fans of The Rockford Files, and it saddened us to learn of James Garner’s passing. Today we’re sharing some articles in which we referenced one of our favorite private eye characters, Jim Rockford, from the ’74-’80 TV show The Rockford Files. Below are those posts, along with excerpts:

The Rockford Files: Magical Surveillances In A Gold ’78 Firebird (from colleencollinsbooks.com)

Rockford's '78 Pontiac Firebird

Rockford’s ’78 Pontiac Firebird

I’m a huge fan of the old TV series The Rockford Files, staring one of my all-time favorite actors James Garner — in fact, my husband and I own the entire series on DVD.  But gotta say, how’d he pull off all those surveillances in a shiny gold Firebird?

Magic.

 

Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

Opening credits: The Rockford Files

Opening credits: The Rockford Files

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary…

 

Answering Writers’ Questions: Who are the most realistically portrayed fictional PIs? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

(Among our answers was Jim Rockford)

Rockford

We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights, and squealing breaks, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs.

 

Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We get this question a lot from people.  In those great old noir films, seems every private detective carried one and used it freely.  Then along came Rockford (from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar than carry it…

rockford firebird 2 w Jim Garner

Have a good week, Writing PIs

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White-Collar Crime: Bad Offense, But Good Offender?

Posted by Writing PIs on July 2, 2014

Crafty White-Collar Criminals

White-collar criminals: Gentler, kinder than other offenders?

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s article “Crafty White-Collar Criminals” is posted at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. In the article, Colleen discusses a true story about our once working with a well-respected former federal prosecutor who we later learned had been secretly committing a million-dollar white-collar crime. In the article, Colleen outlines several other white-collar cases we have investigated, the myth that white-collar criminals are kinder and gentler than other criminals, and a type of crime now called fraud detection homicide.

Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article at the end.

Crafty White-Collar Criminals

During the decade-plus that my husband and I co-owned a private detective agency, we investigated some interesting crimes, including several white-collar crimes that had been carried out by some very crafty criminals. But one particular crime still haunts us. Not because we investigated it; in fact, we didn’t even know about the crime as it was in progress. What haunts us is that the perpetrator of the crime was our client, an attorney we viewed as a friend. Still do, actually, for the simple reason he always treated us kindly. I’ll call him “Mr. A” for the rest of this article.

Former Federal Prosecutor Turns Criminal

Mr. A had been a former federal prosecutor who had returned to private practice as a trial attorney. He was a man widely respected not only for his brilliance in the courtroom and his legal skills, but also for his ethics and good character. He was in his sixties and silver-haired, with an aura of sophistication and a gentle wit. Once at a holiday party at his home, we all gathered in the kitchen, chatting with Mr. A while he cooked a prime rib for our meal and attended to his guests’ needs. I was impressed how he cooked, mixed drinks and charmingly kept up with multiple conversations at once, never missing a beat. He was part Cary Grant, part Wolfgang Puck. On the drive home, my husband and I marveled at Mr. A.’s perfection.

So a year later, when a federal grand jury issued a 29-count indictment accusing Mr. A of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud, my husband and I were stunned. Mr. A, a white-collar criminal? Impossible!

It was not only possible, but true. Let’s pause a moment and discuss white-collar crime.

To read the full article, click here.

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: On Sale for 99 cents

Through July 7, our new nonfiction book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, is on sale for less than a dollar. Audiences: Writers, fans of legal shows/books, armchair legal eagles, and those who are simply curious about the world of lawyers, litigation and lawbreakers.

Purchase at Amazon by clicking here or on the book cover, below:

Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

 

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Finding Missing Persons: Old-Fashioned But Still Valid Gumshoe Techniques

Posted by Writing PIs on June 23, 2014

A lot of people think today’s PIs just sit at computers and look up information.  That’s partly true — today’s PIs do a fair amount of research online, but that doesn’t mean the old, tried-and-true ways of investigating on foot aren’t still sometimes the best way to find information.

Hitting the Street, Knocking on Doors

Hard to believe there was a time without computers and databases, but once upon a time a sleuth looking for a missing person had to hit the streets, knock on doors, conduct surveillances, and do research on-site at court houses and other places.  Some of these seemingly old-fashioned means are still valid, and sometimes even more useful, than digging electronically.

A Little Girl Was Missing

Seven or so years ago, we were driving in rush-hour traffic, tired after a day researching records in several courthouses, happy to be going home and calling it a day…then we got a call on our cell phone: A five-year-old girl had gone missing.

It was a case we’d already been working on. The little girl’s biological father was struggling with mental/drug issues, and the little girl’s grandparents, who had custody and were concerned for her well-being, had hired us to investigate his lifestyle. Just that morning, before we’d left for our courthouse work, we’d researched where the father might possibly have moved to (he’d withheld his new residence address from the grandparents) and we’d located a plausible street address, although we hadn’t double-checked it yet.

After getting the call, we quickly drove to this new possible address. It was an old Victorian home remodeled into four apartments, and we ran to the apartment we believed he lived in, but no one was home. Peering through the windows, we saw the place was empty, with trash and moving boxes piled inside. We began knocking on neighbors’ doors. No one answered. Being a little after five p.m., we guessed that the other residents hadn’t returned home yet from work.

Relying on Random Wi-Fi Signals

Those were the days before we had smartphones. Often, if we needed quick Internet access while in the field, we’d try to pick up a Wi-Fi signal via one of our laptops. Sometimes we’d have to drive slowly down a street to find one of these signals!

This day, we lucked out and picked up a signal right away. After successfully accessing the Internet, we looked up the county assessor’s office and researched the owner of the Victorian apartment building. After another quick search to locate his phone number, we called the landlord, gave him the father’s name, and asked if he had recently lived in the apartment that was now empty and filled with trash and packing boxes. The owner denied knowing the father, and claimed there had been another tenant who had lived in that unit and she had recently moved, but he didn’t have a forwarding address. Later we learned the owner had lied to us.

But at the time, we were stymied. From our research of the father several days before, this address had definitely popped up in our searches. Maybe he was living in one of the other units with a roommate?

We Decided to Do A Trash Hit

We spied a dumpster behind the apartment building and decided to check its contents, see if there were any clues to the little girl or her father. This is what’s called a “trash hit” — you literally go through the trash. We had definite procedures for conducting trash hits in our investigations, but this time we were on a time clock and did it dirty and fast: We jumped into the dumpster.

We found a box addressed to the father at this address! So he did live here — or had lived here. We now believed, despite what the landlord had said, that the father was the tenant who’d suddenly moved in the last day or so. Digging through the trash, we found a few children’s items, including some yogurt cartons. We called the grandparents and described the items — when we described the yogurt container, the grandmother started crying.  She explained that was her granddaughter’s favorite kind of yogurt.

A Long Evening of Research

We peeled the return address label off the box addressed to the father, and drove back to our home office, where we started a long evening of research, which included many calls to local law enforcement, to locate the little girl. To bring this story quickly to a happy ending, by the time the sun came up, we had located the little girl and her father — they were 2,000 miles away at a relative’s.

You can see how much physical work was involved in making this discovery. Visiting a location, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and eventually crawling into a dumpster. A few weeks later, the grandparents sent us a thank you card with a photo of their granddaughter. It’s one of our treasured mementoes.

Other Tasks a PI Might Conduct to Locate a Missing Person

Additional techniques include:

  • Researching court records (such as evictions and traffic violations that might contain information that indicates where the person might be living, their type of car, their workplace, or associates who can be interviewed about the person’s current location.
  • Pulling driver’s records at the DMV (to pinpoint everything from a person’s physical description to their signature to recent addresses).
  • Interviewing people who may have known the subject (for example, past and current neighbors as well as relatives, past and current landlords, co-workers and known associates).
  • Surveilling places the person was known to frequent (friends’ or relatives’ homes, bars, workout clubs, etc.)

Our current nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms is now available on Amazon. Audiences: Writers crafting legal thrillers, fans of legal movies and TV shows, researchers & armchair legal eagles

Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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Private Eye Writers of America: 2014 Shamus Finalists

Posted by Writing PIs on June 10, 2014

PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA SHAMUS AWARD FINALISTS 2014

For works published in 2013. (The lists below are in alphabetical order by author.) The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach, California on Friday, November 14

fedora black and white

BEST HARDCOVER P.I. NOVEL

Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

The Mojito Coast by Richard Helms

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

The Good Cop by Brad Parks

Nemesis by Bill Pronzini

 

BEST FIRST P.I. NOVEL

A Good Death by Christopher R. Cox

Montana by Gwen Florio

Blood Orange by Karen Keskinen

Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

 

BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK P.I. NOVEL

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Into the Dark by Alison Gaylin

Purgatory Key by Darrell James

Heart of Ice by P.J. Parrish

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie by Robert J. Randisi

 

BEST P.I. SHORT STORY

“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine

“The Ace I” by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM

“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM

“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM

“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM

 

BEST INDIE P.I. NOVEL

Murder Take Three by April Kelly and Marsha Lyons

A Small Sacrifice by Dana King

No Pat Hands by J.J. Lamb

State vs. Lassiter by Paul Levine

Don’t Dare a Dame by M. Ruth Myers

 

With many thanks to judges Ted Fitzgerald, Dorothy Rellas, Colleen Collins, Andrew S. McAleer, Jan Grape, Paul Levine, Chip Hughes, S.J. Rozan, John Shepphird, Clive Rosengren, Christine Matthews, Reed Farrel Coleman, Harley Mazuk, O’Neil De Noux and Barbara D. Amato 

Gay Toltl Kinman, Chair

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Book Excerpt – A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Courthouse Dogs

Posted by Writing PIs on May 23, 2014

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes is Booklist Online's Web Crush of the Week!

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes is Booklist Online’s Web Crush of the Week!

News: We were delighted this morning to learn that the American Library Association’s Booklist Online selected Guns, Gams and Gumshoes as its “Web Crush of the Week” this last week of its Mystery Month. Thank you, Rebecca Vnuk and Booklist Online!

Two Upcoming Books!

Available July 2014 - to pre-order, click on cover

Available July 2014

Available June 2014

Available June 2014

 

Today we’re posting an excerpt from our June 2014 nonfiction book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms (cover is to your left). This excerpt is about courthouse dogs, which are professionally trained facility dogs who provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system. The excerpt also tells the story of one of the first courthouse dogs, a Golden Retriever named Rosie. We’re running a contest to give away copies of A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers — to enter, click here. 

Also, you can now pre-order Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s author Colleen Collins’s July 2014 novel Hearts in Vegas, the third book in her private-eye romance series for Harlequin Superromance (to order, click on cover to your right).

Courtroom Dogs: Canine Compassion at Court

(Excerpt from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: from Crimes to Courtrooms)

I center on their healing power within the justice system. There is so much hurt — the victims, families, even members of our office — from exposure to trauma and anxiety…within this environment, the dogs contribute to justice. – King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng

Did you know that as of the writing of this book, there are 60 courthouse dogs (also called facility dogs and advocate dogs) working in 23 jurisdictions throughout the US?

What Is A Courthouse Dog?

These are specially trained dogs that provide emotional support to people who have suffered physical, psychological or emotional trauma as a result of criminal conduct. For example, a courthouse dog might offer comfort to a sexually abused child while he/she undergoes forensic interviews and testifying in court. These dogs will also greet jurors; offer a soothing presence for vulnerable witnesses; provide a sense of normalcy during emotionally charged court hearings; even cuddle and play with troubled teenagers waiting for hearings.

Courthouse dogs truly become a member of the court as they often visit with court support staff, defense counsel, law enforcement officers and judges during the course of a work day.

Criminal justice professions — such as a deputy prosecutor, law enforcement officer, victim advocate, or forensic interviewer — handle courthouse dogs.

Dogs’ Beneficial Effects on People

According to an article in WebMD, people can derive the following benefits from dogs:

  • Reduced blood pressure and/or heart rate.
  • Increased levels of a relaxation hormone.
  • Decreased levels of stress hormones.
  • A sense of belonging.
  • A greater control of one’s life.

Let’s look at the story of a courthouse dog named Rosie.

Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State

In 2011, Rosie, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, had her first day on the job as a courthouse dog. Before a court proceeding began, Rosie met Jessica, a 15-year-old girl who would be testifying in court about being raped.

Rosie and Jessica took the stand before the trial began so the jury wouldn’t see Rosie and possibly be influenced by her presence one way or the other. Throughout her testimony, Jessica petted Rosie — at one point, Jessica removed her shoe and buried her toes in Rosie’s fur. When asked by the prosecutor to point out the man who raped her, Jessica froze. Rosie, sensing Jessica’s distress, laid her head in the girl’s lap to comfort her. After a few moments, Jessica was able to point to the man.

Jessica and Rosie had been visiting each other for three months in preparation for Jessica’s trial date. During that time, the girl and dog had become acquainted by playing together, and Rosie had also learned how to tolerate the tight space of a witness box. Her handler would have Rosie sit in front of a barrier that the handler gradually moved closer to the dog until it mimicked being in a box.

The training paid off. With Rosie’s help, Jessica remained calm during her testimony, and the jury found the defendant guilty.

How Rosie Became a Courthouse Dog

Rosie had started out being trained to be a service dog at Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), but when it took her three months to learn how to turn on a light, she was taken out of the program. What’s interesting is that such “service dog drop-outs” often go into other programs, such as training to be an arson or courthouse dog, for which they might be better suited.

Soon after Rosie’s left the service-dog training program, she began visiting the Green Chimneys school in Brewster, New York, where she showed a talent for soothing children who were stressed.

For the next eight years, Rosie moved onto the speech-and-occupational-therapy rooms at Green Chimneys, where children were encouraged to talk to Rosie via 80 verbal commands the dog knew. Rosie also aided the children during their physical therapy by encouraging them to follow her over obstacles.

And then she went to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, where she was trained to work with children during court proceedings.

Sadly, Rosie passed away in 2012, but her legacy lives on through her younger sister, Ivy, who is now an in-house therapy dog at a children’s facility.

-End of Excerpt-

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Ever Wonder Why US Judges Wear Black Robes?

Posted by Writing PIs on May 18, 2014

Today we’re posting an excerpt from our June 2014 book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, which touches on a wide variety of topics about legal eagles, from the history of trials, to the steps of civil and criminal trials, to lawyers and technology, and much more, including dress codes in the courtroom. While writing about professional attires for lawyers, including colors that supposedly can sway a jury, we stumbled upon some interesting history about US judges and how they came about to wear stately black robes.

Book Excerpt: Why Judges Wear Black Robes

Courtroom criminal def XSmall

In an article Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for The Smithsonian in 2013, she stated that little is known as to why American judges wear plain black judicial robes. Colonial judges in England wore robes, a tradition carried on in America, but the English judges wore colorful robes and ornate, powdered wigs, traditions not adopted in the new United States.

The First Supreme Court

The first US Supreme Court apparently wore somewhat colorful attire — for example, one of the first US Supreme Court Justices, William Cushing, was painted in his official portrait wearing a black and red robe with white borders, as well as a white-powdered wig.

Supreme Court Justice William Cushing

Supreme Court Justice William Cushing

Maybe Thomas Jefferson had something to do with judges toning down their sartorial styles as Jefferson immensely disliked the English judges’ pompous style of dress, saying there shouldn’t be “any needless official apparel,” especially “the monstrous wig which makes the English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum.” Tell us what you really think, Thomas Jefferson.

Basic Black

By 1801, when John Marshall became chief justice, the justices all wore stately black.

As we all have seen firsthand in courtrooms, or in film, most federal and state judges in the US today continue to wear simple black robes. Justice O’Connor views this as symbolic that the judges share a common responsibility in upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. There are a few exceptions to this basic-black dress style, however, such as the Maryland Court of Appeals’ judges who wear red, and the judges of the Delaware Supreme Court who, on ceremonial occasions, add red sashes or baldrics to their robes.

Mixing It Up with Tradition

What’s interesting is that this tradition of black robes hasn’t been dictated by anything other than tradition.  There is no dress code for US judges and justices…so it’s probably no surprise there’s been the occasional mix-up, by mistake or on purpose.  Such as in 1969 when Justice Hugo Black returned to the bench without his robe on and sat on the bench, wearing his street clothes, for the remainder of the court session. To this day, no one knows if he forgot to put on his robe, or if something happened to his robe, and there are no notes in the record explaining the lack of robes.

Justice O’Connor also tells a story about Chief Justice William Rehnquist one day surprising the rest of the justices by showing up with gold stripes sewn onto one arm of his robe. He explained to the bewildered justices that he’d recently seen a Gilbert & Sullivan opera in which the lord chief justice wore a robe with gold stripes, so he wanted to have the gold stripes on his robes!

Mixing It Up in Your Story

There’s all kinds of things a writer can do with a judge’s robes in stories — maybe it’s a quirky judge who sews a badge on his robe, or a judge who decides black is too depressing and accessorizes it with a flashy scarf, or ? If a character questions the judge’s reason, he or she can state unequivocally that there is no dress code for judges, only tradition!

End of Excerpt

enter to win

To celebrate the release of A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms next month, we’re throwing a contest. Click here to enter to win a free copy of A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers and a $10 Amazon gift card. Good luck!

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A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers – The Steps of a Trial: Jury Selection

Posted by Writing PIs on May 1, 2014

Available June 2014

Available June 2014

The Writing PIs (although these days it’s more like “The Writing Criminal Defense Lawyer and PI”) have been writing  a new nonfiction book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, which will be available June 2014. We just got the cover yesterday — check it out on the right. A big thank you to the talented designer Kim Killion!

Today we’re sharing an excerpt from the book — a rundown of the steps in a trial, highlighting the first step: Selecting a jury.

Book Excerpt  Steps of a Trial

Just as in a story, a trial has a beginning, middle and end. Let’s look at an overview of this sequence, starting with jury selection.

1. Selecting a Jury

The voir dire, or jury selection process, requires input from attorneys for both sides, as well as the judge. The judge and attorneys, after being given limited information about each potential juror, ask the potential jurors questions, the goal being to eliminate those who might be biased toward one side or the other during the trial.

After questioning is over, the attorneys and judge meet privately to pick the jury for the trial.  Some of the jurors are removed for cause, which means a juror has something in his/her past experience that may not allow them to be fair and impartial to both parties. Example of cause include if a juror personally knows one of the lawyers, or has been a victim of a crime similar to one being tried, or has a personal interest in the outcome of the case. Each side has an unlimited number of removals for cause.

Other potential jurors may be removed by peremptory strike, meaning each side can remove a certain number of jurors from the pool without giving a reason, although they cannot be eliminated based on race or gender.  The number of preemptory strikes depends on the jurisdiction and type of crime.

As an example, the following defines the number of strikes in federal trials:

Federal civil trial: Each side is allowed 3 peremptory strikes.

Federal criminal trial: The government’s prosecuting attorney gets 6 strikes and the defense attorney gets 10 strikes. In capital cases where the death penalty is considered, both sides get 20  strikes.

Federal misdemeanor trial (a minor crime punishable by a fine or less than a year in prison): Each side gets 3 strikes.

After all potential jurors have been removed via cause and preemptory strikes, the jury is selected, which is often referred to as their being empaneled.  After the courtroom deputy clerk swears in the jurors, and the judge gives them initial instructions, the trial can begin.

There might also be one or more alternate jurors, who are selected in the same manner as regular jurors, and hear the evidence in a case along with the regular jurors, but they do not participate with the regular jurors when they decide the case unless called upon to replace a regular juror.

— End of excerpt –

CONTEST: ENTER TO WIN A FREE COPY OF A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS + $10 AMAZON GIFT CARD!

We’re happy to announce that A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, will be available next month. Great info for writers crafting legal thrillers, fans of legal movies and TV shows, researchers and armchair legal eagles. Sampling of book topics: A History of Trials * Players in the Courtroom * Types of Lawyers, Types of Courts * Legal Ethics * Trial Preparation * Steps of a Civil and Criminal Trial * Jury Experts * Appeals * Articles on Crime, DNA, Personal Injury, DUIs * Recommended Legal Films

WHEN: May 9 – June 9, 2014

HOW: Register below in the Rafflecopter form

PRIZES: 3 Winners will each receive a Kindle copy of A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers. First-place winner to also receive $10 Amazon gift card.

 (No Kindle? No problem! Amazon provides free apps for reading on your computer or mobile device.)

HINT: The more you participate in the Rafflecopter form, the more chances you have of winning! Good luck!

To enter contest, click here.

Winners will be announced by June 15th.

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Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

Posted by Writing PIs on April 14, 2014

Below are writers’ questions about private forensic labs, and our answers.

Writer’s Question: Where can someone find a private forensic lab?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Personally, we network with other private investigators, lawyers, addiction treatment personnel, even coroners about good DEA-approved private forensic toxicology labs. We searched to see if there’s a list of these labs online and found the following:http://home.lightspeed.net/~abarbour/labs.htm

Writer’s Question: Are all of these labs available to civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In the link above, the specification to be on the list requires that the lab routinely performs tests for private as well as public agencies.

Writer’s Question: How much do these labs charge civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In our personal experience (working with civilian client-cases that require chemical analytics), the cost has been about $250 per sample for drug testing. Urine testing is between $20-$150. Hair sample testing in the $120 range. If you’re needing more specific info for a story, contact a local lab and ask their prices (our experience has been that lab personnel are very accessible and can clearly explain testing methods).

Writer’s Question: What if a civilian suspected someone wanted to poison a relative?  Can they go to a lab and be upfront about their concerns?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Funny you should ask. We actually had a private lab chemist chat with us about a case she recently had that came into her office. A mother suspected her daughter was poisoning her (putting chemicals into the mother’s nightly glass of wine). The chemist at the lab told us the mother was right — they found toxic chemicals in the sample the mother brought into the lab.

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Writer’s Question: What is the process? What paperwork would the PI/civilian have to complete? Does the lab call/mail results? How long does it take to get results?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: All that’s necessary is chain of custody material:  That the sample was captured and handled carefully by the PI, and that it was then sealed and sent in a bag to the lab. In our experience, the lab has faxed us a simple form where we document what we requested to be tested, and how we are paying for their service (like any other business, they want the money upfront).

Regarding how the lab sends results, we typically have received results by fax and email.  We have also called the lab to inquire on the status of tests, and have found lab personnel to be very accommodating — they will take the time to answer our questions, explain their turnaround time for results, and so forth.  If they aren’t busy, we typically get results in 72 hours, sometimes a bit longer.

Writer’s Question: What evidence, if any, would the lab be required to report to law enforcement officials?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:They don’t have a requirement to report to law enforcement.

Writer’s Question: Is there a time limit or other conditions that affect if results would be unattainable or inconclusive?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Samples don’t lose markers for chemicals unless they are kept under poor conditions (moisture, or heat such as light).

Have a great week, Writing PIs
Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

Posted in Q&As, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

Let’s Better Understand What It’s Like for People in Wheelchairs by Colorado Defense Attorney Shaun Kaufman

Posted by Writing PIs on April 5, 2014

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s sisters is a full-time wheelchair user.  Recently, when her wheelchair began working improperly, and she feared she might fall from her chair, she called 911 for help. Firefighters arrived, cut the power to her chair, and lifted her into a backup wheelchair.  Someone we know thought this was a mis-use of 911 services, and said the wheelchair user should only have called if it had been a “life or death” emergency.

Wooden Wheelchair, early 20th century

Wooden Wheelchair, early 20th century, courtesy Wikipedia

I found this statement to be  ignorant and condescending as the guideline for making a 911 call is if someone is in imminent danger of injury as well as danger of death — for a wheelchair user afraid that he/she might be falling out of their chair, it is indeed a situation of imminent danger that can cause injury, and in fact death, as the majority of wheelchair deaths are the result of the person falling or tilting from the chair. Look, the bottom line for emergency medical intervention is to ameliorate the potential severity of injury.

Falling/Tipping from a Wheelchair: The Most Common Cause of Death

The U.S. National Library of Medicine conducted research of the death certificate database of the National Information Clearinghouse of the Consumer Product Safety Commission over a 15-year period, and identified 770 wheelchair-related deaths. The majority of those deaths, 596 persons or 77.4 %, died as a result from falling from their chairs or tipping over while in them.

Understanding the World of Those Who Use Wheelchairs

Most of us are uncomfortable to some extent with things we don’t know or understand. One of those things might be people who use wheelchairs, and may result in our saying something thoughtless without meaning to. Below are a few articles to aid understanding of those in wheelchairs:

10 Things To Never Say To A Person In A Wheelchair (via HuffPost)

Non Wheelchair User Etiquette (via Apparelyzed)

How to Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair (via WikiHow)

Save the Wheelchair (a fundraising campaign for the Roll on Capitol Hill)

Have a great weekend, Shaun/Writing PIs

Posted in Understanding Disabilities, Wheelchair Users and Falls | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

 
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