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Archive for the ‘A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers’ Category

From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 1

Posted by Writing PIs on November 24, 2018

Today our Rottie pup, Traveller, graduated from her second dog-training course. Afterward the trainer, who also trains therapy dogs, said, “Traveller’s too gregarious to be a service dog, but her friendliness and smarts are perfect for a therapy dog.”

We’ve always anticipated Traveller occasionally working with us on future investigations. After talking to our trainer, we’re now considering having Traveller trained as a therapy dog, too. Not right away as she’s still a pup. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs requires a dog to be at least one year old before starting training.

Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs

Service dogs and therapy dogs play two different roles, which are not interchangeable.

Service Dogs

These dogs work as a team with their physically, emotionally, or mentally challenged human partners. They help their person attain safety and independence, such as alerting a hearing-challenged person that a visitor is ringing the doorbell. Service dogs are not for petting as that could prevent the dog from performing its job correctly; in fact, most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners, with the dog often wearing a label requesting people to not pet the dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities so that they can be accompanied by their service dogs in public places such as stores, hotels, and restaurants.

Therapy Dogs

These dogs are even-tempered, gentle, and amiable. Whereas service dogs work as a one-on-one team with their person/handler, therapy dogs provide psychological or physiological therapy to a variety of individuals other than their handlers. It’s all right to pet on-duty therapy dogs, even encouraged by their handlers.

People petting airport therapy dog

Therapy dogs visit places such as schools, airports, rehabilitation centers, courtrooms, and more. Their roles vary depending on people’s needs. For example, therapy dogs might participate in a person’s physical rehabilitation, offer comfort at a hospital, or help encourage a child to read out loud.

Therapy dogs do not have the legal access rights that service dogs have.

Back to our pup Traveller. What kind of therapy dog might she be? Considering we’re legal investigators, makes sense for her to become a courthouse dog.

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.

A courtroom dog might wait outside courtroom doors, ready to comfort witnesses and others (image in public domain)

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 as in our case, legal investigator—handle courthouse dogs.

During the Holmes theatre-shooting case here in Colorado, we would see several courthouse dogs waiting outside the courtroom to comfort witnesses, family members, and others.

Next, 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.

Therapy Dog Training and Certifying

In the months ahead, we’ll register Traveller for a training class that is a pre-requisite to her entering a therapy dog training course. If Traveller successfully graduates from that class, we’ll next register her in a therapy-dog training program for certification. Last, she’ll work with trainers who specialize in courtroom therapy dogs. We’re waiting for our current dog trainer and her team to finalize their dog-therapy training program here in Colorado (name and links forthcoming).

Below are several AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations that offer training, certification, support, and more:

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Love on a Leash

Therapy Dogs International

 

When Traveller enters the next stage of training, I’ll post “From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 2.”

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Unless an image is noted as being in the public domain, do not copy or distribute images as they are copyrighted. Sections “What Is a Courthouse Dog?” and “Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State” are excerpts from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms co-written by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.

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#BookExcerpt A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: MY COUSIN VINNY

Posted by Writing PIs on November 7, 2015

illustration black and white gavel public domain

(Image is in the public domain)

In our nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, we dedicate a chapter to our ten favorite legal films, one being My Cousin Vinny (excerpt below).

In 1998, Joe Pesci, as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, recorded the album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song “Yo, Cousin Vinny.” The album cover shows Pesci in a red suit similar to the usher suit he wore in the film.

This was Fred Gwynne’s last film appearance. He died July 2, 1993.


My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Fred Gwynne. A humorous courtroom drama where rough-around-the-edges New York lawyer Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini (played by Pesci), fresh out of law school, is asked by his nephew and his nephew’s friend to save them from wrongful murder charges in a “redneck” Alabama court system.

Earlier in the book, we discussed opening statements. Here’s Vinny’s:

Everything that guy just said is bullshit. Thank you.

Fans of Vinny: From Lawyers to a Supreme Court Judge

Although Vinny isn’t always a shining example of courtroom etiquette, the movie has been praised by lawyers for adhering to the realities of courtroom procedure and trial strategy. And although Vinny’s style isn’t what one might call polished, he exudes raw trial-lawyer talent in how he conducts interviews and gathers facts.

When the American Bar Association (ABA) journal invited lawyers to vote for their favorite fictional lawyers, Vinny Gambini ranked number twelve, with lawyers admiring Vinny’s technically correct, and at times very clever, courtroom maneuvers.

At the Beasley School of Law, Temple University, law professor JoAnne Epps has told her law students that of all the legal films they could watch, the one they had to watch was My Cousin Vinny because it best portrays the realities of trial, from tight budgets to tetchy judges.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even cited My Cousin Vinny as an example of the principle that a client can choose his own lawyer.

Courtroom No-Nos

The movie isn’t without a few legal bloopers, such as Vinny being the defense lawyer for both defendants, which is a conflict of interest.

Then, when a public defender is brought in, his nervousness causes him to stutter so much that he is nearly incoherent, making him ineffective. Doesn’t make sense that a public defenders’ office, which must be aware that one of its lawyers suffers horribly from stage fright, would assign him to a trial, thus jeopardizing the rights of the accused.

Courtroom Pluses

Nits aside, there is much to learn by watching this entertaining movie, including Vinny’s:

– Preparation of case theory

– Cross-examinations that reveal witnesses’ vulnerabilities

– “Legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice” (quote by law professor Alberto Bernabe, The John Marshall Law School).

End of Excerpt

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.


Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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What Happens When a Person Is Arrested and Charged in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Writing PIs on May 21, 2015

handcuffed hands

This material is from our recently released second edition of our nonfiction book A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: FROM CRIMES TO COURTROOMS. This new edition includes images, additional resource links and other material. All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.


Book Excerpt: Arrests and Charges in a Criminal Case

Let’s look at the events surrounding a person being arrested and charged, depending on whether it’s a federal offense or a lower jurisdiction crime.

Arrests for Federal Crimes

If a person is arrested and charged with a federal crime by law enforcement, the accused goes to either a federal detention center or a local jail. Otherwise, a US attorney for a federal district seeks an indictment from a grand jury who, after reviewing evidence and testimony, decides whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution. If there is not sufficient evidence, the case is dismissed. If an indictment is issued, the US attorney requests an   arrest warrant   from a judge, and the defendant can either surrender or be arrested by the US Marshals Service.

Let’s take a moment and discuss probable cause.

Probable Cause

police searching trunk of car

If a Drug Dog Alerts During Appropriate Duration of a Stop, Police Have Probable Cause to Search

This is the requirement, found in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, that must usually be met before police can:

  • Make an arrest
  • Conduct a search
  • Obtain a warrant.

Courts typically find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime might have been committed (and therefore the arrest was necessary), and that evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched.

It’s important to note that just because someone is indicted does not mean he or she is guilty of any crime. The grand jury process is simply a means of charging someone with a crime, and the grand jury’s decisions are based merely on probable cause.

FBI Special Agent

Tip for Writers: The FBI is willing to help writers accurately portray how their agents conduct arrests, among other procedures. Their guidelines and contact information is on this page: Working with the FBI: A Guide for Writers, Authors, and Producers

Arrests for Non-Federal Crimes

After a person is arrested, he or she is booked at a police station where they are photographed and fingerprinted, and their personal property is taken and stored. Each person is allowed to make one phone call before being put into a jail cell. Just as you’ve probably seen in the movies or read in stories, that one call is often to a lawyer.

Taken Into Custody Without a Warrant

When a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that one or more misdemeanors or felonies were committed, or if a crime was committed in the officer’s presence, the officer can immediately arrest a suspect without an arrest warrant.

The officer then takes the accused person into custody, which means the person is now being guarded by that law enforcement agency. The officer will next submit a warrant request, sometimes called a charging request, to a prosecuting attorney that suggests the potential charges to be authorized.

Miranda Rights

When a person is in custody, and before he/ she is questioned by law enforcement, the suspect must be informed of their Miranda rights, which stem from the US Supreme Court 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona. These rights require the arrestee to be informed of his/ her constitutional rights to counsel and to remain silent. If the arrestee is not informed of these rights, any evidence gained from the questioning is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. The wording itself is called the Miranda Warning, and its issuance by an officer to a suspect in custody is often informally referred to as the suspect being Mirandized. Here is the wording in the Miranda Warning:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?

Border Patrol Agent Reading Miranda Rights

Some police departments— such as in Indiana, New Jersey, Nevada, Oklahoma and Alaska— add the following sentence to the Miranda Warning:

We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.

The person in custody must issue a clear, affirmative answer to the Miranda Warning. In other words, silence is not a response, nor is silence an indication that the person is waiving his/ her rights, because the arrestee may not understand or may not speak English as his or her first language. Throughout the US, many law enforcement officers have translations of the Miranda Warning on forms or cards that they present to those in custody.

Let’s say a suspect in custody clearly and affirmatively waives his Miranda rights. If he changes his mind at any time prior to or even during a police interrogation and expresses a wish to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. Or, if the arrestee states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.

US military branches provide for the right against self-incrimination through a form that informs suspects of their charges and their rights, which they are required to sign. This ends our introduction to arrests and charges. Below are further resources to learn more about these topics.

Additional Resources

Arrest Procedures (American Bar Association)

Fourth Amendment: An Overview (Cornell University Law School)

How Does a Grand Jury Operate? (Ohio State Bar Association)

What Procedures Must the Police Follow While Making an Arrest? (FindLaw)


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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Jury Selection: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 6, 2015

gavel and scales

The criminal lawyer side of Writing PIs, Shaun, is starting a trial today. The PI-writer side of Writing PIs, yours truly, is on deadline finishing a book that features a lawyer protagonist, and she wishes she were at trial, too. Where better to do research and soak up “local color” for a legal story? But instead, one of us is at a real-life trial, while the other stays at home, writing a fictional one.

James Holmes Trial Postponed

Note: This post was originally published on January 6, 2015. As of today, March 1, 2015, the jury selection is still ongoing for the James Holmes trial, and is expected to continue for several more months.

The James Holmes trial was supposed to start this week, and Shaun anticipated it being a zoo at the courthouse with hundreds of spectators, media, and so on. Because of the Holmes trial, a large number of potential jurors had been called…and then today, the Holmes trial was postponed.

By the way, when the two of us were at that courthouse a year+ ago, we noticed they had paved a huge, extra parking lot in anticipation of a large number of people — spectators, media — attending the Holmes hearings/trial.  The additional parking lot, beefed up security, and intense investigation/legal services required for the Holmes trial has already exceeded $5 million dollars, and that doesn’t include the costs incurred by the Colorado public defenders’ office that refuses to divulge its costs.

Jury Selection: People’s Real-Life Stories

One result of the Holmes trial being originally set for this week was that there was an unusually large pool of potential jurors, 67 people, for Shaun’s trial.

During selection, the judge asked if anyone had reason to not be a juror. A man raised his hand, said that he was illiterate & was afraid other jurors would make fun of him. Shaun said it saddened him hearing the man’s story, made him realize the hurt the man must have endured in his life. Judge excused the man from jury duty.

Another man raised his hand, said English wasn’t his first language, so he should be excused, too. Judge rolled her eyes and sighed loudly, said she wasn’t going to put up with any dilly-dallying, and he was not excused.


We wrote about jury selection in our recent non-fiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms. Below is a link to that book excerpt:

The Steps of a Trial: Jury Selection


#BookSale: A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

March 1 – 7, 2015, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers is a Kindle Countdown Deal, starting at 99 cents on March 1, with the price increasing daily until it again reaches its original price, $7.95, on March 7. To order, click on the above book cover image or click here.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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Courthouse Dogs: Canine Compassion at Court

Posted by Writing PIs on May 23, 2014

Courthouse dogs offer comfort to witnesses and others (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Courthouse dogs offer emotional comfort (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

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

Courthouse dogs often visit clients before hearings (image is in public domain)

Courthouse dogs sometimes visit clients before hearings (image is in public domain)

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-

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

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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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, such as: History of trials, steps of civil and criminal trials, types of courts/types of law firms, players in courtroom, lawyers and technology, recommended legal films, dress codes in the courtroom and much more.

While writing about dress codes in the courtroom, 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

US Supreme Court, 1953

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

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Click on image to go to Amazon page

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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

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 —

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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From Federal Prosecutor to White-Collar Criminal: A True Story

Posted by Writing PIs on March 16, 2014

This past year, Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen wrote an article about our having once worked for a well-respected former federal prosecutor who we later learned had been secretly committing a million-dollar white-collar crime. Within the piece, Colleen outlined several other white-collar cases we had investigated, the myth that white-collar criminals are kinder and gentler than other criminals, and a type of crime now called fraud detection homicide.

A Case That Still Haunts Us

by Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

We have investigated some interesting crimes, including several white-collar crimes that had been carried out by some shrewd 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 well-respected as a federal and state attorney

Mr. A had been well-respected as a federal and state attorney (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

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.

What Is White-Collar Crime?

The term white-collar crime was first used in 1939 by sociologist Edwin Sutherland, who was more interested in who committed these crimes rather than what had occurred. “White collar crime,” he wrote, “[is] crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” It was a profound redefinition in criminal law as Sutherland was emphasizing the status of the accused versus the criminal act or intent.

Types of White-Collar Crime

Types of white-collar crime include embezzlement, bribery, larceny, extortion, fraud and price fixing. In general, the components of the crime include:

  • A non-violent, illegal act that principally involves deception, concealment, manipulation, breach of trust, subterfuge or illegal circumvention.
  • Enactment by a business person or government/public official.
  • Evidence achieved by following a “paper trail” that investigators use to prosecute 
the case.

Unlike Sutherland’s definition of white-collar crime, the U.S. Department of Justice’s formal definition disregards class and economic status. Nevertheless, government prosecutors are more likely to indict the upper-class businessman who works for a major corporation than the middle-class grandmother who buys medications in Canada.

Our Previous White-Collar Crime Investigations

Below are several white-collar crimes my husband and I have investigated.

Money Missing from a Family Trust

Once for a probate attorney who hired us to investigate what had happened to the money that disappeared from a family’s trust fund. In our research at the assessor’s and clerk of recorder’s offices, we learned a certain family member had suddenly been making expensive purchases, from a new home to several new cars. It wasn’t difficult to follow that paper trail and obtain evidence that this person was the culprit.

Assets in a Faux Divorce

A couple faked their divorce to avoid paying a judgment (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Another white-collar crime we investigated was for an attorney who wanted us to investigate a man who claimed his ex-wife had gotten all the assets in their divorce. In our investigations, we learned that although the husband and wife had indeed gotten a divorce two years back, they were still living together quite happily in their marital home. In our research of court records, we learned that the “ex” husband had pursued a fast divorce with the full cooperation of his “ex” wife two weeks before he was served with a lawsuit that demanded he pay a hefty judgment to a former business partner. The bogus divorce was the man’s fraudulent attempt to avoid paying that judgment.

But these were small-time white-collar crimes compared to the seemingly perfect Mr. A.

Personalities of White-Collar Criminals

Of course, Mr. A obviously wasn’t all that perfect. Terry L. Leap, the author of Dishonest Dollars, The Dynamics of White-Collar Crime (Cornell University Press), said that white-collar criminals typically share certain personality traits: They have natural “smarts,” are educated and often have an appetite for risk and committing acts of “destructive dishonesty” that eventually cause serious financial pain and suffering to others. Leap also stated that white-collar criminals are often highly accomplished liars who skillfully distort facts and events as well as craft lies of omission.

I always admired Mr. A’s intellect, but was he destructively dishonest? No, Mr. A, was always kind to people. In fact, he was one of our few clients we could always count on to pay his invoices on time!

Bad Crimes, But Good Criminals?

White-collar criminals: More sophisticated & educated, therefore kinder and gentler? (image is in the public domain, courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content program)

In the article “White-Collar Criminals: The ‘Kinder, Gentler’ Offender?” lawyer and fraud examiner Frank S. Perri analyzes the myth that white-collar criminals are somehow the “kinder and gentler” offender. This erroneous assumption, claims Perri, is because white-collar crime is classified as a non-violent crime, which he claims isn’t true. According to Perri, research shows that white-collar criminals often display a pattern of criminal thinking that parallels street-level offenders, and that a subgroup of white-collar criminals are willing to resort to violence, namely murder, to prevent their fraud from being detected. In fact, there’s a term for this kind of murder: fraud-detection homicide.

Nevertheless, many people continue to view white-collar criminals as good people. Recently, Michael E. Peppel, the former chairman and chief executive of MCSi, was convicted of conspiracy, money laundering and filing false documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission – his fraudulent activities eventually causing the downfall of his company and his shareholders to lose $18 million. However, the district judge overseeing his case handed down a seven-day sentence because the defendant was just “a remarkably good man.”

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati weren’t very happy with the judge for giving Mr. Peppel a “99.9975% reduction” from the 8 to 10 years the federal sentencing guidelines recommended. They have sent Mr. Peppel’s case back to the same judge so she can reconsider a more appropriate sentence.

Meanwhile, Mr. A is in his second year of a six and one-half year sentence in federal prison. I can’t help but imagine that he’s considerate to his fellow inmates, probably listening to their legal issues while he serves food in the mess hall – part Cary Grant, part Capone, and never missing a beat.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any copyrighted or licensed images. 

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