Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Posts Tagged ‘A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins’

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

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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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A Private Investigator’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Attorney-Clients

Posted by Writing PIs on November 29, 2011

Many private investigators work with attorney-clients, with some (such as legal investigators) working exclusively with attorneys. This symbiotic relationship can be challenging because PIs and lawyers often have differing work styles, training and professional objectives. For example:

  • Many PIs work alone, in fact some pride themselves on being lone wolves. Although some attorneys also work alone, many work in cooperation with other lawyers and legal staff members.
  • PIs’s training covers a wide spectrum, from little training (for those who work in unlicensed states) to extensive backgrounds in accounting, law enforcement, computer science, even psychology. Attorneys, on the other hand, earn doctorate degrees and must pass a grueling bar exam that covers every aspect of the law.
  • As to professional objectives, a PI has a vested financial interest in completing work tasks and issuing his/her invoice. Lawyers are on a different time clock, where the best resolution for the client may take months, sometimes years.

A PI who works with attorney-clients needs to employ certain tactics to not only co-exist well with lawyers, but to make this a profitable vocation.

Three tips on the care and feeding of attorney-clients

Tip #1: Be prepared, timely and succinct. Attorneys are busy people who’re juggling dozens, sometimes hundreds of clients. When you schedule a meeting with an attorney, bring an agenda, reports and important evidence. Be on time — punctuality is a courtesy to anyone, be it an attorney-client or your other investigation clients.

Be on time. Punctuality is a courtesy to everyone.

Don’t ramble on at meetings — be succinct and to the point. Both of you are professionals who are handling important client matters.

Tip #2: Focus your investigative products. Lawyers don’t pay investigators for opinions and speculations about what judges and juries will do — lawyers pay for facts and evidence. Make sure your investigative reports, both oral and written, scrupulously adhere to agreed-upon investigative strategies and goals defined by you and your attorney-client.  For example, if an attorney requests for you to find out the color of a specific vehicle that a witness saw, focus on obtaining that evidence — don’t gather extraneous data such as the neighborhood where the observation occurred or the color of other vehicles in the area!

Tip #3: Be knowledgeable about the legal basics of what you’re investigating. If you’re going to work for attorney-

If a PI works for family law attorneys, the PI should understand basic family law doctrines.

clients, understand the playing field. It’s critical to understand legal basics — for example, if you’re specializing in criminal defense investigations, you should understand the principles of criminal culpability. If you specialize in family law cases, you should have a basic understanding of such family law doctrines as child custody guidelines and no-fault/fault divorces (depending on the state you’re in). There are numerous options to understand legal fundamentals, from taking a course at a community college to obtaining certification through the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI).

A piece of advice from Shaun Kaufman, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes authors who’s also a licensed attorney: Before arriving at a meeting with your lawyer, call his/her paralegal and ask what the lawyer is most concerned about for that case. Paralegals often know more about the case’s investigative needs than the lawyer does.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Legalities of Recording Conversations

Posted by Writing PIs on January 6, 2010


fedora black and white

Today we’re posting some writers’ questions & our answers about recording conversations.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Is it legal to tape your conversation with another person if you don’t make them aware that they are being taped? I believe this is different for different states.  Do you know where I might search online to find these regulations?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Here’s an overview of federal and state recording laws:

WRITER’S QUESTION:  In my story, a cop (not PI) routinely turns on a tape recorder in his pocket when he’s questioning witnesses, but there’s one time in particular that I don’t want him to have to ask permission.  I’m not worried about whether it’s admissible in court, but if it’s a big no-no to even do it, I’ll need to change the story at that point.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Unless your cop is asking permission to tape the conversation, he’s playing with eavesdropping (which is a felony). Saying that, cops have certain privileges to work around these things, such as necessity. Keep in mind a D.A. most likely isn’t hot to prosecute a cop for eavesdropping. Our suggestion is to interview a police officer about your story scenario.

As PIs, we don’t record anyone without their permission. Period.

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

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