Writers generally fall into one of two categories, panthers or plotters. Writers, you share these traits with killers, and this could be the reason your books are so devilishly delightful.

The Plotter

plotter starts each writing project with a plan, and before typing the first word of a new story they know how and why each action happens. They have a clear picture of their characters and setting. Plotters generally know where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They also know where and when they’ll stop along the way.

Plotter’s offices are decorated with multi-colored stick notes (red for character A, blue for character B, yellow for character C, etc.), and photos of celebrities cut from People magazine to use as inspiration for characters. Neatly organized stacks of notebooks filled with research material stand at ready on the surfaces of uncluttered desks. Pens are lined up next to keyboards, like sardines in tin cans. A predetermined word count must be reached each day.

A great example of a true plotter is top bestselling author Jeffery Deaver. Jeff once told me that he conducts extensive research and plotting for six months or longer prior to writing the first word of a new book. He’s extremely meticulous and organized, and records massive amounts of notes. Yet, he weaves this factual material into a story without even the slightest hint of an information dump.

Roadside Crosses

I often tell the story where, while reading Deaver’s Roadside Crosses, I learned about the use of a hard drive enclosure to retrieve data from a computer that had been rendered useless after having been immersed in ocean water. And, ironically, not long after reading the book my personal computer crashed and would no longer work. Obviously, I had a ton of material I couldn’t afford to lose so I purchased a hard drive enclosure and was able to recover all of my files. This detail in the book was real, but Jeff had smartly included it in a work of fiction without it seeming as if I’d attended a lesson on electronic devices. He’s a brilliant writer.

The Panster

A pantser is someone who powers-up the Mac, enjoys a long gulp of coffee, and then hands over the entire book to their characters, and it is they, not the writer, who do the majority of the walking and talking and thinking, all with very little help. Pansters are not much more than stenographers who works for their characters. They are the vehicles that transform characters’ ideas and actions into words on a page.

A panster’s writing journey, like that of the plotters, begins at point A. However, the panster often has not a single clue in advance how they’ll reach point B. The convoluted paths traveled will often be as much as a surprise to the author as it will be to the reader. They know where they’re going, but not how they’ll get there.

Still, no one is all-in as a panster or as a plotter. Things change as stories evolve and the writer must adapt. And both methods work well for both types of writers. I’m a panster and my wife Denene, the scientist, is a plotter.

Billy Bob Thornton is a Pantser

Billy Bob Thornton used the panster approach when writing the script for the movie Slingblade. Thornton has said that he likes to write late at night, generally between the hours of midnight and six in the morning. He says he writes in the “stream of consciousness fashion” and doesn’t rewrite. He writes his projects all at once. The actor/screenwriter/director wrote Slingblade, for example, in nine days.

Thornton had the character Carl in mind in advance, basing him on a blend of two people he knew from his past, a black man and a white man. He incorporated the look and mannerisms and walk from the black man, and the situation from the white man. The white man, according to Thornton, was fed in his backyard, like a dog. This combination of the two real-life men was the starting point for Carl’s character and story. The rest of Thornton’s tale flowed from there, without the benefit of notes, planning, or plotting.

Now, what does this have to do with murderers? Well …

Organized Killers

Organized killers, the “panthers,” have above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Organized offenders carefully plan their crimes. They go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings are often premeditated. Killers in this group, the “plotters,” are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they often appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals, “the pantsers” of the criminal world, typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

*No, I do not actually believe writers are potential serial killers. Then again, we still don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. For all we know, he/she was the author of great works of fiction and his/her killings were part of a gruesome research project.

Okay, today is quiz day here at The Graveyard Shift. So sharpen your pencils (we’re not high tech), take a seat at your desks, and then you may begin.

Miranda. Yes or No?

  • Johnny I. Lawbreaker was arrested at the scene of a burglary. A man walking his dog, a toy poodle named Ralph, saw Lawbreaker enter the home through a side window. The witness called the police and within a minute or two a patrol car showed up and the two officers nabbed the crook as he climbed feet first from the open window. In his right hand was a money bag filled with cash. The bag was clearly labeled with the homeowners first and last name.

The officers handcuffed Lawbreaker and hauled him to the local jail. He was allowed to post bond and later appeared in court to answer to the charges of Breaking and Entering and Larceny. Prior to his testimony Lawbreaker appeared confident and even occasionally smiled at jury members, the arresting officers, and the DA. After the prosecutor finished her opening statement Lawbreaker, having waived his right to an attorney, was representing himself, stood an addressed the court by saying, “Your Honor, I’d like for you to dismiss all charges because the officers never read me my rights, and the law states that they must. They violated my constitutional rights. Thank you.”

The judge, the Honorable Tommy T. Toughasnails, said, “Motion denied. Madam prosecutor, you may continue. “Law breaker was flabbergasted. He wondered how the judge could allow such a flagrant violation? After all, he thought, it’s right there in the constitution—When a person is arrested, police officers must immediately advise them of their rights.

Question – When making arrests, are police officers required by law to advise suspects of their rights? If so, is there a specific time and/or place to do so (at the spot of the arrest, for example?) At the police station/jail?

The One Phone Call

  • Police arrested Steve Legalbeaglewannabe and are now inside the department booking area. The prisoner rants and complains and hollers about his constitutional right to a phone call. “I want to call my wife and I demand that you take me to a phone right now! You idiots are violating my constitutional right to make a phone call. I ain’t no fool. I. Know. My. RIGHTS!”

Question – Is Leagalbeaglewannabe correct? Is there a constitutional right to be allowed that “one phone call?”

Those Lyin’ Cops

  • Ronnie Wrongway tells the judge that he shouldn’t be convicted for his crime of selling a million pounds of fentanyl to an undercover cop because the plainclothes cop lied to him, stating that he was not a police officer when Wrongway asked. During the trial the drug dealer aimed a grubby and stubby index finger at the officer and declared, “He, that fibbing cop right there, violated my constitutional rights when he lied to me. Cops must always tell the truth; therefore, I demand that all charges against me be dismissed.”

Question – Is it written in the constitution that police officers must always be truthful when dealing with criminals? Must charges be dismissed if an officers lies to a suspect during an investigation?

I Ain’t Pressing’ No Charges

  • Betty Blackeye calls the police to report an assault committed by her boyfriend. She tells the dispatcher that that Billy Buck came home from work, caught her in bed with two clowns from the circus that was in town for the week, and the next thing she knew … POW! Billy socked her in the eye. He tried fighting her two lovers but each time he bopped them in the nose they simply fell backward for a second, after releasing an odd squeaking noise, before quickly bouncing back upright.

So officers drove over to nab Billy Buck with plans of charging him with assault. When they arrived they observed Betty’s recently and badly bruised eye. However, Betty had a change of heart and began crying and begging officers to let the love of her life go. “I LOVE him,” she squalled. Between sobs she said she didn’t want to press charges, but the officers handcuffed Billy and took him to jail anyway. He was charged with assault.

Question – Was it legal for officers to arrest Billy Buck even though Betty withdrew her complaint?

Peekaboo, I See You

  • Donnie Doper called the police to report a break-in at his home. He told police that a rear door was forced open and the crooks stole his Crockpot, a socket set, and a shotgun. Police officers arrived and Donnie invited them inside to have a look around. While touring the home and taking notes one of the officers spotted a 5 lb. bag of cocaine on the kitchen table. Beside it is a set of scales and a stack of plastic bags. They arrested Donnie and confiscated the drugs and associated items.

Donnie argued that the officers illegally seized the drugs and paraphernalia because they did not possess a warrant to do so. And, since the seizure was illegal then so was his arrest. He demanded that charges be dropped.

Question – Was Donnie’s arrest illegal? Do police need a warrant in this or similar circumstances?

Last year in the U.S., according to FBI stats, over 14,000 people were murdered. That’s more than the total number of residents who live in the wonderful city of Half Moon Bay, California, one of my favorite places. The seaside there is absolutely stunning, and the downtown is charming. But a murder rate that exceeds the population of any town, even tiny places such as Hartley, Delaware (population just shy of 75 residents according to City-Data.com) is number that’s far too high. Even one homicide is one homicide too many.

Assault Rifle?

When the total number of murders is mentioned, many people, if not most, automatically think of “assault rifles” as the weapons that likely sent most of those 14,000 plus people to an early grave. But are their thoughts accurate, or are they merely brought on by other forces, such as what we see reported in news stories and social media, and books, TV, and/or film?

Well, here’s the reality.

Of the 14,123 people murdered in 2018, 297 were killed by the use of a rifle of any type, including dear old dad’s hunting rifle or the .22 rifles like Junior uses to plink tin can from the fence at Grandma’s farm.

Also, 235 folks were killed by shotgun blasts.

Handguns are the Murder Weapons of Choice

Handguns, not rifles, are the weapon of choice when it comes to killing. Actually, there’s no comparison. In 2018, 6603 people were shot and killed by criminals who used a handgun—revolvers or semi-automatics—to illegally end the life of another. I say “illegally” because these numbers do not reflect legal homicides (self-defense or the defense of others).

Knives/Edged Weapons

Just over 5 times the number of people killed by rifles—1515—were slain by killers wielding edged weapons, such as knives, daggers, axes, hatchets, swords, etc.

Hands and Feet

Remember all the times people demanded to know why deadly force was used to stop an unarmed person? Well, here’s the reason (in most cases). In 2018, 668 people were killed by attackers who used nothing more than their hands, fists, and/or feet as weapons of death. It’s true, hundreds of people are beaten or kicked to death each year.

Clubs, Hammers, and Other Blunt Objects

Believe or not, blunt items such as hammers, bricks, frying pans, baseball bats, etc. were used to kill more times than were the total number of all rifles used to commit murder. Yes, a whopping 443 people were slain by people swinging items such as hammers and baseball bats.

Rounding out the 2018 Murder Weapon Chart Were:

Asphyxiation – 90

Strangulation – 70

Narcotics – 78

Fire – 72

Drowning – 9

Poison – 5

Explosives – 4

And the ever popular “Pushing or throwing someone out of a window” – 4.

Of course, there were a variety of other murder weapon categories, but those listed above are the most popular among killers.

I guess if there’s a point to be made in all of this, it would be that when seeking out the perfect murder weapon killers tend to reach for items that are most convenient to them, and that may not be a firearm. After all, the concrete garden gnome in the backyard can kill someone just as a dead as would a rifle.


*This post is intended as a means to provide factual information. As always, discussions related to gun control, race, religion, politics, or other hot-button issues are not permitted. I welcome comments and questions, but let’s leave the other for places/sites other than here. Thanks!

It was just over 100 years ago—Sunday May 4th, 1919-when Lafayette County, Missouri Sheriff Joseph Caldwell Talbott, Deputy John McDonald, and Deputy Constable James Stapleton were shot and killed while transporting three auto theft suspects to jail.

Because the office of sheriff was left vacant, a special election was quickly scheduled to fill the position. Sheriff Talbott’s wife, Minnie Mae Talbott (pictured above), tossed her hat in the ring, which was unheard of at the time for a women to even remotely think she could win an election. But Minnie Mae was determined.

Twenty-five days after the three lawmen were gunned down in the line of duty, on May 29th, 1919, Minnie Mae Talbott won the office once held by her husband (by over 700 votes) and was officially sworn into office on June 8th 1919.

Minnie Mae Talbott was the first woman elected to the office of Sheriff in the United States. Just as remarkable, she was elected to office by an all-male electorate.  After all, women would not gain the right to vote until August 1920.

Sheriff Talbott and her five children resided in the jail complex where she often took it upon herself to prepare meals for the prisoners housed there. She did what she could, running the jail on a budget of a mere $80 mer month.

Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbott earned a groundbreaking spot in the history books. She served as Lafayette County, Missouri’s 16th sheriff, an office she held for only two years. She decided not to run in the next election due to her declining health. Therefore, she moved to Colorado, hoping the change would aid in her battle against consumption. She remarried there and and remained in Colorado until her death in 1962.

Joseph L. Forsha was elected and succeeded Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbot as the county’s 17th sheriff.

Female Sheriff in Charge of the Last Public Hanging in the United States

On August 14, 1936, just before 5:30 a.m., Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’d been convicted of robbing, raping and murdering 70-year old Lischia Edwards.

News of Bethea’s public hanging, the last in the U.S., reached from coast to cost. The news was especially hot because the sheriff in the area, the official charged with carrying out the execution, was a woman—Sheriff Florence Shoemaker Thompson.

Sheriff Florence Thompson, a mother of four, was appointed to her position when her husband, Joseph Everett Thompson, the current sheriff, died of pneumonia. The local judge needed to move quickly to appoint a new sheriff to succeed Everett Thompson and his wife Florence was the logical choice for the job. This was so due to a practice at the time called “widow’s succession,” where a politician who died in office was succeeded in office by his widow.

Not one who favored wearing a uniform, Sheriff Florence Thompson often wore dresses while at work. To make her position noted, though, she pinned the sheriff’s star to her dress for all to see.

On the day of Bethea’s hanging, a mere four months after Thompson took office, a crowd of 20,000 people gathered to see the county’s female sheriff pull the lever to send the condemned man to his death. But she did not, opting to hand over the job to a former police officer who showed up in an extremely intoxicated state and practically botched the execution.

Journalists went nuts, ridiculing the sheriff for not having the guts to carry out the execution. One newspaper even falsely reported that the sheriff had fainted at the time the of the execution (yes, fake news existed in those days as well).

Thompson was re-elected in November of 1936 when she received 9,811 votes. The two who ran against her split a mere 3 votes between them. Obviously Sheriff Thompson was a popular woman. She served until 1938 when she decided to leave office. However, she was immediately appointed as a deputy by her successor.


Rainey Bethea’s last meal consisted of fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream. He elected to wear a new pair of socks at this execution, but no shoes.

The pursuit ended when the fleeing felon crashed his car in a roadside ditch. Both he and a passenger hopped out and began running toward an open field. The passenger turned right at a stand of maple trees. The driver hooked left, aiming for the rear of an elementary school. He carried a pistol in his left hand.

The dispatcher called to the officer to report that the driver was wanted for killing two police officers in a nearby town. The pursuing officer, D.O. Nut, chased the suspect, picking up speed and gaining on the armed man. His partner ran after the passenger.

Officer D.O. Nut felt his heart pounding against the inside of his ribs, its intensity mirroring the rapid rat-tat-tatting of a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. He felt his muscles quivering and he sensed a sudden burst of energy (no way he could run this fast and this far on a typical day).

In spite of his wide open mouth that sucked air as hard as his lungs would allow, he seemed fine, as if he could keep up the pace all day long. His vision was sharper than usual and his mind processed information at lightning speeds. He was invincible.

He caught up to the the cop-killer, an extremely large, muscular man the size of a pro wrestler, and quickly took him to the ground where he aptly placed cuffs around his massive wrists and then pulled the struggling behemoth to his feet for the long walk back to the patrol car. Piece of cake.

Adrenaline is definitely bad to the bone!

The officer suddenly felt a bit dizzy due to the change in blood circulation and oxygen. The temperature was a bit cool out, yet he felt somewhat warm and was perspiring far more than normal.. It was nearly an hour later before the odd feelings subsided.

That’s how it is for a police officer, the rollercoaster ride of adrenaline rushes and crashes/dumps, over and over again throughout a typical shift. From 0-100, time and time again. Guns, knives, fists, pursuits, yelling, screaming, crying, hostages, suicides, murders … STRESS!

The Adrenal Gland

Adrenaline, a simple stress hormone, aka epinephrine, is produced within the adrenal gland, a small gland that’s perched on the tops of our two kidneys. But as tiny as it is, the gland is the powerhouse behind our incredible “fight or flight” responses to fear, panic, and/or perceived threats.

Adrenaline is produced by a very specific layer of tissue within the adrenal gland—the medulla (the middle tissue). The gland also synthesizes many other hormones but that’s for another day, possibly. For now, let’s maintain our focus on adrenaline and how it’s so very important to police officers, victims of violent crimes, and the everyday Joe or Jane.

The Adrenaline “Rush”

An “adrenaline rush” occurs when the Sympathetic Nervous System is involuntarily activated by the brain when it detects that we’re involved in a high stress event, such as imminent physical danger.

When we’re frightened by a life-threatening situation such as an armed robber or serial-killer-maniac, the brain senses the danger and immediately sends an instant message to the adrenal glands. When the adrenal gland receives the alarm, and it’s an instantaneous reaction, it leaps into action and quickly dumps a massive surge of adrenaline into the bloodstream.

Once adrenaline is released and snakes its way throughout the body, it begins to work its magic—releasing glucose into the bloodstream to generate extra energy, speeds up our heart rates and increases the thumping power of the heart’s contractions, and it dilates the blood vessels.

To increase our intake and exchange of oxygen, adrenaline also widens the bronchioles, the smaller airways in the respiratory tract that lead to the alveolar ducts and finally to the extra-tiny alveoli (in the lungs) where gases are exchanged with blood.

Alveoli, by the way, are tiny air sacs located in the lungs at the end of the bronchioles. The alveoli are where the lungs and the bloodstream exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Speaking of Alveoli

I apologize for rambling but, since we’ve brought up the alveoli I’d like to take a brief moment to mention their part in breathalyzer testing. I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the day but it’s cool information that could someday be needed in a work of fiction, so here you go.

As blood is pumped throughout the body it passes through the lungs where it is is oxygenated. As a result, when a person consumes alcoholic beverages some of the alcohol eventually crosses the air sacs (alveoli). When it reaches those sacs alcohol is released into the air. This occurs because because alcohol evaporates from a solution because oxygen is volatile.

Therefore the concentration of the alcohol in the alveolar air corresponds to the concentration of the alcohol in the blood. When the alcohol in the alveolar air is exhaled (deep lung air), it can be detected and accurately measured by breathalyzers and other breath alcohol testing devices such as those used by police officers.

The ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2,100:1, meaning that 2,100 milliliters (ml) of alveolar air contains the same amount of alcohol as 1 ml of blood.

Whew! That Was Confusing, Right? And I had to endure a week of classroom training about this stuff back during Breathalyzer certification training. Fun times!

Okay, Now Back to Adrenaline

We’ve all experienced an adrenaline rush at some point during our lives. Like when the car nearly crashed into you on the freeway, or during your PIT maneuver training at the Writers’ Police Academy as your car was struck by one driven by Tami Hoag or Craig Johnson, a controlled collision that caused your vehicle to wildly spin out of control.

Fight or Flight

Now, with our bloodstream loaded with adrenaline, we’re ready to either stand and fight or put our feet in action to make a speedy retreat. Fortunately, we don’t have to develop this plan before we act because our autonomic nervous system does it for us. It’s this automated control center of our nervous systems the start the process for us. All we need to do react in whichever method—to run away or stand and fight—our bodies tell us.

If we’re forced to fight during the time when adrenaline is surging through our blood vessels, well, Mr. Bad Guy had better prepare for a wild ride because fear can bring out the grizzly bear in each of us. It is this physical response that can aid in fending off those who mean to do us harm.

Adrenaline is indeed a remarkable thing. Once it’s sent on its way through the bloodstream, it can turn the meek and mild into supercharged versions of themselves.

The Tractor and a Child’s Superhuman Strength

An uncle of mine lost his legs after a farming accident when a tractor he was driving slipped on a hillside and overturned, pinning him beneath it. His young son, just a small boy, witnessed the accident and miraculously lifted the tractor from his father who then managed to pull himself away. The boy then released his hold on the tractor and it fell to the ground. Unfortunately, both of my uncles legs were crushed and had to be removed.

He went on to live a productive and active life, though, and never let his handicap slow him in any way. He even enjoyed joining in a game of softball once in a while. He was a killer with  bat and could easily slam a ball into deep center field. Then he’d “run” the bases by using his hands to thrust his torso forward and back much like the movements of a chimpanzee scampering along the ground. My goodness, my uncle was fast, too. He’s gone now, but his story and love of life and family left a lasting impression on many people.

But, my uncle would have succumbed to his injuries had it not been for his son’s quick thinking and and adrenaline-charged super strength. And it is that same “rush” that helps cops survive each and every day.

But those ups and downs can take a toll on the body.

Short term, immediate post adrenaline “dumps” often result in:

  • Nausea
  • Mild to Extreme Muscle Soreness
  • Urge/Desire to have sex. Hypersexual.
  • Winding Down Process – hyper activity such as extreme pacing,  jitteriness, shouting, and incessant babbling.
  • Exhaustion
  • Nightmares and Loss of or Restless/Tossing and turning during sleep
  • Sporadic Adrenaline Rush brought on by a minor incident or thoughts

Long term effects include:

  • weakened immune system
  • ulcers
  • cardiovascular troubles
  • Stress-induced DNA damage that can lead to premature aging, promotion of tumor growth, miscarriages in women
  • depression
  • exacerbated anxiety

 

With nearly every item under the sun, short of the kitchen sink and an anti-aircraft gun, strapped snuggly around their waists, officers today should be safer than ever before, right?

But are they indeed safer than officers of days gone by?

Does carrying a combined array of deadly and less than lethal weaponry truly protect them from harm? After all, electoshock weapons such as Tasers and/or similar devices are powerful enough to bring even the largest person to the ground, transforming the resisting behemoths into jerking and twitching lumps of screaming and squealing human flesh.

Or, is it possible that the mere sight of those electrically-charged weapons is enough to send someone into a rage? And I’m not speaking of a person who’s typically prone to fight the police for fun or sport. Yes, there are many people out there who enjoy fighting police officers. To them, doing so is a hobby much like collecting stamps or butterflies is to others.

Instead, I speak of the average Joe or Jane who’s typically a non-violent person who, upon seeing one of those nearly fluorescent yellow shock devices, is sent into a tornado-like whirlwind of punches, kicks, and other fits of anger.

Weapons Effect

A joint study conducted by London police officers and criminologists at the University of Cambridge found that, electroshock weapons such as Tasers can actually trigger what’s been called the “weapons effect,” a psychological issue that causes aggressive behavior and actions when someone simply sees such a device. This is especially true when the weapon is in the possession of law enforcement officers, including when they’re safely stored in a holster/case attached to the officers’ belts. Aiming one at someone is not necessarily the catalyst that prompts the attack(s).

The weapons effect is not a new finding. Not at all. It’s been around for four decades or so, prior to the onset of Taser use by officers. However, it seems that the number of assaults against officers has increased with the presence of Tasers and similar weaponry.

Triggered by Tasers

The University of Cambridge study states that assaults occur more often when Tasers are present than any other type of weapon.

And, the study found that as a result of the violence toward them, Taser-carrying officers were more likely to use force to bring those situations under control, and to protect themselves from physical harm.

In fact, the study found that in nearly 6,000 incidents that occurred between June 2016 and June 2017, London officers who carried Tasers were 48% more likely to use some type of force than an equal number of officers who did not carry the weapon. For comparison, 400 officers were armed with Tasers and 400 were not.

To put these numbers in perspective, though, from the almost 6,000 incidents, officers were assaulted a “grand total” of only 9 times. Six of those assaults were against Taser-carrying officers compared to 3 assaults against officers who did not possess a Taser.

Of the total number of use of force cases, the 48%, only 9 officers drew their Tasers from its holster. And, of the 9, only 2 applied shock to a suspect.

U.S. Officers Assaulted While On Duty

In the year 2017, 12,198 U.S. law enforcement agencies (not all) reported that 60,211 officers were assaulted while performing their duties or, 0.1 per 100 sworn officers. These numbers reflect 596,604 officers providing service to more than 269.6 million people. Of the 60,211 officers who were assaulted, 17,476 sustained injuries. (FBI stats).

What Now?

The Cambridge/London study, while interesting and perhaps a bit eye-opening, suggests the solution to the problem is simply to conceal the Taser. Make it difficult to see. After all, many are made of a vivid yellow material that brings to mind a large, ripe lemon hanging from an officer’s duty belt.

The weapon, strategically placed among the other tools of the trade—baton, handcuffs, OC spray, flashlight, sidearm and spare magazines, glove pouch, cellphone holder, belt keepers, etc.—stands out like a flashing neon light.

The eyes are immediately drawn to it, sitting there in all its brightness in the cross-draw position opposite the lethal sidearm. It’s like standing before someone who has spinach caught in their teeth, or with their pants unzipped. The eyes are immediately drawn to that particular spot.

Concealing weapons, though, makes access to them difficult for officers, especially when quick reaction time is vital.

Maybe a color that stands out less could be the solution to less aggression. Something like …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As opposed to …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or … a Blue, Blue Taser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been especially creative by inserting lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings? Do you know the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Are you aware that the FBI does not typically investigate local murder cases, that it is the duty of local police to solve those crimes?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well, you’ve taken a few of the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

So, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But, have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an important emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, they should call on past life experiences.

For example, Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can easily picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself walking into a bar, or restaurant. What do you see? Can you transform those images into a few simple words? How do you choose which words to use? Which words will effectively paint the picture and take the reader with you on your visit to the bar?

Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all of those unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.

Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Think maybe it’s time to step away from them?

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.

Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers called upon their own experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only read about or see on TV news reports. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about or heard second and third hand from someone reading to them, word-for-word from a teleprompter?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

Next, I encourage you to attend local citizen’s police academies and ride-alongs with officers Hang out with cops, interview them, listen to them, watch their mannerisms, etc. Trust me, it’s a world that’s entirely different than the life of someone outside the profession.

Naturally, I highly recommend attending the Writers’ Police Academy. The WPA is an event that’s carefully and meticulously (hmm … I used “ly” words) designed to offer writers the inside experience of what it’s like to be a police officer, investigator, firefighter, EMS personnel, K-9 handler, etc. We do not mix writing craft with hands-on experiences. We feel you can attend any number of excellent writers conferences to soak up that sort of information. Instead, our focus is on providing writers with the best hands-on academy training available anywhere.

We burn things so you can experience the heat and smoke of structure and car fires. We put you, the writer, in positions where you must make the life and death decisions faced by officers. You’ll feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with car chases and shootouts (you’ll participate in both). You’ll see and experience the emotions felt by officers during stressful situations.

We’ve provided the smell of gunpowder and gun oil by teaching writers how to shoot various firearms used by police. They’ve felt the texture, weight, and recoil of an AR-15 as they fired those rifles at the range. We’ve taken writers inside jails and prisons, into the sections that house the worst of the worst inmates, where they experienced the physical sensations of what it’s like to serve time.

At the Writers’ Police Academy, attendees see the flashing police lights, hear the sirens, see and hear helicopters landing. The hear the yells of entry teams (you’re a member of the team, by the way) as they storm a building to search for an armed bad guy. When you attend, you’ll feel your heart thumping against the inside of your chests when you’re placed in situatiosn where you must instantly decide whether or not to use deadly force.

This year we’ve gone far outside the typical WPA box by hosting the 2019 event at the headquarters of Sirchie, “the Global Leader in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions. Sirchie provides quality Products, Vehicles, and Training to the global law enforcement and forensic science communities.”

That’s right, we’re taking writers to the source of crime scene investigation technology. It’s a rare opportunity for writers, one that’s not been done before. The focus of the 2019 WPA, called MurderCon, is homicide investigations, with hands-on classes and workshops taught by some of the top instructors in the world.

Hands-on events such as the Writers’ Police Academy, as well as local citizens’ academies and police ride-alongs, combined with using a real-life experience such as the WPA, or walking through a cow-chip-spattered pasture, is what breathes life into a story.

To sum up:

– Use your experiences to activate the senses of your readers. Let them enjoy tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing the words on each of your pages.

– Attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It’s the gold standard of providing writers with the absolute best hands-on training available. If attending the WPA is not possible, consider participating in a local citizen’s police academy and/or ride-alongs with on-duty police officers.

– Read books by established authors who write about police officers and investigations. See how they do it.

– Take advantage of your personal life experiences to help transform flat text into a vivid 3D picture or painting.

– Avoid the use of too many “ly” words. Editor Jodie Renner addressed this and other problem areas in an article she wrote for Doug Lyle’s blog. Jodie’s article is titled, Style Blunders in Fiction.

– Interview and/or chat with cops. Listen to what they have to say, and watch their mannerisms. Does Officer G. R. Done hitch up his pants each time he stands? Ask him if the habit is due to gravity tugging on the weight of his gun belt? Does his wince when he slides into his car seat? The slight moment of pain could be caused by a bit of skin caught between the bottom of his vest and gun belt. Yes, it happens and it hurts. But you have to watch for the little things and you have to ask. Those sorts of things are second nature to cops, so they won’t think to tell you about them.

– Finally, remember to refer to Joseph Wambaugh’s words of wisdom.

“The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”


There are now additional spots available at the extremely rare and exciting event, MurderCon. You owe it to yourself and to your readers to attend. There’s nothing else like it in the entire world, and there may never be another!

Sign up today at …

MurderCon

Before we dive headfirst into the real meat of this article, let’s first begin with a bit of background regarding the crimes of burglary and robbery. Otherwise, some of you who use social media sites and/or watching TV news and crime dramas as your main sources of research, may not know that burglary and robbery are not the same. Not even close.

I know, we’ve discussed this topic in the past, in great detail, but sometimes we forget.

Just today, if fact, a major news source published an article titled “British Olympian says medals were stolen from her home in robbery.”

I read the article thinking I’d see where the unfortunate female athlete was held up at gunpoint in her own home while the armed and dangerous bad guys forcibly snatched her precious awards and other items. This would’ve been a robbery. However, it was not a robbery.

The first paragraph tells readers that the distance runner received the news that her home had been ransacked while she was away. The family member who discovered the mess had gone to the house to check on the Olympian’s dog. This act was a burglary.

See the difference between the two crimes? This is yet another example of how the media so often gets it wrong?

So let’s again clear the air about the differences between the two crimes.

Burglary as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary: “The breaking and entering the house of another in the night-time, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felony be actually committed or not.”

In Virginia, where I served as law enforcement officer/investigator, the law governing burglary there in the Commonwealth, states:

§ 18.2-89. Burglary; how punished.

If any person break and enter the dwelling house of another in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony or any larceny therein, he shall be guilty of burglary, punishable as a Class 3 felony; provided, however, that if such person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.§ 18.2-90. Entering dwelling house, etc., with intent to commit murder, rape, robbery or arson; penalty.

If any person in the nighttime enters without breaking or in the daytime breaks and enters or enters and conceals himself in a dwelling house or an adjoining, occupied outhouse or in the nighttime enters without breaking or at any time breaks and enters or enters and conceals himself in any building permanently affixed to realty, or any ship, vessel or river craft or any railroad car, or any automobile, truck or trailer, if such automobile, truck or trailer is used as a dwelling or place of human habitation, with intent to commit murder, rape, robbery or arson in violation of §§ 18.2-77, 18.2-79 or § 18.2-80, he shall be deemed guilty of statutory burglary, which offense shall be a Class 3 felony. However, if such person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

VA Code § 18.2-91

If any person commits any of the acts mentioned in § 18.2-90 with intent to commit larceny, or any felony other than murder, rape, robbery or arson in violation of §§ 18.2-77, 18.2-79 or § 18.2-80, or if any person commits any of the acts mentioned in § 18.2-89 or § 18.2-90 with intent to commit assault and battery, he shall be guilty of statutory burglary, punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than one or more than twenty years or, in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, be confined in jail for a period not exceeding twelve months or fined not more than $2,500, either or both. However, if the person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

§ 18.2-92. Breaking and entering dwelling house with intent to commit other misdemeanor.

If any person break and enter a dwelling house while said dwelling is occupied, either in the day or nighttime, with the intent to commit any misdemeanor except assault and battery or trespass, he shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony. However, if the person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

Clear as mud, right?

Notice that I highlighted a brief portion of a sentence in red, and three specific words in blue—with intent to commit larceny or any felony other than murder, rape, robbery or arson …” I did so to emphasize that robbery is not a portion of, or related to the basic crime of burglary. It is a separate offense.

Burglary and Robbery are not the same!

Okay, still confused when I say that robbery and burglary are not the same crime? You ask, how could this be the case when sooooooooo many TV news reports and fictional television shows time and time again tell us that “Ms. or Mr. Crime Victim’s” house was robbed?

Sit back and clear your mind for a second.

We learned just a few lines back that burglary involves the breaking and entering the house of another, and only a burglar, or burglars, are involved. No forcible taking an item or items from a victim.

Now, on to robbery.

Black’s Law definition of robbery.

“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property In the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear. Pen. Code Cal.”

Traveling back to Virginia, we see that robbery there is:

Virginia Code § 18.2-58. How punished.

3D-printed guns, firearms made from plastic, using 3D printers, can be fashioned in such a manner that they’re undetectable by typical metal detecting technology. Obviously, such guns pose a serious threat to law enforcement’s ability to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.

Some people who make these firearms include the proper metal parts to meet federally mandated requirements. They do so to comply with a federal ban on weapons that aren’t revealed by metal detectors.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who bypass federal laws and produce 3D guns that will certainly be used to commit crimes. This is especially so for people who are unable to purchase firearms legally.

This type of weapon, the guns that can potentially go undetected by metal detectors, could be carried into high security areas, causing a nightmare scenario for travel security personnel, such as TSA, courtrooms, jails, etc.

The nightmare continues for investigators who’re working to solve homicide cases, robberies, assaults with deadly weapons. I say this because the 3D-printed, plastic firearms bear no traceable serial numbers. And, yes, plastic bullets are available for use in these guns.

I believe it was sometime in 2013 when blueprints for 3D firearms began to appear on the internet. The first 3D gun was named the “Liberator,” and blueprints for it were posted online. Within  a period of just two days, those plans were downloaded over 100,000 times.

The U.S. State Department soon contacted the gun-smithing group responsible for posting the plans, Defense Distributed Company, to request that they remove the blueprints from the internet. The company complied, however, the information was out and  was still made available through pirate-type sites.

For example, Ivan the Troll, the informal spokesman of an underground group of 3D-printing gunsmiths, told Jake Hanrahan of the website WIRED, that “he knows of at least 100 people who are actively developing 3D-printed gun technology, and he claims there are thousands taking part in the network. This loose-knit community spans across the whole world.”(Quote from a  Wired article titled 3D-printed guns are back, and this time they are unstoppable).

Ivan has recorded and posted online several videos showing how to make/print/assemble these illegal 3D firearms. However, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites remove them practically as fast as they go live. Still, sites still exist where those videos may be viewed, and they show and explain precisely how to make an illegal 3D printed firearm. For obvious reasons, I choose to not post the links. But they’re easy to locate. These “how-to” videos make it extremely easy for criminals to make their own untraceable firearms.

Fortunately, reputable companies and top scientists have evaluated the differences between 3D-printed guns and conventional firearms and then used a technique of analytical mass spectrometry to identify the various types polymers found in 3D-printed gun evidence.

Next, they created a reference library/database of the various polymer samples for future comparison of polymer samples found at crime scenes to found 3D firearms and to other locations where they polymer traces may be located. They could possibly be traced back to the source of fabrication.

A new technique, direct analysis in real time (DART), is available to detect and identify a large number of compounds found in Gun Shot Residue (GSR). DRT uses mass spectrometry to conduct analysis in real time. The process detects and identifies traces of polymer and GSR compounds on the bullets, casings, and in the GSR collected from the clothing of victims and suspects.

In short, in addition to investigators collecting and testing the usual GSR found at crime scenes, on a victim’s body and clothing, and on the clothing and hands of suspected shooters, CSIs and detectives should also search for material such as the polymers of various types and colors—ABS, PLA, PETG, and CPE.

Homemade firing pins are not the standard type and/or material found in traditional firearms. Those made in a basement workshop range from drill bit blanks of machined 1/800 steel, to the shafts of roofing nails. The machining of firing pins can easily be accomplished using using a simple Dremel tool purchased from a neighborhood hardware or big box store, or from online outlets such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc.

ATF Q&A Regarding 3D Printed Guns

Is a firearm illegal if it is made of plastic?

It is unlawful for any person to produce a firearm as proscribed in 18 U.S.C. 922(p).

“It shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm—

(A) that, after removal of grips, stocks, and magazines, is not as detectable as the Security Exemplar, by walk-through metal detectors calibrated and operated to detect the Security Exemplar; or

(B) any major component of which, when subjected to inspection by the types of x-ray machines commonly used at airports, does not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component. Barium sulfate or other compounds may be used in the fabrication of the component.”

What does “any other weapon” mean?

The term “any other weapon” means any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.

If an individual makes an item that falls into the “any other weapon” category, is that individual required to register the item?

Yes, an “any other weapon” category is an NFA classification which requires an individual to register the item with ATF.

How does one apply for a license?

The applicant must submit ATF Form 7(5310.12)/7CR(5310.16), Application for Federal Firearms License, with the appropriate fee, in accordance with the instructions on the form to ATF.  This form is for all FFL types, including type 03 Collector of Curios and Relics.  An application packet may be obtained by contacting the ATF Distribution Center.  If you have more than 1 Responsible Person (RP), you must also submit a Supplement to ATF Form 7/7CR, for each additional RP.

Can an individual now manufacture these firearms and sell them?

Any person “engaged in the business” as a manufacturer must obtain a license from ATF.

The term “engaged in the business” means— (A) as applied to a manufacturer of firearms, a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to manufacturing firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the sale or distribution of the firearms manufactured.

What is ATF doing to make sure this technology is monitored so it is not used illegally?

ATF makes every effort to keep abreast of novel firearms technology and firearms trafficking schemes.

What is ATF doing in regards to people making their own firearms?

An individual may generally make a firearm for personal use. However, individuals engaged in the business of manufacturing firearms for sale or distribution must be licensed by ATF. Additionally, there are certain restrictions on the making of firearms subject to the National Firearms Act.

What say does ATF have in the technology used to produce firearms?

ATF enforces Federal firearms laws and, currently, these laws do not limit the technology or processes that may be used to produce firearms. However, ATF enforces existing statutes and investigates any cases in which technological advances allow individuals to avoid complying with these laws.

Is ATF aware of the new 3-D printing technology producing firearms?

Yes. ATF routinely collaborates with the firearms industry and law enforcement to monitor new technologies and current manufacturing trends that could potentially impact the safety of the public.

(Above Q&A from atf.gov)

*Note: It is NOT legal for felons or somebody otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms, or  to build their own guns from any material.

*Featured image – FBI.gov

 

In the days before DNA testing became available for use in criminal cases, cops, prosecutors, judges, and juries relied on other physical evidence to send bad guys to jail—fingerprints and footprints, soil, glass fragments, trace evidence, etc. Those things along with confessions and eyewitness testimony were the building blocks used to convict the guilty.

Then, when DNA arrived on the scene, well, it soon became apparent that somehow officials had made a few boo-boos along the way and had sent more than a handful of innocent men and women to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. DNA testing of old evidence, in fact, exonerated people like our friend Ray Krone who served ten years in prison, three of which were on death row, for a murder he didn’t and couldn’t have committed.

Ray as an inmate at Arizona State Prison in Yuma

Ray Krone could’ve easily been eliminated as a suspect had DNA testing been conducted at the time of the investigation. Instead, his conviction was based on bite mark evidence, a test/examination/comparison method that’s been found to be unreliable.

DNA test results were used in court cases as early as the mid 1980s. Ray was convicted in the early 90s, without the benefit of DNA testing, a simple test that would have prevented him from serving time in prison as an honest, clean-handed man.

Nowadays, to weed out the innocent, DNA testing is routinely performed in the early stages of criminal investigations. And it helps … some. The use of DNA tests in post-conviction cases and appeals sometimes leads to exonerations, such as, for example, Ray Krone’s release from prison.

Electropherogram – a chart produced by testing equipment after DNA sequencing is completed.

Unfortunately, and what most members of juries do not understand, is that during a typical criminal investigation, in only about 10-20 percent of all cases do cops find testable biological evidence. In spite of this low percentage, some juries still expect a case to hinge on DNA results. However, without something to test, of course, there’ll be no electropherograms pointing to a specific suspect.

Sometimes, even with the presence of DNA, those results are not always definitive.

Electropheragram showing tested DNA of two subjects, and a mixture of DNA collected from a victim. Results showing a mixture make it difficult to point to any one suspect.

But let’s go back to the 10-20 percent figure, the number of cases where testable biological evidence is located and collected by investigators and then subsequently tested by laboratory scientists and other experts.

At the upper end, the 20 percent range, that leaves 80 percent of all criminal cases that are solved by using other means of crime-solving, such as the aforementioned fingerprints and footprints, soil, glass fragments, trace evidence and, of course, detectives going about the business of good old-fashioned door-knocking and talking to people. The combination of the physical evidence and confessions and eyewitness testimony is what leads to the majority of criminal convictions.

Sadly and dismally disastrous, without mostly foolproof scientifically tested evidence, courts must rely on human testimony, humans whose memories often fluctuate. Police investigators who enter a crime scene with a serious and dreaded case of tunnel vision. Prosecutors who do the same once the already skewed/tunnel-vision-tainted, unreliable witness’ flawed statement evidence is presented to them,

Overworked and underpaid public defenders aren’t always up to date on current scientific practices and the laws governing them. Those same attorneys carry heavy caseloads which stretches their time to a breaking point so thin that they can’t possibly devote the amount of time needed to decently defend their appointed clients. Their budgets are minimal, meaning expensive testing and other necessities for their clients’ defenses are practically nonexistent.

Post-conviction procedures (motion for new trials, ineffective assistance of council, appeals to address the lack of scientific testing to prove innocence) are a huge uphill climb for people who’ve been incarcerated. This is especially so for the poor.

Those of meager means often have no alternative other than to wade through prison law libraries, hoping to make sense of the legal jargon that fits their situation. They sometimes employ a jailhouse lawyer to help, paying for his services by whatever means available—cleaning his cell, cooking meals, shining shoes, and even purchasing items for them from the commissary, or having family members on the outside send money to the amateur legal eagle.

The wealthy, of course, have outside resources to help with the filing of necessary paperwork. But there’s sometimes a bad egg in this bunch, such as the high-priced, fancy-smancy defense attorney I overheard telling his client who’d just received 37 months in federal prison for possessing crack cocaine worth little more than $100, that for an additional $25,000 he could arrange to have him serve less time on home confinement. That’s fair, right?

And, there’s the Innocence Project who helps the wrongly convicted.

Aside from the obvious, there’s a real problem with the aftermath that’s sure to arise after retroactively clearing prisoners of their crimes based on DNA evidence.

Yes, when all the dust settles after all the men and women who’ve been wrongfully convicted and then cleared by the use of DNA evidence are out of prison with their recoreds expunged and their names cleared, there will still be hundreds if not thousands of people still behind bars because their convictions were based on the bad memory of a witness, a cop or prosecutor with tunnel vision, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a mistake made at the lab during evidence analysis (mislabel an item, etc., tainted evidence, such as the accidental transfer of a fingerprint or even DNA evidence).

Someday soon there will be a false sense that DNA has cleared ALL the innocent people, leaving  those behind who  surely must be guilty of their crimes because there was no scientific evidence to prove otherwise. But we know this can’t be so. Why not? Because of human error.

Yes, it is indeed possible to transfer a fingerprint, even accidentally.

Tertiary DNA Transfer

It’s possible that DNA can be accidentally transferred from one object to another. A good example could be the killer who shares an apartment with an unsuspecting friend. He returns home after murdering someone and then tosses his blood-spatter-covered shirt into the washer along with his roommate’s clothing. The machine churns and spins through its wash cycles, an action that spreads the victim’s DNA throughout the load. Police later serve a search warrant on the home, seize the clothing, and discover the victim’s DNA on the roommate’s jeans. The innocent roommate is arrested for murder.

The list of human error possibilities is extremely long and, unfortunately, there’s no magic DNA bullet to help clear the innocent folks convicted based on an accident. Their battles are practically hopeless. Laws and courts make it nearly impossible for people already serving time to have a judge revisit their cases.

Odds are, that hopelessness follows a few of the condemned all the way to the execution chamber, where it is indeed conceivable that an innocent man could be, and most likely has been, put to death.

And, well, I suppose it’s possible that given the right/wrong circumstances, anyone, even you, could find themselves behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit.