Since relocating to the upper tip of Delaware, Denene and I are currently residing in an extended stay hotel, where we’ve been since we left the Writers’ Police Academy. We will remain here until closing on the new house.
Yes, we finally found a home this week and made an offer on it, after an exhausting search. We reached an agreement with the sellers just yesterday and we now have signed documents in hand. Unfortunately, the owners are unable to vacate the home until early October. But, the property is extremely nice so it should be worth the wait. In the meantime, though, we’ll remain in the hotel.
Our room here is nice and features a mini kitchen and a large work station that accommodates our computers and other necessities.
Now that we’re here, though, I have no yard work or other home project to occupy the little spare time I have during the evening hours—the time I spent feeding the birds and watering and caring for the plants in our yard. The time that took me away from everything. It was my escape. The time to allow my mind to focus on nothing but the little creatures and flowers and blue skies and the combined scents of eucalyptus and citrus trees and roses … and the smoke from all the wildfires.
Therefore, now that I do have a bit of spare time, I’ve been able to read a bit, mostly at night using my Kindle Paperwhite. I love the device because it’s small and the backlit screen allows me to peruse the “pages” without waking Denene, who, by the way, started her new job last week. She’s still teaching microbiology and cool bioterrorism stuff, but as a professor at another university, in the department of Medical & Molecular Sciences.
Anyway, to get to the point, while reading current novels and blogs and news articles, I’ve run across the misuse of various terms and information. As a result, I decided to compile and post a bit of information to help set things straight.
I hope this helps somewhat in your quest to …
Write Believable Make-Believe
Defendant: Someone who’s been accused of a crime and is involved in a court proceeding.
Defense Attorney: A lawyer who represents a defendant throughout their criminal proceedings.
Departure: A sentence that’s outside the typical guideline range. Departures can be above or below the standard range; however, the most common departure is a downward departure, a sentence reduction solely based on the defendant’s substantial assistance to the government. For example, a defendant who spills the beans to law enforcement about the criminal activity of someone else for the sole purpose of obtaining a lesser sentence. In jailhouse/layman’s terms, “a snitch.”
Diminished Capacity: A defendant is eligible for a downward departure (reduction of sentence) if they can successfully prove they suffer from a significantly reduced mental capacity, a condition that contributed substantially to the commission of the offense of which they’re charged with committing. Merely having been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense is typically not considered grounds for diminished capacity.
* This applies to the defendant only, not the defendant’s attorney, judges, or police officers. Their sometimes reduction in mental capacities is fodder for another article.
Duress: The federal sentencing guidelines allow for a downward departure if the defendant committed the offense because of serious threats, coercion, or pressure. An example is the person who’s been forced to commit a bank robbery by crooks who’re holding his family hostage until/unless he carries out the crime. The courts could/would show leniency by granting a downward departure (or complete dismissal) based upon the fact he was under severe duress at the time of the robbery.
Extreme Conduct: Here, an upward departure from the guidelines range may be appropriate if the defendant’s conduct during the commission of a crime was unusually heinous, cruel, and/or brutal. Even degrading the victim of the crime in some way may apply and earn the defendant a longer sentence that’s typically called for within the sentencing guidelines.
Brutally maiming and murdering federal agents simply because they dared to ask questions (revenge), well, that may be a crime that warrants an upward departure from the typical sentence.
Felony: An offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or longer.
Felony Murder: A killing that takes place during the commission of another dangerous felony, such as robbery.
To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.
Hate Crime Motivation: An increase of sentence if the court determines that the defendant intentionally targeted a victim because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or even due to their sexual orientation.
Indictment: An indictment is the formal, written accusation of a crime. They’re issued by a grand jury and are presented to a court with the intention of prosecution of the individual named in the indictment.
Misdemeanor: A crime that’s punishable by one year of imprisonment, or less.
Obstruction of Justice: Obstruction of Justice is a very broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.
For more about obstruction, see When Lying Becomes A Crime: Obstruction Of Justice
Offense Level: The severity level of an offense as determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much or how little prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.
To learn more about these guidelines, go here … So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?
Parole: The early and conditional release from prison. Should the parolee violate those conditions, he/she could be returned to prison to complete the remainder of their sentence. Parole, however, was abolished in the federal prison system in 1984. In lieu of parole, federal inmates earn good time credits based on their behavior during incarceration. Federal inmates may earn a sentence reduction of up to 54 days per year. Good time credits are often reduced when prisoners break the rules, especially when the rules broken are serious offenses—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.
Federal prisoners who play nice during the course of their time behind bar typically see a substantial accumulation of good time credit and will subsequently hit the streets much sooner than those who repeatedly act like idiots.
* Writers, please remember this one. There is no parole in the federal system. People incarcerated in federal prison after 1984 are not eligible for parole because is does not exist. I see this all the time in works of fiction.
By the way, this regularly occurring faux pas (incorrect use of parole in novels) brings to mind the dreaded “C” word … cordite. I still see this in current books. Your characters, unless in works of historical fiction, cannot smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes because the stuff is no longer manufactured. In fact, production of cordite ended at the end of WWII. Please, please, please stop using the stuff in your books.
Please read this: