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ComiCon Discussion Panel and The CSI Effect

I’ve been really amazed and overwhelmed by all the really fantastic happenings with my newborn writing career.  One of my friends, Vivian Caethe ( http://wordsmadebeautiful.net/ ), who’s a writer, first responder, and editor, as well as an incredibly wonderful human being, set up a discussion panel at the Denver ComiCon, as she lives in Colorado.  She graciously asked me to join the panel, and you know who loves Colorado in summer?  That’s right, this guy!  The panel was originally titled, “It’s Not CSI: Law Enforcement for Authors.”  I think, maybe because of lawyers and money, is now retitled to “Writing the Perfect Crime.”   Either way, our panel, comprised entirely of experienced cops and investigators, intends to provide current and aspiring crime authors with guidance on accurately incorporating police procedure, investigation practices, forensics, etc., into their fiction.  I imagine it’s tough to write about something without having much, or any, personal experience with it, and our group is hoping to give authors a helping hand to bridge that gap.  ProTip: there are no shiny, pretty crime labs that offer immediate results.

It’s going to be fun, and I’m really interested in what the questions and feedback are going to be.  Most everything you see on television crime shows, movies, and read in many fiction books just simply isn’t accurate with most cops’ experience.  There’s such a tremendous disparity that prosecutors and District Attorneys commonly refer to a psychological phenomenon as “the CSI Effect.”  In short, shows such as that one have unintentionally made our jobs much harder in the last decade.  Jurors show up expecting to hear from all manner of scientists, forensic experts, technical investigation experts, etc., on even the most uncomplicated cases.  Circumstantial cases are becoming much more difficult to try.  In fact, I recently testified in a drug possession case in which the defendant was charged for possessing a small baggie of cocaine, and we had him dead-to-rights with it.  Possession, is the key term here.  You’ve heard the expression that ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law?’  Absolutely true with drugs, in fact, it’s 100% of the law.  To be convicted of drug possession in my state, the court (thereby, the cops and prosecutor) only has to show you had care, custody, and control over the substance.  Coke in your front pocket?   Possession.  Heroin in your glove box?  Possession.  Methamphetamine in the map pocket next to the front seat passenger?  Possession, and probably for both the driver and passenger, depending on who’s car it is and who confesses to what.  There is no requirement that I prove you intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently possessed it, because there is no ‘culpable mental state’ in the statute.  Simply put, if you borrow your friend’s pants, don’t check the pockets, and cops later find you have crystal in those pants pockets, it doesn’t matter that ‘they’re not your pants.’  Make sense?

I tell you that to tell you this.  The defense in the aforementioned case fought the charge.  They refused a plea offer of probation and drug treatment and took it all the way to trial.  They argued before a jury that their client might have had the cocaine in his possession, but it’s because someone else put it there.  Who?  They didn’t know and couldn’t say.  But, someone, anyone else, put it there.  You know what?  It worked.  The jury split on the charges and convicted him of possessing the drug paraphernalia, but not the cocaine, even though the cocaine was actually in a much more intimate location.  They wanted to see fingerprints, forensics, and DNA evidence that he had actually touched the baggie.  I think they only convicted him of the paraphernalia charge because his drug kits were next to a carseat.

Amazing.  Their apprehension had nothing to do with the statute, and they let a bad man off with a wrist-slap over some coke and heroin accessories.   The CSI Effect, already playing in a courtroom near you!  And, on July 1 at 1330 hours in the Central City Room at Denver ComiCon, our panel will entertain your questions, comments, and concerns about such things.  Hope to see you there.

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