E-book sale on Assault & Pepper!

assault and pepper

Great news for readers who prefer to start a series at the beginning, or who haven’t yet taken the trip to Seattle with me! The e-book version of ASSAULT & PEPPER, first in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, is on sale for 1.99 at Amazon,KillingThyme_FC.indd B&N.com, and Kobo!

Not sure how long this bargain will last — but I can tell you the fun continues this fall with the third installment, KILLING THYME, to be released in paper, ebook, AND audio on October 4!

Update: For those of you who love reading on paper, there’s also a price reduction on the 2d book in the series, GUILTY AS CINNAMON! 

Crime and Facebook

medium_706401207 (1)Today’s edition: Can your fictional lawyer tell a fictional character to take down incriminating photos on Facebook? And does a party in a civil lawsuit have to produce social media records?

Short answer: Hey, why not? It’s fiction!

Long answer: 1) Not if you want the lawyer to be smart, upstanding, law-abiding, honorable, ethical, and a candidate for Girl Scout troop leader of the year. And you do, don’t you? That is, of course, a rhetorical question. 2) it depends.

As you’ve heard me say before, your characters can make bad choices about the law and legal ethics, but as the writer, you need to know the consequences. The basic rule is that a lawyer cannot advise a client to do something illegal, including destroying potential evidence. And that applies whether the evidence is a blood-soaked shirt or a photo showing himself with stolen cash. That last is a real-life example, mentioned in a recent article in NW Lawyer, the Washington State Bar Journal, analyzing a lawyer’s ethical duties. In my opinion, there’s no real debate: If a lawyer anticipates that a civil suit or criminal charges may be filed, even if they haven’t yet been filed, she cannot advise her client to take down an account or a posting, and should affirmatively advise him to not do so. Continued posting is probably okay, as long as the lawyer makes very clear that the client should not post on any thing remotely related to the case — because that can be hard to define, I’d go further and suggest a social media moratorium, except perhaps for business purposes if the legal issues didn’t involve the business.

So, does a party to a civil lawsuit have to provide the other side access to his or her private Facebook account? (Or Twitter, or Instagram, or any other social media platform.) I researched this issue when the plaintiff’s lawyer in a personal injury case requested all social media account info, including passwords, and postings from my client, a truck driver and defendant in a suit over a relatively minor car-truck collision. My client did have a private Facebook page; as soon as suit was filed, I advised him to make no updates or changes to it, and not to post on it, and he complied. (Although some changes aren’t in the account holder’s control; he’d just gotten married, and when his wife changed her page to mention marrying him, the change occurred on his, too — but I wasn’t worried about explaining that if we had to!)

The general rule, in Montana and other states, is that a party can’t go on a fishing expedition in social media accounts any more than it could do so in other records. Account holders are allowed a certain measure of privacy. Note that an account isn’t protected simply because it’s been designated private. In most states, courts generally require a requesting party to make “a threshold showing that publicly available information on those sites undermines the [other party’s] claims.” Keller v. National Farmers Union Property & Casualty Co., decided by the U.S. District Court for Montana, Jan. 2, 2013

In our case, the plaintiff made no effort to show that the driver’s postings were relevant, and I had no trouble refusing access. (Never would I have provided passwords without a court order.) But situations differ, and so does state law. If a party’s physical condition or injuries are at issue, I can see a court granting a request to produce photos posted online after the date of the alleged injury — it’s relevant to know whether a plaintiff claiming a wrist injury returned to her weekly bowling league shortly after the accident, or now sits on the sidelines lifting only a beer.

The Saturday Writing Quote — on theme

“People ask me when I start one of these projects, what is your theme I haven’t the faintest idea. That’s why you’re writing the book, it seems to me, to find out. To me, it’s a journey. Its an adventure. Its traveling in a country you’ve never been in and everything is going to be new, and because of that, vivid. And don’t make up your mind too soon. Let it be an experience.”

– David McCullough, American historian and author

Writing about hate crimes

When is a crime a hate crime? Don’t all crimes, in some sense, arise out of hate? Should we as a society treat certain crimes more harshly when they are motivated by bias or hatred against people because of their religious beliefs or immutable characteristics such as race, gender, or sexual orientation? Does a specific motivation make criminal actions worse, and deserving of greater punishment than a similar crime which lacks that motivation but has the same result? Are we then punishing thought, or speech, rather than action?

These are some of the questions writers who include hate crimes in their stories need to consider. Some resources to guide you:

Patchy reporting undercuts national hate crimes count — This AP article reports that FBI stats note 5-7,000 hate crimes a year, with about half of victims targeted by race, but under-reporting is rampant. More accurate statistics would increase awareness as well as resources for law enforcement training and community outreach.

Resources from the FBI: The FBI defines hate crimes this way:

“Defining a Hate Crime

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

The site includes stats, cases and examples, and more.

The National Crime Prevention Council’s hate crime page notes: “The U.S. Department of Justice defines hate crime as “the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.”

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws against hate crimes. This means that if bias is involved, a crime such as vandalism, assault, or murder is also a hate crime, and the penalty is more severe than it would be otherwise.”

The page includes strategies on prevention, talking to kids, and a report from Washington State on the impact of improved relationships between law enforcement and minorities.

And the Human Rights Campaign looks at crimes against the LGBT community, and others. Good state-by-state links to laws and policies.