De-Kindled — but still in print and on Nook!

You may be aware that about a week ago, Amazon pulled all Kindle versions of books distributed by IPG, a distributor of books from more than 500 small and medium-sized publishers. As a result, nearly 5,000 titles became unavailable for Kindle — including Books, Crooks & Counselors.  Here’s a recap of the dispute, although I understand it actually goes beyond e-books to print editions as well.

But reference books are particularly handy in print, and Books, Crooks & Counselors is easy to browse, with a terrific index if you’ve got a specific topic in mind.

So this is a great time to buy a print copy of Books, Crooks & Counselors from Barnes & Noble, Powell’s,, or your favorite independent mystery or general bookstore. (The print edition is also still available from Amazon.) Or consider the Nook version. 


Eyes of a Pedophile — a great reference

My friend and sister-member of the Authors of the Flathead Betty Kuffel has just published a new book, Eyes of a Pedophile: Detecting Child Predators.

Betty is a medical doctor who worked for many years in trauma and emergency medicine.  That work regularly brought her into contact with crime victims–and ultimately gave her unparalleled access to Nathan Bar-Jonah, a notorious child predator who most likely was also a killer and a cannibal. Betty uses her personal interviews with Bar-Jonah, local law enforcement, and other witnesses, along with medical records and legal transcripts, and her research into pedophilia–that is, predatory child sex abuse. Her book is an excellent reference for writers as well as for parents, teachers, and other readers who want to know more about the Bar-Jonah case, but even more importantly, how to identify pedophilic behavior and protect children. Her blog includes several chilling audio clips of Bar-Jonah himself.

Eyes of a Pedophile is available for the Kindle.

Books, Crooks nominated for the Agatha

It’s official: Books, Crooks & Counselors has been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. The Agathas are one of the premier book awards, and are given at the annual Malice Domestic Convention, held in Bethesda, MD April 27-29 — and I’ll be going, for the first time!

Here’s the full list of all awards and nominees.

Join me in celebrating — with a cuppa whatever!

Protective orders — writing about domestic violence

Originally posted on Lee Lofland’s terrific blog for writers about law enforcement,  The Graveyard Shift , on Oct 26, 2011.

A recent double homicide in Helena, Montana spotlights protective orders. Joe Gable and Michelle Coller married in 1986. According to news accounts in the Helena Independent Record, they separated two years ago, and Michelle moved out of state. In September, she returned to Montana unexpectedly, and began what Joe viewed as harassment and intimidation. In one incident, she drove to his apartment, blocked his car with hers, entered, threw his laptop down the stairs, and refused to leave–all while he was changing the locks to keep her from getting in.

Joe requested a temporary order of protection. The judge concluded that his evidence did not establish personal danger or threat, and denied the request. Three weeks later, Joe filed for divorce. Two days later, Michelle entered his apartment at 6:00 a.m., and shot and killed him and another woman. She’s been charged with two counts of deliberate homicide.

I can only imagine how the judge feels. The situation proved more volatile–and violent–than the evidence before her had indicated. News accounts suggest she was not informed of the couple’s troubled history, including previous calls to police, or recent concerns by friends about Michelle’s mental health.

So what’s the process for getting a protective order–also called a restraining order or “no contact” order? State laws vary, so writers, check your story state. (Start by Googling “protective order” and the state name.) Most court systems provide forms, requiring some or all of the following information:

Relationship between applicant and respondent, e.g., married, divorced, separated, dating, parents of a minor child.

Recent abuse, including when and where the incident occurred, who was present, any injuries, whether a gun or other weapon was threatened or used, and whether police were called.

Past abuse, with the same information.

Does respondent have a gun?

Past or pending court cases between the parties.

Protection sought. This may be as simple as checking boxes. Examples:

No threats or acts of violence against applicant and other persons specified.

No calls, emails, or other contact or communication with applicant and specified family members, victims or witnesses.

Not take specified children out of the state or county.

Maintain a specified distance from applicant or other persons protected in specific locations, e.g., home, work, vehicle, school, or day care.

Not possess firearms.

Not take, sell, damage, or dispose of specified property.

Possession or use of specified property, e.g., a residence, vehicle, or other personal property, regardless of ownership.

Is law enforcement help requested to obtain the property?

The court may also order anger management counseling, or alcohol or chemical dependency counseling or treatment.

Any other protection applicant thinks necessary. The judge can impose any conditions she thinks appropriate. Most courts use pre-printed orders with blanks for additions.

Applicant should bring any witnesses to the hearing, along with any threatening letters, texts, voice mail messages, and so on.

Applicant can request that her address be kept confidential. Obviously, that wouldn’t have helped Joe Gable, unless he had moved.

Orders are usually temporary, e.g., 20 days. The parties are required to come to court for a hearing on whether an order should be renewed, modified, or made permanent.

State law may also allow use of protective orders to grant temporary custody of minor children, establish visitation, and order temporary support payments.

Sample forms from Montana , Texas, and Maryland. If Joe Gable had shown sufficient danger or threat, would Michelle have honored the protective order? No way of knowing. Orders are often violated, sometimes with tragic consequences. But they are an important tool in decreasing violence, and protecting us all.

Followup: An editorial in the Missoulian newspaper — prompted by the Helena shootings  — cites statistics from the National Institute of Justice showing that protective orders do discourage some types of abusers, that women who obtain protective orders are “less likely to be physically abused than women without them,” and in one Texas study, a significant decrease in physical abuse over a 2 year period, from 68 to 23 percent, if the victims maintained the orders. That last statistic highlights another problem in the complicated relationships between victims and abusers: victims often continue or initiate contact themselves, despite having obtained protective orders. The reasons are complicated and far beyond the scope of this post, but can make a thorny situation even more difficult.

Another benefit of protective orders is that they make it easier for LEO to follow up on reports of abuse, and for prosecutors to successfully prosecute a violator, which can be easier than sorting out what happened in the incidents that led to the order.

Do protective orders always work? No. Are they critical tools? Yes. I urge anyone at risk to seek an order, break off all contact, report violations, and obtain any other assistance needed to keep themselves and their children safe.

In mid December, the Missoulian reported that Michelle Gable would plead justifiable use of force in her April 2012 trial.

Nothing on this site is intended as legal advice, and should not be relied on in handling “real world” legal problems. All information provided is intended solely for use by writers devising fictional plots.

Keep in mind that because laws and procedures vary widely and sometimes change, you should check the status of any law that affects key elements of your story.


Domestic abuse — some issues for writers to consider

A writer whose plot involves domestic abuse posed several questions.

Consider this scenario: A woman is in a violent marriage that’s getting worse. Her husband assaults her one night and is arrested. At his initial appearance in court the next morning, bond is set at $1,000. He posts bond by credit card and after spending one night in jail, goes home. Later, as a condition of a plea agreement, he agrees to attend anger management classes and AA. His wife reconciles with him, but is angry with her family and friends for making clear that they do not trust him and think she should leave him. As a result, she becomes more isolated, and one night, when he decides he’s tired of the wagon, of people telling him what to do, and of her disapproval, he drinks a half-rack of beer and most of a fifth of whiskey and beats her badly. The oldest child, just twelve, calls 911, and police and EMTs respond. She’s taken to the hospital, he’s taken to jail, and the kids are taken to a neighbor’s house to wait for their grandparents to arrive from out of town.

What’s going on, and what’s next?

Pre-trial release:  The amount of bail and other terms will depend on the charges and circumstances. In this scenario, the charge is probably a misdemeanor and a first offense. Potential charges in domestic violence vary widely, depending on the facts. Some are misdemeanors, others are felonies of several types, each with its own elements–the minimum facts that must be proven in court. Terms also vary: is it partner assault, domestic assault, family assault, simple or aggravated, first or second degree, or something else? Check the law in your story state.

Many factors affect pre-trial release, but the amount of the bail bond might be low if the victim isn’t seriously injured, the accused is particularly contrite, and no drugs, alcohol, or weapons are involved. Another factor is whether the accused has a steady job and ties to the community–not because that makes him less culpable, but because the primary purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant shows up for later court appearances and those ties make him less of a flight risk.

And yes, some courts do indeed accept credit cards.

Release on bond typically involves numerous conditions. The main condition: no contact with the victim. But if she tells the prosecutor she doesn’t want that–that she’s sure it won’t happen again, he’s really a good man but was upset over a problem at work or with one of the kids or she made him mad–the prosecutor won’t request that condition, because it’s clear she wouldn’t honor it. And the prosecutor wants her trust–there’s no point alienating the victim. If she’s in court, the judge might ask her if she wants him ordered to stay away. Some women genuinely believe the problem won’t recur. Others fear that a no-contact order would just make things worse. Some want limited involvement with police, courts, or government agencies for their own reasons; some fear the possibility of a Child Protective Services investigation; and others worry about finances or keeping their children from their father. Other typical conditions of release: refrain from drinking or using drugs, attend AA or NA, make all court appearances, and cause no further trouble.

Protective orders: I want to distinguish between a no-contact order issued after criminal charges have been filed or after a criminal conviction and a protective order. The purpose of a p.o. is to prevent future violence. According to the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence survey of recent statistics  (including prevalence, stalking, same-sex violence, recidivism, and workplace violence, as well as breakdowns by race, ethnicity, and age), 86% of women who received a protection order state the abuse either stopped or was greatly reduced.

The requirements and terms depend on the law in your story state, but a p.o. typically requires a showing that violence has occurred in the past and could occur in the future. (See the ABA’s state-by-state  summary of statutes and resources for survivors and attorneys.)

A protective order does not require criminal charges or a criminal conviction. Common terms prohibit contact with the applicant and any minor children, including phone calls and emails as well as physical contact, harassment, and going to or near a school or day care that a minor child attends or to an adult’s work place or church. Protective orders may also prohibit use or transfer of real or personal property, and in some states, can be used to establish temporary child support. The person to be protected must apply for the order by going to the local prosecutor, legal aid office, or court–usually justice court. You can’t get a p.o. for someone else, except that a parent may obtain a p.o. covering minor children. A violation doesn’t trigger arrest; the person who obtained the order must go to court to request that the person restrained be found in contempt and fined or jailed.

All too often–again, because of the complicated relationships–the person getting the order ignores violations, or ignores it herself, which makes later enforcement much harder.

(Next week, I’ll go into more detail on protective orders.)

Going to trial: So charges are filed and the case is set for trial. Cooperation problems can crop up again. If a victim refuses to testify or threatens to recant her story, then prosecutors must weigh the evidence and decide whether they have enough to make the case without her testimony. Police investigation, eyewitness testimony, and medical reports may be enough–especially with photographs. Jurors will wonder why they’re not hearing from the victim, but most will be savvy enough to figure it out.

It’s not uncommon for a woman to testify at trial and recant her prior reports of violence. Some courts allow experts, such as social workers or psychologists working in the field of domestic violence, to testify that this is typical behavior. The expert can’t comment on the witness’s credibility or say that she was actually assaulted–both are decisions for the jury–but can offer a explanation for inconsistencies in testimony.

Note that the spousal privilege does not apply in criminal cases involving charges of violence against a spouse or the minor children of either spouse.

Sentencing: As I mentioned previously, the charges possible in domestic violence vary widely. So do the sentencing ranges and options. Some states give courts a wide degree of discretion in sentencing; others dictate mandatory minimums and establish aggravating factors. The particular circumstances are critical. What happened? What injuries occurred? First offense or repeat? Was a weapon involved? What about drugs or alcohol? Were both partners violent, or just one? Some couples develop a relationship based on mutual abuse and violence, making intervention much harder, and complicating the legal situation.

Suspended sentences are common, either on a plea agreement or after a conviction at trial. Release will include extensive conditions, such as successful completion of a drug or alcohol treatment program, anger management sessions, and restitution.

Other options: What do prosecutors do when faced with a woman who needs the financial support her husband or partner provides to care for herself and their kids? This is a tough one. The biggest problem prosecutors face is lack of cooperation from the victim. Because of the complicated emotional situation in abusive relationships, many women are reluctant to end these relationships. Often, the victim doesn’t want the man jailed–she just wants the violence to stop. If an assault has caused serious injuries, it’s hard for a prosecutor to accept a plea agreement that doesn’t involve jail time. A typical solution is a plea agreement with a sentence length appropriate under the statutes and circumstances, but with most of the time suspended. That way, the defendant serves some time in prison but will be released with supervision by local probation officers. If he violates the terms of his release, or commits another assault, he can be charged with violating those terms as well as for any new crimes–a strong incentive to keep one’s nose clean.

Prosecutors often refer victims to social services. These run the gamut, from counseling services to assistance with food and housing to organizations that supervise visitation or transfer of children between estranged or hostile parents.

The “battered wife defense:” Some women strike back. The “battered wife defense” to a homicide charge is a variation of self-defense, and requires proof that the accused was in imminent danger, and that her own actions were intended to protect herself.

Another important resource: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Out of great pain can come great beauty. In 2002, Whitefish, Montana artist Jane Latus Emmert’s youngest sister was murdered by her boyfriend. In her grief, Jane asked for comfort and saw in the clouds a vision of an angel blowing a trumpet. She began painting angels, writing poems to accompany some images, and now uses her “Angel Cloud Art” paintings, notecards, and books to increase awareness of domestic violence and raise funds for group work.

Nothing on this site is intended as legal advice, and should not be relied on in handling “real world” legal problems. All information provided is intended solely for use by writers devising fictional plots.

Keep in mind that because laws and procedures vary widely and sometimes change, you should check the status of any law that affects key elements of your story.

The Saturday Writing Quote

“Be a scribe! Your body will be sleek, your hand will be soft…. You are one who sits grandly in your house; your servants answer speedily; beer is poured copiously; all who see you rejoice in good cheer. Happy is the heart of him who writes; he is young each day.”

Ptahotep, 4500 B.C.

(I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but isn’t it great anyway?)

GPS tracking by P.I.s – and other characters

Writers often ask whether private investigators and other characters can use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tracking devices to follow individuals. The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided in U.S. v. Jones (see my blog post here) that law enforcement use of a GPS tracking device requires a warrant, under the 4th Amendment. (Some state courts had already reached that conclusion under state law.) But of course, the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply to actions by private citizens.

A recent article in the New York Times gives an eye-popping look at the ways private individuals are using GPS trackers–and how easy it is. Many uses are benign on the surface–tracking an elderly parent with dementia (although better, I think, to take the keys), or a young driver with a lead foot or questionable friends. Some uses raise ethical and legal dilemmas–tracking a wayward spouse, for example, or an employer watching an employee suspected of playing hookey, misusing a company-owned vehicle, or claiming expenses for trips not taken. Others could rise to the level of criminal stalking. (Check your story state for statutes defining and punishing stalking. The National Center for Victims of Crime has compiled a summary of state, federal and tribal laws on criminal and civil stalking.)

The Times quotes a private investigator as saying his “infidelity business” has dropped off, as suspicious spouses do their own electronic spying. It also reports that sales may exceed 100,000 devices a year. Most are small–about the size of those magnetic metal key holders–and most I found online were $500 or less. Some plug in to the car battery; others run on their own batteries. (The Jones decision mentions that at one point, police had to change the battery on the device in Jones’ Jeep.)

Of course, GPS devices are a great help finding your way in the wilderness, or for search and rescue squads. REI sells GPS sports watches  so runners can track speed and distance. Some include heart monitors and music players. They even keep time. Golfers use devices preprogrammed with thousands of courses to plan their shots and find errant balls. (I’d need one with a long battery life.) And millions of drivers use them every day.

But using them to track someone else, without their knowledge, creates tremendous–and terrifying–potential invasions of privacy.  And imagine the physical dangers your villain could design for your protagonist or fictitious victims.

I suspect we’ll see a continued increase in the good, the bad, and the very ugly uses of GPS trackers, and with that, more calls for regulation by the states, tribes, and federal government. Some states already ban their use without consent, except by law enforcement and the vehicles’ owners.

Meanwhile, think about the trouble you can cause your characters.