Flathead River Writers Conference — registration open

The Authors of the Flathead, a multi-genre writers group in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana, holds its annual Flathead River Writers Conference this fall, on Oct 6-7 in Kalispell. I’m one of 7 presenters. The keynote speaker is Mark Coker of Smashwords. See the rest of the roster, the schedule, and registration info here.

Join us for a great little writers conference!

Sentencing juvenile killers — the Supreme Court rules

Last March, I discussed the case pending before the Supreme Court challenging state statutes mandating life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder.

Earlier this week, in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court held 5 to 4 that the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and usual punishment bars mandatory life sentences for homicide offenders under 18 at the time of their crime. Both defendants were 14. The decision builds on earlier cases holding that because young offenders lack the maturity and judgment of adults–and have greater capacity for rehabilitation–they should not necessarily receive the same punishment. (Books, Crooks & Counselors discusses the first case, Roper v. Simmons (2005), striking down the death penalty for juveniles.)

I want to stress that this ruling does not mean no juvenile can be given a life sentence without parole or LWOP, as it’s sometimes called. It holds only that a state may not make such sentences mandatory.

Instead, sentencing must take into account mitigating factors (discussed in Books, Crooks & Counselors), such as age, personal history, immaturity, or duress.

Judges tend to dislike mandatory sentences, because they take away judicial discretion to consider factors unique to the case or defendant. This ruling assures that sentences are tailored to the particular facts of the case, including both the crime and the defendant.

For further details, see the analysis in the SCOTUS blog and this Washington Post report.

How can you use this in your stories? Consider the family of your juvenile offender–or the family of his victim. Play out the debate in real time, or after the crime–look to the dissents for fodder. Create tension in the prosecutor’s office–or the defenders. How does the case hit home for the lawyers, judge, or jurors–who may have teenagers of their own? Bring in racial and socio-economic factors. What about public reaction?

And if you’re looking for a model of a passionate, driven defense attorney, consider Bryan Stevenson, profiled in this Washington Post story. Stevenson has long represented young offenders sentenced to death or LWAP, and led the fight for Miller and Jackson–even though when he was 16, his own grandfather was murdered by four teenagers in Philadelphia.

Update to the update: FOB (Friend of the Blog) Hank Phillippi Ryan sent me this Boston newspaper interview with prosecutors and defense counsel, including her husband Jonathan Shapiro, about the impact of the decision.  Shapiro represented a teenager sentenced to LWAP for murder; his sentence will now be revisited.

The Saturday Quote Contest — We have a winner!

What a font of inspiration you all are! Several of you took a quote that on the surface doesn’t relate to writing, and applied it to the craft and process of writing. Well-done! As Goethe said, “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

The paw has spoken: Mr. Kitten has drawn the winner: Jenn Mitchell!  Congratulations, Jenn! Send me your land mail address (Leslie AT LawandFiction DOT com), and Mr. Kitten and I will send you a signed copy of Books, Crooks & Counselors!


The Saturday Writing Quote & A Drawing

“Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it. ”

— Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Share one of your favorite quotes about writing or reading in the comments. Sunday evening, Mr. Kitten will choose one winner to receive a signed copy of Books, Crooks & Counselors. (If you don’t need a copy because you’ve already bought one, thank you! Post a quote anyway — just mention that you don’t need to be entered in the drawing.)

“I love [quotations] because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizedly wiser than oneself.”

— attributed to Marlene Dietrich

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Books, Crooks nominated for a Macavity Award!

What a week here at Law & Fiction! Books, Crooks & Counselors has now been nominated for a Macavity Award, given by Mystery Readers International. Here’s the full list. Congratulations to all — some of us are getting to be good friends this award season!

And for those wondering about the name: Macavity is the Mystery Cat, aka the Hidden Paw, in TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

RIP – Peace or Prison? – Henry Hill

 Henry Hill died Tuesday in Los Angeles.

The mobster had a major impact on an industry he–to my knowledge–never tried to influence. In 1981, Simon & Schuster published Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, by Hill, the pseudonym of a man under federal witness protection. Ray Liotta played Hill in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 movie, Goodfellas.

Hill’s book readily acknowledged his participation in crimes for which he was not prosecuted. New York attempted to force the publisher to pay the state everything Hill earned, based on it law barring a convicted criminal from profiting by writing about his life and experiences. New York enacted the first such law in the nation in 1977, called the “Son of Sam law” after accused murderer David Berkowitz, known as “Son of Sam.”

In 1991, the Supreme Court held that the law unconstitutionally infringed on freedom of speech because it applied not only to convicted criminals, but also to persons accused but not convicted and to persons who admitted an unprosecuted crime. The Court agreed that New York has a “compelling interest” in depriving criminals of the profits of their crimes, and in using those profits to help victims. But the state can’t confiscate payment for works that only tangentially refer to a crime. Since then, laws have been rewritten to target convicted criminals who write or sell a story primarily about their crimes.

The New York Times describes Hill’s career in some detail. Horrifying and fascinating.

Similar anti-notoriety laws now exist in about forty states and the federal system. The goal is to prevent criminals from profiting by books or movies about their crimes while their victims suffer financially–and suffer from the added publicity.

The criminal may still write a book or sell his story to a magazine or a movie producer. But instead of paying the criminal, the publisher or producer pays the state where he was convicted. Systems vary. In some states, the author’s victims must sue him in civil court for money damages; judgment in hand, they file a claim with the state against the money received. In others, payments are routed through the state crime victims’ fund; money not paid to the victims may be returned to the criminal, applied to the state’s costs of trial, or used to compensate victims of other crimes.

Other examples: several political figures wrote biographies admitting involvement in Watergate, but were never convicted of crimes. They can keep their profits. An ex-President who makes a passing reference in a memoir to having inhaled can keep the profits. And Son of Sam laws don’t affect a felon who writes about how prison changed his life but only incidentally mentions the crimes that landed him there, because the focus is his personal transformation.

(Photo of Hill and Liotta from the NY Times.)

a mystery story for you

In lieu of this week’s post on a legal topic, I have a small gift for you.  Kings River Life reprinted my short story, The End of the Line, originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in Dec 2006.

My husband and I were traveling in Greece, exploring the stone towers of Vathia, on the tip of the Mani Peninsula, when I spotted a spent shotgun shell on the dirt path, and wondered how it got there … .

Think of it in honor of Father’s Day, if you like. Enjoy!