Criminal Court Manuals and other resources writers can use

flathead-kalispell-courthouseIf criminal procedure is important to your story — when a suspect will be arraigned, where, how counsel are appointed, procedures for bond hearings, and so on — be sure to check the website for your story court. You’ll find all kinds of useful information. For example, the King County (Washington) Superior Court puts its Criminal Department manual and forms online. The Montana District Court website includes its manual for judges, called the Bench Book, and its bond guidelines. Most courts post their rules and calendars on line, as well as statistics and performance measures.

To find the right court for your story state, check the National Center for State Courts website state-by-state directory, with links to the various levels of courts in each state and a court structure chart, showing which courts handle what matters.

(Image: Old Flathead County Courthouse, now a county office building, from the postcard collection of the Montana Historical Society.)

The Saturday Writing Quote: on story

“Stories I love operate on three planes at once—the popcorn element that gives you that swept-away feeling; the propulsive engine that enables readers to experience a thrill and be satisfied at the end; a depth that prompts you to any understanding of the artist’s intention.”

Benjamin Percy, American novelist in O: The Oprah Magazine, August 2013

Update: the death penalty for the mentally disabled

In Books, Crooks & Counselors, I wrote about the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision, Atkins v. Virginia, holding that execution of the mentally disabled violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as 18 states had already decided. Atkins did not establish standards for sentencing judges to apply in determining mental disability, leaving that to the states.

The Supreme Court has now accepted for review Hall v. Florida. Florida defines mental disability as an IQ of 70 or less; the defendant, Freddie Lee Hall, scored just above that threshold. More from the SCOTUS blog.

Lee Lofland’s list of common mistakes writers make about police work

Writers, read and heed this list of common mistakes writers make about police investigations, from Lee Lofland, retired homicide detective and author of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Writers Digest Books), who keeps us honest on his blog, The Graveyard Shift. I talk about some of this in my common mistakes talk — particularly the difference between state and federal crimes — but Lee gives it the cop-on-the-street perspective.

One More Reason I Love Justice Breyer

From NPR’s Morning Edition, Book News:

  • “Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks about Marcel Proust and how reading fiction can engender empathy in a wide-ranging French interview in La Revue des Deux Mondes,which was translated into English and published in The New York Review of Books. Breyer says that: “Reading makes a judge capable of projecting himself into the lives of others, lives that have nothing in common with his own, even lives in completely different eras or cultures. And this empathy, this ability to envision the practical consequences on one’s contemporaries of a law or a legal decision, seems to me to [be] a crucial quality in a judge.””

Autumn Leaves are Falling — a recap


So nice to be home! Like most writers, I love getting out and meeting readers, booksellers, librarians, and other writers. But also like most writers, I love being home — at my desk, with my cat and Mr. Right close by, and my imaginary friends at play on the page in front of me.

I’m delighted to share a lovely review of Death al Dente in the Fall issue of Mystery Scene. Click on the link for the full review; some snippets: Untitled-4

“Is there a cozy lover among us who could resist a new series boasting the label “A Food Lover’s Village Mystery”? Read on if you would like to indulge in a healthy helping of Death Al Dente, Leslie Budewitz’ scrumptious new series opener  …   but I can’t ruin the suspense. Instead, I encourage you to savor this new culinary mystery that offers a unique taste of Montana. Author Budewitz has created an engaging character, a charming town, and a whole new perspective on the state.”

IMGP1997Speaking of the state, if you have not attended your state’s Festival of the Book, put it on your schedule right now! Here’s a list of festivals across the country. Last weekend, I participated in the Humanities Montana Festival of the Book in Missoula. What fun! Friday morning, I got a chance to talk about Death al Dente and read an excerpt to 60 mystery and thriller fans, and the chance to listen to two Montana mystery writers share their books — Keith McCafferty and Gary L. Cook. IMGP2002(Turns out my camera’s cranky and when I hand it to someone else to take my picture, I get a blank — but here’s a shot of the gathering and one of Keith talking about his PI/cop/fly fishing mysteries!) Later on Friday, Keith and I joined novelists Emily Jane Miller, Russell Rowland, and Peter Rock for a panel discussion about food, research, writing from another perspective, and of course, writing fiction set in Montana.

This book venture has given me a chance to do many new things, including my first radio interview on The Write Question, a program of Montana Public Radio. It was broadcast on October 17, but can be streamed or downloaded as a podcast from the website.

Thanks to the Whitefish Community Library for hosting “Local Authors Night” on October 3.

And at the 23d annual Flathead River Writers Conference, sponsored by the Authors of the Flathead, Authors president Jess Owen and I moderated a First Impressions session, reading the first page of fiction submitted by the conference go-ers for comments by two literary agents, Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management and Liz Kracht of Kimberly Cameron & Associates, and several published writers who taught during the weekend conference. It was a great opportunity for writers to hear how agents analyze work, what they look for, and what’s often missing. We’re starting the planning for next year’s conference, September 27-28, 2014, and another session is already on the schedule.

Ruff on deskAs for me, if you’re in Western Montana, I’d be delighted to visit your library or book club. Drop me a line at leslie at lesliebudewitz dot com. You’ll find me doing one of the things I love most: writing.

Thank you all, friends and readers, for the opportunity.


The Saturday Writing Quote: H.L. Mencken

“The art of writing, like the art of love, runs all the way from a kind of routine hard to distinguish from piling bricks to a kind of frenzy closely related to delirium tremens.”

H.L. Mencken, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks 18 (1956) (thanks to Bryan Garner’s daily blog on Modern American Usage)


Have Talk, Will Travel!

I love talking to readers and writers! If you’d like me to visit your library, book club, or writers’ group, or give a presentation at a writers’ conference, drop me a note at leslie AT lawandfiction DOT com  I can talk about Death al Dente, my first cozy mystery coming out this summer, common mistakes writers make about the law, the cozy mystery, characterization, setting, selling that first traditionally published book, the writing life … and more!


Most recently, I participated in the Humanities Montana Festival of the Book, giving a short talk and reading from Death al Dente, and participating in a panel discussion with four other writers of fiction set in Montana.

And if you don’t know me and want to be sure I can string two sentences together without sounding like I’m strangling a giraffe, catch me on the radio! My interview on The Write Question, a program of Montana Public Radio, broadcast live this week, but can be streamed or downloaded as a podcast. It was producer Cherie Newman’s 251st author interview in 6 years — can you imagine?

And thanks for considering me!

On the Radio-o-o-oh!

The Write QuestionMy first radio interview airs this week, Thursday, Oct 17 at 7:30, on The Write Question, a program of Montana Public Radio. It’s also available on the MTPR website for streaming and download as a podcast.

(Warning: It’s all about Death al Dente and the role of food in fiction, so you might want to eat before listening.)

(Thanks to Chérie Newman, Producer. Twas a lot of fun, and I’m definitely available for other interviews elsewhere — drop me a line at leslie at lesliebudewitz dot com.)

Update: The Beauty Queen, the Mansion, and the Conviction that Isn’t

November 25, 2014: The 9th Circuit concluded that Judge Molloy applied the wrong standard, reinstated Didier’s conviction, and sent the case back to the District Court for further proceedings — presumably including sentencing. More from the Daily Inter Lake. Meanwhile, the mansion has been sold yet again. I hope it finds the right owner — loving and sufficiently financed — to restore its grace and grandeur. 

The updates continue. This week, the latest on the Case of the Beauty Queen Who Turned to Crime.

As I’ve written before, Miss Montana 1997, Christen Didier, was convicted by a federal jury last April of mail fraud and conspiracy, after collecting nearly $123,000 for temporary housing from her homeowners’ insurance company. Didier and a business partner bought a well-known historic mansion in northwestern Montana which was damaged by wind and fire. She moved out and made insurance claims for the property damage and for replacement housing, claiming to be living in a five-bedroom home with a swimming pool and other amenities, at a cost of $15,000 a month. In fact, she was living in a small family-owned cabin with no indoor plumbing, at around $800 a month. The trial judge, Donald Molloy, vacated the conviction in July. The Billings Gazette reports that Judge Molloy has now issued a written decision stating his reasons. In his view, the insurance company owed Didier the amount “sufficient to maintain her standard of living” — that is, comparable housing — regardless of how she used the money.

Quoting the Gazette: “He likened it to keeping the money rather than having your car repaired after a collision.

“Is it mail fraud when the owner of a damaged car gets the requisite three estimates, obtains payment by mail from the carrier but then has someone else do the work, pocketing the difference or savings?” Molloy wrote. “What if the owner never has the damage repaired, is that fraud?””

The U.S. Attorney’s office, which brought the case, has appealed his decision. I’m surprised that the issue — whether she was entitled to recover the cost of comparable housing, or only the amount she actually spent — was not determined before trial or as part of deciding what instructions to give the jury. It’s up to counsel — not the judge — to raise those issues, but it’s not surprising for a judge — particularly one as firm-minded as Judge Molloy — to direct counsel to brief an issue he’s identified that they have not raised.

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it’s certainly at the heart of a lot of crime.

Photos of the mansion can be seen in this December 2012 article from the Kalispell Daily InterLake summarizing the history of the mansion and recent efforts to save it.