Anatomy of an evidence room

When I practiced in Seattle, a small group of lawyers in my firm represented commercial fishermen and seafood companies. That’s what led us to involvement in a large criminal conspiracy case against a man known as “the Geoduck King.” (That’s gooey-duck, and it’s a big old ugly clam.)

I thought of that recently when I read this article on a police department evidence room in a Twin Cities suburb. It’s an eye-opening look at how physical evidence is handled and stored, how it can pile up, and how it’s managed.

But they don’t say anything about storing a freezer full of big old ugly clams.

You can easily create good complications for your stories, if you put yourself in the position of an evidence room manager or a police officer. Imagine an officer bringing in a piece of evidence during a rush; does it get properly cataloged? What happens to a criminal case if the right gun, or the right baggie of “green leafy vegetable matter,” can’t be located?

Space can be a real issue, and not just for freezers full of clams. Computers may be smaller than ever, but they still take space. Cars and trucks, front-end loaders, trailers, and other really big items will be stored in an impound lot, often outside and exposed to the elements. What if a storm causes additional damage or destroys an RV that was the scene of a crime?

Think, too, of what happens to evidence after a case is closed? Clerks of court will call occasionally to say they’ve received a file back from the state Supreme Court, and what would we like to do with the broken chain that struck a young man in the eye? He lost that claim because he couldn’t prove where his uncle had bought it, and sued three farm & ranch suppliers, including our client, each of whom was able to show they had not bought that length of chain from that manufacturer. Your fictional criminal defense lawyer or civil trial firm, like mine, might have displays of evidence: the dented timber company hard hat that sits on top of Fred the Skeleton, or a glass-front book shelve holding small odd items. No guns or bullets, though, and no green leafy material!

The Saturday Writing Quote — on language

Image0170“A word is a seed. It’s alive, like the seed of a plant or tree. Inside is its entire history. If you could cut it open like the seed of a plant, you’d see wonderful things. Or, better yet, if you could examine its DNA or its genetics, you’d find thousands of changes and contributions distinguishing the rocky, creative path from its beginnings to its present recognizable form.”

– Richard Goodman, in The Soul of Creative Writing (2008) (quoted in The Writer, Oct 2008)

Character opportunities: guns and domestic abusers

I spotted these two articles recently that struck me as useful resources for writers. Quite a few states restrict the ability to own guns of those convicted of domestic abuse, charged but not yet tried, or subject to a protective order. (I’ve written about protective orders in domestic abuse cases here and here.)

This article chronicles recent changes in state laws, as well as changes under discussion.

And here’s a Q&A on the topic.

And here’s a pair of directories to gun laws, one state by state and one by policy. (I’ve not yet used it, and can’t vouch for its accuracy; if a state law is key to your story, check the statutes.)