When I started this blog, shortly after publication of my guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books, 2011), I often wrote about how to write about legal issues. And occasionally, I see an article, case, or topic I want to share with you. Today, I’ve got two.
If you’re writing about criminal cases in the justice system, you need to be aware of plea agreements: what goes into them, what are the benefits, what are the costs. This NPR story discusses a recent report from the American Bar Association, noting that 98% of criminal cases in the federal courts end with a plea agreement. (I suspect the number is slightly lower in state court, where most cases are brought, but is still very high.) Pleas provide efficiency and certainty, but at what cost to the defendants — and to society? Worth thinking about in your story.
And too many trials result in wrongful convictions. One is too many. I wrote about such a case in Blind Faith, my latest standalone (written as Alicia Beckman), based on an actual case in Billings, Montana, where the book is set, involving faulty testimony from a state crime lab employee on hair analysis. I was pleased to see this article in the Billings Gazette about two University of Montana law students who worked with the state’s Innocence Project to overturn a wrongful conviction.
Crime victims, their families, and our communities deserve justice, and that’s often the thrust of our stories. But wrongful convictions and unfair plea agreements serve no one.