I was in Sacramento, Ca. last Saturday to present a workshop to the Capitol Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime. The room was packed, the audience was great, and we had a ton of fun discussing cops, bad guys and, of course, murder. Naturally I named my presentation…
During the two-hour session we discussed things often found in books that aren’t always totally correct. Here’s a brief sample of the discussion.
Do you know the answer? No? Well…
For example, a man kills his business partner in their office. Then the killer drives to a nearby fast food restaurant where he tosses the murder weapon into the bushes near the parking lot. A few minutes later a group of kids find the gun and call the police.
The office where the murder occurred is the scene of the crime, which is also a crime scene because evidence can be found there. The place where the weapon was located is a crime scene because evidence (the weapon) is there. But the wooded area at the fast food establishment is NOT the scene of a crime.
What about Homicide?
We see many media headlines that, by design, are intended for shock value, hoping to either attract readers or to ignite raw emotion. Papers and online news sources often use the word HOMICIDE to make every single death, especially one that’s at the hand of a police officer, seem as if the person has committed a premeditated and cold-blooded killing.
Well, they’re not always the same. For example…
That’s right, every single death that’s caused by another person is a homicide, including those listed above—state executions, when you’re defending your own life and your attacker is killed during the act, and even when a psycho-wacko serial killer grabs your child and you kill him while saving the person most precious to you. Yes, each of those deaths are homicides. Likewise, anytime a police officer kills someone during a shootout, while defending his life or the life of another, etc., he/she commits a homicide.
A homicide can most definitely be a legal act, and is, unless the act is unjustifiable or without a legitimate and reasonable excuse. An unjustifiable homicide is a MURDER, and murder is illegal.
A justifiable homicide is NOT an illegal act. So those “Coroner Rules Death A Homicide!!” headlines are nothing more than words used to have you click to read a story, or to incite some sort of emotion, because ALL killings of one person by another are HOMICIDES. Please do not take the media’s bait.
However, when a headline reads, “Police Charge H.E. Killder With Murder,” well, that’s a crime story you may find of interest, especially if H.E. Killder is the mayor of your town, or your family doctor.
Time of Death
Writers often ask questions about determining time of death. Here’s a quick-reference pocket guide your protagonist should keep handy. It, like most other methods, is not 100% on the money, but it provides a good starting point.
Obviously, Body Condition in the chart below refers to a dead body. Time Frame refers to hours after death.
By the way, if your very-much-alive date is cold/not rigid then you can definitely expect to never, ever hear from her/him again. You should also strongly consider working on your people skills, dance moves, small talk, and/or bad breath.
I presented the SinC group with this scenario. You’re an officer who’s received a call and during your investigation you encounter this woman in an alley. You’re in uniform, your badge is shining brightly in the sunshine and, therefore, it’s totally obvious that you are a police officer. In the photo below, would the officer be justified to use deadly force? Should he shoot, or not?
What would you do, and why?