Some of you may know that I was able to write my latest novel, Circling the Drain, during the NaNoWriMo, NATIONAL WRITE A BOOK IN MONTH OF NOVEMBER competition. The prize is really that you wrote a novel of over 50,000 words in 30 days, and somewhere the gods of the Muse are happy.
I let my novel sit for a whole two months, then went into a serious editing, which I call getting down to basics, things like… “Does this even make sense?” The very thing that readers will ask when my book gets published.
The premise of the book, a successful real estate tycoon is diagnosed with cancer, gives all his money to charity, then finds his diagnosis was fake and his millions are gone and so is the doctor who gave him the diagnosis. Yes, it’s far fetched but all good stories need to start with a strange series of events.
I then have the police investigate my real estate tycoon, let’s call him Carson Winfield, because that’s his name. You see, his wife also died of Cancer, the same doctor made the diagnosis. They think he may have planned to kill his own wife with the doctor’s help, wrap up his estate and flee the country. Without spoiling too much of the book, we have the epic battle between the accused, the lawyer, and of course the police and detectives.
This was where I decided to send a draft copy to my good friend , who is a real criminal lawyer who deals with real criminals in court everyday, here in Canada. Although he calls all of them “clients.”
My wife once asked our lawyer friend if any of his “clients,” were actually innocent, and he replied, “Some of them had good alibi’s.” He was joking of course, but the clients he worked with in his city were petty thieves who had his number on speed dial.
What I got from my lawyer friend in feedback was a remarkable look at the justice system in North America. He basically told me that I had the premise of my story down, but was missing the fine points of how the lawyers and the police function, how they battle each other. He filled me in over several hours over the phone, and here are some of his nuggets.
The Police can lie to the accused, more-so in the USA than in Canada.
I wasn’t sure how to write this part in my story. Here I have my accused, Carson Winfield brought into the police station for questioning. The police have what they think is a case, but they can’t prove it without a confession. Now, my story takes place in California, so I had to I had to do some research on the American legal system.
It was my lawyer friend who told me how to have my lawyer in the book instruct my character, Carson Winfield. He gave me so many tips that at one point I thought I should have him as my co-author on my next book.
What I did learn is how lawyers work in the two Countries of Canada and America. In Canada when a person is arrested, or about to be arrested, they call their lawyer, and here is where my lawyer friend coaches them to “not say anything.” He even gives them a ten to fifteen minute lecture in person or over the phone before they meet with the police.
In America, the accused or person of interest gets to show up with the lawyer, and the lawyer may even be in the interview. In Canada a witness is advised that they do not have to answer any questions if they don’t want to. In America, they get to take the 5th, as in the 5th amendment, and say nothing.
Which according to most American Lawyer’s would be the really smart thing to do. The accused who decides to “tell some of the truth,” or to “set the record straight,” it seems is the one who puts the noose around his or her neck.
Okay, I’m really paraphrasing on this, but from all the other information on the web regarding the American legal system, it’s evident that people should not talk to the police without having a lawyer present. I found this great video lecture on this from Professor James Duane , his lecture is on youtube https://youtube.be/i8z7N5sgik
I did have a good time with this one, as my lawyer was constantly berating his client, Carson Winfield, to “quit handing the police evidence that would hang him.” I admit that was fun, because from my research, I could see that even “person’s of interest,” can get themselves into trouble. The video from Professor James Duane is quite adamant on this point.
The other subject I got into was the search warrant. I just had my detective character ask for one, and sure enough my lawyer friend instructed me further on the subject.
The Search Warrant. It really is a big deal for the police to get one.
This part in my research got interesting. I, like everyone else who watches television shows assume that all the police have to do is ask nicely for a search warrant, and there it is. Kind of like the drive through at MacDonald’s, where the police ask to “biggie size me,” and get a “search and seizure,” on the side.
It turns out it’s not that way. Again, there has to be some probable cause, because defense lawyers love getting evidence thrown out of court that was brought about by an improper warrant, or the improper exercise of the warrant.
Writers can have a good time with this one. I had my detective having to convince the Assistant District Attorney he had enough for the warrant, and the ADA telling him it was on thin ice, “Like the spring ice in Minnesota.” Okay, I got a little caught up in my own words, but you see what I mean.
The search warrant really is a major hurdle for law enforcement, and we should be thankful we have this vehicle in North America, otherwise, there’d be someone at your door looking to investigate that strange tall plant in your window that you call catnip, or muscle relaxant…or whatever.
At the end to the day, will my novel be a break out similar to John Grisham? I doubt it. I don’t think I’m qualified to carry his briefcase. However, my little novel, which is a black humor of only 59K words has been looked over by a real criminal lawyer to ensure I got the main parts right.
The best part was, he couldn’t figure out the ending. He was almost late for court as he read the end to see who did it. Now that, was worth writing the book.
I wish all of you happy writing, reading, and to those who wish a life of crime, please watch professor Duane’s video, at least once.
My book, Circling The Drain, will be out in July. If you get a chance, I’d love to know what you think of it.