Saturday, May 4, 2013

Legal Opinions Welcomed -- Did the New Gabby Grimm Cross a Line?

I recently got a book review on Library Thing that raises a good question about the legality of the law enforcement actions in my newest mystery thriller, "Little Red Riding Hood and the Secret Cookie Recipe". A former prosecutor, under the alias "Michigan Trumpet", wrote:

"The kidnapping of a high school girl and the sudden disappearance of her family, (including her father, Latimer Falls, Vt. Sheriff), snares Deputy Sheriff Gabby Grimm in a quickly evolving high stakes investigation. As she struggles to coordinate with her own Department, the State Police and the FBI, she suspects that there is a bad cop or two in the bunch. There is a fair amount of exposition which earlier readers might find tedious, but which was helpful to me, having not read the preceeding books in the series. The police corruption aspect had a 'ripped-from-the-headlines' feel for this New Englander familiar with the real-life Whitey Bulger case. Barton's version is completely her own and well imagined. The action is fast paced, as the suspense intensifies. There is one plot point that is integral to the story which would cause real-life law enforcement and prosecutors major ethical and legal problems. I took issue with it, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment overall. I would be intersted in hearing if others found it particularly troubling." (Library Thing reviews of Little Red Riding Hood and the Secret Cookie Recipe)

I have a confession. I actually agree with Michigan Trumpet. Now I'm curious. What do other legal eagles think? I'm happy to offer you the chance to read this book for free with Smashwords coupon code TG55Z (all you need for a free Smashwords account is an email address):

"Little Red Riding Hood and the Secret Cookie Recipe"

There was an incident in the book with which I genuinely struggled as an author. I personally found it repellent. Would I, as a real-life participant, have taken that path? Would I have made that decision? Sitting safely in my armchair, with a cozy floor lamp at my side, I'd like to say I'm better than that and I wouldn't even be tempted. But at the time of the incident as the fictional story unfolded, and knowing what the characters knew at that moment, I found it a tough call. Do you preserve the case for prosecution or do you save the victim and risk derailing the opportunities to delve deeper into organized crime? The buried bodies were plentiful, RICO would have been retroactive, and the financial profits for the criminal empire would have been seriously curtailed, had the law enforcement agents focused on the legal aspects. Maybe it would have even impacted how it all turned out, because those little short-cuts, those moments when folks looked the other way, enabled the bad guys to keep doing what they did.

I suspect that lawyers could argue for either side, depending on their legal interests. But what about the victim's right to be rescued? Dickens, in Oliver Twist, made a good point:

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

Which raises another question -- in the eyes of experienced law enforcement, what would be the thing to do in this case, understanding that time is of the essence and the perpetrators are known for their vicious brutality and love of torture? If you're sure that your bad guy isn't going to talk, to spill the beans that will enable you to move in and save the damsel in distress, in this case an innocent teenage girl who happens to be the daughter of the real target, Sheriff Rufus Parteger, can you tiptoe over that line to err on the side of life, rather than following the letter of the law?

In the heat of the moment, we tend to focus on the little guy, that person most in need. Cops protect and serve. It's their job to rescue the living, isn't it? When we step back, we see the big picture, how all the dots connect, and we begin to see that if we had those few extra seconds, if we changed this decision or that, maybe things would have been different. But when tensions are high, human beings are forced to make split-second decisions. It's the time when mistakes are not only critical, but sometimes deadly. In this case, Gabby and her cohorts made a decision that had some serious ramifications after the fact. But did they make the right decision over all? I'd love to know what those in the field of law enforcement and justice think.

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