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Thread: Need True Crime Writers Advice


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Permlink Replies: 6 - Pages: 1 - Last Post: Nov 20, 2015 11:07 PM Last Post By: jenngen
jenngen

Posts: 172
Registered: 09/03/12
Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 4:06 AM
 
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I need to talk to some writers of True Crime. I am working on a story that I am directly involved in as a victim. I need to know about legalities regarding the use of the real names of the purps. Any ideas on where I can find info on this? I do have warrants out on them and soon will have a civil judgement along with several other people. If that helps
Marjorie Jones

Posts: 1,782
Registered: 11/21/13
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 5:43 AM   in response to: jenngen in response to: jenngen
 
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jenngen wrote:
I need to talk to some writers of True Crime. I am working on a story that I am directly involved in as a victim. I need to know about legalities regarding the use of the real names of the purps. Any ideas on where I can find info on this? I do have warrants out on them and soon will have a civil judgement along with several other people. If that helps

Not sure about anywhere else, but in the US, folks are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, which means if the authorities only have warrants out on them, they haven't been convicted of anything. I'd stay well away from using their real names (or any identifying characteristics which may imply who they are to a reasonable person.)

That said, the laws of slander and libel (together known as defamation of character) are very clear, imo. (I've had to deal with it before, actually, in a business venture.)

First and foremost, you can ALWAYS tell the truth. It is NOT defamation to call someone a child abuser, for example, if he is in fact a child abuser.

Next comes the reasonable persons test. If you say something about someone that a reasonable person might believe to be true, but it is NOT true, than it MIGHT be defamation.

The final aspect is that it affects subjects ability to earn and costs them actual damages in some way. Let's say that you tell Mary that Bertie is on the run from her abusive ex-husband and that Mary shouldn't let Bertie in the house because if he finds her there, he'll try to hurt Mary, too. Mary tells this to Robert, who had been considering giving Bertie a really cushy job as a personal assistant, up to an including room and board in his 10M dollar mansion. Robert reconsiders because who needs the drama of an ex-husband coming around to muck things up.

IF Bertie really IS on the run from an abusive ex-husband with a history of violence to people that she knows, then you are in the clear.

IF you made it up (the reason doesn't matter) then you are guilty of defamation because it cost Bertie a job and earnings. She now has standing to sue you. (It also has to be intentional. You have to KNOW you're lying.)

The problem with using this test and these rules for writing a book, particularly when nobody has been convicted of the crimes you're writing about, is that you have no way to prove that the people in your story really did it. Until there is evidence in a court record to which you can refer, and a conviction on the record, these folks are assumed innocent and if they are NOT convicted, then you will have to answer to them for any possible losses they incur because reasonable people believed what you wrote.

The onus of proof in a civil matter is different than a criminal matter. In a criminal proceeding, the prosecution must prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt" or in such a way that the judge and/or jury have no reasonable doubts that the crime did take place and that the accused did it. In a civil matter, both sides bring out their evidence and he with the most evidence wins. It's not a question of innocence or guilt, but legal responsibility. So, if you have evidence that the judge and/or jury thinks is worth 51% and the other side has evidence that is worth only 49% of the truth, you win. But that does NOT assign guilt from a criminal perspective, so the fact you win a civil suit against someone doesn't mean you can write a book stating they committed the crime.

This becomes a WHOLE lot easier when you simply compile fictionalized characters of the people involved and "base" your book on actual events. I'd even put in a little snippet about "changing names to protect the innocent... and the guilty," or something along those lines. What many authors have done in the past is to take specific people and roll them all up in one fictional character. For example, in The Deliberate Stranger, there is a scene where Ted Bundy escapes from a courthouse in Colorado (actual fact) and steals a car (actual fact) and stops at a pay phone to call a friend; a reporter who has been covering the Ted killings in Oregon (or maybe it was Washington State.) In actuality, Ted Bundy called a friend of mine who was Ted's psychologist during his stay at the Utah State Prison. My friend has that conversation on tape, actually. (He wrote the book The Development of the Violent Mind, which is true crime in nature.) The reporter character in that book is a composite of several people and this technique works because it builds character development and cuts down on the cast of characters that the reader must wade through.

And finally, my little disclaimer - I'm not an attorney, intellectual property or otherwise. This knowledge comes from a decade as a legal assistant/paralegal working in criminal and civil matter, both in research and trial experiences; and in particular, from representing myself in a defamation matter against a former business partner who was trying to stick me with a bunch of her debt. Take it for what it's worth and if you're still worried, it's best to err on the side of caution.

From a technical standpoint, remember that YOU don't have warrants out on anyone. The prosecutor's office does. They make the decision to take matters to criminal charges, trial, plea deals, etc. Private citizens don't. At least if you're living in the US. You can swear out an affidavit upon which they base their decision, but technically, that's a different piece of paper.

M

Marjorie Jones

Posts: 1,782
Registered: 11/21/13
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 5:44 AM   in response to: jenngen in response to: jenngen
 
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I wrote a very lengthy response with lots to think about, but it's in review. It'll pop up eventually, I'm sure.

M
jenngen

Posts: 172
Registered: 09/03/12
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 7:07 AM   in response to: Marjorie Jones in response to: Marjorie Jones
 
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Thanks Marjorie. I am waiting for your reply.
RW Krpoun

Posts: 197
Registered: 04/06/14
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 10:48 AM   in response to: jenngen in response to: jenngen
 
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Until the criminal and civil cases have been resolved, the suspects are deemed innocent (as I'm sure you know).

Therefore accusations made against them could place you in an awkward position, legally.

More importantly, an effort to publish your side of the event(s) could create serious issues for their prosecution, as it provides the defense with the opportunity to attribute a different motivation to your testimony, as obviously a 'true crime' work requires a guilty verdict.

My advice is to clear the idea with the prosecutor assigned to your case, and to consult an attorney regarding your civil liabilities.
Carolyn Vaughan

Posts: 168
Registered: 10/15/15
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 6:23 PM   in response to: Marjorie Jones in response to: Marjorie Jones
 
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very helpful, thank you. I have been toying with writing my memoirs, and probably will do this, but i keep getting stuck on issues such as should Include last ten years (forensic psych) people commit crimes newspaper runs stories, issue is public knowledge etc, people go to forensic psych if considered not criminally responsible, I as nurse become privy to some facts regarding the persons and situations involved (crimes were often bizarre etc,) Questions I have been trying to sort out, what is ethical, would my story best be portrayed as fiction etc-I have not decided yet But I do thank you for clarifying some issues?
caroyln
jenngen

Posts: 172
Registered: 09/03/12
Re: Need True Crime Writers Advice
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 11:07 PM   in response to: jenngen in response to: jenngen
 
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Thanks Guys I am just going to keep working on the book as I can for now. Your advice has been very helpful and I cannot thank you enough. On this thing These guys have been convicted they have multiple victims and have some convictions and other warrants pending as well as a civil suit. They are in this way over their heads ATM. So I am not going to be publishing this book anytime soon. I am just going to keep piling the info on it until all is said and done and then I will finish it and see where it goes. Thanks again for your help.
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