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For those who might know the answers, I have some questions:

Say person A tampers with person B's brakes, causing B's death when B misses a curve and drives off a cliff. B's family assumes it was an accident, having no reason to suspect foul play. All the same, would the car be examined for what went wrong? If so, how easy is it to detect brakes that failed due to being tampered with, rather than failed because they were merely old and worn out? (Assume the car is fairly old and worn out to start with.)

Saying it was still ruled an accident, then assume the police receive an anonymous call tipping them off about what A has done. Would this be enough to open the case as possible murder? Or would they merely call in A for questioning and see what happens? And would they definitely tell B's family about the anonymous tip, and the questioning, or would they wait until there was something substantial to go on before upsetting them with the possibility of murder? And for that matter, would the police only respond if B's family wanted to investigate and press charges? Or does the state automatically step in if murder is a possibility at all? (It would seem odd for the state to let a murderer go free just because the victim's next of kin didn't want to press charges, but for all I know it's legal.)

Assume, then, that they did call A in for questioning, and couldn't find any reason to hold him--no fingerprints or motive or anything, just the anonymous call. So they let it drop. But then say someone hears A bragging about what he did. Would that be reason enough for the police to call in A again for new questioning, or is it too flimsy? What about if someone else dies in a new crash, this time someone who had more of a connection to A? In short, what kind of proof is needed to arrest A for B's death?

Now that I have your alarmed attention, I will mention that this is for a novel I'm working on, and is not something I've ever been, or ever plan to be, involved in. :)

I do know that I'm basically a tard when it comes to legal questions, though, so you can be as condescending as you like in your answers. I seldom read crime novels--they're one of the genres that interest me least--and wouldn't usually write one, but this particular story needed an issue of life and death. Plus I figured it was about time I had an actual villain. Other than that, it's about angels and teenagers, which is the main fun part. I mean, there are no rules about angels, except the ones I make up.

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
elfinity
Feb. 28th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
I can't help with legal answers, but I'll ask my bro about the brakes. I'd imagine that it would be very possible to see if the brakes were messed with, because the damage would be more um... "all-at-the-same-time" vs. the way the brakes would normally be worn out over time.
mollyringle
Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:08 am (UTC)
Sounds like it, from what others are saying. My own automotive knowledge is almost as fuzzy as my legal knowledge!
laleonaenojada
Feb. 28th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC)
Different states have different statutes regarding whether a body should be autopsied/whether the scene of death is investigated. In some states, every dead body is investigated for potential foul play. At any rate, unless some official of some sort is present at death, the coroner's office, if not CSI, is going to investigate the events surrounding the death before ruling cause of death -- this investigation may, however, be rather superficial. Although "heart failure" may often be found on death certificates, I've heard many coroners complain that ultimately, all death is caused by failure of the heart, and that cause of death should be more specific. This is all very wishy-washy, and perhaps not relevant to your question.

As far as whether the police would open a murder investigation based on an anonymous call, I can tell you that police need "reasonable suspicion" in order to investigate. Reasonable suspicion is a relatively low standard. An anonymous tip would give the police reasonable suspicion. Whether or not an investigation would then ensue is questionable -- depends on the case load of the police department and the what the department thinks the ikelihood is that the investigation will lead to an uncovering of wrongdoing. There are probably internal police department standards that I'm unfamiliar with, and the best way to go about finding these things is to look at the statutes for the state in which your death occurs, as well as the regulations for the P.d. in the jurisdiction in which your death occurs. It's going to be different state to state, and even within a state, different locality to locality.

In order to call A in for questioning against his consent, reasonable suspicion is again the applicable constitutional standard. In order to arrest A for B's death, the police need to have probable cause and go before a judge or magistrate to get an arrest warrant based on probable cause. Probable cause is a significantly higher standard than reasonable suspicion, and involves presenting a nexus of facts that shows that the conclusion that A killed B is not only reasonable, but probable -- that is, v. likely. If, however, the police observe A committing an unlawful act (any unlawful act) they may arrest A for that unlawful act.

Hope this helped some, and wasn't just incongruent babbling

~A
mollyringle
Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:10 am (UTC)
That's good stuff! Thank you. Well, the state will be California, but the town is fictional, so perhaps I can always just pretend it's in a locality with statutes that serve my purposes. :)

Any feel on whether victim's family is always kept in the loop when things like anonymous tips come in? I would guess they are, on further reflection, but maybe it's another issue that varies from place to place.
dirae
Mar. 1st, 2006 12:38 am (UTC)
From a technical angle, most accidents involving deaths are thoroughly investigated (i.e. - the accident is reconstructed and the cars--what remain--are investigated). I would recommend, if one did not want to be caught, that he or she would take the top off of the master cylinder and siphon out all of the brake fluid. This would allow the brakes to function for a while, then slowly fade and cease working. The cool thing about this is that it is highly undetectable (especially if going off a cliff) because in an investigation, one could rightly hypothesize the cap came off on impact (that is, if the car didn't blow up). The most detectable "brake failure" would consist of cutting a brake cable--as I said, this is highly detectable because of tool marks and the leaking of break fluid on the road for miles prior to the accident site (also, the brakes fail almost instantly in this case unless one only tampers with the cable... in itself, tampering is not a sure fire means as the brakes may not fail at all).

I can't really help with the legal issues per se. I would assume, even if a crash was ruled an accident, an inquest into B's death could be re-opened.
mollyringle
Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:11 am (UTC)
Cool--I like the master cylinder idea. I originally had the cable in mind, but as your very appropriate icon says, making it look like an accident is of course desirable here. :) Thanks!
kalquessa
Mar. 1st, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
I have absolutely NO expertise in this area AT ALL.

That said, and citing as credentials that fact that Bill and I have a long-standing addiction to crime TV of the "True Stories of Forensic Science!" variety (the kind you mostly see on Discovery and Court TV) I would say that your scenario sounds solid. You could research the specific state's codes and covenants ruling police activity and due diligence, just to be thorough, but as a reader, I would buy it with no questions (I am also a chumpy reader, though, so that may not mean much). I'm guessing the kind of evidence needed to arrest and convict A would vary from state to state.
mollyringle
Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:12 am (UTC)
But you work for lawyers; surely that counts for something. :)

Glad it sounds reasonable, anyway. I'm a chumpy reader too, which isn't good when it comes time for me to be the writer, for I haven't necessarily learned "stuff what's true."
bluesound
Mar. 1st, 2006 08:26 am (UTC)
I do know that I'm basically a tard when it comes to legal questions

So are most lawyers... popular creatures that they are. What's the difference between a dead dog and a dead lawyer? There's skid marks before the dead dog.

Crime novels being a genre I wouldn't normally go into, I started reading Ian Rankin's Rebus novels.
mollyringle
Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:13 am (UTC)
What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A good start.
kiralademaus
Mar. 12th, 2006 10:42 pm (UTC)
Just scanning your blog...
...and the questions piqued my curiosity. So I asked my lawyer-father, who tells me that pretty much all the circumstances you raised would keep the investigation open, but the absence of physical proof would mean a confession would be required for conviction. He says, though, that the police are highly skilled at using what they know to extract confessions, so if the story became known to them they could probably get a confession.

Not sure a Villian could be badgered even by experts into giving a confession (chronic reader here!), but who knows? Some other force might grease the wheels toward Justice.
mollyringle
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Just scanning your blog...
Excellent - thank you so much for taking the time! (And thanks to your dad.) :)

Yes, I am still pondering whether my villain will confess or whether he will be a complete bastard to the end and deny it all.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )