Today’s guest author is Ed Rucker, author of The Inevitable Witness. He’s a criminal defense lawyer in California who has tried over 200 jury trials, including 13 death penalty cases. His forthcoming legal thriller, Justice Makes A Killing, will be released in July 2019.
Who better than this guy to give write this post?
A Criminal Lawyer’s Tips for Writing Legal Thrillers
Plot Requires Tension
Trying a criminal case has much in common with the creation of a mystery plot; in a jury trial, both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer are storytellers – although their stories are radically different.
When the police investigate a crime, they uncover and assemble an array of “facts,” such as witnesses, documents or forensic evidence. The prosecutor then weaves these facts together into a story, one that shows that the defendant committed the crime. In the prosecutor’s story, the defendant is propelled by a strong emotion like greed, jealousy, or revenge.
The defense must tell an alternative story about these “facts,” one that accepts the hard facts (science based forensics), but demonstrates the unreliability or falseness of other facts, leading to a different conclusion. If new facts are uncovered and added to the story, perhaps now they point their finger at another suspect.
In a mystery novel, as these contrasting stories evolve and move toward a climax, they can make for a tension-filled plot and an exhilarating read.
Build Complex Characters
Readers enjoy when a book’s characters have some depth, some complexity. This certainly applies to the story’s protagonist, but equally to its other characters. For example, when the storyline includes an innocent person who is wrongfully accused, there is often a tendency to treat that character as a placeholder while the business of solving the mystery moves ahead. In reality, when a person is charged with a crime it shakes them to their very core. The prospect of spending a good portion of their life in a steel and cement box tends to peel away any layers of pretense. People are stripped raw and their true being emerges with all its contradictions, virtues, and base impulses.
This is also true of the villain of the piece. As a criminal defense lawyer, I learned that no matter how abhorrent the acts my clients committed, I was always able to find a vein of humanity in them with which I could identify. Like all of us, they were a bundle of complex and contradictory impulses, both good and bad. Most had personal histories that made their life choices – while not acceptable – at least understandable. As the old adage says, there but for the grace of God go I. Even a villain should not appear one-dimensional.
- Reflect the Media’s Effect on Criminal Cases
We are saturated today with a barrage of news, not only from such traditional outlets as TV and the newspapers, but also from social media. A significant number of the public receive their information from podcasts on Facebook and YouTube. Therefore, to write with authenticity about a criminal investigation or a legal thriller that involves a sensational case, the author must address the impact that this media coverage has on those involved. In my experience, if a case attracts the media’s attention it changes how that case is handled by the participants. The police detectives and their superiors go to quickly solve the crime in order to enhance their public image. Such pressure carries with the real possibility of a rush to judgment. When the case reaches the courts, the media spotlight shifts onto the judge and the prosecutor. Both must stand for election and may fear a backlash at the ballot box if their decisions do not meet with the media’s approval. Consequently, the prosecutor feels he or she must win at all costs and seek the harshest punishment in order to appear “tough on crime.” A judge may tilt his or her rulings toward the prosecution on close legal questions to avoid appearing “soft on crime.” The author should recognize and seek to depict this reality.
Prosecutors are Not Always Ethical
It is realistic to write about prosecutors stepping over ethical lines. Prosecutors, no doubt, have a difficult job. Not because, as is portrayed on TV, they have the “deck stacked against them,” but rather because they must often act against their own competitive instincts by sharing their evidence with the defense. This Constitutional guarantee is needed to guard against the conviction of innocent people. However, the pressure on prosecutors to win in order to advance their own careers and reputations may sometimes cause them to ignore these “legal technicalities.” They may be tempted to hide exculpatory evidence, coach a witness, use discredited informants, or tolerate police fabrications, all in the name of “we know he’s guilty.” When such misdeeds are discovered, the courts are reluctant to actually punish an offending prosecutor, choosing instead to consider such violations as “harmless legal errors.” This lack of accountability creates a sense of immunity among prosecutors. So depicting such malfeasance or the temptation to indulge in it should be something the author considers.
Ed Rucker is the author of The Inevitable Witness. He is a criminal defense lawyer in California who has tried over 200 jury trials, including 13 death penalty cases. He has received numerous awards, including the L.A. Criminal Bar Association’s “Trial Lawyer of the Year,” the L.A. County Bar Association’s “Distinguished Career Award,” and he is listed in “Best Lawyers in America.” Under the auspices of the Ukrainian government, he spent two years there establishing a legal assistance program for criminal cases. His forthcoming legal thriller, Justice Makes A Killing, will be released in July 2019.
DEFENSE LAWYER BOBBY EARL RETURNS TO FACE HIS TOUGHEST CASE YET
When Bobby Earl meets the beautiful but vulnerable Kate Carlson, a prominent LA lawyer who awaits trial in a small town jail for a murder during a prison break, he thinks he knows what’s at stake: negotiate a decent plea deal for a guilty client, pocket his fee and move on. But Kate insists she’s been set-up. To find the truth, Bobby must risk his own life, career and everything he loves by dredging up the secrets of the billion-dollar private prison industry and the powerful California prison guards union, in a desperate battle against a powerful and expanding conspiracy.
Pre-Order Justice Makes A Killing. Click the below to visit the site book pages to pre-order. (Will open in new window.)