Crime scene investigations have a few terms associated with them that are sometimes misused or misunderstood. Check out some accepted legal definitions.
Robbery or Burglary?
Robbery is a crime where someone takes an item without permission directly from someone else, without any intention of giving it back, and does this by force or threat of force. The wording of the criminal act may differ slightly from State to State.
A burglary occurs when someone enters a home or business illegally, intending to steal an item or commit a felony while inside the building.
While you might think that robbery and burglary are talking about the same act – a theft of your property – they are indicative of different circumstances. In a robbery, someone actually came and took something from you (often face-to-face), perhaps threatening you while demanding your money or cellphone. But, a burglary occurs when you are not present, like a break-in and theft at your house while you’re at work.
Assault or Battery?
Assault and Battery are sometimes used interchangeably but refer to different legal occurrences. Assault is when a person is threatened with attack (someone says they will hit the targeted person), and battery takes place when a person is physically attacked (someone hits him/her).
Battery is the unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of someone else. Battery always includes assault.
Civil or Criminal Cases?
Civil Actions are brought before the court to protect and enforce private rights.
Criminal Law determines what is criminal behavior and sets punishment to be imposed for that criminal behavior. The idea behind criminal law is to prevent harm to society.
Murder or Homicide or Manslaughter?
Homicide is a legal term for any killing of a human being by another human being and is not always a crime. Hearings are held to determine whether shooting deaths are justifiable killings in self-defense. Murder and manslaughter fall under the category of unlawful homicides.
Murder is an intentional killing when it is:
“Malice aforethought” means that the killer intended to kill someone without legal justification. But, in some jurisdictions, malice aforethought can also be in place if the perpetrator causes the victim’s death during an intentional beating or other reckless disregard for life – even if the original intent had not been to kill, but do bodily harm.
Interesting to note that for the “heat of passion” defense to hold up in court, the person must not have had time to “cool off” after being provoked. Example: a husband comes home to find his wife committing adultery and is so incensed that he kills the lover right then.
But, in that same scenario, if the husband chases the lover out of the house, then buys a gun, and only after a few hours goes to the guy’s house and shoots him, that might be considered premeditated murder. He had time to cool off and consider his options before the shooting.
Involuntary Manslaughter often refers to unintentional homicide from criminally negligent or reckless conduct. It can also refer to an unintentional killing through commission of a crime other than a felony.
Manslaughter convictions often result in prison time, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws, as well as the judge/jury assessment of the circumstances and the credibility of the person on trial.
Determining State of Mind at the time of the alleged crime is an important component to deciding whether unintentional second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter has been committed. In general, the decision centers on whether the defendant has been found ethically responsible.
Deposition or testimony?
During a deposition, witness testimony is given under oath, just not in a courtroom. A deposition is not conducted in front of the Judge or the Jury. Information gathered during a deposition can be used to discover evidence that the opposing side has prior to the trial date.
Testimony given either in court or at the deposition is equally legally bound by perjury laws. You can’t lie under oath without consequence, some quite severe.
Barrister or Solicitor? (in England and Wales)
Up until recently, only barristers had an exclusive right to plead in all English and Welsh courts. Barristers are not paid directly by the clients.
Until recently, clients could only hire (and pay) solicitors, not barristers. The solicitors hire the barristers to represent their clients in superior court (high court) if that step is needed. Solicitors are allowed to represent clients in magistrate or county court. Since 2004, if a solicitor has enough experience, they might be allowed to speak in superior court, but serious criminal or civil cases are much more likely to be handled by a barrister with extensive trial experience.
*Source of murder/manslaughter information: www.nolo.com
“Do you want to be an FBI Agent? Part 1” highlighted the backgrounds of two former FBI Special Agents, their differing career paths, salary, and job aspects. Bucky and Chris Cox continued to chat, revealing more agency specifics and notes about a wide range of cases that the FBI oversees, in Part 2. Take a look:
FIELD OFFICE PERFORMANCE
Every field office undergoes performance reviews. The FBI is a statistic driven agency. Among other things, internal inspectors count the number of arrests and convictions at each office, looking for reasonable numbers of completed cases, and how efficiently they were concluded. But, the type of crimes is taken into consideration. While a specialist in bank robberies might clear 10-15 cases a year, white collar cases such as bank fraud, health care, or telemarketing can take longer to investigate and prosecute because of their complexity and the fact that they may be occurring in more than one State. Agents also have to prove that the suspect knowingly and willfully committed the crimes.
There are mandatory reports to be written after a case is completed. The standard rule applies: “If there is no paperwork, it didn’t happen.” Forms MUST be filled out so that people can be prosecuted and a decision can be made on what parts of the evidentiary findings can be more solidly prosecuted and whether the case will be tried in a federal or state court.
If you think this is a 9 to 5 profession, it’s not. There are many wakeup calls in the middle of the night because an agent is on duty 24/7. FBI agents may be called to other States or even to other countries beyond the home base if the case takes them there. If you are counting on a permanent posting in one city, look elsewhere for a career.
When applying to attend the Academy, you won’t be able to hide anything in your background and will have absolutely no secrets from your employers. Because of Robert Hansen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Russians on and off from 1979 until 2001, there are now polygraphs administered at the beginning of the application process as well as several times during a career in order to avoid further infiltrations by a foreign agent. Your personnel file is available to the Defense Attorney that represents the suspects (defendants) in the cases you work on, so if you have Lack of Candor (you lied or covered up a mistake during your career) in your file, you can be discredited on the stand in court. Agent credibility is essential for successful prosecution of the case.
The FBI’s Wide Variety of Cases
After 24 hours, kidnappings that cross state lines come under FBI jurisdiction – use of the telephone or email can make it an interstate crime. The FBI is called in (usually by the police) because of their expertise, resources, ability to negotiate, and quick access to required warrants. The FBI can’t tell families whether to pay any ransom or not, but there is surveillance on the payout if that choice is made.
FYI – In general, international kidnappings are handled by negotiators working for the big companies whose employees have been snatched.
If the FBI is the lead agency, the teams will arrive after First Responders have secured the scene. If the mail is involved, then Postal Inspectors will work the case as well, but if not, then the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) unit and an Evidence Response Team (ERT) will be involved. There is some negotiation between the different agency teams so that no duplication of effort occurs.
DEATH ON THE JOB
People see agents depicted as tough and resilient, but let’s face it, field work can be dangerous. Chasing and apprehending fugitives sometimes includes guns and shooting. Bank robberies and other crimes can involve hostages and lethal force.
DUPLICATE DRUG INVESTIGATIONS
It doesn’t often happen, but various other government agency investigations might target the same or overlapping drug cartels. Blue on blue conflict can be very risky, so big cities have de-confliction rooms. Before a big bust, someone checks a database for scheduled buys, so that law enforcement agencies aren’t tripping over each other at the scene.
COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
For people doing the day-to-day work, it’s not about the politics, but agents are cast in the same light as Senior Management. That can happen even if the agents personally might have nothing to do with what’s unfolding in Washington, DC or elsewhere in the world. The FBI played no part in the Rodney King events, but after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, a big bank case came up. A juror on that case said, “If the LAPD can lie, so can the FBI” and that works both ways.
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
White-collar crime refers to fraud perpetrated because of a desire for financial gain. Some scams have cost companies/investors billions of dollars and wiped out entire life savings. Among others, the FBI has investigated cases involving money laundering, securities and commodities fraud, bank fraud and embezzlement, election law violations, telemarketing fraud, and health care fraud. They have worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Treasury Department to catch the worst offenders.
Corporate Fraud is a serious threat to the economy and the FBI concentrates on cases that involve accounting schemes designed to deceive everyone about the true financial condition of a company. Agents specializing in white collar crime look for bogus accounting entries, and fake/illegal trades rigged to protect the trader or avoid regulation. They keep an eye out for insider trading, misuse of corporate property, and tax fraud.
LOVE IN THE BUREAU
Relationships have been known to begin within the agency, because not many people outside law enforcement understand/accept the demands of the job. For FBI couples that marry, if both spouses are street agents, the relationship is not an issue. But, if one or the other reaches management level, one can’t supervise the other. If a slot opens up where a spouse is posted, the other can apply, but there is no guarantee that the married applicant will get it.
WRITE ALL ABOUT IT?
Everyone must sign a non-disclosure agreement because they can never talk about classified cases. There is a special unit that handles whether or not an agent can write about something – all manuscripts must go through pre-publication review. The only cases that can be written about are those closed cases which are part of the public record. Also, former agents are not allowed to write about investigative techniques or their sources.
Besides being a top investigator, AN AGENT IS:
Ready to sign up?
Many thanks to Bucky and Chris Cox for generously sharing their time and knowledge about the details of the job of Special Agent in the FBI. 🙂
*Photo credits: official photos from the FBI
Our local TV station provider has one channel dedicated to movies from the late 1940s, 50s and 60s – mostly westerns and mysteries. Last week, a screening of “Arsenic and Old Lace” was in the listing, so we grabbed some snacks and settled in for an evening of murder most nefarious, with a side of laughter.
After discovering a body in his aunts’ house, the sweet little old ladies reveal to their nephew (played by the horrified Cary Grant) that they had spiked their dead guest’s elderberry wine with arsenic, strychnine, and a “just a pinch of cyanide.” And there are more bodies in the cellar.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” was a hit on Broadway in the early 1940s before making it to the big screen, where it became a success as well.
There are several other popular movies that have featured poison as a method of dispatching the victims, but instead of the tried and true ASC (arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide) combo, employ poisonous mushrooms. The victims eat their way to nausea, gastric distress, and death, instead of drinking a ‘lovely’ cup of ‘tea.’
1971’s “The Beguiled” (remake 2017): Confederate soldier takes refuge at a girl’s school, but when he betrays two of the women, he is fed toxic mushrooms.
2017’s “Phantom Thread”: dress designer falls in love with the wrong woman. She makes him toxic mushroom tea, nurses him back to health, and when he doesn’t do what she expects, cooks him a mushroom infused meal. He remains sick enough for her to control him.
Important dating rule to remember: if your girlfriend cooks for you, always treat her well.
Mushroom poisoning symptoms range from the less severe upset stomach to renal failure and death, which may take days. It all depends on which mushroom is chosen for the deed. Agatha Christie had her favorite chemical poisons in her books and selected them according to whether or not the poison was readily available to the criminal and how much time was needed for the bad guy to get away. Read “What poisons were in Agatha Christie’s books?” here.
All poisonous mushrooms cause vomiting and abdominal pain. Testing and experience has shown that mushrooms causing symptoms within two hours are less dangerous than those that cause symptoms after six hours.
Other movies with poisons in the forefront:
In 1949’s “D.O.A.” (remake 1988): a man, lethally poisoned, rushes around trying to find out who poisoned him and why.
“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” (1995) was based on a real case. The “Teacup Murderer” kills two of his co-workers by poisoning their tea with thallium, a highly toxic ingredient used at the camera factory where he works. He continues to select and at least sicken targeted people until new cups are put in place, confusing his plan.
I mentioned “White Oleander,” a movie from 2002, in Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 2: Fun, Facts and a Few Dead Bodies. Oleanders grow all over the southern United States, so it’s a really good idea to stay on great terms with that neighbor with the oleander hedges. Don’t bug her about returning the weed whacker. Seriously.
Photo credits: taken by Patti Phillips at The Ferguson House, Antiques and Collectibles in Cameron, NC.