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bandella
04-17-2012, 10:10 AM
Howdy! Quick(ish) question. Is there a set or "suggested" procedure when a detective is involved in a case in which he knows (er, knew) the victim? In this case, no pun intended, the victim is the detective's ex-wife. Is there any kind of conflict of interest involved here? Would the detective still be allowed to work the case? I imagine his partner and/or chief might encourage him to let someone else take the case, but would the chief have grounds to force him off the case for any reason not related to conduct or needing him on another case?

I have never typed "case" so many times in my life.

Additional details, if needed:
--The detective in question is not a suspect.
--Story takes place in modern US. I haven't picked a final setting yet, but somewhere in California, most likely.

Nymtoc
04-17-2012, 10:30 AM
Every police department in the US has its own procedures. There is no book of rules governing them all. Depending on where you set your story, it is possible a higher-up might take your detective off the case, but that higher-up might not be the departmental chief or even a precinct chief. It could be the detective's superior in a detective squad. It wouldn't hurt to visit a unit similar to the one in your story and ask how they do things.

Robbie
04-17-2012, 10:33 AM
Just guessing, no, I wouldn't think so.

ironmikezero
04-17-2012, 10:56 PM
Hollywood notwithstanding, it's a non-starter. Agency procedure/regulations would preclude his/her participation in any form. Violations would be subject to severe sanction; administrative, civil, and potentially criminal.

In any police department in the US, neither the (ex-spousal) detective nor his/her partner would be permitted to work the case. A spouse/ex-spouse/significant other is always considered a suspect until cleared (alibi fully corroborated). Even once cleared, he/she would still have to keep a designated distance from the ongoing investigation.

It's not just an ethical issue; there are potential legal issues that (dependent upon jurisdiction) may impact prosecutorial strategies.

Since you're writing fiction, you can, of course, deviate from reality as you wish. But remember, the further afield you tread, the more you risk plausible credibility (at least for the more savvy among your readership).

I'd recommend working the frustration of being out of the loop angle and the intensely consuming curiosity that may overwhelm your MC's better judgement and lead to an ill-advised personal probe that subsequently develops into an unexpected/unintended consequence. Put your MC in the direst of jeopardy.

jclarkdawe
04-17-2012, 11:51 PM
It's not just an ethical issue; there are potential legal issues that (dependent upon jurisdiction) may impact prosecutorial strategies.

Mike's right, but to give you an idea of how this would play out at trial. And understand the prosecution is either going to be up front and tell defense counsel (best approach) or defense counsel finds out on its own (as defense counsel, boy am I going to have fun with that situation).

As each police officer starts cross-examination, one approach would be something like this:

Q: Officer So-and-so is a member of the police department. Correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Officer So-and-so was married to the victim. Correct?

A: Yes. (The officer might try explaining that the officer had a divorce. Think that's going to help?)

Q: Officer So-and-so was an important member of the team investigating this case. Correct?

A: Yes.

Q: So you never investigated whether Officer So-and-so might have hired someone to kill his ex-wife?

Prosecutor: Objection!

Defense counsel: Withdrawn. (Walk back to defense table to look at some papers, probably the menu for some take-out place, while mumbling, "What a freaking coverup.")

Repeat with some variation for each police officer. And can you see where closing argument is going to go?

As defense counsel, all I have to get is a reasonable doubt going in the jury's mind. Smart police department is going to have some other department investigate this case. And investigate the crap out of the officer. Because he's a suspect, even with an ironclad alibi. A police officer knows how to protect himself from investigation.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

bandella
04-18-2012, 01:19 AM
Very good points, all, and thank you so very much for the detailed responses! I kind of figured that the MC wouldn't be allowed to be even remotely involved with the case, but I was pretty iffy on the actual regulations and more bureaucratic side of things that would keep him very far away from the investigation.


I'd recommend working the frustration of being out of the loop angle and the intensely consuming curiosity that may overwhelm your MC's better judgement and lead to an ill-advised personal probe that subsequently develops into an unexpected/unintended consequence. Put your MC in the direst of jeopardy.

This is pretty much exactly where I was wanting to go with the story, actually. I'm rather intimidated by the idea of writing any kind of investigative story, and I really am more interested in the psychological and emotional aftermath of the murder itself than the actual crime. I just wasn't sure if I could justify the MC's total exclusion from the case -- officially, anyway, as he's ordinarily a very by-the-books kind of cop, but extenuating circumstances and all.


Prosecutor: Objection!

Defense counsel: Withdrawn. (Walk back to defense table to look at some papers, probably the menu for some take-out place, while mumbling, "What a freaking coverup.")

Heh. And then Detective Stabler threatens to crush the defendant's skull in, correct? Or not. I can totally see the menu thing happening, too.

That's a really good point as far as how the trial could potentially (and honestly, probably would) play out. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't gotten as far as the trial in my planning phase, as this is still a very new idea that I'm trying to flesh out.

Thanks again, everyone! Excellent points all around and tremendously helpful.