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TexasDude's avatar

Fiction Question: What would legal proceedings look like in a situation like this? (Details inside)

Asked by TexasDude (25199 points ) March 25th, 2011

I’m probably going to be finishing my young adult novel tonight that I have been working on for years, and I need some info. Spoilers to follow

I’m working on the last chapter where all the loose ends of the story are tied together. Basically, the female protagonist (and love interest of the male antagonist) has shot and injured the male antagonist (who had tried to drug her with GHB so he could rape her) with a bow and arrow (she’s an archer in the story).

In the story, where I’m at, the female protagonist has fled to her favorite spot where the male protagonist finds her and asks her about events that lead up to that point. She reveals that the male antagonist tried to drug her to rape her and she shot him with her bow before he could finish the deed. The cops show up and she willingly turns herself in. In this last chapter I’m working on, the male protagonist hears from her and she tells him she’s getting off clean.

The problem is, I don’t know how to write this part realistically. The male antagonist and would be rapist doesn’t die. If she shot him on Halloween Night, how long would it be (on average, and in a small town) before she went to trial? Would she have a case for self-defense? If the male antagonist had a change of heart and decided not to press charges, would the whole thing be dropped?

Any advice or information is greatly appreciated.

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31 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Here’s one data point. The shooting was recorded on video, so the timing is certainly at the extreme short end. 06/24/2010 Convenience clerk kills robber. 06/30/2010 DA says he will not press charges Link

Here’s another, this one was a second-degree murder trial. Three years between the killing and a not-guilty verdict. Link

iamthemob's avatar

(1) How long it takes to go to trial depends on what she’s being charged with, and state by state.

(2) She has a case for self defense, but that’s an affirmative defense and the burden would be on her to prove it. There better be some CLEAR evidence that he was trying to drug her as well as rape her. Regardless, getting off scott free seems unlikely without a trial.

(3) This is a criminal claim, and as such if charges has been filed, it’s up to the STATE, not the defendant, whether the charges would be dropped. I don’t know that they would, and I don’t know if that would end the criminal case in that the staet would also have an interest in pursuing attempted rape as well as other charges against the antagonist.

WasCy's avatar

How straight is she playing this? As with many kinds of shootings, it would be easy enough to sell a story of “accident” if it’s only word against word. If there’s physical evidence that shows that she set up a trap or waited in ambush, for example, then a forensic investigator might make that case regardless of “he said – she said” testimony.

So before we even get to the point of whether or not there’s a trial, we need to settle whether charges are even filed by the District Attorney. That won’t happen until the investigation is complete, or at least far enough advanced to support an indictment.

In a relatively well-known novel from years ago (sorry, the name and author both escape me presently, maybe The Fan, by David Wallace?), the actress’ besotted admirer kidnaps her and treats her so well that when she’s finally released she “can’t recall” anything about the kidnap or imprisonment, so he walks away (since there was insufficient physical evidence to support charges against him, and she didn’t press any).

TexasDude's avatar

@jaytkay, interesting. I guess I can take some artistic license here, based on that huge discrepancy in time in those two cases. Thank you.

@iamthemob, I was hoping you’d show up. :-)
1) The state the story takes place in is unspecified, but the setting suggests a rural or even suburban area in the American South (but not too rural). I’m not sure what she’d be charged with, but I’m certain she would be detained at least for a while since it was definitely she that did the shooting.

2) Ok, that helps. Would the testimony from other individuals that the antagonist had a history of abuse and potentially had access to date rape drugs be accepted in court? He goes to a sketchy doctor and convinces the doc he has narcolepsy so he can get access to anti-narcoleptic drugs that can be used as date rape drugs I think I will work the idea that the drugs were discovered somewhere and somehow in the story, if that would stand as evidence.

3) That’s pretty much what I figured. I guess I’m going to have to come up with some solid evidence for his guilt. His epic douchebaggery won’t be enough.

@WasCy, I think I’m going to have her claim that the antagonist cornered her in her room and, being on her school’s archery team, used the most effective weapon she had available to defend herself. I’m not actually writing the whole court ordeal into the story… the rough details will be reiterated to the protagonist via a phone call. Another option I was considering, now that you, mob, and jay have talked to me, is having the DA drop the charges for one reason or another. I kind of feel like that may be a cop out, but I’m confident enough in my writing to make it sound at least somewhat believable, especially with the info you guys have given me.

I’m gonna check out that book you mentioned, by the way.

iamthemob's avatar

“I think I will work the idea that the drugs were discovered somewhere and somehow in the story, if that would stand as evidence.”

I feel like that’s the bear minimum that you would need. I always like a good dramatic court scene myself, and feel like putting the victim on the stand and having him state that there was no drugs would be a good way to bring it in. I mean, an unlikely scenario in real life…but he, DRAMA! ;-)

TexasDude's avatar

@iamthemob, now that you mention it, I may make an alternate draft in which I include the actual court scene. This is just the rough draft. A lot can happen between this and subsequent drafts. Hell, a lot has changed between this “rough draft” and all the previous drafts I’ve done! ;-)

Time to get writing!

WasCy's avatar

Aside from the very dramatized Perry Mason type of court case where the murderer (even though you don’t have a murderer, of course) is exposed as someone from left field, whom the police never even suspected, leading to a dismissal of the case “with prejudice”, you could also leave the protagonist in limbo, by having the case dismissed “without prejudice”.

In a case dismissed “with prejudice”, the evidence against culpability is so great or the “reasonable doubt” so obvious to the judge that the case never gets to the jury. The judge declares the case dismissed with prejudice, meaning that she has decided that no reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty of the charge, and double jeopardy applies, meaning that the prosecutor cannot develop new evidence and bring fresh charges. However, a case may also be so flimsy that the judge declares the evidence to be insufficient to convict (such as may happen in the case of missing or recanting witnesses, missing or corrupt evidence, evidence thrown out of the prosecution’s case because of various chain of custody or illegal searches, for example), and the case is dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning that the prosecutor can try to fix the case and re-introduce the charges.

TexasDude's avatar

@WasCy, whoa, I didn’t know about all that. I’m going to research cases that this has happened in before to see what the precedent for this is.

WasCy's avatar

Hey, like I’ve always said, I knew it was time for a marital separation when I started watching Law & Order… with a notepad. Apparently that wasn’t a total waste of time.

jaytkay's avatar

Perhaps there could be evidence to back up her self-defense story. If the guy had assembled chloroform, handcuffs and a coffin near a fresh six foot hole in the ground, maybe no charges would be pressed against her.

Fiction should be a bit more subtle but you get the idea.

TexasDude's avatar

@jaytkay, I get what you’re saying. I’m thinking about having the sketchy doctor come back into the story in some way and admitting that the antagonist had no real reason to be on the narcolepsy meds. Either that, or I may have the antagonist’s ex-girlfriend who is also a lesser character in the story, as well as a victim of his abuse, albeit less severe subtly point out evidence of the drugs to the cops.

Thammuz's avatar

I don’t know about the states but, here, the trial could go on for years.

Meanwhile there would be a media shitstorm, several interviews with both parties, an accolade of beer drinking jerkoffs would side with the rapist, the girl would be idolised by several female talking heads and compared to Mrs Bobbit, there would be several conflicting exams about whether the drink was actually spiked (or the syringe contained anything and so on) and at least ten women would claim to have been raped by the rapist in the past to have their 15 minutes of shame on national television.

She would have a case for legitimate defence if she could prove the intent, which means proving there were drugs involved, though.

bkcunningham's avatar

Just say the grand jury didn’t return an indictment for the charges (depending on the severity of the injuries – attempted murder, attempted manslaughter, malicious wounding et al.) after hearing her testimony (the grand jury didn’t return a true bill is the technical term).

The state (prosecuting attorney) presses charges, not the victim in this case. She would bond out easier on lesser charges. Sounds like a really good story with what little you supplied.

TexasDude's avatar

@Thammuz, lol, that’s pretty much how it would go in the US, too.

TexasDude's avatar

@bkcunningham, that could be another option. You guys are providing some great info (and inspiration) here. And thanks! You can read what I have of the rough draft here if you’re interested. The last few chapters should be uploaded by tonight. I’m working on the very last one right this moment!

WasCy's avatar

Just don’t make it a “funny crime” and try to make it some kind of lame-ass comedy. Ahem.

TexasDude's avatar

@WasCy, oh hell no. The story is actually rather dark. The female protagonist fighting back against her long-time abuser is built up over the whole course of the story. Srs bznss

incendiary_dan's avatar

Were the female protaganist and male antagonist ever involved romantically? I’ve heard a lot of stories of women in abusive relationships being charged and convicted when they they use violence in self defense against a romantic partner or spouse.

TexasDude's avatar

@incendiary_dan, the antagonist is her ex-boyfriend. I’ve heard those stories before, too, and I think they are absolute horseshit. Two of the more subtle themes of my novel are self-defense and how shitty abusive relationships are, so I want to portray justice as being served, even if it’s not completely representative of how unfair the real world can be.

anartist's avatar

How does she happen to have a bow and arrow handy while he’s trying to rape her?
If there is enough distance between them for her to shoot him, proving attempted rape could be tough.

She could be tested for roofies—date rape drugs—if she turned herself in quickly enough. which would help as circumstantial evidence. However, if she never ingested the drug, she has no defense whatever, without a witness. It’s her word against his word.

Wrongful convictions do exist. Does your story need to have a happy ending for young adults?

As far as legal goes, criminal defendants are supposed to get a speedy trial by jury.
FindLaw
unlike civil litigation which can be endless.

TexasDude's avatar

@anartist, great questions.

She has a bow and arrow because she is on the archery team at her college. The attempted rape happens in her dorm room. She realizes what is happening and pretends to be going to her closet while they would-be rapist is preparing to make his move. Keep in mind, she is also partially seeking revenge for years of abuse from this guy. The Law doesn’t know that, though. Only the reader. As he approaches her, she has already drawn the bow and she turns and nails him in the shoulder from close range. She then runs off to her favorite spot that she shares with the male protagonist. She is arrested a few hours later.

The drug the antagonist tries to use on her is GHB, a form of narcolepsy drug, which is rather hard to detect, even in urine tests.

Nullo's avatar

Congrats on the near finish!

The male antagonist and would be rapist doesn’t die.
Bit of luck, there; as I recall, there’s a nice artery right in that area.

If she shot him on Halloween Night, how long would it be (on average, and in a small town) before she went to trial?

Assuming that it’s a low-crime part of the country, and that Halloween weren’t on a Friday or Saturday, I’d say that they could probably get the trial underway as soon as the police finished their investigation. It could even be the next day.

Would she have a case for self-defense?
Barring sadistic lawyers, if she has good evidence for her near-rape I wouldn’t think that there would be a problem. If I recall correctly, the trouble only sets in when your actions exceed what the court thinks is appropriate for self-defense. Shooting him once, maybe twice if the first one didn’t impede him enough would be alright; breaking out the broadheads and making a pincushion out of him would be a crime in itself.

If the male antagonist had a change of heart and decided not to press charges, would the whole thing be dropped?
He’s got a lot of nerve to be pressing charges in the first place.

TexasDude's avatar

@Nullo, thanks!

Yeah, I didn’t want to kill him off. He does get symbolically killed off in a subplot, though.

The story is set in 2008, so Halloween was on a Friday. I’m wanting the trial to be underway or over with, for story purposes, by December or January.

I knew from the get-go that her shooting him with a bow could make the realism of her innocence seem farfetch’d, but I don’t want to abandon the idea because there is a lot of symbolism behind the weapon and her character. She is named Diana, after the archer goddess of chastity, the moon, and the hunt, and there is a whole subtext of mythological symbolism in the story.

Also, from what everyone else has suggested, the antagonist wouldn’t be the one pressing the charges.

Nullo's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard He might be able to do something; after all, it sounds like there’s going to be a fair amount of ambiguity in the case that the court ends up seeing. I see the bow as being a bit problematic, if she had to go hunting for it. IIRC, the law seems to favor flight over fight – if she had the time and wherewithal to find and use the bow, why not make for the door?. The lawyer might even raise the spectre of entrapment. And there’s always the counter-suit.
The guy might even appeal the court’s decision, and appellate courts strike me as having more crowded schedules.

TexasDude's avatar

@Nullo, yeah, I know what you mean. I guess a case could be made that he was chasing her. I’m researching weird loopholes I could use without having to resort to a deux ex machina.

incendiary_dan's avatar

You probably don’t need to overdo making sure your characters are free from all sorts of loopholes. Sometimes simple explanations are best, and believe it or not judges and bureaucrats occasionally come down with cases of common sense and fairness.

bkcunningham's avatar

I’d let it just go as far as a grand jury. It is like a preliminary hearing and much speadier than the real trial. All of the court room drama can play out here but sooner, if that is what you are looking for. She will have an opportunity to tell what happened and give you a chance for all kinds of visual writing and/or memories and such. Also, @Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I tried to find real life stories of women in similar situations. Usually, she wouldn’t go to a full-fledged trial after the police investigate what happened and know it is self-defense.

WasCy's avatar

It’s unlikely that a criminal trial for a major crime (and attempted murder, if that’s the charge, is a major crime) would occur even within six months of the event. “Speedy trial” means “with all deliberate speed”, and “deliberate” is key. Moreover, the defense would more often than not delay the proceedings as much as possible in order to build their own case. Right now in Connecticut the prosecution of a defendant – the second of two – for the murder of a mother and two daughters and the beating of the husband / father in their own home is just getting underway. The crime occurred three years ago, and the police caught the men as they attempted to flee the house, which they attempted to burn down to cover the crime. Three years.

If the jury returns a “not guilty”, the antagonist won’t have a say in whether there’s an appeal. (In fact, maybe @iamthemob can clarify here, but I don’t believe that the state gets to appeal a Not Guilty verdict. Defendants can appeal for various reasons, but I think in a criminal trial the NG verdict is final. Or else OJ would surely have been tried again, for example.)

A Grand Jury won’t be a trial of any kind. All that a Grand Jury does is vote whether or not to return an indictment. And because of the way GJs are conducted, it’s heavily weighted toward the prosecution; if he wants an indictment, then he should be able to get one.

I’m thinking that because of your inexperience and ignorance of the details of the judicial system, you should either modify the story to exclude the courtroom details, or do a lot of spectating at trials in your area. Maybe even read transcripts. My own experience only comes from novels and television / movie dramas, and very little non-fiction experience and a lot of newspaper reading. Your mistakes in that area could ruin an otherwise good story.

There are a lot of good novelists who go into great detail on the courtroom angles. I recommend Steve Martini and Perri O’Shaughnessy (the latter is a sister-sister pair of authors) for excellent courtroom dramas, including very believable details. There are others whose names I just can’t think of right now.

TexasDude's avatar

@incendiary_dan, you bring up a good point. I have to remember that this is fiction I’m writing here. There’s a slight supernatural element to the story, so I don’t see why a girl shouldn’t get off on self defense… or I’m starting to think that, at least.

@bkcunningham, hmm, I didn’t think of that. I’ll consider that route.

@WasCy, yeah I’m definitely leaving out the details. I actually can’t stand courtroom fiction. I had a teacher in high school that made us read 10 John Grisham novels in a single year. It sucked hardcore. Thanks for all the info, though. This is still a rough, rough draft, and there still exists the possibility that I do more research and heavily tweak the story from this point on. We’ll just have to see.

Nullo's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard You might get a more viable self-defense argument if you were to use either the bow or the arrow, in a non-standard fashion; after all, one of those might realistically be laying in easy reach.
Because maybe the girl likes to keep heads on a select few arrows that she has on her desk. Or maybe she has a bow made by the kind of person who likes those ludicrously impractical fantasy knives?

TexasDude's avatar

@Nullo, I’ve actually considered that…. having her stab him with the arrow. Which would be analgous to when the male protagonist symbolically kills the antagonist in a very similar fashion.

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