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  1. #1
    Grenouille Guest

    Default Coming Up With a Crime Scenario For a Novel

    Hi there!
    After 5 years teaching in the US, I'm back home in France, where I'm writing a young adult novel inspired from my experience in a college prep, and in part of this novel, I have the kids participate in a mock trial. I'm trying to make up a case, but I know very little about US laws, especially since it changes from state to state. My basic idea was a guy being sued for blowing up a monument in a city, and the backstory was that he was a UFO geek (conspiracy theories and whatnot) and was convinced the monument was a disguised UFO. My question is, I assume it'd be a criminal trial, but I have no idea what kind of charges would be talked about, and if it would be "city against man" or "state against man" or something else? Does anyone know what's likely to be discussed in a case like this, who exactly would the prosecution be? Would "endangering others" be a big factor even if there was no one around when it happened and there was no victim? (I picked "homicide" as a topic because I had to pick something).
    Thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2014

    Default Re: Coming Up With a Crime Scenario For a Novel

    It would depend on exactly what he did and which state’s law applies. However, most criminal law is state law. While cities and counties do penalize minor offenses, these are generally in the nature of infractions (like parking tickets and so forth). Blowing up a monument (I assume with some kind of explosive) is going to be state law crime. Thus, the prosecution would be styled something like "State v. Doe" or "People v. Doe" if if John Doe were the defendant. Note, too, that the word “sue” generally refers to civil cases, not criminal prosecutions. It is, of course, possible that the city that owns the monument would sue the person for the cost to repair/replace the monument in addition to whatever prosecution the state brings for the crime.

    The exact offense will depend very much on not only the particulars of the act but the applicable state law, as state laws vary significantly. For example, in Colorado this might be prosecuted as the crime of desecration of a venerated object. Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-9-113(1)(a) defines the offense as follows: “A person commits a class 3 misdemeanor if he knowingly desecrates any public monument or structure or desecrates in a public place any other object of veneration by the public.” Note that this statute not only penalizes the person as a class 3 misdemeanor offense but also has a separate provision that explicitly requires that the defendant pay to restore the monument, thus making a separate civil suit unnecessary.

    But if explosives are used, it might be charged as second degree arson offense, which is a violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-4-103(1), which defines the crime as: “A person who knowingly sets fire to, burns, causes to be burned, or by the use of any explosive damages or destroys, or causes to be damaged or destroyed, any property of another without his consent, other than a building or occupied structure, commits second degree arson.” If the value of the property destroyed is $100 or more, this is a class 4 felony, making it a more serious offense than the desecration of a venerated object above.

    This is just the beginning because if any person was killed or injured by the blast, there may be more serious crimes that the state could pursue. Moreover, if he intended the blast to injure or kill someone but it just happened that no one was around at the time, he might be charged with an attempted murder, battery, or whatever.

    Finally, if explosives are used, there may also be federal criminal charges in addition to the state charges.

    As you can see, it can get pretty complicated. Exactly what your character does in blowing up the monument is something you need to work out before tackling what he may be charged with.

    And if your novel is set in a different state, then you’d need to dig into the laws of that other state, as it will be different.

    Finally, I’ll note that if he truly thought some monument was a UFO, he may well be mentally incompetent and an insanity defense might be in play here. That sort of defense is hard to win, but it can work in some cases.

  3. #3
    Grenouille Guest

    Default Re: Coming Up With a Crime Scenario For a Novel

    Thank you very much for your answer.
    The novel takes place in Delaware but it doesn't matter where the case takes place for mock trial, so I could very well pick Colorado.
    My idea was that his passion for UFOs is in the background of the case, some kind of a reveal later on, but do you think it would actually be the best line of defense?
    I thought the prosecution would try to prove that he was a conspiracy theorist to give him motive for committing his crime AND that he was there at the time of the crime, so I thought basically my trial would be about proving those 2 things, and for the defense to try and create doubt about his being there that night. I can't have the defense talk about both his being mentally unstable and his not being there that night, their defense can only be one of those two things only, right? Does that shock as being incoherent?
    Also, he blew up the monument when there was no one around, he didn't intend to injure anyone, nor did he. I guess it would still be a misdemeanor, right?

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