1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Does this count as a plot hole?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ryan Elder, Feb 17, 2016.

    In my story, it's a thriller and in one part, the villain gets away with his crimes in court, because a witness takes the stand and exonerates him, by becoming unreliable. The witness is actually working with the defendant and it was a plan.

    However, I was told this was a plot hole, because it comes as a surprise to all the characters who are prosecuting the villain, where as in reality, the police and a prosecutor are trained, to treat all witnesses as in possible collusion with the defendant, so they would have seen this coming a mile away and would have been prepared for it.

    But I am wondering is that true, that the police and prosecutor would be trained to think as protocol, and therefore would be prepared for it?
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Before being called as a witness, you'd have to sign a statement as to the evidence you would give in court. So, for a witness to take the stand and then, effectively, change his testimony he'd probably be charged with either perjury or wasting police time.

    To take the stand and then "become unreliable" wouldn't subject the witness to the same risk, but would run the risk of not working. Unless the police are so desperate for the prosecution, they'd look for corroboration of any evidence, so that the case didn't just rely on one witness - who might break down/be destroyed in court.

    On the other hand, if defence counsel manages to "prove" that the witness is unreliable (he's got a string of convictions, his eyesight isn't as good as it should be, he's mentally unstable and was off his meds at the time, etc.) then the prosecution wouldn't necessarily be looking that deeply into their star witness.

    Summary, a witness who just goes rogue in court is rather incredible. One who colludes with the defence by giving them (and only them) evidence of his unreliability would be more convincing. You just need to work a little bit harder to create the evidence of unreliability.
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well this witness is subpoenaed the day before the next court date, and it sort of found more spur the moment. I saw it in the movie Jagged Edge, where they think they got their case, straight, and then all of a sudden a new spur the moment witness is called, and the judge allows for it. Would I be able to write it like that so the witness is discovered and subpoenaed the day before, and therefore, they wouldn't have had time to have a prior statement or much preparation?
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2016
  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    What reason would the prosecution have to believe the witness would be able to give testimony that would support the case? Because, unless they had such a reason, why sub-poena him?

    Just because they know he COULD give damning evidence doesn't make him a valuable witness.

    And why would prosecution even take the case to court (i.e. charge the suspect) if they're relying on finding a key witness at some point before it reaches trial? They'd want all those ducks in a row long before that. In the UK, the DPP wouldn't even proceed with the prosecution if the case was so weak (i.e., relying on key evidence just turning up sometime soon) that it would just be a waste of public money.
     
  5. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true. But you see this all the time in fiction, like in the movie Jagged Edge. Why take it to trial, when it's easy to go wrong? Yet it's common in fiction, isn't it, where one person comes to screw things up?

    I could set it before the trial then during the deposition, or a hearing then, instead of a trial, if that's better?
     
  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK, I'm going from what I see of UK procedure, so US may be different. I'm guessing that Hollywood has even looser standards!

    I'd suggest something from the UK series Silk (watch it if you can!) where the police frame a gang leader (because they can't catch him any other way) only to have what they perceive as cast-iron "evidence" (they plant a DNA-linked cigarette stub at the crime scene - which they obtained from him during an interview in the police station) disproved by the defence.

    So, set up a cast-iron case, and then destroy it through some breach of the rules for obtaining evidence - such as the "fruit of the poisoned tree" that you've mentioned before.

    If you have it screwed up at deposition stage, you won't get the suspect into court and acquitted, and the police will still have an unsolved case on their books.
     
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  7. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. If the suspect is acquitted at the deposition is that bad though, compared to court?
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Only after a case has been tried in court can the accused be acquitted. I'm not quite sure how deposition works (US thing) but I think it's the same as taking of statements in the UK, which would be part of the gathering of evidence phase of the investigation.

    So, you can't be acquitted at deposition, thus you can't gain immunity from prosecution under the double jeopardy laws; you've got to be taken to trial.
     
  9. Ryan Elder
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    Oh okay. Acquitted was the wrong word. What I meant was the witness gets the case the dropped. So not really an acquittal I guess, but the defendant goes free, and there is no case, nonetheless.
     
  10. Shadowfax
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    How would a witness get a case dropped merely because he was unreliable?

    I'm a cop, I suspect Joe Dough because CCTV places him in the area, he's a known scum-bag and the victim was a shopkeeper who probably wasn't paying his protection money. But Fred the Head (a known associate of Joe's) admitted he'd seen Joe over the body with a knife in his hand and blood dripping. I salivate, and think I'm home free and Joe's going down. And then it turns out that Fred was high on meth at the time, so he's no use as a witness. This isn't going to STOP me trying to get the cuffs on Joe, it's only going to make it harder for me.

    Joe needs me to take him to trial, and only then for Fred's testimony to be ripped to shreds by the defence, so that he can be acquitted, and I can never have him tried again for this crime.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  11. Ryan Elder
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    So you are saying that the prosecutor would take it to trial anyway, even though the witness was unreliable?

    There have been cases where a witness has screwed up the case before, and it never went anywhere after.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  12. Shadowfax
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    Absolutely not.

    It's just that the criminal is at risk of prosecution until he's been acquitted. If the cops turn up evidence later (no statute of limitations for murder - except where a judge rules that it infringes the defendant's right to a speedy trial) they can still go after him.

    So the prosecutor WON'T take it to trial with dodgy evidence - unreliable witness, dodgy forensics, anything - as it's A/ a waste of money, and B/ will ensure that the criminal can NEVER face that charge again.

    And if the prosecutor turns down the case because of how weak the evidence is, it gives the cop a motive to seek private vengeance against the criminal; I know that this scenario is one you've been pursuing.
     
  13. Ryan Elder
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    Oh yeah, he can still be prosecuted should they get more evidence on him later for sure. I was told by a couple of readers that they do not buy the cop seeking private vengeance though, after the evidence fails. They said that they think he should be acquitted, cause otherwise revenge is an overreaction, when he can just be re-charged again, and the cop would just wait for more evidence to turn up.

    What do you think? You said that the cop would go after him himself for private vengeance if evidence is thrown out. You are saying that I should go for him not being acquitted and just having the charges dropped before trial, right?
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Either way will work just fine. It's just a matter of making it work in the writing. If you want to have the cop seek revenge because the evidence fails and the charges are dropped, then you have to make me believe the cop's motivation. If your readers aren't believing it, it's not the concept but the execution that is the most likely culprit.
     
  15. Ryan Elder
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    Oh okay, cause I asked the one of the reader's and he said it was the concept itself, and no execution can help such a concept :). But I can see what I can do about the execution.

    Well I think I will have to write it so that the witness is subpoenaed to the day before she is required to appear, so they do not know what she will say, since she will not give a statement to police. She is being uncooperative, but the prosecutor still needs her to fill a piece of the puzzle in the case.

    Then when they find out what she has to say, it ends up getting the defendant off.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah...I think you have to be careful to put too much stock in beta reader opinions. If it's just one person, I'd certainly be careful. It if comes up over and over again, I'd give it a closer look.

    I read a lot of thrillers and detective-type novels, and, on a concept level, I think the authors that I like in the field could sell the idea and make me go with it. Your cop is a person, an individual. You just have to make me believe that he would do it, not that it is necessarily the most rational thing to do or what most people would do. People don't always behave in the most rational and commonplace manner.
     
  17. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yeah my MC is actually suppose to be foolish and make mistakes, or at least that's how I intended him. So far it's two readers who have said it was the concept.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You can change it if you like, but I don't think you have to. If they're not being sold on the concept, I still think it is more likely that it's the execution. That's what it usually ends up being when I can't sell the reader on something. If you read thriller/detective/spy novels and the like, you can see concepts that are way more unlikely and bizarre than what you're talking about, and they work because the authors makes them work.
     

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