Summer vacation 2: More old jails

The end of the semester is hitting me hard, and then I’ll undertake a 10-state road trip with my older daughter. And these are big Western states. So my regular posts here will be on hiatus until July. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos of historical criminal justice practices. I’ll be posting those on Wednesdays until July.

Today I have some more photos of old jails.

 This is a military jail (or gaol, I guess) in Edinburgh, Scotland. This jail cell is in Monterey, California. I think it’s interesting how closely it resembles the Scottish cell.


 These are the ruins of the gold rush-era jail in Coloma, California.

 This gold rush jail is in better shape. It’s in Columbia, California. My younger daughter looks happy to be there, doesn’t she?

 This is also from gold rush times, and it’s in Knights Ferry, California. Summer temps regularly get above 100F there–imagine what it would be like locked inside those metal walls.

Summer vacation 1: Old jails

The end of the semester is hitting me hard, and then I’ll undertake a 10-state road trip with my older daughter. And these are big Western states. So my regular posts here will be on hiatus until July. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos of historical criminal justice practices. I’ll be posting those on Wednesdays until July.

We’ll begin today with some photos of old jails, which were often built into city walls. That made sense, since the walls were already fortified and guarded. Jails were intended to hold prisoners for only short lengths of time, usually while they were waiting for their trials. This remains one of the primary purposes of American jails (as opposed to prisons, which hold convicted felons).

This jail is in a tower atop the city wall in Ulm, Germany.


 One of those flags is flying over a cell in the castle wall in Lisbon, Portugal.


 This cell was in the old city wall in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

 And this one (which contains my daughter in the photo) is in beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia.

 Finally, another German cell, in Rothenburg.



Somewhere along the line, a rumor started that police can’t lie to suspects, especially if the suspect asks whether the undercover officer is a cop. If the cop does lie, the story says, it’s entrapment. This is a myth. Cops can and do lie all the time. It would be hard for them to do their jobs otherwise.

Nevertheless, the defense of entrapment does exist. Its primary purpose is to ensure that otherwise innocent people aren’t lured by police into attempting crimes they otherwise never would have committed. The underlying idea, I think, is that everyone has a price. Given enough incentive, even the most law-abiding among us might be tempted to stray. (This was part of the idea in the movie Indecent Proposal.)

In the United States, standards vary for determining whether entrapment has occurred. Some states use a subjective test, asking whether the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime. Others use an objective test. That asks whether a reasonable law-abiding person, placed in the defendant’s shoes, would have been likely to commit the offense.

Entrapment comes up as a defense most often during sting operations, when undercover officers induce someone to do something illegal. Of course, the intention of the operations (we hope) is to catch people who already planned illegal activity. Sting operations can be very useful in a variety of contexts, such as prostitution, drug trafficking, and auto theft. But if the operation goes too far, innocent people may be drawn in. Police who want to engage in these activities need to be careful not to cross over the line.

For federal cases on entrapment, check out Jacobson v. United States (involving child pornography) and Sorrells v. United States (alcohol during Prohibition). Either could serve as good plot inspiration.


Defense attorney dilemma

Today I have a lawyerly plot bunny for you.

Defense attorneys have various legal and ethical duties, some of which may occasionally collide. On the one hand, a defense attorney has the obligation to represent her client to the best of her ability, using all reasonable legal means to get her client off the hook, regardless of whether she believes the client is guilty. On the other hand, she is an officer of the court, charged with making sure no miscarriage of the law occurs.

Really, these duties are toward the same end, since both involve making sure that the justice system runs the way it’s supposed to. But sometimes they can create problems. For example, what if the defendant lies on the stand? Does the attorney let the judge know that perjury has occurred, or does she keep her mouth shut?

If the attorney knows—or suspects—ahead of time that her client will perjure himself on the stand, she has the duty to keep that from happening. The easiest way is to not call him as a witness. The defendant cannot force his lawyer to let him testify. However, if the defendant does testify and unexpectedly lies, the lawyer’s not supposed to say anything—but she can’t intentionally let him continue lying. It can be a difficult balancing act.

So here’s your plot bunny. Your character is an attorney representing a smooth bad guy. The bad guy lies on the stand—implicating someone else—and is found not guilty. Now the cops are after that third party, and your lawyer wants to make sure an innocent party doesn’t go to prison. What does he do? And what complications might ensue if he’s attracted to that innocent third party?

Want a job?

Last week I had a meeting with several local criminal-justice agency heads. One thing we discussed was their hiring needs, so I thought this would be a good time to discuss how someone qualifies for a job in law enforcement (there are plenty of other CJ jobs too, but the qualifications for those vary).

In every jurisdiction, the minimum criteria to become a police officer include a high school diploma (or GED) and a record clean of felonies. A driver’s license is usually mandatory too. Once upon a time, those things would have been enough to get you a job as a cop.

Nowadays, though, most agencies want more. Some want an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. All of them will require a clean background check, which means not just lack of criminal activity but also good credit and good associates. Agencies will check candidates’ social media accounts. They may use a lie detector. They will also ask about drug use. Standards for this have shifted, but at least in my area, agencies won’t hire anyone who has ever used hard drugs or who has used pot within the past year or two (even though it’s now legal here).

In many states, applicants will be subject to a psychological evaluation. They’ll also be given a physical agility test and a test to evaluate their ability to communicate clearly in writing.

New police officers have to go through training, of course. Some agencies want new hires to have already completed the academy, but others, especially the larger ones, will hire people first and pay them as they go through the academy.

Last week the chiefs said their ideal candidate is someone who can pass the background check and tests, who has strong writing skills, who has CJ experience as an intern, and who shows a meaningful commitment to the community.

Right now almost every police agency in the US is desperate for strong candidates. The Las Vegas PD has 600 openings! During a recent trip to Vegas, I saw them advertising on the Strip. I don’t know what kind of applicants they think they’ll get from that.