Incriminating Evidence by Sheldon Siegel
(Bantam, $7.50, NV) ISBN 0-553-58193-7
****
Criminal defense lawyer Michael Daley is a partner in the small San Francisco firm of Fernandez and Daley. Not at all out of the ordinary, except he is an ex-priest and the other half of his law firm is his ex-wife, Rosie Fernandez.

The firm is scarcely making ends meet, though both partners are happy to be self employed after a number of years of working for someone else. Mike has mixed emotions when he receives a phone call from District Attorney Prentice Marshall Gates, III. Gatesí moniker says it all. He is rich, used to being catered to and politically ambitious.

Gates is presently seeking the office of Attorney General for the state of California. Gates has been found in a hotel room with a young male prostitute. The young man has been handcuffed to the bed with his eyes, mouth, and nose secured by duct tape and, to Gatesí dismay, is not breathing. The police have arrested Gates for murder.

Recognizing the situation is grim, Gates wants the best criminal defense lawyer money can buy, and he considers Mike to be that person. Mike, of course, is flattered, though he has always despised Gates. A dilemma! The law firm could definitely use the cash infusion this job would bring, but Gates as a person has always disgusted Mike. In addition, he doubts Gatesí innocence and, while defending the man doesnít mean that he must believe his innocence, it makes the task a lot more challenging.

Deciding to take the case, Mike immediately begins to have second thoughts. As more evidence is uncovered, it all points to Gates as the murderer. Furthermore, Gates is offering no help by refusing to say anything other than he is innocent, and canít remember what happened that night. Gates refuses a time extension for defense preparation, he refuses a plea bargain, and he will not allow his wife to testify. Despite Lady Reason telling Mike he is making a mistake not to quit the case, he decides to commit himself to the cause, and see it through.

The most outstanding feature of this novel is the attention to detail that author Siegel pays to the criminal trial process. The lay reader can learn much from this one. Siegel carefully explains in everyday language the trial procedure and various methods lawyers use to gain jury support. It is interesting to note that Mike and, I assume Mr. Siegel by association, believes that jury of oneís peers is really a misnomer since the jury will probably consist of retired people, students, and those who couldnít think of a good excuse to avoid jury duty. Lawyers routinely, and on purpose, breech court etiquette even though they know their questions will be struck from the court record just so the jury will get some ideas planted in their heads. Strategy also plays an important role in who gets the last word in before a court recess. These points are often mentioned in general in courtroom dramas, but Mr. Siegelís book is peppered with concrete examples.

Despite the serious nature of the plot, Incriminating Evidence is not devoid of humorous incidents. An exchange between Mike and Father Ramon, a parish priest, is a case in point. Mike is apologetic about his daughterís infrequent attendance at church. Ramon remarks that most kids are too involved with their computers to make time for church. In fact, he notes one nine-year-old girl wondered if she could log onto Godís Web site and e-mail her confession. Ramonís response was somewhat ambiguous.

Mr. Siegel has developed some interesting characters in his book. He presents them with difficult choices where the right answer isnít always obvious and lets each protagonist deal with the consequences. Obviously Mike and Rosieís decision to defend Gates, a man they both abhor, sets the stage for serious misgivings as more evidence is uncovered which gives more credence to their clientís guilt. Their client when confronted with the disastrous results of some not so wise choices on his own part realizes that being totally self centered and self serving can come back to haunt you.

Four hundred and fifty pages may seem excessively long for a novel whose plot can quickly be summarized in a few short paragraphs, but there is no padding in this one. The development of both sides of the case as new evidence emerges as well as the development of the personalities of the main protagonists present a strong case for the assertion that the book is just the right length.

--Andy Plonka


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