I am writing a book a about a normal girl investigating her friend's murder. I wanted to ask if it's possible that a normal person who is not a detective could actually solve a murder?

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! I'm not sure whether this would be on-topic here as it seem like you're asking us to help you write the plot of your novel, and that's not what this site is for. We can give you advice on specific aspects of your writing, but not the actual storyline. – F1Krazy Nov 1 '19 at 10:40
  • For the record: do you believe there's any reason a "normal person" couldn't solve a murder? – F1Krazy Nov 1 '19 at 10:40
  • This feels like it should be off-topic as it isn't really about writing in its current form. However if you modified it to be about portraying the unlikely detective in a realistic manner it would be on-topic and answerable. That said I haven't voted to close because this is a question you had while writing and I don't know where else you could ask it. Perhaps Worldbuilding but it would need some work to be on-topic there too. – linksassin Nov 1 '19 at 13:46
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question is not asking about writing, only whether something can happen – BKlassen Nov 1 '19 at 15:15
  • It is as im asking this because I want to know for my story that I am writing and I believe some other people writing a detective novel might be interested in this question – Felisha Nov 3 '19 at 20:11

Yes. Many cold cases (cases that remain unsolved and all leads provided by evidence have dried up) are kept alive by interested members of the public who want to find some closure to the victims, even if evidence does not exist to conclusively prove in trial or the criminal is deceased. Netflix has a good documentary series called "The Keepers" is about a group of women who are trying to solve a mystery surrounding the Murder of a beloved teacher and Nun at their Catholic High School in Baltimore and the group got together after accusations of sexual abuse by a priest at the same school and their own subsequent reveal of being victims (thinking they were alone). Most, if not all, former student investigators were all victims of the priest and through their shared experiences, have a working theory that the nun was murdered because one of the victims confided in her shortly before her murder (the priest in question died before he could be brought on any criminal charges).

Additionally, in the United States (and other common law nations) a civilian is allowed to detain someone they suspect is comitting a crime until such time that the police can to take the detained into custody (known as Citizen's arrest). Typically, this is if the criminal is seen in the act, but it can occur if the person is holding them against their will under enough evidence for the cops to make an arrest while the cops take their time arriving. Additionally, in the United States, the legal concept of "Castle Doctrine" allows for self defense against illegal intruders on your property even in States where "Stand your ground laws" do not exist for self defense on public property and extends to anyone who is invited to be on your property so long as the intruder is known to not be invited (So Kevin from Home Alone was well within his rights to set traps for the Wet Bandits, and many doctors have agreed that by the time both intruders were in the house, the injuries sustained would have prevented them from getting up to the first floor, if not outright kill them). At no point in the film is Kevin implausibly aware of facts that lead him to conclude the Bandits are up to no good (even though McCullcan seemed to have a talent for playing kids who were capable of behaving way more mature than a kid his age, nothing with respect to the bandits is overly out of the bounds of plausible for a 6-8 year old (I forget his age, it's been the better part of a year since I last watched it).

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    The legality of the traps in Home Alone is questionable at best. Booby traps are generally illegal, since they can't discriminate between individuals who are present lawfully or unlawfully. The traps happened to be triggered in self-defense, but that movie would have gone very differently had a police officer or firefighter entered the house for any number of lawful reasons. It'd be an interesting trial that would have to balance the legality of self-defense with the illegality of booby trapping a property, but it's not clear cut, so Kevin is hardly "well within his rights". – Nuclear Wang Nov 1 '19 at 14:05
  • @NuclearWang: I was speaking more in a general thing with respect to self defense. I do always point out that the most implausible thing in the film is that a kid of Kevin's age is able to clean up the entire house from some point after 9 pm on Christmas Eve to waking up on Christmas Morning to such a degree that his mother doesn't suspect a thing. The classic trap everyone thinks of (the Paint Cans on the Banister) is certainly legal as they wouldn't trigger without human input. And any trap that deployed upon attempt to enter the house were valid because the bandits weren't invited.+ – hszmv Nov 1 '19 at 14:23
  • @NuclearWang: Per my recollection, the only external trap that was set off externally was without any discrimination on Kevin's part was the hot door knob and the icy stairs. The former could cause some problems with trouble, but the latter was only deemed lethal because the person slipped while carrying a crow bar which hit him in the process of slipping. Had he not been engaged in a criminal activity, he would have not been near fatally injured. Kevin also specifically directed the cops to a different house than his own, so it's clear he wouldn't want them walking into the traps+ – hszmv Nov 1 '19 at 14:32
  • @NuclearWang: Without prior warning that they existed. (And he wasn't making a false call. He did tell the cops that he was a neighbor and the break in was at another house... then broke into the other house himself. Thus, even if the bandits didn't follow, the cops would be keeping him safe, listening to what he says, and no where near an armed trap.). Self-Defense is an affirmative defense so Kevin would have to cede that he did set the traps, but it was to stop a specific crime from happening that he knew was about to happen. – hszmv Nov 1 '19 at 14:37
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    I don't really see how the entire section about Home Alone is relevant to a question about solving a murder. – F1Krazy Nov 1 '19 at 14:46

Yes, a citizen can investigate a murder. They don't have the tools of the police or courts, for example they can't force a store to release security tapes, or reveal employee records.

But if they do find evidence (and can prove it isn't fake) they can bring that to the police and possibly it will be useful in the apprehension or trial of that individual.

For example, they might trace the movements of the deceased, and with some effort and guesswork informed by their relationship with the deceased, find their path, and develop new suspects.

Private investigators usually have to be licensed (five US States do not require a license), but they are not police, cannot make anything but a Citizen's Arrest, and cannot compel somebody to produce records, they can't get a search warrant from a judge, etc.

But they can still ask people questions and investigate deaths, both murder and accidental. So can a normal person, you still have freedom of speech, freedom to look through public records, make connections.

I know from personal experience (two murders of people I know, separate incidents) that all those Law Enforcement shows are just fiction, most murders get very short shrift, without a witness the majority of murders go unsolved, forensics is sparse, police detectives hit a dead end and (if the case is not high profile) they move on to the next one, because there is an endless supply. There are clues that can be interpreted.

If you are talking about a fictional character, it would help if they have money. It is not illegal to pay somebody to talk to you. You can't pay them to be a witness, obviously, but it is my understanding (and I am not a lawyer) that you also cannot violate the privacy of a dead person.

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  • You are correct, death voids all protections of legal protections afforded by the Constitution (so long as there is no one to claim those rights. I.E. a dead husband does not give cause to search a family computer if his widow or other living relative still use it). – hszmv Nov 4 '19 at 14:27

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