‘Law & Order’ in real life

Here’s another real-world situation for you to tackle.

Your news organization, the Peabody (Kansas) Gazette-Bulletin, previously reported that an arrest warrant had issued for a local teacher and coach, alleging that he had had improper sexual relations with two of his students. See Story 1.

Chris Young booking photo

The accused remained at large for several days, then surrendered to authorities. See Story 2 and his booking photo (left).

After his initial appearance in court, the state association of school boards requested that an affidavit of probable cause for his arrest be released. In many states, such affidavits automatically are available at the time of an initial court appearance, but in the state in question, a judge has to agree to release it.

Affidavits such as this are legally privileged records. A publication cannot be convicted of defamation for accurately reporting what is contained in an affidavit of probable cause or any sort of search or arrest warrant. These, not interviews, typically are the primary sources of information about most criminal cases.

You are working on the breaking news desk the afternoon of March 16, 2018, when the judge releases this affidavit. Your task is to create what will be your publication’s third story about the case and post it to the Police beat category of this website.

At the end of your story, insert Heading 4 subhead, followed by a brief description of any followups you might think would be warranted. These can be anything from specific questions you think you might get answers to by conducting interviews or longer pieces about specific or broad issues either directly or tangentially raised by the story. Deadline is the start of class Thursday, March 29.

This is one of several assignments we will be working on while finishing up work on our longer-term Profile stories.


Laws vary by state, but the first step after investigation of a criminal case typically is an arrest.

Police do not charge suspects. They arrest a person on suspicion of violating one or more laws. Police may do this on the spot, without a previously issued warrant, or may so with an arrest warrant issued by a court already in hand. The justification for the arrest or warrant, or for any search performed, is called the “probable cause.”

The person arrested is not officially charged until he or she appears in court. Depending on the state and the crime, this may involve a  prosecutor or a grand jury issuing charges.

Typically, at that time (and in some cases earlier, for minor offenses), bail is set to allow for the person’s release. The person posts a specified amount of cash, promises via personal recognizance to pay such an amount, or purchases a surety bond from a bailsman. If the person does not return for subsequent proceedings, the bond amount is forfeit.

The person is charged with violating a specific law. If he or she is accused of violating the law more than once, multiple “counts” of that charge may be lodged against him or her.


While we will be spending most of our time discussing how to gather news, it’s also important to be precise in how we use the language to present news. So we’ll be taking a couple of diagnostic tests focusing on grammar, spelling, style, syntax and the like.

The first quiz was really hard, with complicated situations that have puzzled even top professionals over time. Anyone who gets more than one or two right — congratulations, Julie, on leading the class with two right — should consider it a significant accomplishment. The good thing is, the answers, along with the reasons for them, will be emailed to you to help you learn some of the fine points. This quiz won’t be graded. It’s more a teaching tool than a testing tool.

The second quiz is a bit easier and will be graded. The first time you took it, it was accidentally limited to five questions, but that has now been corrected. It focuses on common errors and trouble spots, as identified by our initial diagnostic quiz a few weeks ago. It, too, will send you the correct answers and reasons for them after you have completed the test.


The breaking news story described above will be due at the start of class Thursday, March 29. An updated draft of your profile piece will be due at the start of class Tuesday, April 3. And a progress report on your investigative piece will be due at the start of class Thursday, April 5. So we’re heading into a very busy time. Thereafter we will have some one-on-one meetings to go over your entire portfolios of work in the class. Remember: You can continue to revise any assignment up until the end of the semester.