False tips have the potential to complicate criminal cases.
On December 8, 2014, a massive fire engulfed the unfinished Da Vinci apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles. The inferno began around 1:30 in the morning, and burned so hot and fast not only consumed the entire 7-story Da Vinci complex, but also set fire to two neighboring structures, caused windows to explode in other nearby buildings, and caused the closure of a section of freeway in the area. An estimated $30 million in damages resulted from the fire.
The Los Angeles Fire Department conducted a detailed investigation, including sifting through debris, reviewing surveillance footage from nearby sources, and deploying an accelerant-sniffing dog to the scene. They did find evidence of accelerant at the site and in an official announcement concluded that the fire was intentionally set—in order words, that the crime of arson had been committed.
What is unprecedented about this case is that officials have announced a cash reward of $170,000 for any information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. This development surprised many, especially considering that the fire did not cause any injuries or deaths. However, officials explained that the severity of the fire was such that they consider it an “act of violence” against an entire community, and the reward is meant to show how seriously they are taking the case.
So far, over 100 individuals have been questioned in connection with the case, but no arrests have been made. Officials hope that the reward will bring additional information from people who were perhaps hesitant to speak with police without this extra incentive. In particular, authorities are eager to speak with two individuals spotted on surveillance footage but not yet identified.
Setting a reward can be a mixed blessing for authorities in any criminal case. While it may help draw out individuals with legitimate information, it can also give rise to an astounding number of tips from individuals with irrelevant or even outright false information.
As a criminal defense attorney, Dan E. Chambers understands the difficulties that perjured or mistaken witnesses can bring to a criminal case. Fortunately, there are many ways to cast doubt on testimony from witnesses for the prosecution. Tactics can range from presenting a strong alibi that contracts the testimony to establishing facts about the witness that call their honesty or reliability into question.
Here’s hoping any individuals incorrectly identified as suspects in this case have a good alibi and the good sense to contact an experienced arson defense attorney.