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What is some good advice for writing about things done, in an autobiographical sense, that may have been or still are illegal?

For example, smoking or buying marijuana is illegal in many countries, yet people write about doing this without a problem. Likewise other minor illegal acts such as sex in public, harder drugs, etc also seem to be written about (Look at Hunter Thompson for example) without any consequence.

Is it a matter of degree? O.J. Simpsons was found innocent by a court of law, yet his book If I Did It was taken by some to be a confession of sorts. However this did not prompt any new investigations that I am aware of.

I want to write some stories about my travels and adventures without facing consequences for what I saw as minor, mostly harmless and/or necessary and infractions at the time.

What should I keep in mind and how free/honest can I be?

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In essence, the question is: "Can a purportedly nonfiction book be used as evidence in court?" Logically speaking, the author could have written anything whatsoever. There is no physical evidence to prove that what is written actually took place. Therefore, the answer must be 'no, you don't have to worry about it.' However, if you say you murdered someone and buried the body at latitude X and longitude Y and someone goes digging and finds it, that's a whole other can of worms. You get my drift? –  Aerovistae Apr 2 '12 at 6:22
Also, in the case of O.J.-- even if my prior comment were invalid, remember the law regarding double jeopardy. –  Aerovistae Apr 2 '12 at 6:23
Separately, I suggest that if you are writing about someone else committing these illegal deeds with you, get that person's permission before identifying him or her in your book, or construct a pseudonym or otherwise blur your friend's identity. You may not mind volunteering that you smoked a bit of weed, but your friend might object to having the world know. –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 2 '12 at 9:53

1 Answer 1

Be free and honest in what you did, unless you committed an extremely serious offence - murder, serious fraud, rape - because your writing does not, as a rule, constitute a formal confession. The police would have to find other evidence that you committed the crime to make it worth their while investigating - with acts like drug taking or public lewdity, that is unlikely to be still present.

If you are talking about crimes of violence or large scale activity, then the police are liable to consider it worth their while to investigate, in which case your writing may be a starting point, but unless you make a formal confession, the writings you publish are merely a small piece of evidence.

Of course, as you are talking about travelling, you may want to consider whether you ever wish to return to those countries that you committed "minor infractions" in. Irrespective of your guilt or otherwise, they might not be prepared to let you pass the border again.

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