FindLaw Blotter: March 2010 Archives
FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

March 2010 Archives

Federal Prisoners Sue over Outside Contact Ban

The Center for Constitutional Rights is representing several federal prisoners who are suing over restrictions on outside contact. They are suing their jailers for violating their rights to communicate with their families.

The inmates housed at several federal prisons around the country claim restrictions on seeing their families violate their right to free association and constitute cruel and unusual punishment, according to Reuters.

Parole Oversight: California State Board Lacks Resources

A California state board picked to review how parole supervision of convicted sex offenders like John Albert Gardner fell through the cracks is lacking resources to properly conduct oversight.

The Associated Press reports that with minimal staff and no formal budget, the Sex Offender Management Board lacks resources it needs to complete its review involving Gardner's parole violations. He is accused of raping and killing 17-year-old Chelsea King after she went for a run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.

Identity Thieves Hit the Mall for Jewels, Dry Wall

What would you do with a brand new, shiny credit card (number) that you don't ever have to pay for? How about hit the mall and head over to Victoria's Secret and the Jared the Galleria of Jewelry. Then it's off to Lowe's for a plasma TV and some drywall. Don't ask.

Unquiet Riot: FlashMobs Give Philly a Big Headache

The "flashmob." It used to be cute, or at the very least, humorous. In the past, a flashmob was a spontaneous gathering of the young to have a massive pillow fight or maybe a disco dance-off on a random street corner; a type of performance art, if you will. But the city of Philadelphia is reportedly no longer amused by the flashmob phenomenon, now that it has tended to turned violent. In the last year, five flashmob gatherings in the city have more closely resembled massive brawls.

CA Felony Marijuana Cases Tossed Out

In California, felony marijuana cases are being tossed out of court because of a gray area in the law. How much medical marijuana is too much?

The question has stumped police, prosecutors and defense attorneys after a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Associated Press reports. The high court struck down a state law that imposed an 8-ounce limit and instead entitled patients to a "reasonable" amount of the drug to treat their ailments.

New FBI Web Site Focuses on Fighting Crime

The new FBI website, BanditTracker focuses on fighting crime in the New York region. The web site is the Internet weapon to catch bank robbery suspects.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is using the web site to solve and track down bank robbery suspects in New York and New Jersey, the New York Times reports.

Legalizing Marijuana Raises Concerns for Pot Growers

Pot growers around California are concerned about the economic backlash that comes along with legalizing marijuana.

An initiative to legalize pot is headed for the November ballot. According to the New York Times, legalizing pot has sparked fear for growers especially in Humboldt County. The area is known as the "Emerald Triangle" for its supply of marijuana crop.

Mass Layoffs Planned for Illinois State Troopers

Illinois like other states around the country is facing a budget crisis. That means mass layoffs are planned for state troopers.

Officials warn reducing the number of sworn troopers will have consequences to public safety and could delay response times, the State Journal-Register reports.

Software Programmers Indicted in Madoff Case

Two former computer programmers have been indicted in the Madoff case now along with a string of others linked to a massive Ponzi scheme.

According to Wall Street Journal, Jerome O'Hara, 47, and George Perez, 43, were indicted by a grand jury and charged on three counts each:

  • conspiracy
  • falsifying records of a broker-dealer, and
  • falsifying records of an investment adviser.

AZ Senate Votes to Ban Texting While Driving

Arizona is on track to join several other states that already have laws on the books making it illegal to text while driving. The recent AZ Senate vote bans texting while driving.

According to the Associated Press, the state Senate voted to approve a bill that would ban texting while driving. The bill would impose a fine on drivers distracted by texting. The Senate's 19-10 vote on the bill now sends it to Arizona's House.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Group's Petition Falls Short

As we have previously discussed, dispensary owners have been racing to meet the deadline to collect enough signatures to block L.A.'s new medical marijuana laws.

But they didn't beat the clock.

Many of the signatures they collected were found to be invalid, the Los Angeles Times reported. After being refused an extension of time to collect signatures, the group's challenge looks to be dead, at least for now.

States Rethinking Teen Life Sentences

These days more states are relaxing their get-tough-on-juveniles laws. More and more states are rethinking their laws around juvenile sentencing.

In fact, Legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court are even rethinking the idea of sending teens away to prison forever.

As discussed previously, the Supreme Court is currently considering two cases regarding juveniles sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Court is weighing whether such juvenile sentencing constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the National Law Journal, however, some states aren't waiting for the Court's decision to change their approach to juvenile life sentences.

Report: Internet Fraud Cases See Steady Increase

Amid the economic downturn, complaints about internet fraud and scams have steadily increased.

Since 2007, complaints about Internet crimes have been on the rise, but a new report shows that last year especially complaints began to soar.

According to the latest Internet Crime Complaint Center report, many Internet scams were tied to the poor economy and grew more 20 percent. The report by the center was produced in partnership with the FBI.

Voting Rights of Ex-Offenders under Review

Congress held hearings recently to review the voting rights of ex-offenders. The Democracy Restoration Act is a new bill proposed that would allow released ex-felons to vote in federal elections.

According to the New York Times, the bill would reverse laws dating back to the post-Civil War era which mainly were used to prevent slaves from voting and restore ex-offenders the right to vote.

Budget Deficit Force LA Courtrooms to Close

There will be fewer Los Angeles courtrooms operating next month as the state copes with its budget deficit.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a total of 17 courtrooms countywide are being closed over the next six months. The state is facing a $79 million budget shortfall. As a result, this will mean massive layoffs and service reductions. About 329 people are expected to get layoff notices.

Senate Vote Reduces Crack Powder Cocaine Disparity

The Senate vote to reduce the disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine possession and powdered cocaine aims to improve the criminal justice system.

According to the Associated Press, the bill's sponsor, Dick Durbin (D-Il.), said that if the bill recently approved by the Senate is enacted into law, it would help to ensure that people are treated more fairly criminal justice system.

New Bill Would Ban Smoking in CA State Parks

Lawmakers are proposing a new bill that would ban smoking in CA state parks.

The bill aims to cut down on cigarette waste, limit exposure to secondhand smoke and prevent wildfires. If signed into law, it also would make California the first state to ban smoking throughout an entire park system, the Associated Press reports.

3rd Circuit Declines to Rule: Is Sexting Pornography?

On March 17, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an anticipated decision in a teen "sexting" case. The only question decided by the court was, however, whether the DA of Wyoming County unconstitutionally retaliated against the Pennsylvania teens involved for refusing to attend his "education" class when threatened with criminal prosecution for sexting.  

NY Bill Would Make Strangulation a Felony Charge

In New York, choking or strangulating someone is not considered a crime and doesn't even rise to a misdemeanor under the current law. But now a newly proposed NY bill would make strangulation a felony charge.

The bill was recently introduced before the legislature to upgrade choking to a lower-level felony charge, the Ithaca Journal reports.

DOJ: Many Female Prison Guards Engage in Sexual Relations

Female prison guards are more likely to be involved in sexual misconduct with inmates.

This information is part of the latest findings from a new Department of Justice study. The study shows that the prevalence of sexual assault in state and federal prisons found that 58 percent of staff perpetrators of sexual misconduct were female prison guards.

Feds Use Covert Operations on Social Network Sites

Law enforcement agents are now joining social network sites like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook to plan covert operations and catch criminals.

According the Associated Press, FBI agents have created online profiles that allow them to go undercover to exchange information with suspects and gather information from popular social networking sites.

Public Defenders Case Goes to New York Court of Appeals

All eyes are on a class action suit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) challenging the state's failed public defender program. The New York public defenders case will be heard by the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Many argue that, like many other states, New York's public defender program is filled with poorly trained and poorly supervised lawyers handling huge caseloads.

A class-action suit will be argued in the New York Court of Appeals in the upcoming weeks.

Charles Antonucci Charged with Stealing TARP Funds

Ex-New York banker Charles Antonucci is the first person accused of trying to steal government bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

According to the Associated Press, Charles Antonucci, the former president of a community bank in Manhattan was charged with self-dealing, bank bribery, embezzlement and fraud while trying to submit the bank's application for $11.2 million in TARP funds.

Judge Urged to Reject Rod Blagojevich Trial Delay

There's no time to lose as federal prosecutors continue to a urge a judge to reject ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's request to delay his corruption trial.

According to the Associated Press, Rod Blagojevich has asked a judge to reschedule his trial that is set to begin on Jun 3.

Signatures Could Block Marijuana Dispensary Laws

Dispensary owners are not shutting down their businesses without a fight and collecting signatures to block L.A.'s new medical marijuana laws.

A group of dispensary owners and patients are gathering signatures to force a voter referendum on the new medical marijuana laws. The new ordinance, which likely takes effect in May, caps the number of pot shops to 70 and forces hundreds of others to close.

Smoking Banned from Kansas Restaurants, Bars and Workplaces

Last Friday, Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson signed a law forbidding smoking in Kansas restaurants.

According to the Kansas City Star, the state is kicking the habit and has banned smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces. The statewide smoking ban takes effect on July 1.

SF Crime Lab Investigation: 25 Drug Cases Dropped

Several felony drug cases were dropped as the investigation of the SF crime lab continues.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Deborah Madden, 60, a retired lab technician is accused of tampering and stealing drugs from the SF crime lab.

Officials say the alleged tampering problem involving the lab technician could affect a number of the 6,000 drug-related cases. The lab handles as many as 50 drug cases a day.

Stank Leads to Dank: Odor Points to 200 Pot Plants

An aroma wafting through an open window pointed to pot plants growing inside a Van Nuys warehouse.

The odor which was so strong that it led police to the warehouse, the Associated Press reports. Officers recognized the smell immediately and found more than 200 marijuana plants growing inside the warehouse.

Social Networks: CA Sex Offenders Could Get Banned

Several states already have laws on the books to keep sexual predators off MySpace and Facebook. Now, CA sex offenders could get banned from social networking sites too.

According to the Orange County Register, state lawmakers are proposing a new law that makes it illegal for registered CA sex offenders to use any social networking site including Facebook and MySpace.

California Sex Offender Laws Under Review

Many say existing California sex offender laws don't go far enough and need to be under review.

Among those people are the parents of Chelsea King who said they will fight for changes in sex offender laws. Convicted sex offender John Gardner has been charged with murdering and raping their San Diego County teenager.

The question is whether federal law (Megan's Law) should have prevented 17-year-old Chelsea King's murder? And why California's own version, known as Jessica's Law, isn't working to better govern convicted sex offenders?

Florida Offers Defendants New Homeless Court

Legal problems homeless people face are often exacerbated by their inability to travel to court.

So, why not bring a new homeless court to them?

That's exactly what Pinellas County Florida judges have done by rolling out a new system to bring the courts to homeless defendants.

According to the Maco County News, the county's new homeless court is modeled after the one in San Diego in an effort to quickly resolve petty crimes.

California Makes Policy Change on Parole Records

California will no longer shred sex offenders' parole records as a part of the state's new policy change.

Instead of destroying parole records of sex offenders, the state will make contents accessible to the public.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state corrections officials to stop destroying the parole files and retain information on sex offenders, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Juvenile Sex Offender Registry Up For Debate

The idea of whether to create a juvenile sex offender registry is up for debate in Tennessee.

 Here are some of the pros and cons:

PROS:

  • The public would become aware of violent criminals.
  • The state would be in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and secure $5 million in grant money disbursed to law enforcement agencies all over Tennessee.

CONS:

  • The reputation of a child could be marred forever hindering their ability to be reformed and lead a normal life.
  • State could lose millions of dollars of federal money that goes to local law enforcement.

Criminal Prosecutors Push for Tougher Gang Laws

Criminal prosecutors in Maryland are trying to crack down on growing gang violence.

To do that, they say it will take tougher anti-gang laws.

Currently, a slew of new gang-related bills are being considered by lawmakers to help better identify, track and prosecute known gang members.

New Sex Offender Laws Force Julia Tuttle Shutdown

Miami-Dade County's new sex offender laws has forced the encampment of homeless sex offenders living under the Julia Tuttle bridge in Miami-Dade to be shutdown.

So, now what?

Some of the homeless sex offenders are on short waiting lists for housing under Miami-Dade County's revised sex-offender law.

Starbucks Chain Backs Off Gun Control Debate

These days you may get more than an espresso shot when ordering at a Starbucks coffeehouse.

The Starbucks chain is backing off the gun control debate as it has been the latest site of gun owners proudly displaying their firearms.

Members of the pro gun group OpenCarry.org have been wearing their guns inside Starbucks cafes across the country in Northern California and Virginia.

PA Proposes Release of Short Term State Inmates

Like most states, Pennsylvania is trying to figure out how to save money and reduce its prison overcrowding problems.

One idea floated by the head of the state prison system is to release short term state inmates. By sending less-serious offenders to halfway houses it could free up as many as 2,000 prison beds, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Support Grows for NY Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana

The New York State Senate Health Committee has passed a medical marijuana bill as support grows for putting a new law on the books.

The move puts New York a small step closer to joining more than a dozen of other states that already have passed legislation.

Congress Weighs Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing

Two bills which aim to end the disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine and powdered cocaine convictions are up for consideration.

Currently, Congress is considering changing the sentencing guidelines for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

According to a New York Times editorial, bills are pending in both the House (Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009) and Senate (Fair Sentencing Act of 2009). Pushing through new legislation to end racial disparity would not only put punishment for possession of crack and powder on the same level but help create sound public policy.

9/11 Trials Could Switch to Military Commissions

In a decision that could reverse prosecuting the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 and others in civilian courtrooms, White House advisers may recommend switching to military commissions instead.

According to the Washington Post, President Obama's advisers are coming close to finalizing their recommendations on a plan for Khalid Sheik Mohammed to be tried before a military court, turning back a plan by Attorney General Eric Holder to hold the 9/11 trials in a New York civilian court.

They hope to finalize their plan by March 18.

Lethal Injection: WA Adopts Single Shot Protocol

Washington has followed Ohio's lead and adopted a new single shot lethal injection protocol.

The state switched from a three-drug to a one-drug cocktail after Ohio's recent success with its single shot lethal injection method.

According to the Associated Press, paperwork filed shows that the state made its decision and wants the high courts to dismiss parts of an appeal of death-row inmate Darold Stenson. The state argues that a challenge of the drug protocol's constitutionality is now moot.

A 29 year old refugee from Laos in jail on a vehicular homicide conviction may actually have been a victim of sudden acceleration and problems with his '96 Toyota Camry brakes. 

Koua Fong Lee is serving 8 years in prison for a fatal accident he claims was never his fault. In 2006, his 96' Toyota Camry crashed in Minnesota, killing three people. Lee, who didn't speak much English, always maintained that his brakes were not working. His car was moving at an estimated speed of 70 to 90 miles per hour at the time of the fatal accident. He was driving his family, including pregnant wife and child, home from church on a Sunday morning.

But now, there may be some relief in sight for Lee. Toyota's recent troubles might hold the key to his freedom. According to ABC News, Lee's lawyers have discovered that some 1996 Camrys had received complaints due to "unintended acceleration" (or "sudden acceleration") problems. 

LA Marijuana Dispensary Laws Challenged

As previously discussed, LA's top prosecutor Steve Cooley filed lawsuits to shut down what he claims are illegal marijuana dispensaries.

Now, the city is drawing its first legal challenge from an advocacy group.

Americans for Safe Access, organization that supports medical marijuana and works with dispensaries like Organica (recently sued by the city) and has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, the L.A. Daily News reports.

Madoff Case: Payback Formula for Victims Upheld

A federal bankruptcy judge has upheld a payback formula to calculate the victims' losses in Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme.

Judge Burton R. Lifland sided with Irving Picard, a trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff's assets and rejected the legal challenge of hundreds of defrauded investors.

According to the New York Times, the judge endorsed Picard's formula for the liquidation of Madoff's assets in his 53-page ruling.

High Court Hears Challenge to Chicago Handgun Law

Chicago's long-standing handgun ban is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court will decide whether the Chicago handgun ban should be invalidated under the Second Amendment in the McDonald v. Chicago case.

New Training for Police on Transgender Issues

Colorado officers and other law enforcement agencies around the country are undergoing new training on transgender issues and policies.

The new training for police is the first of its kind and educates officers on to behave when questioning, searching or detaining transgender individuals, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports.

Kansas Governor Endorses Statewide Public Smoking Ban

Public health advocates hope they can continue to rely on support from Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson to boost their ongoing campaign for a statewide public smoking ban.

During his most recent annual State of the State address, Gov. Mark Parkinson gave his endorsement of a strong statewide public smoking ban.

The Kansas Health Institute reported that Gov. Mark Parkinson's supported such a measure, defending it as not a radical idea, and noting the many states that have enacted similar bans.

Jaycee Dugard Files Claims Against CA State Corrections

Jaycee Dugard, who along with her two daughters was allegedly held captive by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido, has filed claims against the California state corrections department.

The claims are against the state of California for failures by parole agents to properly investigate Dugard's 1991 kidnapping and years of captivity.

According to the Associated Press, the claims typical precede lawsuits in which victims have six months from the time of the incident to file a personal injury claim against the state.

Anthony Sowell: New Kidnapping, Attempted Murder Charges

Anthony Sowell, already charged in the slayings of 11 women whose bodies were found buried around his home, now faces new charges in a separate case.

According to the Associated Press, a grand jury indicted Sowell of kidnapping, felonious assault and attempted murder charges. The case involves one of the many women who came forward following the discovery of remains in Sowell's home.

President Barack Obama Signs Patriot Act Extension

President Barack Obama has signed a one year extension of the Patriot Act.

That means the Patriot Act provisions have been extended to track suspected terrorists, including roving wiretaps to track multiple communications devices.