FindLaw Blotter: March 2012 Archives
FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

March 2012 Archives

Video of George Zimmerman, taken after he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has reinforced calls for Zimmerman's arrest and prosecution. It also raises technical questions about police procedure.

An attorney for Martin's parents told Fox News the video contradicts Zimmerman's claim that Trayvon broke his nose and slammed his head into a sidewalk, because Zimmerman does not appear visibly injured. But Zimmerman's lawyer insists the footage is too grainy to prove anything.

Still, the video does show Zimmerman in handcuffs.

So was Zimmerman technically "under arrest" in the video? Is he even "in custody"?

A Miami man who chased a thief and stabbed him to death cannot be prosecuted because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, a judge said in a written opinion released Wednesday.

Greyston Garcia, 25, "was well within his rights" when he chased a man accused of stealing his car radio and stabbed the man to death, the judge ruled. The Miami policeman who supervised the case was stunned.

"How can it be Stand Your Ground?" the officer said to The Miami Herald. "It's on [surveillance] video! You can see him stabbing the victim."

JetBlue Pilot Charged with Federal Crimes

Authorities have brought federal charges against the JetBlue captain who flipped out during a flight heading to Las Vegas.

The JetBlue pilot, Clayton Osbon, 49, was formally charged with interfering with a flight crew, CBS News reports. JetBlue Airways has also suspended Osbon, who is a 12-year employee with the airline.

If convicted, Osbon could face stiff penalties for his actions.

Zimmerman Accused of Attacking Cop, Girlfriend

Have you heard about the George Zimmerman domestic violence allegations? What about the claims that he once attacked a cop?

They both appear to be true. Media has unearthed Zimmerman's criminal record, finding evidence that, in 2005, he was charged with resisting arrest with violence and battery of a law enforcement officer. That same year, his ex-fiance filed for a domestic violence restraining order, which was granted.

Some want to know whether this information will be admissible if Zimmerman is ever charged with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Chances are it won't be.

LAPD's Patrick Smith Racially Profiled Latinos

An internal probe conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department has concluded that Officer Patrick Smith racially profiled Latino drivers, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is the first time in the department’s history that it has substantiated such an allegation.

Smith has been with the LAPD for 15 years, working as a motorcycle cop in the West Traffic Division. Evidence shows that he targeted Latino drivers and falsified reports by purposefully misidentifying them as white. He now faces a disciplinary hearing where sources tell the paper the department will seek his dismissal.

DSK Charged with 'Aggravated Pimping'

French authorities have charged DSK with aggravated pimping.

Wait, what? Confused? Let's rewind. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now known as DSK, rose to fame in May, when a U.S. hotel maid accused him of sexual assault. New York prosecutors soon dropped the charges, but scandal followed the disgraced leader back home to France.

French authorities have now charged DSK with aggravated pimping, claiming to have unearthed information that ties him to a high-profile prostitution ring in the city of Lille.

Trayvon Punched, Slammed Zimmerman's Head: Cops

Authorities in Sanford, Fla. have gone on the offensive, releasing more information about the Trayvon Martin shooting in an attempt to placate protestors. Prosecutors are now claiming that George Zimmerman's story of self-defense is supported by a number of witnesses.

Zimmerman apparently told investigators that Trayvon punched him and then slammed his head into the sidewalk. He was found with a bloody nose, a swollen lip and lacerations on the back of his head.

Billionaire John Goodman, who legally adopted his girlfriend to allegedly protect his assets as he stood trial for a deadly drunken-driving crash, has been found guilty at his criminal trial.

A Florida jury convicted Goodman, 48, of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of an accident, the New York Post reports. Goodman faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced.

Goodman's DUI-manslaughter crash happened in February 2010 in Wellington, Fla. Prosecutors say Goodman was drunk and speeding in his Bentley when he ran a stop sign and slammed into another car that flipped over and landed in a canal.

Differences Between Felony and Misdemeanor?

There is a difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. Most Americans are familiar with the notion that a crime's classification has certain implications.

After all, felonies are typically regarded as more serious crimes. They also typically carry heftier punishments.

But that isn't all that is different between the two types of crimes.

Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee is temporarily stepping down from his post, as the Justice Department and FBI step in to investigate the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child," Lee said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "I am also aware that my role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation."

Some audience members applauded Lee's announcement, which came after Sanford's city commission voted Wednesday night to declare "no confidence" in the chief, The New York Times reports.

Are Ignition Interlock Devices Legal?

Ignition interlock devices have been getting a lot of attention lately. A number of new ignition interlock laws went into effect on the first of the year, and states like Virginia are considering strengthening their existing provisions.

The popular devices are used to punish DUI offenders, and are wired to a vehicle's ignition. Drivers can't start the car without first providing a breath sample. They are then periodically retested so as to confirm that they remain sober.

The whole process seems sort of intrusive, so you may be wondering why ignition interlock devices are legal.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has drawn national attention to Florida's "stand your ground" law, which says there's no duty to retreat -- anywhere -- before using force in self-defense. But Florida is not alone.

In many states, a legal doctrine called the "castle doctrine" allows the use force in self-defense, without retreating, if a person is at home. It's derived from the old adage that "a person's home is his castle." But critics worry about the unintended consequences of "castle" laws, and especially Florida's "stand your ground" law.

"I think there is vigilante justice happening and I think people are getting shot," one Florida lawmaker told USA Today. Here's how Florida's stand your ground law compares to some key examples of similar statutes in other states:

George Zimmerman Case: What Is a Grand Jury?

If you've been following the George Zimmerman shooting case in Florida, or if you're a fan of Law & Order, you've probably heard the term "grand jury" tossed around a few times. You might be wondering what a grand jury is.

Is it simply a "grander" version of a regular jury panel?

Actually, it isn't. Grand juries serve a different purpose than trial juries. Here are some of the main differences:

Too Many 911 Calls Can Get You Arrested

If you’ve been following the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, you’ve probably heard about George Zimmerman’s 911 calls. Between January 2011 and February 26 of this year, the neighborhood watch captain called local police forty-six times.

Nine of those times he reported someone suspicious. The others, he reported small disturbances, break-ins and windows left open. The number still seems a bit outrageous. Isn’t it illegal to call 911 that many times in just over a year?

Trayvon Martin Case Heads to Grand Jury

The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin will be heading to a grand jury, according to Florida State Attorney Norm Wolfinger. The decision comes a day after the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice decided to open their own investigation into the case.

The Trayvon Martin grand jury will convene April 10, and will likely spend days, if not weeks, poring over evidence, WFTV reports.

The grand jury will then decide whether to indict George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who claims he shot and killed Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense.

MA Mom Slashed Kids' Throats, Set Home on Fire

Prosecutors in Salem, Mass., have officially charged Tanicia Goodwin with two counts each of assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and arson. TheĀ  mother of two is accused of slashing her kids’ throats Sunday night before setting her apartment on fire.

Goodwin turned herself in Monday morning at a local police station. Covered in blood and lighter fluid, she allegedly told officers that she was just trying to protect her kids and had planned to commit suicide.

Jason Russell, creator of the viral video "Kony 2012," will not be charged in connection with his naked rant in a San Diego neighborhood, police said. But Russell is still being held on a "5150" psychiatric hold, Us Weekly reports.

Witnesses called police to report Russell had "removed his underwear and was nude, perhaps masturbating" in broad daylight Thursday afternoon, police said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Officers detained Russell and took him to a medical facility for evaluation, under what's called a "5150" in California.

So what is a "5150?"

Ex-Cop Had Sex with FL Boy Nearly 100 Times: Cops

Law enforcement in Brevard County, Fla. have arrested a 32-year-old woman accused of having nearly 100 sexual encounters with a teen. The suspect, Alysia Flynn, is a former cop and mother, and is believed to have carried on a relationship with the 15-year-old victim for over a year.

Prosecutors have charged Flynn with 42 counts of lewd and lascivious battery; 53 counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor; contributing to the delinquency of a minor; and interfering with child custody.

She could very well spend the rest of her life in prison.

Dharun Ravi was convicted of all counts including hate crimes in the Rutgers webcam case. The ex-Rutgers University student's use of a webcam to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi's sex life preceded Clementi's suicide.

Ravi, 20, shook his head as 15 guilty verdicts were read aloud in court Friday morning, the Associated Press reports. The charges include invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and witness and evidence tampering.

Ravi could now face 10 years in prison for the cyberbullying. His actions occurred just before his roommate, Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off a bridge to his death, Reuters reports.

Ravi, an Indian national, could also be deported, according to the AP.

TX Planned Parenthood CEO Busted for Indecent Exposure

The longtime CEO and president of a Texas Planned Parenthood organization has found himself on the wrong side of the law. Lubbock police arrested 56-year-old Tony Thornton after receiving a report that he exposed his genitals in a public park.

Thornton, who has headed the nonprofit's Lubbock branch for years, was charged with one count of indecent exposure. He is currently out on $750 bail and has been removed from his position at the organization.

Brit Extradited Over TV Linking Website

On Tuesday, U.K. officials agreed to extradite Richard O'Dwyer to the U.S. to face criminal copyright charges. The 23-year-old British college student ran TVShack, a linking website that directed users to pirated content hosted on third-party sites.

Brits -- and many U.S. techno-activists -- are outraged at the decision, as O'Dwyer's site was operated and hosted in Europe. They want an explanation for why the U.K. Home Secretary has approved the extradition.

Her decision was based on international extradition law.

Drunken-driving arrests are among the most common types of infractions, often leading to fines, license suspensions, and even jail or prison time. Hiring a DUI lawyer can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case.

Not all lawyers are equal, however. Before you put down money for a retainer fee, look out for these three common mistakes in hiring a DUI attorney:

A Louisiana man jumped off a bridge to avoid his eighth DWI arrest -- only to be rescued from the choppy waters of the lake below and taken to jail, police said.

Thomas Robert Harter, 44, was swerving and speeding in a car as he crossed the Causeway bridge over Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans about 5:40 p.m. Sunday, witnesses told police.

When a Causeway police officer pulled him over, Harter immediately got out of his car with his hands in the air, The Times-Picayune reports. He was wearing a green St. Patrick's Day necklace.

FL Teen Killed by Neighborhood Watch Leader

The February 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has shaken Sanford, a small city near Orlando, Fla. The 17-year-old was shot by George Zimmerman, the white neighborhood watch captain of a local gated community. His only crime was walking from a 7-Eleven to a nearby home in the pouring rain.

Martin's parents and black community members are outraged at the way Sanford Police have handled the investigation. There have been no charges in the neighborhood watch shooting, and there are accusations of police misconduct and witness contamination.

What is public intoxication? With St. Patrick's Day looming, it's a timely question worth asking. Each state defines it differently, but there are some common elements to the crime, along with ways to fight a public-intoxication charge in court.

In general, public intoxication alleges a person is visibly drunk or under the influence of drugs in a public place. Also called being "drunk and disorderly," the laws aim to prevent intoxicated individuals from disturbing others, and from hurting themselves.

Here are three common public-intoxication defenses -- keeping in mind, you may want to consult an attorney about whether these apply in your specific case:

A Detroit gas station cashier is behind bars after he allegedly shot a customer in a dispute over a box of condoms. The customer -- Michael Haynes II, 24 -- died at a hospital, The Huffington Post reports.

Haynes bought a box of condoms about 12:45 a.m. Saturday at a BP station on Detroit's west side, the Detroit Free Press reports. When Haynes complained about the high price of the condoms and asked for a refund, the cashier refused.

A heated argument ensued, and Haynes started knocking items from the store's shelves, police said. The cashier pulled out a gun and shot Haynes in the shoulder, Detroit's WWJ-TV reports.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to false imprisonment in a deal that effectively ends his high-profile domestic-violence case.

Mirkarimi, 50, was charged with domestic violence, battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness in connection with an alleged incident involving his wife, the San Francisco Examiner reports. Those charges were dropped in exchange for Mirkarimi's guilty plea on a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge.

So what is false imprisonment?

A University of Maryland, College Park student was arrested after allegedly posting online threats about a school "shooting rampage," police said.

Alexander Song, 19, of Fulton, Md., was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after his arrest Sunday morning -- just hours before the alleged school shooting was supposedly set to take place, The Baltimore Sun reports.

"Stay away from the Mall tomorrow [Sunday] at 1:30," Song wrote on a website, according to police. Other comments allegedly said, "I will be on a shooting rampage tomorrow on campus" and "Hopefully I kill enough people to make it to national news."

Antibiotics Cause VA Cop to Stab 2, Shoot 1

First there was the Twinkie defense, and now there’s the antibiotic defense.

Bradley Colas, a cop from Virginia Beach, has been charged with two counts of felony assault for stabbing two firefighters and shooting another. The violence happened after the off-duty officer slammed his car into a tree as he drove to Philadelphia.

He was on his way to see Jesus and believes rescuers were evil demons out to get him.

His attorney blames prescription antibiotics.

A Florida couple forced a 13-year-old boy to kneel for nine hours a day for 10 days, and beat him with a stick when he moved, sheriff’s deputies say.

Albert Cusson, 57, and his wife Nancy, 47, of Lakeland, Fla., allegedly fed the boy just one protein shake a day, and forced him to sleep in a bathtub, the website Tampa Bay Online reports. They’re charged with aggravated child abuse.

The boy’s “punishment” — for misbehaving during home-schooling classes — was supposed to continue for 20 days, TBO.com reports. But the boy ran away from the Cussons’ home on Tuesday.

How to Get Your Driver's License Revoked

You've all heard it before, but here it is again: Driving is a privilege, not a right. And if you're not careful, you can lose your driver's license.

It's a fairly heft (and inconvenient) punishment. Without a driver's license, you can't legally drive. This means you would be relegated to taking public transportation. In some cities, it could make going to work extremely difficult.

Trust us, you don't want to end up losing your right to drive.

Why Don't Police Identify Juvenile Suspects?

Police in Oakland, Calif. recently asked the public to help them find a 14-year-old suspected of raping and robbing two women.

But they didn't release his name or his photo -- at least not at first. They told the public he was out there and that he was to be considered armed and dangerous.

This is a bit perplexing. Why don't police identify juvenile suspects -- even when they're dangerous and on the run?

A former IRS agent hired a hitman to kill two key witnesses in a federal fraud trial, prosecutors say.

FBI agents arrested ex-IRS agent Steven Martinez, 51, at an office in San Diego where he ran a private tax-preparation business, the Associated Press reports. The FBI also found $41,000 in cash for the alleged hits, hidden in a cereal box at the home of Martinez's limo driver.

Martinez was already facing 49 criminal counts in connection with allegedly stealing $11 million in tax payments from more than a dozen wealthy clients, San Diego's KNSD-TV reports. An informant's tip uncovered Martinez's alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Suburban Mom of 4 Ran High-End NYC Brothel: Cops

Prosecutors have busted NYC Madam Anna Gristina, a 44-year-old mother of 4 accused of running a high-end prostitution ring for the last 15 years. Her indictment and arrest come after an intense 5-year investigation.

Gristina is currently being held on a $2 million bond, with the judge agreeing that she may be a flight risk. Of Scottish origin, she is in possession of a British passport and has collected powerful business contacts worldwide. She also owns property in Canada.

San Francisco police routinely mishandled a device used in field sobriety tests -- mistakes that may get as many as 1,000 DUI convictions overturned, the city's public defender said.

Police failed to conduct "accuracy checks" on a device called the Alco-Sensor IV, used to measure blood-alcohol levels, Bay City News reports. Officers should have performed accuracy checks -- to ensure the device was correctly calibrated -- every 10 days, according to the manufacturer.

The police mistakes appear to be "negligence as opposed to criminal conduct," San Francisco's district attorney said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Don't mess with Texas Girl Scouts. Especially if you're after their Girl Scout cookie money.

Sheriff's deputies in Fort Bend County, west of Houston, are looking for two men accused of stealing a cash box from a Girl Scout cookie stand outside a Walmart, CNN reports.

One of the thieves may be a bit bruised from the incident, because one of the Girl Scouts punched the man in the face as he jumped into a getaway car.

Judge Sentences Teen to Lifetime Driving Ban

Is a lifetime driving ban an appropriate sentence?

Rhode Islanders are asking this question in light of a sentence handed down to 17-year-old Lyle Topa last week. The teen was racing in October and slammed into a tree, injuring himself and three others. He was driving on a suspended license at the time and had just left a party where he and his friends had been drinking.

When asked about the lifetime ban, Judge William Guglietta explained that it was time to get serious about teen drivers who have become a real danger on the road.

A former pro wrestler's recent conviction for not telling his sexual partners he was HIV-positive raises questions about state HIV disclosure laws. How common are these laws, and what do they require?

A jury convicted Andre Davis, 29, who once wrestled under the name "Gangsta of Love," under Ohio's HIV disclosure law. Davis was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

Ohio is among at least 24 states that have enacted HIV disclosure laws, according to a 2008 study in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. Two broad types of laws exist, the study found:

Hate-crime charges aren't just for avowed racists who deliberately target victims based on ethnicity. Often, a simple assault charge, along with the use of a slur -- racial or otherwise -- can technically result in a hate crime.

Case in point: A Morgan Stanley investment banker who allegedly stabbed a cab driver's hand in a dispute over cab fare. Because the Connecticut banker allegedly made threats and racial slurs about the cabbie's Middle Eastern ancestry, the banker was arrested and charged with intimidation by race or bigotry, Reuters reports.

The legal consequences of a hate crime conviction -- a civil rights violation -- can be costly. And it's not just racial slurs that can trigger a hate-crime prosecution.

A dispute over a hefty cab fare led to the alleged stabbing of a cab driver and the arrest of a high-ranking Morgan Stanley investment banker on a hate-crime charge.

William Bryan Jennings, 47, of Darien, Conn., is charged with intimidation by race or bigotry, as well as assault and larceny for allegedly not paying the cab fare, police told Reuters.

Jennings' attorney denied the charges, and claimed Jennings -- one of Morgan Stanley's most senior bond-trading executives -- in acted in self-defense.

Armored Car Guard Executes Partner, Steals $2M

Police are still looking for Ken Konias, Jr., a Pittsburgh armored car guard wanted for robbery and homicide. The 22-year-old is accused of shooting his partner in the head and then stealing approximately $2 million from the truck.

Investigators believe he may be headed to Canada or Mexico, having made phone calls to his mother and a friend as he fled the area. Though his mother has not revealed the contents of their conversation, the friend reports Konias asked about extradition laws.

If he is caught and extradited back to the U.S., just how will Ken Konias be sentenced for his alleged crimes?

MO Mom Assaults Son's Drug Dealer

Sherrie Gavan was just trying to protect her son, Clayton. The teen had started using heroin in high school, and the family had done all it could to keep him clean. They even sent him away to live with relatives, and watched him like a hawk when he was home.

It wasn't enough.

Clayton's drug dealer repeatedly sought him out and showed up at the family's Missouri house. By December, Gavan had had enough. Unfortunately, a confrontation with the man ended in assault -- his. She struck him and has now been criminally charged for her actions.

Is Sending Email Spam a Crime?

Whenever you open your email inbox, you're flooded with messages that you never signed up for. Maybe there's some company that's hawking some kitschy t-shirts. Or, maybe there's some email that claims they can sell you "v1agra" over the web. Spam is annoying. That may be why you might wonder if sending spam is a crime -- or if there are anti-spam laws out there to protect you.

There are. But most of the time, sending spam itself isn't a crime punishable by jail time.

But there are times when a spam message could amount to a violation of criminal law.

NJ Man Cuts Down $1M in Trees for a Better View

Trees are money. Trees are so much money that you can cut down 221 of them and end up facing criminal charges. Just ask Jay Patel of Mahwah, New Jersey.

Patel has been charged with 2nd degree theft and criminal mischief for cutting down $1 million worth of trees on his neighbor's property. The trees, located just down the hill from his multi-million dollar home, were blocking his view.

He's facing up to 10 years of jail. For a view.