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

November 2012 Archives

'First Amendment Cop' Stands Up for Protesters

In a video that's gone viral, so-called "First Amendment cop" Stan Lenic lays down the (constitutional) law as protesters and airport officials argue over the right to hand out fliers.

The video shows a protester handing out fliers to passengers at the Albany International Airport in New York. She warns them of the health risks of going through full-body scanners and reminds them of their right to opt out, reports Albany's WNYT-TV.

Then the airport's public relations guru Doug Myers approaches. He tells the young woman to turn off the camera and leave the area.

Enter the "First Amendment cop" (actually, Sheriff's Deputy Lenic), who looks like he's going to back up Myers' cause. But what Lenic does next has made him a hero for free-speech advocates around the Internet.

What Happens When You're Booked Into Jail?

Unlike what "Law and Order" has taught you, when you get booked into jail after an arrest you don't flash forward to your first hearing seconds later.

It's also unlikely your lawyer is going to come crashing through the doors once you arrive at the jail, even if you are hiring your own defense attorney rather than relying on a public defender. Even if your attorney was there, it wouldn't make much difference at that point.

Those first few minutes in jail aren't the intimidating questioning process you've seen on television. Booking is something else entirely.

NYC Reports No Violent Crime for 1 Day

For the first time in recent memory, a single day has passed in New York City without any reports of violent crime, Reuters reports.

That's no reports of anyone being shot, stabbed, or slashed, according to the NYPD. About 8 million people live in New York City, and for no stabbings or shootings to happen in a single day is quite a feat. Maybe all the potential criminals were recovering from too much turkey over Thanksgiving.

The day of no violent crime occurred Monday (Nov. 26). Overall, the city's murder rate is on pace for the lowest point in more than 50 years, according to Reuters.

Can Prank Calls Get You Arrested?

At some point in your life (probably when you were a teen), you may have made a prank call to a friend or neighbor. While making and receiving prank calls may seem like something we just have to deal with, you should be aware that there are laws affecting prank calls and that you could get arrested for this practical joke.

The most likely criminal law that applies to prank calls is harassment. However, depending upon your jurisdiction, other laws like laws prohibiting disorderly conduct, wiretapping, and even hate crimes may apply.

Here's a look at a few ways your prank calls could potentially get you arrested:

Fla. Man Shoots, Kills Teen Over Loud Music

A Florida teenager was shot and killed over his loud music when he refused to turn it down on Friday, police said.

Michael Dunn, 45, approached Jordan Davis, 17, at a gas-station convenience store in Jacksonville, Fla., where they had both stopped. Dunn asked Davis to turn down the music in his car. When Davis refused, Dunn got into an argument with Davis and his friends.

To resolve the matter, Dunn brandished a gun and fired at least eight times. Now he's claiming his actions were in self-defense.

Can a Stupid Joke Be a Hate Crime?

Anyone who has ever been to high school has probably witnessed something that vaguely resembles a hate crime. After all, teens will tease and bully each other for almost anything, from the color of their sweaters to the color of their skin. But when does a stupid joke cross the line and become a hate crime?

Just about every state has its own statute defining hate crimes. But there are some common elements to these laws.

First, there must be an intent to hurt and intimidate someone because of that person's race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

'MythBusters' Bomb Gets FIT Student Arrested

Talk about a recipe for disaster: mix a bored Florida Institute of Technology college student with a "MythBusters" episode about how to make a homemade bomb. The result? Criminal charges.

FIT student Christian Barnes Duke, 19, is accused of following the TV show's recipe when he allegedly detonated a homemade bomb at an FIT dormitory over the weekend. He reportedly told police that he learned how to make the bomb by watching the popular Discovery Channel program, reports Florida Today.

The bomb went off shortly after midnight in a stairwell. While the device made a loud blasting noise, no one was hurt.

DUI Suspect Drives 2 Miles With Victim on Hood

A California woman was arrested Sunday on suspicion of DUI and manslaughter after witnesses saw her driving with a critically injured man on the hood of her car.

Sherri Wilkins, 51, of Torrance, was allegedly driving drunk when she hit Phillip Moreno, 31, as he was walking across the street. Somehow Moreno flew up onto the hood of her car and his body got stuck in her windshield, police told Los Angeles' KNBC-TV.

Rather than stop the vehicle and try to help the man, Wilkins continued driving for 2 miles after the hit-and-run. But she couldn't escape the scrutiny of other pedestrians.

Black Friday Walmart Shooting Suspects Caught

Two people were shot apparently over a parking space during a Black Friday Walmart shooting in Florida.

The suspects were apprehended after police chased them into Georgia. The two victims are believed to have suffered non-life threatening injuries, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

If you were out at a Walmart, Target, or other retail store this past weekend, you may have noticed huge crowds and short tempers as people vied for limited deals and even-more-limited parking spaces. However, if you survived the weekend unscathed, you should be aware that the holiday shopping season has only just begun.

What Do Cops Have to Say in a Miranda Warning?

You may already know that if you are arrested, the officer may be obligated to read you certain rights. They're commonly known as Miranda warnings.

In fact, you may be able to recite a few of these well-known rights: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..." But beyond that, you may not know what the arresting officers are supposed to say, and what that legally means for you.

Just a couple years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that modified the rules about Miranda rights and warnings (named after another Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, in 1966). So here's a good opportunity to review what police are required to say.

5 Dumb Ways to Get Arrested at an Airport

Millions of holiday travelers are on the move, but not everyone is packing their patience. That's especially true for those antsy travelers whose airport antics end up getting them arrested.

With more than 3 million Americans traveling by plane this Thanksgiving, according to AAA, it's a good time to review what types of behavior aren't going to fly when you're dealing with the TSA. Not following the rules can ruin your holiday plans.

After you pack your bags and before you get to the airport, take a minute to review this "won't-fly" list:

Pardons Aren't Just for Turkeys

On this day before Thanksgiving, President Obama is set to officially pardon at least one turkey so it won't end up on someone's dinner plate. But legally speaking, what exactly is a pardon?

For the lucky turkey, "pardon" may not be the correct term, since as far as we know none of the birds have committed a crime. But a presidential pardon is real, and it's not the only kind of pardon out there.

Thanksgiving aside, pardons are for convicted criminals, not turkeys. But those who receive a pardon, presidential or otherwise, are probably still thankful.

Hayride DUI Crash May Lead to 8-Year Sentence

A hayride is meant to be good family fun. But a hayride crash in Ohio ended with 28 people hurt and the drunken driver arrested for a hayride DUI.

Michael Hermes, 47, drove a tractor that was pulling several caged trailers as part of a hayride last fall, the Sandusky Register reported. But Hermes had also been drinking that night, and even had an open container with him while he was driving.

After the crash, Hermes refused a field sobriety test and police had to get a warrant to administer a blood-alcohol test. But now Hermes has pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is waiting to be sentenced, according to the Associated Press.

What to Do If Police Stop You on the Street

It's all well and good to know a little about criminal law and your right to an attorney. But if you're stopped by police on the street, there are specific things you need to know.

This isn't a time to rely on your vast knowledge of "Law and Order" or "CSI" to figure out what to do. How you interact with police is important, and it could be the difference between "you're under arrest" and "you're free to go."

Like everything having to do with law, there are specific rules about what is and isn't allowed. Get to know the rules and you can feel more in control if you're stopped by police.

Don't Let a Thanksgiving DUI Ruin Your Holiday

The Thanksgiving holiday week is upon us. Almost everyone will be on the road, whether you're driving to the in-laws to eat some turkey or to your friend's house to watch the Cowboys game. Just make sure you don't let a Thanksgiving DUI ruin your holiday.

While Thanksgiving may not be considered a heavy drinking day like New Year's Eve or St. Patrick's Day, most law enforcement agencies consider the Thanksgiving weekend to be one of the busiest for DUI enforcement.

So if you think you may get a bit tipsy this Turkey Day, don't get behind the wheel. Law enforcement agencies are again set to enforce Thanksgiving DUI checkpoints from coast to coast.

Seattle PD's Marijuana Guide Goes Viral

Voters in Washington passed a law that will legalize recreational marijuana use. Now the Seattle Police Department has issued a marijuana guide on just what will (and will not) be legal.

While the guide, called "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle," provides some basic bright-line rules for residents in the city, individuals should not rely on it as an affirmative defense to all marijuana-related charges. This is especially true if you get busted by federal authorities, as pot remains illegal under federal law. Or if you don't live in Seattle.

Washington's marijuana law takes effect Dec. 6. Meantime, here's a look at the Seattle PD's "Marijwhatnow" guide and some key points you should remember.

What Is the 'Twinkie Defense'?

Hostess' bankruptcy is raising fears that HoHos may soon be history. But the Twinkie will never be forgotten by the criminal justice system, thanks to the so-called "Twinkie defense."

What is the Twinkie defense? It dates back to a 1979 murder case in San Francisco (dramatized in the movie "Milk") in which ex-cop-turned-politician Dan White shot and killed fellow politicians Harvey Milk and George Moscone. News reports called White's defense the "Twinkie defense," but in reality, Twinkies were barely even mentioned at trial.

White was eventually acquitted of murder, though he didn't entirely escape justice. While Hostess snack cakes were indeed part of the evidence, they weren't used in the way people think.

Victim of Stalking? Know Your Legal Options

Stalking is very scary for the person being stalked, but it's not always easy to know what to do to make it stop.

The term stalking is somewhat overused, especially when it refers to "Facebook stalking," which generally involves behavior that's not illegal. Under most states' laws, stalking is defined as a pattern of harassing or threating someone.

Once you know that what's happening to you is legally considered stalking -- i.e., it happens repeatedly and makes you feel unsafe -- then you have several legal options.

Not All DUI Arrests Are Legal: 5 Notable Cases

Driving while intoxicated is illegal in all 50 states, but unfortunately some drivers get ensnared in an unlawful DUI trap rather than a legitimate arrest.

In the vast majority of cases, police only arrest DUI suspects when they have clear evidence of intoxication. But there are some cases in which that doesn't happen, and the driver is wrongly arrested.

Below are some of the more notable unlawful DUI cases in the last few years. If you think your DUI case is like one of these, know that a lawyer can help you fight unlawful DUI charges.

Dad Arrested for Locking Toddler in Dog Cage

An Oklahoma dad is behind bars after police found his toddler daughter locked in a dog cage and another locked outside his house without clothing on Monday.

Tulsa police responded to a call from a neighbor who heard a child screaming outside. When they arrived, cops found a naked 4-year-old girl locked outside on a cold afternoon, the Associated Press reports. Police knocked on the door, but there was no answer.

Officers then spied another child locked in a dog kennel inside. When there was still no answer, they knocked down the door to rescue the other child.

Texas Day Care Fire Was Felony Murder: Jury

Jessica Tata was charged with felony murder after four children died in a fire at her home day care. On Tuesday, a Texas jury found her guilty.

The fire happened in February 2011 while Tata was out shopping. She left seven children in her home, unsupervised, and also left a pan of oil heating on the stove, the Associated Press reports. The oil ignited and sparked a fire that killed four of the children and injured the others.

Tata's attorney argued that she didn't intend to harm the children. But that wasn't really a defense in this case since her intent wasn't important.

McAfee Founder Wanted in Belize Homicide

Dot-com billionaire John McAfee is being sought for questioning by Belize officials investigating the murder of his neighbor.

McAfee, who reportedly sold his anti-virus software company to Intel for $7.7 billion two years ago, had relocated to Belize. The 67-year-old had apparently been acting strangely, and Belize authorities believe he may know something about the death of his neighbor, 52-year-old Gregory Faull, reports the New York Post.

So far, however, McAfee has not been found.

200+ Pot Cases Dismissed in WA

About 220 pot cases are being dismissed in Washington state, and more prosecutions may soon go up in smoke as well.

One week ago, Washington voters passed Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 or over. The first significant fallout from the vote is the dismissal of these misdemeanor cases for adults who had been arrested for possessing one ounce or less of weed, reports Seattle's KCPQ-TV.

In addition, some county sheriffs have indicated they will no longer arrest adults caught with an ounce or less of marijuana, even though recreational marijuana possession will not technically become legal until Dec. 6.

'I Was Drunk' Is Not a Defense to a Crime

There are many criminal defenses you can raise at trial, but being drunk is generally not one of them.

The law does differentiate between voluntary and involuntary intoxication. The involuntary type can often be a defense, but you have to prove that you didn't know you would become intoxicated -- for example, by showing that someone else spiked your drink. If you had a beer knowing it was beer, however, that's voluntary.

The weird part is that on the surface, voluntary intoxication seems like it should get you out of trouble. But courts generally don't allow it. Here's why:

School Bus Monitor Caught Choking Autistic Boy

A Florida school bus monitor faces criminal charges for allegedly choking and tormenting an autistic child throughout the boy's 45-minute ride home. The entire incident was caught on tape.

It started when the 13-year-old boy wet his pants on the bus, reports the New York Daily News.

The school bus monitor, Darryl Blue, was allegedly caught on camera yanking on the child's protective harness from behind, causing the child to scream in pain.

3 Criminal Laws That Cops Hate to Enforce

No matter what you think about cops, you have to admit it's a tough job to enforce criminal laws -- especially laws that some view as a waste of precious time and resources.

Ever been curious about what kinds of crimes police dislike enforcing the most? A recent Forbes guest article offered some insight, and the topic has fueled Internet discussion by law-enforcement officers as well.

Here are three types of criminal offenses that officers generally do not find fun to enforce, and how that can affect you:

How to Expunge a DUI Conviction

The biggest impact of a DUI conviction may not be the fines or even jail time served. Instead, simply having a DUI on your record can have severe negative consequences for the rest of your life.

A DUI conviction is a criminal conviction. This can impact your ability to get a new job, acquire a mortgage to buy a home, and to get low rates on your auto loan.

Fortunately, you may be able to expunge your DUI conviction. With an expungement, your DUI will be wiped off the books for many purposes, and you can start off with a clean slate. The FindLaw Guide to Expungement can help get you started.

Jared Loughner Sentenced to Life for AZ Shootings

Jared Lee Loughner has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Loughner, 24, had earlier pleaded guilty to shooting and killing six people and wounding 12 others including former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011.

Prior to receiving his sentence, Loughner listened to victims describe how his shooting rampage at a Tucson supermarket affected their lives. Giffords' husband Mark Kelly explained that "every day is a continuous struggle" for the former congresswoman, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Violent Crime Down for 5th Straight Year: FBI

For the fifth year in a row, the number of violent crimes reported to police agencies fell nationwide. According to an FBI survey, reported violent crimes fell by 3.8 percent last year to 1.2 million reports.

The total number of property crimes reported to law enforcement agencies also fell, by 0.5 percent, the ninth consecutive year that figure has fallen, reports the New York Daily News.

These declines in reported crime follow a near 20-year trend of drop in criminal activity, according to the FBI. Since 1993, violent crime has fallen by 65 percent, showing that the decrease is not merely a momentary blip in the numbers, the FBI says.

Recreational Marijuana Laws OK'd in CO, WA

Voters in Washington state and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use. These are the first two states in the nation where voters have decriminalized pot.

The ballot initiatives in these states follow previous, successful efforts by states like California to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

But now, adults over 21 in Washington or Colorado won't need a doctor's prescription to light up -- though it should be noted that recreational marijuana use, like medicinal marijuana use, remains illegal under federal law, Bloomberg reports. That sobering fact prompted Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to caution his citizens not to "break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

Man Makes Deathbed Confession, Then Recovers

James Washington suffered a heart attack in prison in 2009 and thought he was dying. So he made a jailhouse confession thinking he would escape the statute of limitations.

The problem for Washington: He lived through the heart attack.

On his way to the hospital, Washington told a transport guard that he'd killed someone. He specifically mentioned that he "beat her to death." That was enough for prosecutors to link him to a cold case murder from 1995.

Grandma Sprays Cleaning Solution on Disabled Girl

A 74-year-old grandmother was arrested for abuse for allegedly spraying a mixture of cleaning solution on her 18-year-old disabled granddaughter.

Eloise Bowman, of Gainesville, Fla., was charged with misdemeanor battery and felony abuse of the disabled without great harm, reports The Gainesville Sun.

The elderly suspect experienced chest pain shortly after the incident. She was taken to a hospital for evaluation, and then taken straight to jail.

How to Spot a Federal Election Crime

Election Day is here, and as we hit the ballot box, some overzealous campaigners may be accused of illegal tactics and charged with federal election crimes.

Election crimes like voter fraud, ballot stuffing, and illegal financing may seem like harmless and minor issues to some, but authorities take the offense very seriously.

Here's how to spot the three types of federal election crimes, as described by the FBI:

AMBER Alerts Now Showing Up on Google Maps

Google has announced that it's now partnering with the AMBER Alert program in an effort to help bring abducted children back home.

AMBER Alert is a program of the U.S. Justice Department in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies around the country. In an effort to rescue abducted children, the AMBER Alert system provides a central repository for information about ongoing kidnappings. From there, information can be posted in relevant locations so communities can help.

One of the most public ways to get the news out has been electronic roadside signs that display AMBER Alerts as soon as they're issued. But if you use Google, you'll now have more ways to get that information.

Superstorm Sandy Leads to Wave of Crime

Hurricane Sandy brought on a flood of crime to New York City and other hard-hit areas.

Since Sandy made landfall last week, affected areas in New York and New Jersey, among other places, have been plagued with burglaries, street muggings, fights, and other crimes, reports the New York Post.

Things have gotten so bad that police on Manhattan's Lower East Side are warning residents not to use the flashlight apps on their smartphones -- for fear that the light will attract thieves and other low-lifes.

2 Arrested in USC Halloween Shooting

Police have apprehended two suspects believed to be involved in the USC Halloween party shooting.

At the on-campus party, two males were reportedly arguing outside when one of them pulled out a handgun and shot the other, reports Fox News. The victim was critically wounded. Three bystanders were also shot and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. A spokesperson says none of those involved in the shooting were affiliated with the university.

One of the suspects in the shooting will be charged with attempted murder. The shooting at USC is just the latest in a series of violent incidents at or near the university.

Youth Football Coaches Face Gambling Charges

Nine youth football coaches in South Florida face felony charges related to a high-stakes gambling operation for little league football.

The nine men charged with crimes allegedly engineered a bookmaking and gambling ring for games played by five to 15-year-olds, reports ESPN. Some of the suspects are ex-convicts with a history of criminal violations from drug charges to assault.

The coaches have been charged with felony bookmaking, essentially organized gambling, and each could face up to five years in prison.

SF Bus Bashing Joke Leads to Facebook Threats

A man pretending to be the infamous San Francisco bus vandal ended up getting threats on his Facebook page.

After the San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, a group of stupid fans decided to vandalize the city. One particular vandal was caught on camera destroying a SF Muni bus by throwing what appears to be a steel ladder through the bus windshield.

San Francisco resident Tony Lukezic noticed an uncanny resemblance to the bus vandal and decided to use that picture as his Facebook profile picture, reports Wired.

A 10-year-old boy shot and killed his neo-Nazi father Jeffrey Hall, but the dad's white supremacist beliefs had nothing to do with the homicide, a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday.

"He would have shot his father if he was a member of the Peace and Freedom Party. It doesn't matter the political affiliation," the prosecutor said as the boy's trial got underway in Riverside, Calif., according to The Press-Enterprise.

The boy, now 12, faces an allegation of murder as a juvenile. What does that mean for the boy's fate?