FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

January 2013 Archives

Zimmerman Seeks 6-Month Trial Delay

George Zimmerman is seeking a six-month delay in his trial for the alleged murder of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer, claims that prosecutors have been slow to turn over evidence in the case, affecting his ability to prepare his defense. Zimmerman seeks to have his second-degree murder trial moved from June to November, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The delay, if approved, would also likely delay Zimmerman's "Stand Your Ground" hearing.

Skype 'Sextortion': Women Coerced to Strip On Cam

An alleged Skype "sextortion" scheme in which hundreds of women were tricked and coerced into stripping on camera has landed an Arizona man behind bars.

Karen "Gary" Kazaryan, 27, targeted as many as 350 women over the Internet and stole naked pictures that he found by hacking into their accounts, authorities say.

He then used these photos to allegedly "extort" the women, forcing them to further pose naked over Skype in an elaborate ruse.

Would You Choose Corporal Punishment Over Jail?

Are the days of flogging back? A Montana state lawmaker wants criminals to be given a choice: Serve jail time, or accept corporal punishment instead.

State Rep. Jerry O'Neil, a Republican, wants that option for all misdemeanor and felony convictions in Montana. The exact type of corporal punishment isn't spelled out in the bill. But what it does say is that corporal punishment will be "the infliction of physical pain on a defendant to carry out the sentence negotiated between the judge and the defendant."

Would you choose such an option?

Statutes of Limitations Vary for Statutory Rape

Asking about the statute of limitations when it comes to statutory rape can sound a little creepy. But it's an important thing to know, especially if you're concerned about one of your past or current relationships.

While alleged perpetrators may hope to lay low for a while to avoid arrest, alleged victims may have other reasons to wonder how much time can pass before prosecutors can press charges for statutory rape. Young victims are often confused and scared, and may not immediately report the incidents to law enforcement.

But what is meant by the term statute of limitations? Sure, it has something to do with whether you bring a criminal case, but what exactly does it mean?

Can 'Snitching' Reduce Your Sentence?

We've all seen TV shows and movies where the rat-faced guy in a crime ring is a snitch, and ends up with a reduced sentence. But reality is a bit different.

One technical term for "snitching" in the legal world is accomplice testimony, and while it is real, it works a little differently than TV legal dramas would have you think, as a blog called Prosecutor's Discretion points out. It's not as dangerous as it appears on screen, but neither is it a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Giving police information as an informant can help reduce your sentence, according to Snitching.org, but it's not an automatic process. If you want to get the benefit, you have to offer a good deal.

Public Intoxication: What If You're Not Drunk?

The Super Bowl and Mardi Gras are right around the corner, so now may be the perfect time to talk about public intoxication and its legal caveats -- for example, getting arrested for being drunk in public, even when you're not drunk.

That's right, in certain jurisdictions, you can be charged with public intoxication even if you are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. All it takes for a police officer to arrest you is if you simply appear drunk in a public place.

So how does this work?

After Drug, Porn Charges, Walmart Shoplifting Too

A Pennsylvania woman who already faces drug and child porn charges can add Walmart shoplifting to her ever-growing list of problems.

Pamela Marie Smallis has been charged with retail theft and conspiracy for allegedly stealing several Apple products from a Walmart near Pittsburgh. The 49-year-old woman and two co-defendants in their early 20s are accused of stealing nine iPads and 23 iPods from the store, reports the Observer-Reporter.

Their alleged actions were caught on tape.

How Do You Get a Conviction Vacated?

If you pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and got a really bad deal, or relied on the assistance of ineffective counsel, you may now feel that you were unjustly convicted.

How do you get a conviction vacated? And what does "vacating" legally mean?

Casey Anthony Appeal: 2 of 4 Convictions Set Aside

Casey Anthony had appealed the four misdemeanor charges she was convicted of back in 2011 for lying to law enforcement. Today, she was able to get two of the four convictions set aside.

Anthony was at the center of a nationwide media frenzy in 2011 when she was tried for the murder of her daughter Caylee. While her lawyer was subject to great criticism, he was able get Anthony acquitted of the most serious charges including murder.

As a result, Anthony was only convicted on four misdemeanor counts and was sentenced to probation, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Woman Jailed on 22-Year-Old Shoplifting Warrant

A warrant was issued for Robin Hall's arrest back in 1991 after she was caught shoplifting cigarettes and failed to pay some court fees. She gave police the slip for 22 years, but her past finally caught up with her -- and totally ruined her vacation.

To be fair, it's not like Hall was living a life of crime. In all these years, she earned her degree, got married, had children, and now designs jet engines for an aerospace manufacturer. She's not exactly a dangerous element.

Even more bizarre, police found Hall last Thursday when she was disembarking from a Disney Dream cruise with her family. Their tip-off shows how hard it is for criminals to hide.

3 Ways to Challenge a DUI Blood Test

So you’ve been pulled over for drunken driving and now want to know if you can challenge your blood alcohol test. You’ve been hearing that these DUI tests can be challenged, particularly the breath tests.

You’re right. First of all, the legitimacy of breath tests and their accuracy has come under scrutiny. In Pennsylvania, for example, the calibration of certain Intoxilyzer machines was found to give results that were slightly off. In a state where DUI penalties hinge on the amount of intoxication, that’s a huge deal.

Of course, the same result wasn’t reached in Minnesota, where the Intoxilyzer machine’s results were ruled valid, despite pushback from DUI lawyers, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

So what about challenging a DUI blood test?

Marijuana-Seeking Mom Charged in Sons' Deaths

An alleged marijuana-seeking mom has been charged in the death of her twin sons in a house fire.

Dalawna Berran-Lett, 32, allegedly locked her boys inside their home for almost an hour while she tried to track down her missing marijuana stash, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But while Berran-Lett was out on her pot-retrieval mission, her boys turned on the stove in their house. Grease on the stove caught fire, and soon the entire home was engulfed in flames.

When Can Police Collect Your DNA?

You've probably seen TV crime shows where police follow a suspect around and collect cups that he's taken sips from, just to collect his DNA. But in reality, when is it legal for police to collect DNA from a suspect, and when is it crossing a legal line?

That's a common question on our FindLaw Answers Criminal Law forum. The ACLU has argued in the past that DNA is more invasive than a fingerprint and is a violation of privacy.

But others say that it justifies the legitimate public interest of safety and the identification of criminal suspects.

The Supreme Court is actually set to consider the issue of police DNA collection in February. Until then, here are some quick facts on the topic:

Pot Possession Arrests Top Violent Crime by 24%

Police arrested more people for marijuana possession than for violent crime in 2011 -- the ninth year in a row this has happened, FBI statistics show.

In 2011 alone, police made 663,032 pot-possession arrests nationwide, according to the latest data reported by The Huffington Post. That's 24 percent more than the number of violent crime arrests, which totaled 534,704 in 2011, statistics reveal.

Pot-possession arrests have now topped violent crime arrests every year since 2003, according to the FBI. In fact, a marijuana-related arrest takes place every 42 seconds in the United States, the Marijuana Policy Project estimates; about 86 percent of those arrests are for possession.

What does this say about the efficient use of the police forces across the country?

When Can Police Search Your Home?

Knock knock. Who's there? It's the police and they'd like to do a search of your home.

Wait, that's not a joke and it's certainly not funny. Dealing with cops at the door is something most everyone wants to avoid. But once the cops have shown up at your house, is there anything you can do about it?

There's always something you can do when it comes to police interaction, even if it's just remembering what happens in order to tell your lawyer later. But whether police can search your home depends on what's happening.

Can You Expunge Out-of-State Convictions?

One of the most common questions on our FindLaw Answers Criminal Law message board is whether someone can expunge an out-of-state conviction.

This applies whether you got arrested for a DUI while in Florida on vacation, or if you live in one of the many "tri-state" areas across the country and happened to get arrested in a neighboring state.

So can you get that out-of-state conviction expunged from your criminal record? And what is the process for doing so?

Philly PD Sued Over Man's Videotaping Arrest

Christopher Montgomery was arrested by Philadelphia police two years ago for videotaping a fight in which police were involved. So the Philly chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the cops on his behalf.

Montgomery, 24, is a photojournalism student at Temple University, and in January 2011 he saw a fight break out in downtown Philadelphia. Police arrived and began making arrests.

At that point, Montgomery took out his iPhone and started recording the interaction. Police told him to stop, and then arrested him. But the ACLU claims that the police were the ones in the wrong.

Do You Get a Public Defender for a DUI Case?

If you're facing a DUI case you may be wondering when they're going to bring in your public defender. Well you might have to keep waiting, depending on the circumstances.

It's true that for many crimes, the accused is entitled to a public defender. But contrary to popular belief, every suspect doesn't get a public defender automatically. Even if the crime you're charged with might qualify, you personally might not.

The right to have an attorney is part of the Constitution, and state laws have to comply with that. But even constitutional rights have limits.

Can Felons Legally Own Muzzle Loading Guns?

As the nation debates gun control, many are wondering whether muzzle loaders are considered firearms. It’s a common question on our FindLaw Answers criminal law message boards.

While this distinction may not matter to some people, the difference is actually quite important for those wishing to purchase the weapon.

That’s because gun control laws typically apply to firearms. And if a muzzle loader is not counted as a firearm, then the laws may not apply. That means convicted felons, those with substance abuse problems, and pretty much anybody else could potentially be able to legally purchase a muzzle loader.

So is a muzzle loader considered a firearm?

Are Lie Detectors Admissible in Court?

On TV and in movies, polygraph tests or lie detectors are a popular way to nail a suspect. But are they actually admissible in court?

Courts don’t have to admit lie detector tests, according to a U.S. Supreme Court case that specifies how courts deal with scientific evidence. Instead, individual judges have discretion to decide if a polygraph will be admitted based on certain criteria.

Why isn’t it a clear yes or no, as to whether lie detector tests are admissible? To get to the answer, you need to know a bit about how lie detectors work and how courts deal with scientific tests.

Which States Allow Guns in Schools?

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, gun control laws and guns in schools are the talk of the town. In fact, New York is poised to pass the "toughest" gun control laws in the country today.

But is all this talk really just talk? If states were truly concerned about gun violence, especially gun violence in schools, wouldn't just about every state ban carrying guns on school grounds?

Yet, if you take a close look at state laws, you'll see that more than a third of the states actually allow teachers and other adults to carry guns in schools, reports NBC News.

Boy Kept in Dog Cage Dies; Dad Gets 80 Years

Riley Choate will likely die in prison after being sentenced to 80 years behind bars at a hearing on Friday. The abusive dad was convicted of felony child neglect for confining his son in a dog cage and beating the child to death in 2009.

The case was first uncovered when Choate's daughter, Christina, told relatives that her brother Christian had died after their father beat him repeatedly.

From there, authorities uncovered evidence of systematic child abuse and other crimes. Choate was arrested, charged, and sentenced. But those close to the case say it's still not enough for what he did.

Dad Arrested for 'Testing' School Security

Parents have definitely been concerned for the past month, after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

But some parents are taking their concerns to the next level. In fact, one father in Texas allegedly tried to "test out" one school's security by telling staffers at an elementary school that he'd brought a gun into the building.

Ronald Miller was unarmed when he told a school greeter at Celina Elementary School that he had a gun and that his target was outside, reports Dallas-Ft. Worth's KXAS-TV.

The greeter froze upon hearing Miller's claim, and Miller proceeded into the building. Miller was also recognized by staffers as a parent of a student.

NYC Reviewing 800 Rape Cases for Evidence Errors

More than 800 rape cases in New York City are under special review after the city discovered that a technician made repeated errors while handling DNA evidence.

Some alleged rapists who may have believed that they got away with a crime, may find fresh charges pending against them. So far, the re-examination of the rape cases has found 26 sexual assault cases in which the technician incorrectly determined there were no traces of biological material on evidence, reports Reuters.

The technician has not been named. All the rape cases under review occurred between 2001 and 2011.

Toddler's Chili Powder Death Was Murder: DA

Amanda Sorensen was charged with murder after her boyfriend's daughter died from ingesting chili powder. At an arraignment Thursday, Sorenson pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Sunday morning, police got a call that a 2-year-old was suffering a seizure at a home in Apple Valley, California. The child was immediately rushed to the hospital for treatment.

The girl, Joileen Garcia, died in the hospital and it appears the cause of her death was ingesting chili powder. Sorensen was allegedly caring for her at the time and authorities believe that what happened was murder.

NY Gun Control Laws May Soon Be Nation's Toughest

New York's state gun control laws may soon become the strictest in the country.

In response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in neighboring Connecticut, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday promised to enact the strictest assault weapons ban of any state in the U.S., reports Reuters.

In his annual State of the State address, Cuomo said that gun violence has been on a "rampage" and added, "We must stop the madness" as he outlined his proposed law.

Man Strangled Girlfriend With Dreadlocks: Police

An assault with a dreadly weapon? A Portland, Oregon, man was arrested this week after he allegedly tried to strangle his girlfriend with his dreadlocks.

Police say Caleb Grotberg, 32, tried to choke his girlfriend after a domestic dispute.

The woman was taken to a hospital and was treated for her injuries. Grotberg now faces domestic violence-related charges of kidnapping, attempted assault, assault, menacing, and strangulation, reports The Oregonian. Of note, Grotberg was not charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

What Is the 'Gun Show Loophole'?

The so-called "gun show loophole" is at the center of a renewed debate about gun control. For those unfamiliar with firearms, you may be scratching your head and wondering what the gun show loophole actually is.

As you may know, federal laws and some state laws are in place to require criminal background checks and detailed record-keeping relating to the purchase of firearms.

However, what you may not be aware of is that these laws typically apply only to licensed firearms dealers. So depending on where you live, secondary sales and gun sales between private parties, such as at gun shows, are often not covered by any law, reports The Huffington Post.

Facebook Being Used to Intimidate Witnesses

Facebook is a great tool for keeping in touch with old friends. But as some criminals have shown, Facebook is also a great tool for witness intimidation.

In some circles, there is no greater insult than being called a "rat" or a "snitch." So if you cooperate with police, you could potentially put your own safety in danger -- as people you know on Facebook may be quick to point out.

There has been a slow increase in cases of Facebook witness intimidation. And prosecutors have come down hard on those who turn to social media to discourage others from cooperating with police and prosecutors.

Lotto Winner Poisoned by Cyanide: Autopsy

A lotto winner in Chicago died the day after he collected his winnings. The cause of death? Cyanide.

Talk about bad luck. Well, first, you need good luck to win a $1 million instant lottery, as happened to Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago. But after making a public appearance with his wife and daughter and collecting one of those giant checks for $425,000 (his lump-sum, post-tax winnings), the lottery winner was found dead.

The Cook County medical examiner has now concluded that Khan died of cyanide poisoning, an act of murder, reports USA Today. But that's not what the office said at first.

Steubenville Rape Case Gets Official Website

The Steubenville rape case, in which two high school football players allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl in rural Ohio, has received increasingly bad publicity, thanks largely to Internet activists.

Shortly after the alleged rape last fall, students began posting pictures from the night of the alleged incident on social media. A local crime blogger and other observers have accused police and politicians in Steubenville of being controlled by the football program, reports CBS News.

Then on Jan. 1, a group of hackers released a video that reportedly shows a former Steubenville student laughing about the incident with friends. Now the city is fighting back to protect its reputation.

James Holmes' Preliminary Hearing Set to Begin

It's been about six months since James Holmes was arrested for the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, but the preliminary hearing starts this week.

The legal system is not often known for its speediness, and this case is no different. It took prosecutors time to prepare the case against Holmes, and the preliminary hearing is only the beginning of what could be a very long trial.

In the months since the July shooting, lawyers on both sides of the case have been hard at work. The hearing, which starts Monday, will determine what happens next.

What to Do When You Get Pulled Over

It doesn't matter how great you are as a driver or how well-maintained your car is, you're likely to get pulled over by police at some point in your driving career.

Your first thought after you see those flashing lights in your rear-view mirror is probably "how can I avoid a ticket?" The first step is knowing what to do when you're pulled over.

The rules regarding traffic stops are the same in most situations. Even if you do get a ticket, knowing what to expect can help you minimize the damage.

Teen Drugs Parents to Use Internet Past Curfew

Attention parents: Keep an eye on your milkshakes, lest your teen drugs you like what happened to the parents of a teenager in Rocklin, California.

The unnamed mom and dad thought it was a little unusual that their daughter offered to buy them milkshakes. But they wanted to encourage what seemed like generous behavior, so they asked for chocolate and vanilla shakes.

But the shakes tasted funny, and when mom and dad woke up the next day, they felt funny too. A drug test confirmed their suspicions, but it raised new questions about their child.

Idaho Senator Gets License Suspension for DWI

Idaho Sen. Michael Crapo pleaded guilty to a DWI last week, and today he learned his penalties.

Crapo was sentenced to 180 days in jail and had his license suspended for a year, reports The Washington Post.

But before liberals get overly excited over the prospects of a Republican politician spending time in the can, they should know that his entire jail sentence was suspended. This means that he won't have to spend even a day behind bars.

What Shows Up in a Gun Background Check?

Given recent tragedies like the Colorado movie theater shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, FBI gun background checks are at an all-time high.

In December alone, the FBI performed nearly 2.8 million background checks on people wanting to buy guns -- a record month in a record-setting year for gun sales, reports CNN.

Ironically, the fear of new laws that may prohibit the sales of certain guns following the mass shootings may have sparked this surge in firearm sales.

Questioned by Police? Know These 3 Rights

Being questioned by police can be intimidating, even when you haven't done anything wrong.

In that kind of situation, you'll probably have a lot going through your mind. That's especially true if you're trying to keep a story straight. Remembering all your legal rights and whether police are upholding them during the questioning is probably not going to happen.

To simplify things, here are three important rights to keep in mind if you end up at the police station answering some questions: