FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

April 2013 Archives

Starbucks Poisoning Suspect Arrested

A Starbucks poisoning suspect was arrested Monday on allegations that she attempted to plant tainted bottles of orange juice at a coffeehouse in San Jose, California.

Ramineh Behbehanian, 50, faces poisoning and attempted murder charges after a customer saw her allegedly take two bottles from a bag and place them in a display case alongside other refrigerated items, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The bottles contained a concoction of orange juice and rubbing alcohol. With Behbehanian now in custody, many are left wondering if this was actually an attempted poisoning or not.

What Is the Spousal or Marital Privilege?

Katherine Russell, the wife of deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is assisting in the FBI's investigation, Reuters reports. But could the spousal or marital privilege somehow come into play?

Federal agents gathered potential evidence Monday at Russell's parents' home in Rhode Island, where the 24-year-old widow has been living. Her lawyers are reportedly negotiating how much access investigators will have with their client.

But whatever information the authorities are seeking, Russell may try to use the marital privilege to bar that information at trial. So what exactly is the spousal or marital privilege?

Drunken Wife Kills Husband During Gun Lesson

Proving that it's never a great idea to have a gun lesson after downing some hard lemonade, an allegedly intoxicated wife accidentally shot and killed her husband Friday while he was instructing her how to use firearms.

Distraught wife Michele Wanko, 42, of Parkside, Pennsylvania, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and possessing an instrument of crime, reports Philadelphia's WCAU-TV.

If Wanko's story is true, and shooting her husband was an accident, then why is she still being charged with these crimes?

Jodi Arias Trial: 3rd Juror Excused

A third juror was excused from the Jodi Arias trial last week, immediately after prosecutors wrapped up their case against the alleged murderer.

Maricopa County Superior Court officials have not yet given a reason why Juror No. 8 was released, though he was apparently arrested by police in Gilbert, Arizona, last weekend, ABC News reports. Two other jurors have also been released, for showing bias and for health reasons.

The question remains whether any of the remaining 15 jurors will also be sent home before a verdict is reached.

Is It Illegal to Make Moonshine?

Is it illegal to make moonshine? In most cases it is, but that hasn't dampened (or diluted) the spirits of hooch makers across the country.

In the last three years, law-enforcement agencies in Virginia have cracked down on moonshine distribution and production in the state, a multi-million dollar racket, reports ABC News.

With millions of dollars at stake in this traditional industry, making moonshine can potentially make you a lot of money. But there are a few nagging state and federal laws that you have to deal with first.

Tsarnaev Mom's Shoplifting Warrant May Land Her in Jail

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, mother of the Boston bombing suspects, may be facing jail time for shoplifting if and when she returns to the United States.

Tsarnaeva, 45, who now lives in Russia, has an outstanding warrant for her arrest based on a two-year-old charge for shoplifting, reports Bloomberg News.

With Tsarnaeva reportedly planning to return to the States to aid investigators and stand by her son Dzhokhar, it is possible that her old theft charges may land her in jail.

5 Possible Ways to Get DUI Charges Dismissed

With a wink and a hat tip to a recent discussion on our FindLaw Answers DUI & DWI Forum, it may be helpful to know that DUI charges don’t always stick.

For a variety of reasons particular to each drunken or drugged driving arrest, there may be legal routes available to get DUI charges dismissed.

Here are five ways that can potentially happen:

Miranda's Public Safety Exception: 3 Legal Concerns

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was initially interrogated without his Miranda rights being read to him. The Justice Department cited Miranda's "public safety" exception.

Tsarnaev's questioning was conducted by the department's High-Value Interrogation Group, The Huffington Post reports.

But there are potential dangers to expanding Miranda's public safety exception in order to extract information from suspects. Legal concerns include:

Ricin Suspect Released; Charges Dropped

Charges against the main suspect in the ricin-poisoned letters case were dropped on Tuesday, with authorities stating that the investigation has revealed new information.

The previously accused Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, of Corinth, Mississippi, was freed from custody hours before the charges were officially dropped, the Associated Press reports. Investigators are continuing to search for the real culprit.

When someone like Curtis is accused and then cleared by law enforcement in such a high-profile case, there are often legal options to pursue. These can potentially include:

Colo. 4/20 Shooting Suspect Sought

A 4/20 marijuana celebration in Colorado took a terrifying turn when a shooting broke out, leaving two people with gunshot wounds, and a third grazed.

The gunfire scattered thousands of revelers attending the festival, the first since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, reports Denver's KCNC-TV.

Police have interviewed a possible accomplice, but have yet to identify the primary suspect.

Boston Bomber Charged, But Not as Enemy Combatant

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has officially been charged for his alleged role in the deadly attacks, but not as an enemy combatant.

The wounded 19-year-old has been unable to speak since his capture on Friday. He is being treated at a local hospital, where a magistrate judge presided over the legal proceeding at Tsarnaev's bedside, Reuters reports.

Some lawmakers have been pushing for Tsarnaev to be treated as an "enemy combatant." But that would not be appropriate under the law, a White House spokesman said Monday.

Can Police Search Door-to-Door Without Warrants?

Heavily armed SWAT teams combed through homes near Boston on Friday in a massive manhunt for one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

But what allows police to search door-to-door for a suspect on the loose without a warrant?

Boston Bombers: Accomplices or Conspirators?

The Boston Marathon bombing suspects, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamleran Tsarnaev, have been called both "accomplices" and "conspirators" in news reports.

But legally speaking, what do these terms actually mean?

Here are the legal differences between conspiracy, accomplice liability, and another criminal term you may be hearing with regard to the Boston bombings: being an accessory to a crime.

Confession in Texas DA Killings

Many doubts about the brutal killing of three Texans, including two local district attorneys, were removed this week as Kim Williams allegedly confessed to the murders on Wednesday. Kim Williams is the wife of former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams, who was arrested and held in custody earlier this month on charges of sending an anonymous threat via email.

Now with Kim Williams and Eric Williams in custody, prosecutors can begin to build a case for capital murder against the couple for the three victims.

Poison Letter Sent to Sen. Wicker, Intercepted

The mail service may be scrutinizing your packages a little more closely after a poison letter sent to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi tested positive for the toxin ricin yesterday. Sen. Wicker and his staff have not taken leave due to this threat, as the letter was intercepted at an off-site mail screening facility.

Although no suspect has yet been named in this attempt to poison by mail, the perpetrator may answer to the following federal crimes when apprehended.

Boston Marathon Bombings: How You Can Help

It's been nearly twenty-four hours since the bombings at the Boston Marathon and we know very little about just what happened. News reports are calling the explosives crude bombs, packed with nails and shrapnel, and left in trash cans. The death toll stands at three, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose mother is recovering from brain surgery and whose sister lost a leg in the blast, reports NBC.

We're saddened by yesterday's act of terror. We feel powerless, frustrated, and angry. There wasn't much more that could have been done preventative-measure wise. Bomb sweeps were done before the marathon. Security was heavy. Short of requiring metal detectors to enter the city or abandoning all pedestrian-heavy events, there is little that can be done beforehand.

But there is something we all can do now, however.

Explosion at Boston Marathon

Instead of triumphant images of runners finishing the world-famous marathon, the lasting memories of the 2013 Boston Marathon will be the poor souls who were gravely injured by two explosions near the finish line of the race. One particularly disturbing image shows shrapnel from the initial explosion knocking down a runner, feet from the finish line, followed by National Guard reservists and volunteers running into the fray to respond to the injured spectators.

At the time of writing, the most recent reports coming from Reuters state that there may be undetonated explosives in the area, though it seems that the bomb squads and K-9 teams have located any remaining suspicious packages. An unattended parcel left behind in the chaos in Boston was intentionally exploded as a precautionary measure - whether it was a bomb or an abandoned backpack is unknown at this time.

3 Teens Face Sex Assault Charges After Girl's Death

A Northern California sheriff's department announced the arrests of three teen boys on charges of sexual battery in connection with the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott.

Last year, Pott claimed that she was sexually battered by several classmates while she was passed out at a house party. Her alleged attackers took photos of the assault and posted it on the Internet, reports The Associated Press.

Just eight days after the incident, Pott said that she was humiliated by the photos and said her life was ruined. She then hanged herself. Now this week, three 16-year-old boys allegedly involved in the attack were charged with sexual battery following a police investigation.

The AP states the family has permitted Pott's name and photo to be used.

Firefighters Okay After Kidnapping Near Atlanta

A man experiencing financial distress held four firefighters hostage in suburban Atlanta in an apparent attempt to get his utilities, phone, and cable turned back on.

The unidentified man reportedly called authorities claiming that he was suffering a heart attack at his Suwanee home. But when the firefighters arrived at the suburban home, they were taken hostage instead, reports CNN.

Authorities were able to deal swiftly with the hostage situation. After determining that the firefighters' lives were in danger, they created a diversion and killed the kidnapper.

Phoenix Man Kills Wife, Son Over HIV Fear?

Guilt does strange things to people. A man near Phoenix, Arizona, admitted to stabbing his wife and son to death, saying he feared he may have contracted the AIDS virus from prostitutes and then transmitted it to his wife. Eugene Maraventano faces two counts of first-degree murder, the Phoenix New Times reports.

The bizarre facts raise questions about the mental state required for first-degree murder.

What Are 'Terroristic Threats'?

The killing of the two Texas District Attorneys have led to two people being charged with making terroristic threats. So, you may be wondering just what are terroristic threats and what do the charges mean?

For example, if you simply scream “I’m going to kill you” in a fit of rage, would that constitute a terroristic threat? Or do you need more than a simple statement?

And does the recipient of your threat factor into the decision of whether your are charged with making criminal terroristic threats? For example, making a threat against the President may be a crime. But when do threats to other public officials like a judge, prosecutor, or even a meter maid constitute a crime?

Texas College Stabber Charged with Assault

The alleged Texas college stabber has been charged for his violent attacks yesterday that left 14 people injured.

Twenty-year-old college student Dylan Quick was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was ordered held on $100,000 bond for each of the 14 charges, reports ABC News.

Quick is accused of going on the stabbing spree at Lone Star Community College near Houston and he reportedly told authorities that he fantasized about stabbing people to death since he was an elementary school student.

Homeless Man with BB Gun Arrested Near Obama

A homeless man was arrested for having a BB gun near President Obama's passing motorcade.

The man, identified as 27-year-old Joseph Stravinskas, was apparently oblivious to to the fact that the President was passing by as he took BB gun practice in the nearby woods, reports the New York Post.

When confronted by Connecticut cops, Stravinskas refused to drop the weapon, leading to his arrest.

Special-Needs Teacher Arrested in Road Rage Attack

After a bout of alleged road rage against a 17-year-old driver, a high school teacher, who works with emotionally disturbed students, was arrested in Aloha, Oregon. Bruce Clevenger was charged with hit and run, reckless driving, recklessly endangering another person, and two counts of fourth degree assault and harassment, The Oregonian reports.

The special-needs teacher's story is not an uncommon one. When someone cuts you off or drives at a snail's pace, your grip tightens around the steering, your knuckles turn white, and all you see is red. But here's why it's better to slowly count backwards than satiate your rage fantasy:

Grandma Hired Grandson to Kill Husband: Cops

A Chicago grandmother has been arrested in connection with the killing of her husband. The 64-year-old woman and her grandson plotted the crime, police say.

Janet Strickland and her grandson William Strickland, 19, have been charged with first-degree murder, the Chicago Tribune reports. William allegedly shot and killed his 72-year-old grandfather, also named William Strickland, while the elder Strickland was waiting for the bus to go to a dialysis appointment.

The grandmother and grandson's case includes the possibility of conspiracy charges. So what will prosecutors need to prove to make that charge stick?

Man Caught 'Double Texting' With Hands, Knees

Alabama sheriff's deputies say they caught a guy "double texting" while driving. Just what exactly is double texting? In this case, it was a guy texting with both his hands and his knees.

Sheriff's deputies pulled over Dandre Moore while he was driving through an Alabama tunnel. The 19-year-old was allegedly text messaging with both his hands and knees, a feat the young man says that he has been performing since the age of 15, reports NBC News.

But it wasn't the young man's dexterity that really caught the attention of police. Instead, it was what officers observed inside the car.

Teen DUI Suspect Rams Vegas Restaurant; 10 Hurt

A teenager was arrested for a drugged-driving DUI after allegedly plowing into a Las Vegas restaurant. Ten people were hurt.

The driver, 18-year-old Gage Lindsey, reportedly sent his Lexus airborne into a restaurant called the Egg & I. The sedan landed in an outdoor dining patio and smashed through a window of the restaurant during Monday's busy lunch service, reports the Las Vegas Sun.

Lindsey was booked on counts of driving under the influence of drugs resulting in substantial bodily harm, felony reckless driving, and felony hit-and-run.

'Monsignor Meth' Pleads Guilty to Drug Charge

A suspended priest dubbed by some as "Monsignor Meth" has pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge.

Kevin Wallin of Waterbury, Connecticut, allegedly sold methamphetamine out of his apartment and racked up profits of about $300,000. In true "Breaking Bad" fashion, he even purchased a place to launder the meth money. But he opted for a front operation that was a bit saucier than Walter White's carwash.

Wallin admitted to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, The Associated Press reports. While the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, the road to federal prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth is paved with an array of elements.

Ariz. Hotel Arson: Man Freed After 42 Years

A man who was serving 28 consecutive life sentences for an Arizona hotel arson is now free after spending 42 years in prison.

Through these decades, Louis Taylor, now 59, maintained that he had nothing to do with the fire that killed more than two dozen people in 1970, reports NBC News.

Taylor pleaded no contest Tuesday in a deal that set aside his conviction and allowed him to go free. The reason? New questions about what caused the fire, and about how Taylor's case was handled.

Conn. Gun Law to Redefine Assault Weapons

Legislators in Connecticut have agreed to overhaul the state's gun laws and make them the toughest in the nation.

The proposed bill would change how the state defines "assault weapons." It's partly in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last December.

The new law, if approved, would add more than 100 types of guns to the state's list of banned assault weapons, prohibit high-capacity gun clips and armor-piercing bullets, and require background checks for all weapon sales including sales at gun shows, among other safety measures, reports CNN.

Kidnapping Hoaxes Are No Joke for Cops

It appears that New York City residents who called the cops on an apparent kidnapping were duped by an elaborate kidnapping hoax staged for a birthday party.

In the Washington Heights neighborhood, a woman apparently screamed as men forced her and a male companion into a minivan Friday night. Witnesses say that the men were lying in wait in the minivan and looked very suspicious, given that they were wearing masks covering their faces in relatively warm weather, reports CNN.

Police were called to the scene, but quickly determined that the kidnapping was not what it seemed.

DUI Suspect Drives 127 mph With 3 Kids in Car

A Florida man is facing DUI and reckless driving charges after police say drove 127 mph in the Florida Keys. When police stopped him, they discovered that he had three small children in the car.

Police have charged Robert Rioseco, 46, with three counts of driving under the influence, DUI with someone under 18 in the car, three counts of cruelty toward a child, and one count of reckless driving, reports Miami's WTVJ-TV.

Rioseco was first clocked at 87 mph in a 55 mph zone. Rioseco reportedly quickly reached 127 mph by the time officers stopped him.

James Holmes' Plea Rejected; DA Seeks Death

Colorado prosecutors have rejected James Holmes' proposed plea bargain and will seek the death penalty against the accused movie theater shooter.

Holmes, 25, allegedly shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July. Holmes' legal team had offered to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for life imprisonment, reports The New York Times.

But after consulting with the victims and their relatives, prosecutors rejected the proposed plea deal and announced they will seek the death penalty. This may be a risky legal maneuver, however, as prosecutors may have a difficult time combating a likely insanity defense by Holmes' legal team.