FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

July 2013 Archives

George Zimmerman Pulled Over With Gun in Texas

George Zimmerman was pulled over for allegedly speeding on a North Texas highway over the weekend, just two weeks after being acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

A police officer in Forney, Texas, stopped Zimmerman in a gray Honda pickup early Sunday afternoon on westbound U.S. 80, Dallas/Fort Worth's KTVT-TV reports. When the officer approached, Zimmerman informed him that he was armed.

While reports of this incident are just coming to light, it appears that Zimmerman was let go with only a warning.

United Rep Stole Bags After Asiana Crash: DA

After the tragic events of the Asiana Flight 214 crash, a United Airlines employee and his fiancee have been arrested for allegedly stealing luggage that had piled up in the chaos.

Sean Crudup and Raychas Thomas are charged with grand theft and commercial burglary by the San Mateo County District Attorney, who claims that surveillance video inside San Francisco International Airport (SFO) caught the couple stealing luggage, reports CNN.

How Does a Military Court-Martial Work?

How does a military court-martial work? As U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has been found guilty of espionage and other charges by a military court for his role in the WikiLeaks case, many may be wondering this.

The military justice system is somewhat similar to the civilian justice system. As seen in movies like "A Few Good Men," there are prosecuting and defense attorneys, a judge, and perhaps even a jury.

So aside from the fact that everyone is in uniform, are there any other crucial differences? There are many, actually. Here is a general overview:

Valid Search Warrant? 3 Things to Look For

Knock-knock. Police officers are at your door, armed with a search warrant. But is that search warrant legally valid?

The Fourth Amendment protects your privacy by generally requiring police to get a valid search warrant before they can conduct a search of your home (or other places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy). The warrant must be filed in good faith by an officer and be based on reliable information showing probable cause to search your premises.

There are, however, a few additional warrant requirements that you'll want to look for if presented with a search warrant. A warrant must include:

Was D.C. Mugging a Zimmerman-Related Hate Crime?

Washington, D.C., police are investigating a mugging as a hate crime, after the white victim claimed that one of his attackers told him, "This is for Trayvon Martin."

Only two weeks after the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, police are now searching for three black males who allegedly mugged and beat the 28-year-old white male victim in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood, reports D.C.'s WTTG-TV.

The victim is not related to Zimmerman or the Trayvon Martin incident. Police are investigating the mugging as a hate crime.

100 Teens Rescued, 150 Pimps Arrested in FBI Raids

More than 100 teens were rescued in a nationwide sex trafficking sting, the FBI announced over the weekend. Some 150 alleged pimps were arrested and will face criminal charges including human trafficking.

The three-day "Operation Cross-Country" took place in 70 U.S. cities. It was the FBI's largest action to date focusing on the recovery of children between 13 and 17 involved in sex trafficking and exploitation, according to NBC News.

But what exactly is human trafficking and how does it, as the FBI said, "rob us of our children"?

Civil Rights During a Traffic Stop: 5 Reminders

Your civil rights may seem like just a concept until they’re put to the test. Perhaps the most common situation in which Americans reach for their rights is during a traffic stop.

But what exactly are your civil rights during a traffic stop?

Consider this a civil rights “cheat sheet” of sorts. Here are five things you should remember about your civil rights during a traffic stop:

DEA Raids 'Legal' Washington Pot Dispensaries

This week's DEA raids in Seattle are prompting Washington residents to wonder what effect, if any, state law has on federal drug enforcement.

Pot dispensaries that are legal under Washington state law were hit by federal drug agents as part of "a two-year investigation," Seattle's KIRO-TV reports. Agents raided medical marijuana providers in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Gig Harbor.

Dispensary owners fear for their livelihood as their "legal" operations are under siege by federal law enforcement.

Bicyclist Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Homicide

A San Francisco bicyclist who struck and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian in a crosswalk last year has pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter.

San Francisco prosecutors call the conviction the first of its kind, but District Attorney George Gascón said the conviction of Chris Bucchere, 37, of Marin County, California, sends the proper message, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

The case is a cautionary tale to bicyclists across the nation to slow down and respect pedestrians.

10 Things You Shouldn't Do During a DUI Stop

A DUI stop can be a harrowing experience for anyone, and probably more so if you feel you might be intoxicated.

While you can't rewind and undo that last glass of Pinot or gin and tonic, here are 10 things you'll want to avoid during a DUI stop that may help you stay out of (more) legal trouble:

Man Arrested for Post-Zimmerman Facebook 'Threat'

A 20-year-old New York man was arrested for allegedly making a "terroristic threat" on Facebook after the George Zimmerman verdict.

Remel Newson, a Queens resident, posted an angry Facebook message full of misspellings about how blacks cannot get justice, including the phrase "let's kill cops nd neighborhood watcher," reports The Huffington Post.

Angry posts on Facebook are nothing new, but does this sort of message rise to the level of a terroristic threat?

'Plane Groper' Guilty of Sexual Abuse of Passenger

The "plane groper" from a 2012 United Airlines flight has been found guilty of criminal sexual contact and sexual abuse of a fellow passenger seated next to him.

Bawer Aksal, 49, of North Bergen, New Jersey, was found guilty of "digitally penetrat[ing]" a sleeping woman on a Newark-bound flight, a crime for which he may face life in prison, reports New York's WCBS-TV.

This airborne abuser may be facing a life sentence, but what do his charges actually entail?

Man, 76, Gets Life for Killing Neighbor, 13

A 76-year-old Wisconsin man who shot and killed his 13-year-old neighbor will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

John Henry Spooner of Milwaukee told police he confronted Darius Simmons because he was sure the boy had taken four shotguns from his home. None of his firearms were found in Simmons' home, however.

Jurors took less than an hour to find Spooner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide after they watched video -- from his own security camera -- of Spooner shooting the boy in the chest in May 2012, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The jury needed even less time -- a mere 15 minutes -- to reject Spooner's insanity defense.

Sex Offender Arrested in E. Cleveland Killings

A registered sex offender arrested after three women's bodies were found in East Cleveland will be charged with three counts of aggravated murder, authorities announced Monday.

Police arrested Michael Madison, 35, on Friday night after a two-hour standoff at his mother's home. Cadaver dogs discovered the bodies of the three women behind abandoned homes. All three were wrapped in several layers of plastic.

A medical examiner has yet to determine a cause of death because the bodies have started to decompose, according to The Plain Dealer.

N.J. Court: Cell Phone Data Tracking Needs Warrant

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement cannot obtain cell phone tracking information from wireless providers without a warrant.

In a unanimous decision issued Thursday, New Jersey's highest court demanded that police have a search warrant to procure sensitive cell phone data that will allow law enforcement to track an individual, reports The New York Times.

This decision is a slight change in tune from other federal rulings regarding cell phone data, but it might be a sign of a turning tide for privacy.

Zimmerman Jury's Bill Included Movies, Manicures

George Zimmerman's jurors racked up $33,000 in expenses, including trips to the mall, bowling, pedicures, and dinner at an Outback Steakhouse.

Zimmerman's trial for the alleged murder of Trayvon Martin had the six-woman jury sequestered at a local hotel for approximately three weeks. But that doesn't mean they weren't allowed some down time, reports USA Today.

While it might enrage or humor us to think of Zimmerman's jurors splitting a Bloomin Onion before deciding to acquit him, it is not uncommon for sequestered juries to cut loose.

Mom Allegedly Beats Nanny Who Tried to Stop DWI

A mom from a tony part of New York allegedly beat up her nanny who was trying to stop the mom from a DWI with a toddler in the car.

Laura Bowery-Falco, a 44-year-old equestrian competitor from the Hamptons on Long Island, allegedly grabbed her nanny around the neck, threw her to the ground and attempted to punch her in the face.

It all happened last week, after the nanny tried to stop Bowery-Falco from driving drunk with her 14-month-old in the car. Bowery-Falco now faces charges of aggravated DWI, harassment, and child endangerment.

License Plate Scanners: Are They Legal?

Law enforcement officers may be scanning your license plate the next time you hit the road. While critics are raising privacy concerns, the practice is perfectly legal.

These license plate scanners are designed to photograph passing cars and "analyze their license numbers" by checking them against a growing database of vehicles involved in criminal investigations, reports Reuters.

The ACLU's new report on license plate scanners reveals even more provocative details.

Real Police or Impersonator? Here's How to Tell

Police impersonators are committing crimes, often violent in nature, under the guise of a routine traffic stop or a knock on the door. How can you tell if a law enforcement officer really is who he says he is?

Just this week, a 75-year-old man was arrested after he allegedly identified himself as a member of the sheriff's department and forced his way into a woman's home. The woman's son called 911 to thwart the attempted armed robbery, deputies told Los Angeles' KCBS-TV.

If you have doubts about an officer's identity, you'll want to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs of a fake cop. Consider the following scenarios:

Atty. Gen. Holder Blasts 'Stand Your Ground'

Attorney General Eric Holder wants states to reconsider their "Stand Your Ground" laws after public outcry over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Speaking before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Orlando on Tuesday, Holder called for the nation to "question laws that senselessly expand the concept self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods," reports Reuters.

Although the Attorney General has limited powers when it comes to state laws, a surge of public opinion may lead to states changing the "Stand Your Ground" provisions in their self-defense laws.

Juror B37: Self-Defense Key to Zimmerman Verdict

After the controversial Travyon Martin homicide case ended Saturday with a not-guilty verdict, the nation was left wondering how each juror came to acquit George Zimmerman.

For Juror B37, who spoke openly with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday, the decision rested with her belief that Zimmerman "had a right to defend himself."

How might Florida's self-defense law, which includes a "Stand Your Ground" provision, have affected B37 and her fellow jurors in reaching their decision?

Federal Civil Rights Charges: What's the Process?

Some civil rights violations are so severe that they warrant federal criminal charges, which can be used to obtain a conviction even after a defendant has been acquitted of state criminal charges.

For example, after George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Justice Department lawyers said they were looking into "whether federal prosecution is appropriate," Reuters reports.

The process of indictment, trial, and punishment of federal civil rights offenders depends on the rights infringed upon. But here is a general overview of how the process works:

Are Unmarked Police Cars Legal?

Unmarked police cars are used for a variety of traffic law enforcement purposes, ranging from catching drivers committing violations to promoting traffic safety.

But are unmarked police cars legal?

The answer may depend on factors such as which state you're in, what time of day it is, and what the unmarked vehicle is being used for.

Zimmerman Not Guilty; Legal Battles Continue

George Zimmerman was found not guilty Saturday in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, but his legal battles likely aren't over yet.

While some may feel that Martin's parents were denied justice in Zimmerman's acquittal, they may still have recourse by pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. Meantime, the Justice Department is also looking into possible prosecution.

For his part, Zimmerman may also be extracting his pound of flesh from the media for allegedly portraying him as a monster.

3 Key Questions for George Zimmerman's Jury

George Zimmerman's jurors heard closing arguments and were given jury instructions on Friday. As deliberations begin, they have many issues to contemplate in this closely watched case.

To let you step into jurors' shoes for just a moment, here are three key questions that the Zimmerman jury will have to consider before reaching a verdict:

Dad Left Baby in Car to Go Gambling

A dad left his baby in a hot car while he went gambling at a casino, police say. Now, he'll need a bit more than luck to beat a pair of criminal charges.

Danny Ngo, 44, of Philadelphia, drove to the Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, with his 18-month-old son, and allegedly left the baby in his car while he went inside to play blackjack. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, and the temperature inside the car was much hotter, police say.

A passerby eventually heard the young boy's cries and called 911.

Zimmerman Jurors Can Consider Manslaughter: Judge

George Zimmerman's jurors can consider finding him guilty of manslaughter, a Florida judge ruled Thursday.

This move is seen by many as a half-measure by prosecutors to ensure that jurors return a guilty verdict in the high-profile case. Some defense attorneys feel the jury hasn't seen enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, reports USA Today.

Allowing jurors to consider manslaughter calls for an understanding of what manslaughter is, as well as how it relates to Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.

5 Reasons Defendants Choose Not to Testify

George Zimmerman made headlines Wednesday by choosing not to testify at his murder trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin.

The 29-year-old defendant informed Judge Debra Nelson that he wouldn't be testifying after "consulting with counsel," reports Reuters.

Zimmerman's defense team has plenty of strategic and legal reasons for advising their client not to testify. Here are five reasons defendants choose to go this route:

When Are Police Dog Sniffs Legal?

When are police dog sniffs legal? We all know that man's (and woman's) best friend is not only good for company and fetching frisbees, but also for police investigations.

However, while police dogs are commonly used to detect things like bombs, drugs, and even blood, the results of a law-enforcement canine's sniff can't always be used in court.

So when are dog sniffs allowed? Like many legal questions, the answer depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the sniff. Consider the following scenarios:

Zimmerman Judge Rules on Texts, Fight Animation

As George Zimmerman's murder trial continues, Judge Debra Nelson has ruled on the use of text messages from Trayvon Martin's cell phone as well as fight animation of the unarmed teenager's death.

The Seminole County, Florida, judge ruled that Zimmerman's defense team could not introduce photos of a gun found on Martin's phone, or text messages from Martin discussing "fighting [or] purchasing a gun." But she will allow defense attorneys to show jurors an animated re-creation of Trayvon Martin's death during closing arguments, reports USA Today.

How will these rulings affect the rest of Zimmerman's defense?

Wife Hires Hit Man, Says It's 'Easier' Than Divorce

A Michigan wife allegedly tried to hire a hit man to murder her husband. Why not just get a divorce? Because, as Julia Merfeld told the supposed hit man, killing her husband would be easier.

"As terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him," Merfeld, 21, of Muskegon, told the purported hit man, who was really an undercover cop. "I didn't have to worry about the judgment of my family, I didn't have to worry about breaking his heart."

Unfortunately for Merfeld, her alleged murder-for-hire plot was caught on tape.

Illegal Downloads: What Are the Penalties?

Are there penalties for illegal downloads? Chances are, you or someone you know downloads music or movies online. But just because “everybody does it” doesn’t mean that it’s legal.

Sometimes, of course, artists or promotional sites will offer free downloads. And if you purchase a song or movie before downloading it, then there’s generally no problem.

Still, the Internet is running rampant with users who illegally download — commonly via peer-to-peer networks like Limewire or BitTorrent, and also from friends who will pass on the goods. So how illegal is this, and what are the potential penalties?

7-Car Crash Leads to 6 DUI Arrests

An ugly seven-car crash in Georgia over the July Fourth weekend led to six DUI arrests and sent two people to the hospital with serious injuries.

The chain-reaction crash occurred on Interstate 75 south of Atlanta about 4 a.m. Friday. Southbound lanes were blocked for six hours.

No one was killed, but five of the seven drivers have been charged with DUI, Atlanta's WSB-TV reports. A sixth driver will also face DUI charges after he's released from the hospital.

So what triggered the accident?

Is It Legal to Mail Marijuana?

With legalized marijuana budding in Washington state and Colorado, many pot lovers are left to wonder: Is it legal to send marijuana in the mail?

What if you use the U.S. Postal Service? Or what about a private mail carrier, or even a courier service? Are these methods lawful?

Don't run out to the post office with your Maui Wowie just yet, because the short answers are no, no, and probably no. Generally speaking, here's why:

Drugged Driving DUIs: Prescriptions Count Too

The Fourth of July holiday means an extra-long weekend for many Americans. Unfortunately, with a sparkly sky and tasty BBQ also comes a disturbing amount of drugged driving. While most people associate DUIs with boozin' and cruisin', also remember not to get behind the wheel if you've been popping prescription pills.

Some drugs legally purchased at a pharmacy, whether they're prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter, can be just as dangerous for drivers as alcohol, and can also result in a DUI arrest.

Here are some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can impair your ability to drive and lead to a DUI:

Zimmerman Trial Interrupted by Skype Trolls

George Zimmerman's murder trial hit a high-tech snag Wednesday, when a witness appearing remotely via Skype was bombarded by dozens of other Skype users trying to join the call.

Prosecution witness Scott Pleasants had arranged to appear remotely to testify about his experiences with Zimmerman as the defendant's former professor. But his testimony was cut short when another Skype call started ringing in, reports The Inquisitr.

Internet trolls may be responsible for the prank, but courts should take this as a lesson in how to prevent future Skype snafus during trial.

Which 3 Crimes Are in the U.S. Constitution?

The Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but it also provides a timely reason to learn some trivia about America's other foundational legal document, the Constitution.

Although not our first governing document (see the Articles of Confederation), the Constitution set up our three branches of government, the balance of powers, and the doctrine of federalism which governs the relationship between the states and the federal government.

The Constitution contains all of these legal principles, but it only mentions three criminal offenses. Which ones?

Girl Scout Leader Stole $10K From Troop: Cops

A Girl Scout cookie manager is being accused of theft of more than $10,000 worth of cookie money.

Tarra Kopp, 32, allegedly never turned in the $10,285 from cookie sales after a cookie drive for her Girl Scout troop in Ohio. Instead, she kept it for herself and made many excuses as to why she couldn't make the deposit, police say.

Investigators also allege Kopp made nearly $12,000 in withdrawals from the troop's checking account between December 2012 and April 2013. She's being charged with grand theft, Toledo's WTOL-TV reports.

But could she have any potential defenses?

When Are Police Allowed to Shoot, Kill Dogs?

Sometimes the victims of lethal force by the police are not men, but man's best friend.

In an undated video uploaded to YouTube, Leon Rosby is shown being arrested by officers in Hawthorne, California, only to have his pet Rottweiler shot by police when it appears to come to its owner's rescue, reports The Huffington Post.

Officers can use lethal force on humans when they fear for their safety or the safety of others, but what about dogs and other pets?

Road Rage Shooting: Driver Killed Near Orlando

An Orlando man was killed in an alleged road rage shooting after he called 911 to report someone was chasing him. What would you do in a similar situation?

The victim, Fred William Turner, 47, was driving on Interstate 4 on Saturday afternoon when he made the 911 call. The other car then pulled up beside him, and someone inside pulled out what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon, Turner told a dispatcher.

The dispatcher then heard multiple gunshots, Orlando's WKMG-TV reports. Turner was found dead at the scene.

Sarcastic Facebook Threat Lands Teen in Jail

An Texas teen is in jail after a sarcastic Facebook post he made in February caught the attention of a concerned Netizen and police who viewed it as a threat.

Justin Carter, 18, of Austin, got into an argument on Facebook over the online game "League of Legends." The dispute led Carter to post a sarcastic comment on Facebook about "[shooting] up a school full of kids and [eating] their still, beating hearts," reports Austin's KVUE-TV. He also wrote "lol" for "laughing out loud" and "jk" for "just kidding," according to Carter's dad.

Though Carter's post may have been in jest, in the wake of events like the Sandy Hook Shooting, concerned families and law enforcement are not taking these comments lightly.