FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2014 Archives

SLC Police Shoot, Kill Dog During Search for Missing Child

A Utah man is wondering why a Salt Lake City police officer shot and killed his dog during a search for a missing boy.

Sean Kendall, 27, was understandably frustrated when he received a call that his dog, a Weinaraner named Geist, was shot in the head by an SLCPD officer. Kendall recorded his first interaction with police, and was informed that his dog was shot because an officer felt "threatened."

Did the SLCPD have legal authority to enter Kendall's property and kill his dog?

Filipino Man Killed in NYC; Was It a Hate Crime?

A Filipino man was killed after being sucker-punched in NYC on Saturday, leaving some to wonder whether the incident was a hate crime.

The punch knocked Roberto Martires, 56, to the pavement; he succumbed to his injuries Tuesday. Friends say Martires' attacker confronted him outside a Filipino eatery and asked him, "Are you Filipino?" When Martires said he was, "the suspect clocked him," friends told the New York Daily News.

Police, however, attributed the fatal punch to "revelry after the World Cup," and are not investigating the incident as a hate crime. Why not?

Ga. Toddler's Hot Car Death: Why Is Dad Charged With Murder?

The father of a Georgia toddler who died after being left in a hot car for seven hours is being charged with felony murder.

After finding evidence that the child's death was not an accident as 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris had claimed, police arrested Harris and charged him with second degree cruelty to a child, along with murder under the "felony murder" rule.

What is the felony murder rule, and how is it being applied in this case?

Do You Have to Disclose DUI Arrests, Convictions on Job Applications?

Getting a DUI is an embarrassing experience, but maybe not as embarrassing as having to relive your drunken driving arrest on a job application.

Not all drunken driving incidents are created equal, however, and it may be possible for you to legally avoid the topic of DUI without committing fraud.

Sharpen your pencils for these tips on whether you have to disclose DUI arrests or convictions on job applications:

Supreme Court on Cell-Phone Searches: 3 Things You Should Know

The U.S. Supreme Court laid down the law on warrantless cell-phone searches today, giving mobile users slightly more privacy when arrested.

The High Court unanimously held that warrantless cell-phone searches upon arrest are generally not permitted, recognizing how important our phones have become in our everyday lives. As USA Today reports, Chief Justice John Roberts opined that cell phones are so integral to daily life that Martians "might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy."

Essential or not, here are three things you should know about the Supreme Court's ruling on warrantless cell-phone searches:

What Is Community Service? When Can You Get It?

Community service isn't something you have to be ordered to do, but for many it is an alternative to jail time.

However, not every act of community work will necessarily qualify as "community service" when it's ordered by a court, and it may not be available to every criminal offender who wants to avoid jail or prison.

So what exactly is community service in the eyes of the criminal justice system? And when can you get it?

In Fla., 'Stand Your Ground' Now Applies to Warning Shots Too

Florida has clarified its "Stand Your Ground" law with a new bill, expanding its protection to warning shots as well as the use of actual force.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB89 on Friday, in part to prevent criminal convictions like that of Marissa Alexander -- the woman convicted of aggravated assault in 2013 for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Law professor Eugene Volokh writes for his blog (now part of The Washington Post) that it seems sensible for a law that justifies lethal force to "apply equally to defensive threats of force."

What's the harm in adding warning shots to "Stand Your Ground?"

Going On Summer Vacation? Don't Tip Off Criminals on Social Media

You probably have a mental checklist of precautions you take to keep your house safe from break-ins while you're on vacation: have the post office hold your mail, put your lights on timers, ask the neighbors to keep an eye on things. But law-enforcement agencies are urging summer vacationers to add another precaution to their list: Watch what you share on social media.

Along with your friends, family, and co-workers, your social media feeds may also be monitored by criminals waiting for their chance to strike, as police in Riley County, Kansas, have warned. And they're not alone.

Here are some social media tips when going on vacation this summer:

Hot Grits Attack Leads to Attempted Murder Charge

A Florida man who allegedly threw hot grits on his victim has been charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Edward Holley, 60, of Orlando, was arrested after taking a hot pan of grease and grits and tossing it on a man who was standing on his front porch. The victim, Darryl Blacknell, received second- and third-degree burns from the scorching Southern comfort food, reports The Associated Press.

How did this strange food assault turn into an attempted murder charge?

Life Sentence for Pot Brownies? What's Really Going On?

A life sentence for pot brownies? Sounds ridiculous, right? And that's because it is.

Not just in the sense that the legal outcome of a Texas 19-year-old's amateur pot bakery should be a lifetime behind bars, but also in the sense that news sources have blown this one way out of proportion. It's time for a legal reality check.

What's really going on in this teenager's pot brownie case?

This Week in Bad Parenting: Hot-Sauce Dad, 'Branding' Mom Arrested

Bad parenting is not necessarily a crime. But when it crosses the line into child abuse, crummy parenting can get you arrested and even sent to prison.

Child abuse is always cruel, but some parents find a way to take their cruelty to a higher, and more bizarre level.

Who are this week's notable bad parents? We present Hot-Sauce Dad and "Branding" Mom. Read 'em and weep.

12 Angry Hipsters: Are Young, White Jurors Harder on Defendants?

Hipsters are filtering into every aspect of urban life, even criminal juries. In fact, some New York City defense attorneys have begun to notice a disturbing trend: that well-off, educated white people are slowly gentrifying Brooklyn's jury pool.

Some worry that these "hipster jurors" are bad news for criminal defendants. But is a jury of privileged young people really that bad?

Man Who Infected Girl, 15, With HIV Gets 95 Years in Prison

A Texas man who infected a 15-year-old girl with HIV has been sentenced to 95 years in prison.

Matthew Louis Reese, 31, of Dallas, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three serious felony charges related to the statutory rape of a girl and not informing her of his HIV-positive status. The Dallas Morning News reports that Reese's convictions resulted in a 95-year prison sentence, and he won't be eligible for parole until he's served at least half of his time.

What's the legal basis for Reese's weighty sentence?

5 Ways a Summer DUI Can Be a Real Bummer

Saturday marks the official start of summer. And alongside the BBQs, pool parties, outdoor adventures, and other awesome summer activities comes something a little less pleasant: the risk of getting cited for DUI.

A DUI arrest won't just ruin your night (or day, depending on how early that pool party got started...). In many cases, it could also put a serious damper on your entire summer, and beyond.

Here are five ways a DUI can turn your summer into a serious bummer:

Representing Yourself in Court: A Few Pros and Cons

Representing yourself in court may seem like an attractive option, but you should weigh the pros and cons before stepping into court on your own.

While not hiring an attorney for your criminal case may save you money and give you a sense of pride, you leave yourself -- a rank amateur -- to navigate the legal corridors of the criminal justice system. And if you falter, it won't just be embarrassing; it may cost you your freedom.

Consider these pros and cons before choosing to represent yourself in criminal court:

Mom Uses Craigslist to Get Son a Ride, but Gets Arrested Instead

A Georgia mom was arrested after using Craigslist to find her 9-year-old son a ride to his grandparents' house.

Sheila Sherrie Joyner, of Marietta, reached out to a stranger on the online classified site who was interested in sharing expenses while traveling to Florida. Joyner hoped the man could drop her child off in Macon, but the stranger instead called the police, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

When does bad decision-making with your child become criminal?

Ala. Gay-Sex Ban Struck Down by Court

An Alabama law that effectively acted as a gay-sex ban has been struck down by a state appeals court.

Responding to a criminal appeal by Dewayne Williams, a man who was charged with sexual misconduct for allegedly having consensual sex with another man, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the statute and threw out Williams' conviction, reports USA Today.

Alabama is one of a dozen states with gay-sex bans still on the books. So why did the court rule against the law?

Are Online Rants Criminal Threats? Supreme Court to Weigh In

When does an online rant cross the line from free speech to being a criminal threat?

That's the issue the nation's highest court will soon be taking up. As reported by SCOTUSblog, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court's ruling in Elonis v. United States, in which a disgruntled ex-husband's angry Facebook posts got him arrested on federal charges.

What will the Supreme Court be looking at in this case?

Iowa Man's HIV-Transmission Conviction Overturned

An Iowa man's criminal conviction for HIV transmission was thrown out by the Iowa Supreme Court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support his guilty plea.

Nick Rhoades, 39, of Plainfield, pleaded guilty in 2009 to criminal transmission of HIV after having sex with a man he met online. He allegedly did not tell his partner about his HIV status before the encounter, and although the man was ultimately not infected, he still went to the police, report The Associated Press.

What made Iowa's High Court throw out Rhoades' conviction?

Man Rants at Judge via Video Link, Gets 1 Year in Jail

Ranting at judges is a terrible idea, and one Florida man's nearly one-year jail sentence is a cautionary tale.

Christopher Colon, 27, appeared before Broward County Judge John Hurley via video link from jail, after Colon's arrest for allegedly violating a domestic violence restraining order. However, after Judge Hurley denied Colon's release from jail, the inmate let loose a profanity-laced rant that ended with a jail sentence, the Sun Sentinel reports.

Can you really get a jail sentence just for ranting at a judge?

Can Police Search Your Cooler at the Beach?

As summer hits full tilt, beach blankets, sandals, and ice cold coolers will be making their ways to the shore. But police may want to search that last one.

Beachgoers in New York City have reported being asked to let roving cops see what's in their coolers. Cops may be looking for alcohol or open containers, but you still have rights.

So can police search your cooler at the beach?

Is It Legal to Hit Your Kids?

Hitting your children is a sensitive moral topic for many parents, but it is worth discussing whether it is even legal.

There is no federal law generally governing how parents must conduct themselves with regard to their children, which leaves most of the legal guidance on striking your kids with the states.

So is it legal to hit your kids?

Missed Your DUI Court Date? What Should You Do?

Missing a court date is never a good idea, especially in a DUI case.

There are any number of reasons or excuses you might give for missing a DUI court date -- oversleeping, dealing with a sick child, or moving to another state, etc. -- but without the right legal help, these justifications won't amount to much.

So what should you do if you miss your DUI court date?

O.J. Simpson, 20 Years Later: 5 Lessons From His Criminal Cases

Friday is the 20th anniversary of the killings that led to the murder trial of former athlete and actor O.J. Simpson.

As you may recall, Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were killed June 13, 1994. O.J.'s news-breaking acquittal for their murders occurred a little more than a year later; he's currently in prison for an unrelated armed-robbery conviction.

So what legal lessons did we learn from O.J. Simpson? Looking back over the last two decades, here are five that come to mind:

Leaving a Dog in a Hot Car Can Get You Arrested

The arrival of hot weather once again has law enforcement and animal-welfare groups trying to take a bite out of one of summer's most heartbreaking crimes: leaving a dog in a hot car.

Leaving your dog locked up in your car, even just during a short shopping trip, can not only be fatal to your dog, but it can also get you arrested.

How can you practice summer safety with your dogs or other animals, and what can happen if you don't?

Local Police Gearing Up With Used War Equipment: Report

A great deal of military-grade war equipment is ending up in the hands of local police departments according to Pentagon data.

Even in small towns, police departments have the ability to buy surplus military gear from the federal government, often at a discount. According to The New York Times, since 2006, departments around the country have obtained "tens of thousands of machine guns" as well as "armored cars."

How exactly are local police gearing up with the leftover tools of war?

Can Touching a Pregnant Woman's Belly Be Considered a Crime?

Pregnant women often complain that strangers will touch their bellies. In some cases, it may be illegal.

Unwanted touching of any kind is the legal foundation for battery, but it often takes more than a simple touch or nudge to turn something like a belly rub into a criminal offense.

With that in mind, here are several good legal reasons for strangers not to touch pregnant women's bellies:

Man Who Offered Pot to Undercover Cop Beats Felony Charges

A San Francisco man who offered a free pinch of marijuana to a seemingly stressed-out stranger -- who turned out to be an undercover cop -- has been acquitted of felony drug charges.

As reported by KPIX-TV, Stetson Qualls Jones was smoking marijuana in Golden Gate Park when a man asked him if he could buy $20 worth of weed. Jones declined, but offered to give the man a little of his own stash for free. He was then swarmed by cops, who had been conducting an undercover drug distribution sting.

What were the charges in this case, and why did the jury acquit Jones?

2 Uber Drivers Accused of Crimes: Assault, Kidnapping Alleged

Ride-share app Uber got some unwanted publicity this week, as two Uber drivers were accused of committing crimes in separate incidents -- one for an alleged kidnapping and another for an alleged assault.

In Los Angeles, LA Weekly reports that a 26-year-old clubgoer woke up in a motel room with an Uber driver shirtless next to her on the bed.

And in a separate incident in San Francisco, an UberX driver has been accused of shouting slurs at a customer and striking him when he tried to photograph the driver's car's license plate.

5 Sobering Legal Facts About Boating Under the Influence

This week is National Fishing and Boating Week and many people are doubtless planning to hit the water for a little fun in the sun.

However, boating under the influence (BUI) is becoming an increasing issue on lakes, rivers, and wateways across America, leading to large numbers of citations as well large numbers of injuries and fatalities.

Here are five sobering facts about BUIs that might make you think twice before you get wet and reckless:

In 'Slenderman' Stabbing, 2 Girls Charged as Adults

Two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls are accused of stabbing a peer nearly to death, all over a supposed belief in the "Slenderman" meme.

The girls allegedly lured a friend into the woods, supposedly for a game of hide and seek. There, police say one of the girls stabbed the victim with a knife, almost killing her. The girls allegedly told police they committed the act in an attempt to impress "Slenderman."

What is this "Slenderman" meme, and who should answer for this stabbing?

What Happens in a Police Lineup?

Police lineups are some of the most common tools used by law enforcement to identify criminal suspects. They are not foolproof, and even the best-intentioned officers can unwittingly lead witnesses to pick out an innocent man or woman.

But what actually happens in a police lineup? Here's a basic overview:

6 Cleveland Cops Charged in Deadly Police Chase, Shooting

Six Cleveland cops have been charged in a deadly police chase and shooting which left two dead in a hail of bullets in 2012.

Patrolman Michael Brelo faces two counts of voluntary manslaughter while five other officers are accused of dereliction of duty. This case is somewhat unique according to an attorney for one of the victim's relatives, because prosecutors rarely indict an officer for manslaughter in an excessive force case, reports The Plain Dealer.

What do these charges mean for the accused officers?

5 Things a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't)

If you're charged with a crime, the criminal justice system can seem like a maze of procedures, forms, and rules that can be overwhelming, confusing, and costly in both time and potential punishments.

Luckily, there are lawyers who specialize in criminal defense, zealously advocating for those accused of a crime with a wide array of criminal defense strategies.

While you may be tempted to represent yourself in court, here are five things that a criminal defense lawyer can do to help your case that you probably can't (or don't) know how to do:

Sheriff's Grenade Injures Toddler During Drug Raid in Ga.

A sheriff department's "flash bang" grenade sent a Georgia infant to the hospital after the device landed and exploded in the toddler's crib during a drug raid.

Bounkham Phonesavanh, a 19-month-old boy, was badly burned when officers lobbed a grenade that exploded on his pillow. ABC News reports that officers had been pursuing an arrest warrant for a suspected drug dealer when the incident occurred.

What are the legal consequences of this grenade incident?

14 Charged in Frat Hazing That Led to Loss of Testicle

Some might say the members of the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity at Ohio's Wilmington College were having a ball. Others might argue they went a little nuts.

One thing's certain: Thirteen Wilmington College students and one alumnus were arrested and charged with misdemeanors after a fraternity hazing ritual ended with one pledge requiring surgical removal of a testicle.

What's the story behind this modern Greek tragedy?

What Is Obstruction of Justice?

Obstruction of justice covers a broad range of criminal charges that can be filed when a suspect somehow impedes or stands in the way of a criminal investigation or prosecution.

A recent example is the charging of Khairullozhon Matanov, 23, a Kyrgyzstani cab driver who was accused of obstructing a government probe into the Boston Marathon bombing. According to Reuters, Matanov had been friends with accused bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsanaev but allegedly lied about his connections to the brothers when questioned by police.

So what are the most common charges associated with obstruction of justice?