FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

September 2014 Archives

Okla. Beheading Suspect Charged With 1st Degree Murder

An Oklahoma man has been charged with first-degree murder for allegedly beheading a co-worker from whom he sought revenge.

Alton Nolen, 30, was charged with murder in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, on Tuesday in addition to two assault charges. Prosecutors allege that Nolan beheaded his coworker after being suspended from work; the FBI is looking into possible ties between the gruesome act and terrorism.

Now that Nolen has been charged with first-degree murder, what's next for the Oklahoma beheading suspect?

Is It Legal to Use a Taser for Personal Protection?

Tasers and other brands of stun guns are commonly used by law enforcement for subduing fleeing or combative suspects.

Increasingly, however, interest in Tasers is extending beyond law enforcement, with regular citizens looking to possess or even carry a Taser on their person for their own protection.

Is it legal to possess and potentially use a Taser? Here's a general overview:

Jodi Arias' Sentencing Retrial Begins With Jury Selection

Jodi Arias is approaching the final phase of her murder trial, but like many trials, this ultimate step will begin with jury selection.

Arias had a 12-person jury for her last trial -- a jury which was unable to reach a verdict with respect to her punishment. The woman convicted of murdering Travis Alexander will now participate in picking a second jury, one that will only deliberate on how Arias may be punished.

Will it be difficult to pick a jury for someone who's already been found guilty?

Can a DUI Lead to a CPS Investigation?

A DUI arrest can lead to a wide range of penalties: jail time, fines, a suspended license, and being forced to install an ignition interlock device, just to name a few.

But DUI charges can also cause trouble in other areas of your life, as one Florida woman discovered when her DUI arrest led to an investigation by the state's Department of Children and Families, reports WCTV.

How did this woman's drunken driving charge lead to potentially losing custody of her children?

Eric Holder Stepping Down as Atty. Gen.: 5 Things You Should Know

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today he will be stepping down as soon as his successor can be nominated and confirmed.

Holder, the first African-American to hold the post, took office shortly after President Barack Obama began his first term in 2009. Holder leaves on something of a high note, reports The New York Times: Earlier this week, he announced that the federal prison population declined for the first time since 1980 on his watch, and should continue to do so for at least the next two years.

What the story behind Holder's time in office and his forthcoming departure? Here are five things you should know:

Can You Go to Jail for Refusing to Testify?

In any court proceeding, witness testimony can be an important source of evidence.

It follows, then, that courts take calling witnesses pretty seriously. How seriously? Seriously enough that those who refuse to testify can, in some situations, be held in contempt of court, which may result in penalties including fines and even jail time.

What are the rules for testifying in court and how can you keep yourself from running afoul of them?

Do You Have to Report a Crime If You See One?

Reporting crime is certainly a public service, but is there any legal obligation for you to report a crime if you see one?

You may recall the series finale of "Seinfeld," in which the four New Yorkers were arrested in Massachusetts under a fictional law that made it an arrestable offense not to rescue someone whom they see being carjacked. And while that episode devolved into a comical courtroom scene, many viewers may have been left wondering if they could be arrested for doing the same.

So do you have to report a crime if you see one?

Distracted Driver Who Killed 2 Gets 1 Year in Jail

A Northern California man has been sentenced to a year in jail for a distracted-driving crash that killed two women in March.

Nicholas Tognozzi, 30, of Rohnert Park, pleaded no contest to two felony gross vehicular manslaughter charges in August, reports San Francisco's KPIX-TV. The charges stemmed from allegations that Tognozzi was checking a cell-phone text message moments before his SUV rear-ended into the victims' car, killing them both.

How did Tognozzi get such a light sentence?

Cook County, Ill., to Monitor Juvie Probationers 24/7

Cook County probation officials are making a technological upgrade for juvenile probationers, implementing 24-hour monitoring for those on house arrest.

Up until now, young offenders placed on electronic home confinement faced only part-time monitoring, enforced manually by juvenile probation officers doing in-home checks. The round-the-clock monitoring of these offenders will now be handled by a private company based in Irvine, California, reports Chicago's WMAQ-TV.

Why the sudden change in monitoring juvenile offenders?

Ferguson Grand Jury Gets Until Jan. 2015 to Decide

The grand jury considering the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has been granted an extension, giving them at least until early January to decide how to proceed.

The St. Louis County grand jury has been evaluating evidence since late August, and though they were originally slated to reach a decision in mid-October, they have been granted more time. The Washington Post reports that this is the second time the grand jury has been granted more time to decide what, if any, charges are appropriate for Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown multiple times.

DUI Arrests: 3 Constitutional Rights You Should Know

Any time you are arrested for suspected DUI, your constitutional rights may come in to play.

Regardless of what state you are arrested in, any person in police custody is guaranteed certain rights by the U.S. Constitution. Many of these rights are often recounted by police at the time of the arrest through what is commonly known as a Miranda warning, which advises those arrested on their "right to remain silent."

But what else does the Constitution guarantee for those arrested for an alleged DUI? Here are three constitutional rights you should know:

Tenn. Father Made Son Binge-Drink as Punishment: Cops

A Tennessee dad has been arrested after he allegedly forced his 15-year-old son to drink alcohol until he passed out unconscious, as punishment for being caught drinking.

Mark Hughes, 35, has been charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect in addition to contributing to the delinquency of a child. According to East Tennessee's WBIR-TV, witnesses told police that Hughes forced his teen son to play a drinking game with him during Saturday's Tennessee football game after he caught the boy drinking.

What was this father thinking?

Is It Legal to Use a Switch to Discipline Your Kids?

Using physical force to discipline your children, such as spanking, is generally legal in most states as long as it's done reasonably.

But what about the use of implements to discipline a child, such as a belt or a "switch," as a tree branch stripped of its leaves is called in some parts of the country? NFL star Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges last week in Texas after it was discovered he had disciplined his four-year-old son using a switch.

When, if ever, is it legal to use a switch to discipline your kids?

Failure to Report to Probation or Parole Officer: What Can Happen?

Parolees and probationers are required to check in with their supervising officers as part of the conditions of their release. However, inevitably some of these individuals will fail to meet with their POs, triggering some nasty legal consequences.

Going AWOL on your probation or parole officer could mean going back to jail or prison, unless you have a very good reason for why you failed to report.

So what can happen if you fail to check in with your probation or parole officer?

3 Constitutional Amendments Every Defendant Should Know

Tomorrow is Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. What does the Constitution have to do with criminal law?

Not everyone is familiar with the specific rights guaranteed by the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Fortunately, if you are arrested or accused of a crime, you're entitled to these rights, whether you know them or not. That being said, knowing your rights will help you determine when they are being violated.

Which constitutional amendments should you know if you're being accused of a crime? You're probably familiar with your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, but here are three more:

Can You Refuse to Identify Yourself to Police Officers?

When police ask you to identify yourself, what are your legal options?

In the most practical sense, refusing to identify yourself seems like a surefire way to get on a cop’s bad side. Just ask “Django Unchained” actress Daniele Watts, who was cuffed on Thursday after refusing to identify herself to the LAPD (she was not arrested, however).

You may believe that your privacy rights allow you to walk the street anonymously, but is that true in all situations? Here’s what you need to know about when you can refuse to identify yourself to police officers:

5 Things a Drug Crimes Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't)

If you're charged with a drug crime, you could always choose to go it alone as a pro se defendant or take the public defender who may be provided to you by the court.

However, you may also choose to work with a criminal defense attorney who's particularly knowledgeable about handling drug crimes, such as the offense you are being charged with. What makes hiring a drug crimes lawyer worth the money?

Here are five things a drug crimes lawyer can do that you probably can't:

10 Dumb Ways College Students Can Get Arrested

College is, among other things, a place for learning. But the lessons to be learned in college aren't all contained in textbooks or lectures; they're sometimes learned the proverbial "hard way." And what harder way to learn the limits of socially acceptable behavior than to be arrested?

Here are 10 really dumb ways that college students can get themselves arrested:

Are Confidential Informants Credible? 5 Factors Courts Will Consider

Confidential informants ("CIs") often provide law enforcement and prosecutors with valuable evidence that can lead to arrests and even convictions of criminal suspects.

However, very few CIs have a clean criminal record, and many of them are "flipped" by law enforcement to avoid harsher punishment for their own crimes. So how can a court find a CI's testimony to be credible?

There must be some legal guarantee that a CI's info is good. Here are five common factors courts will consider in judging the credibility of a confidential informant:

Viral Video of Scooter Attack Leads to DUI Charge

A video posted by a California woman on YouTube documenting the antics of her "neighbors from hell" has led to DUI and an assortment of other criminal charges against the woman shown in the video.

Huntington Beach resident Sarah Oliver posted the video -- which appears to show her neighbor Laura Angela Cox in a violent confrontation with her boyfriend -- on Sunday to YouTube, where it quickly went viral, racking up over 2 million views in less than four days. Meantime, Cox had already been arrested by Huntington Beach police, reports KTLA-TV.

What sort of legal trouble is Cox facing for her turn as an Internet video superstar?

Criminal Resentencing: How Does It Work?

Criminal convicts who receive an inappropriate sentence may have the chance to have it reduced, or even possibly increased, if they are resentenced.

A federal judge in Miami resentenced terrorism convict Jose Padilla on Tuesday, increasing his original 17-year prison sentence to 21 years. Reuters reports that Padilla had been an al-Qaeda recruit, and an appeals court had deemed his original sentence "too lenient."

How do convicted criminals like Padilla get resentenced?

5 Legal Tips for Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships affect far too many individuals in this country, but there are ways that the law can help.

Speaking with the New York Daily News, Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, noted that it's often "difficult for victims [of abuse] to move forward." It's not a small problem, as family, financial, and legal ties commonly bind victims to their abusers.

To help victims of abuse move on, here are five legal tips to consider:

Drug Possession Charges: What Can Happen?

Just as the term "drugs" refers to an extremely varied list of prohibited natural and synthetic substances, drug possession is a crime that encompasses a wide spectrum of possible violations and potential punishments.

Each state has its own laws regarding what constitutes drug possession and the potential penalties and sentences that a conviction can bring. But there are a few general principles that apply in most states.

So what can you expect if you're facing a drug possession charge?

Pharmacist Arrested in Tainted Steroids Case Linked to 64 Deaths

A pharmacist has been arrested in connection with the meningitis-tainted steroid scandal which killed at least 64 people in 2012.

Authorities caught Glenn Adam Chin, 46, at Boston's Logan International Airport, where he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. According to The New York Times, Chin was charged with one count of mail fraud, but his attorney believes that the sudden arrest was an attempt to generate publicity for the case.

What do federal prosecutors have to link Chin to these tainted steroids?

Pardon Day: What Is a Pardon?

On this day 40 years ago, President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office.

If you're not familiar with Watergate, Nixon had been investigated and was facing impeachment proceedings for allegedly spying on various political opponents -- then trying to cover it up -- during his re-election campaign. Ford gave Nixon a "full, free, and absolute" pardon one month after replacing him in the White House, saving the ex-president from a potential criminal trial and conviction.

What exactly is a pardon, and who is entitled to one?

Teens Sought After 'Ice Bucket' Prank Involving Feces, Urine

A group of Ohio bullies may be facing criminal charges after pulling a vile prank on an autistic teenager under the guise of taking part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The bullies allegedly convinced the 15-year-old boy to strip down to his underwear to take the challenge in which a bucket of ice is dumped on a person's head. But instead of using ice, the bullies doused the boy with a bucket full of feces, urine, and cigarette butts, reports the New York Daily News. The entire incident was captured on video on the boy's cell phone, and was also posted to Instagram.

Police say they are working to identify the teens responsible for the humiliating prank. What charges could these bullies potentially face, if caught?

Dad Acquitted of Shooting Drunken Driver Who Killed His Sons

A father accused of murdering the drunken driver who killed his two sons was acquitted by a Texas jury.

In 2012, David Barajas and his two sons -- David Jr. 12 and Caleb 11 -- were pushing Barajas' truck on a road near their home in Alvin, Texas after the truck ran out of gas. A drunk driver, 20-year-old Jose Banda, plowed into the two boys, killing them. Prosecutors accused Barajas of running home, grabbing a pistol, and fatally shooting Banda in revenge, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The jury in Barajas' criminal trial, however, wasn't convinced. Why not?

Ga. Dad Indicted on Murder Charges for Toddler's Hot Car Death

A Georgia father who left his toddler in a hot car, leading to the boy's death, was indicted Thursday on eight counts, including malice murder and felony murder.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, had initially pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges in mid-June, but CNN reports that this new grand jury indictment supersedes the previous charges. Prosecutors have alleged that Harris intentionally strapped his child into his overheated SUV to die, claiming that he "wanted a childless life."

What does this new indictment mean for this hot-car murder case?

DNA Exonerates 2 Men Wrongfully Convicted of Murder

Three decades after being convicted of raping murdering an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina, two mentally disabled half-brothers have been declared innocent and ordered released from prison.

The two men -- one of whom was sentenced to death, the other to life in prison -- were convicted based in large part on confessions that the men claimed were coerced and which they immediately recanted, reports The New York Times.

What was the new evidence that finally convinced a judge the two men were telling the truth about their innocence?

Porch Shooter Gets 17 Years in Prison for Renisha McBride Murder

The Detroit-area "porch shooter" who killed Renisha McBride was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison for her murder on Wednesday.

Theodore Wafer was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years for second degree murder, a minimum of seven years for manslaughter, and another two years for a felony firearm penalty, the Detroit Free Press reports. While the sentences for manslaughter and murder may be served concurrently, the firearm punishment must be served separately, giving Wafer at least 17 years in prison to consider his crime.

What led the judge in McBride's murder case to sentence her killer this way?

Is Intoxication a Defense to Rape?

Although rape can certainly be committed by the use or threat of violent force, the crime of rape encompasses other forms of non-consensual sexual intercourse in which the perpetrator lacks the consent of the victim.

California legislators recently passed a law making the standard of consent for sexual activity on that state's college campuses "affirmative consent," meaning both partners must both say "yes" to sex, as opposed to just not saying "no." The bill also makes it clear that neither the victim being too intoxicated to consent, nor the perpetrator being too intoxicated to confirm consent can be used as a valid excuse for lack of affirmative consent.

The law's language does raise the question, however: Is intoxication usually a defense to rape?