FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

November 2014 Archives

Which States Use Criminal Grand Juries?

Following last night's announcement that a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, many may have questions about how grand juries operate.

Grand juries are generally called on to decide whether there is probable cause to bring criminal charges against an individual, typically in cases which may result in serious, felony charges. Although all states have laws allowing for grand juries, not all states make use of grand juries.

Besides Missouri, what other states use criminal grand juries?

Child With Fake Gun Shot By Ohio Officer, Dies From Wounds

A child who was carrying a fake gun died from his wounds on Sunday after being shot by an Ohio police officer on a playground.

Tamir Rice, 12, was identified by the Cuyahoga County medical examiner as the victim of this fatal shooting, which occurred outside of Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday. According to The Associated Press, officers were responding to a 911 call that a boy was pointing a pistol that was "probably fake" and scaring others.

Were the officers within the law when Rice was shot and killed?

Ferguson Grand Jury: No Indictment for Darren Wilson

On November 24, 2014, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri delivered its long-awaited decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager.

The grand jury was presented with five different options for what to charge, ranging from first-degree murder to manslaughter. CNN reports that after months of evidence presentation and two days of deliberation, the grand jury returned "no true bill," meaning it didn't find any probable cause for any of the five charges.

What does this mean for Darren Wilson and Michael Brown's family?

2 Ohio Death Row Inmates Exonerated After 39 Years

Two Ohio men sentenced to death for a 1975 murder have been exonerated after 39 years in prison.

Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were set free after the prosecution's key witness recanted his testimony during a hearing last week, reports The Plain Dealer. Following the hearing, the prosecution dropped its objections to a new trial for the men, and later dropped the charges against Jackson and Bridgeman, clearing them of any wrongdoing in the case.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Jackson and Bridgeman's nearly four decades behind bars are the longest sentences ever served by any person who was later exonerated. How did these men manage to clear their names so many years after the fact?

Calif. Couple Busted Over Alleged Pot Sales on Silk Road 2.0

A California couple has been charged for an alleged conspiracy to make and distribute pot on the recent incarnation of a black-market website, Silk Road 2.0.

David Schell, 54, and Teri Schell, 59, of Durham, were indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday for conspiracy to make and distribute marijuana on the illicit Internet hub. According to Sacramento's KXTV, the couple were charged with 11 criminal counts relating to their alleged scheme to sell pot and pot products online.

So how do these pot growers fit into Silk Road 2.0?

Man Gets 43 Years in Prison for Child Support Murder

A Virginia man has been sentenced to 43 years in prison for killing the mother of his two children over the prospect of paying child support.

Brandon W. Thomas, 28, stood before Judge Harold W. Burgess on Wednesday for sentencing on first-degree murder and felony firearm convictions. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Thomas represented to the court that the investigation and prosecution's case were "biased, unprofessional, and negligent" and asked that the judge grant him a new trial.

Why did Thomas receive 43 years in this child support murder case?

What Makes a DUI a Felony?

Anytime you're cited for driving under the influence, you face potentially stiff criminal penalties as well as restrictions on your ability to drive.

A DUI offense is generally a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and potentially imprisonment in county jail for up to one year -- but typically less. However, under some circumstances, a DUI may be charged as a felony, punishable in some cases by lengthy prison sentences.

What can potentially make a DUI a felony?

Can You Choose Not to Have a Jury Trial?

Americans have the right to a jury trial when accused of serious offenses under the Sixth Amendment, but can you choose to waive those rights?

A jury of your peers can be between six and a dozen persons with no guarantee of legal background, while a trial by judge places your fate in the hands of one legally accomplished individual.

So when do you get the choice not to have a jury trial, and why would you choose to forgo one?

Man Answers Boy's Craigslist Ad for Sex; Gets 12 Years in Prison

A Florida man was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after answering a teenage boy's Craigslist ad seeking "adult companionship" and engaging in sexual activity with the teen.

50-year-old Brian Keith Dunn of Coral Springs pleaded guilty to coercing or enticing a minor into engaging in sexual activity, reports the Sun Sentinel. Dunn admitted to communicating with the 14-year-old by text and email, but maintained he never actually met the boy face-to-face.

Police told a different story, however.

Can You Get Married in Jail, Prison?

In addition to being a time-honored institution, marriage has been a hard-won civil right in America. So can inmates in jail or prison take part in the legal sanctity of marriage?

Good news for jail birds and love birds: In most cases, it is possible for prisoners to legally marry their spouses -- even if they're serving life sentences.

So before you start asking the prison commissary if it carries wedding invitations, check out these legal facts about marriage behind bars:

What to Do When a Loved One Goes Missing?

Even in the age of constant communication and GPS, tens of thousands of people go missing in the United States every year.

According to FBI statistics, in 2013 there were more than 627,000 missing persons reports entered into the National Crime Information Center's Missing Person File. This database contains records for those who are missing under circumstances indicating they may be in danger, are under the age of 21, have a missing disability, or fall under other criteria which may place them at risk. Of these, more than 84,000 remained active at the end of 2013, with juveniles accounting for more than 40% of those still missing.

What should you do in the unfortunate event that one of your family members goes missing?

Ex-Cop Sentenced to 5 Years for Shooting Handcuffed Suspect

A former Maryland police officer and Iraq war veteran has been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for shooting and paralyzing a handcuffed suspect.

Johnnie Riley, 44, formerly a sergeant with the District Heights Police Department, was convicted of shooting Kalvin Kyle in the back after Kyle tried to flee, while handcuffed, from a police cruiser. According to The Associated Press, Kyle was left paralyzed and Riley could've faced up to 45 years in prison.

How did the court arrive at Riley's sentence for the shooting?

Violent, Property Crime on the Decline: FBI Report

Society may not be on the brink of destruction after all. At least not according to a recent crime report by the FBI, which shows that property crime and violent crime are generally on the decline.

According to an FBI press release, violent crimes in the United States decreased 4.4 percent between 2012 and 2013 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), while property crimes decreased 4.1 percent. Also uplifting news: Property crimes have been steadily on the decline for the last 11 years.

What was the good (and possibly bad) news delivered by this new FBI data?

Top 5 Questions to Ask a DUI Lawyer

Following a drunken or drugged driving arrest, working with a DUI attorney can be the best way to potentially avoid criminal penalties as well as negative impacts on your driving privileges.

When hiring a DUI lawyer, you'll want to ask some basic questions -- for example, whether the attorney has experience with DUI cases. But aside from the basics, there are many other questions you may also want answered.

What should you ask? Here are five important questions for your DUI lawyer:

Jodi Arias' Retrial Continues After Defense Delay

Retrial over the punishment of convicted murderer Jodi Arias resumed Wednesday, after legal issues with the defense's case caused testimony to be delayed for almost two weeks.

Part of this period was spent addressing legal arguments that media outlets should be excluded from court during testimony in Arias' retrial to accommodate a "skittish defense witness" to testify in private, reports The Associated Press. The judge in Arias' case also denied a defense motion to delay the trial based on allegations that police altered or deleted evidence on the victim's computer.

As the retrial resumes this week, what should those interested in Arias' retrial look for?

NYPD's New Pot Possession Policy Takes Effect Nov. 19

The New York City Police Department has announced that it will no longer arrest those carrying 25 grams or less of marijuana.

Instead, NYPD officers will issue begin issuing summonses to those in possession of small amounts of marijuana, reports Gothamist. The summonses, similar to those issued for speeding tickets or relatively minor offenses, will not appear on a person's criminal record.

What else do you need to know about the NYPD's new marijuana possession enforcement policy? Here are five facts:

5 Things to Know About Loretta Lynch, Obama's Atty. Gen. Nominee

United States Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that he was stepping down as soon as a successor could be found.

That successor has now apparently been found: It was announced over the weekend that U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch would be President Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general. If confirmed, Lynch would be the second African American to hold the post of attorney general, following Holder, who was the first.

What else should you know about Loretta Lynch? Here are five things:

1 in 4 American Households Victimized by Crime: Gallup Poll

A recent Gallup poll finds that about one in four American households includes someone who's been victimized by crime -- a figure that's remained fairly constant over the past decade.

According to a Gallup study from 2000 to 2014, between 22 and 27 percent of households have reported being victimized by crime over the last 14 years. Victimization on the individual level has been slightly less reported, with between 14 and 19 percent of Americans claiming to be individual victims of crime.

What do these numbers mean for the average American, and which crimes are the most common?

Okla. Dad in DUI Amputation Case Sentenced to 15 Years

The young father behind a DUI crash that led to the amputation of a motorcyclist's leg was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday.

Angel Morales, 22, of Claremore, Oklahoma, had pleaded guilty to DUI in the 2013 crash, reports the Tulsa World. In addition to the DUI charges, Morales was also charged with three counts of child endangerment for having three of his children in his relative's Cadillac Escalade at the time of the crash.

What did the victim do in this case to encourage the judge to put Morales behind bars?

Silk Road 2.0 Operator 'Defcon' Arrested by FBI

A man accused of running Silk Road 2.0, a revived Internet black market, was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday in San Francisco.

Blake Benthall, 26, also known as "Defcon," is accused of attempting to resurrect the infamous Silk Road, a somewhat-secret website which allowed visitors to purchase anything from illicit drugs to murder-for-hire contracts. According to Ars Technica, the FBI reports that Benthall is facing charges of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, and fraudulent document trafficking, all of which carry weighty prison sentences.

What was Benthall doing with Silk Road 2.0, and what is he facing in federal prosecution?

Facebook Pic of Toddler Hanging on Planter Hook Gets Mom Arrested

A Virginia mom who took a photo of her 1-year-old son hanging by the shirt from a planter hook was arrested after the photo was posted to Facebook.

The photo shows a 14-month-old boy crying while suspended in mid-air with his shirt bunched around his neck. The boy's mother, 18-year-old Alexis Breeden was arrested and charged with felony child abuse after authorities were alerted to the photo's presence on the social network, reports WTVR-TV.

How did the photo end up online, and what kind of criminal sentence is Breeden potentially facing from this unfortunate photo op?

Voters Legalize Pot in Ore.; Alaska; Washington, D.C.

Among the many important offices and issues voted on in yesterday's midterm elections were marijuana legalization measures in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

And after all was said and done, voters in both states and in Washington, D.C., voted to allow marijuana to be legalized, reports Reuters. Oregon and Alaska now join Washington state and Colorado as the third and fourth states to legalize recreational pot use.

What will these new voter-approved laws allow once they take effect?

What Can Happen If You Eat Evidence?

Eating evidence is never a good idea. It has a very low success rate in actually thwarting a police investigation, and it can significantly increase a suspect's exposure to criminal charges.

It may be funny to see characters like those in the cult classic "Super Troopers" eat massive quantities of illicit substances in a frantic attempt to not get busted, but the reality is even uglier.

What are some real-life consequences of eating evidence?

Cell-Phone Fingerprint Ruling: 5 Things You Should Know

With fingerprint-reading technology now being implemented in more and more smartphones, rulings like the one last week really get under people's skin.

Last Tuesday, a Virginia judge ruled that police officers can force a suspect to unlock a smartphone using that phone's fingerprint scanner, reports The Wall Street Journal. This ruling has many privacy advocates worried that fingerprint and biometric tech on cell phones will become a loophole for police abuse.

Before you chuck your new phone in the trash, check out our five level-headed takeaways from this ruling:

Halloween Hit-and-Run: 3 Teens Killed While Trick-or-Treating

Several suspects are under arrest in connection with the hit-and-run killing of three trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

Three 13-year-old girls were struck and killed by a driver while moving across a crosswalk in Santa Ana, California, on Friday night. According to the Los Angeles Times, police report the driver of a Honda CR-V was "going at a high rate of speed" when the SUV struck the girls; the vehicle was later found abandoned in a nearby parking lot.

What charges could the arrested individuals face for the Halloween hit-and-run deaths?