FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

March 2015 Archives

Amanda Knox. You may have heard her name a few times in the last eight years. During that time, she was accused of murder, convicted, acquitted, convicted again, and, finally, acquitted one more time.

Now that she has finally been exonerated, Knox may be seeking compensation for the four years she spent in prison during the ordeal.

How much can she get?

Two incidents of school security officers beating high school students in Oakland has us wondering what limits, if any, exist for campus police officers. Are school police officers just like real police officers? Where does their jurisdiction stop and start?

The answer could depend on the type of campus and the relevant state laws. An Oakland Unified School District officer is already facing felony charges and the video below of one of episodes could mean more criminal or civil liability.

Amanda Knox may now breathe a sigh of relief. She has finally been acquitted of murder.

Again.

Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation, overturned Amanda Knox's latest conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Knox's legal nightmare began in 2007 when her roommate in Italy, Meredith Kercher was found murdered in their home. Knox and her then boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of murder in 2009. They were then acquitted by an appeals court in 2011. The story did not end there. The Court of Cassation then overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial in 2013. Knox and Sollecito were once again convicted in 2014. Friday's decision overturned the 2014 conviction, concluding that the evidence did not support the conviction.

A recent case has people wondering if, how, and when police officers can use their property, including their house, to stage law enforcement operations.

A Henderson, NV family claimed officers violated the Third Amendment ("[n]o Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner") by occupying their homes to investigate a domestic dispute at a neighbor's house. A federal court found that, while officers may have committed some other constitutional violations, the amendment didn't apply because the officers were not soldiers.

So is there any limit to when the police can use your property as a base of operations?

You committed a crime, broke the law, and got convicted. Now you have to spend a year in jail. Or, do you?

How would you like to spend that year at home instead? There are many alternatives to jail including a suspended sentence, probation, fines, and community service. In some, cases you might be eligible for house arrest. When under house arrest, you will be confined to your home and required to wear a monitoring device instead of spending your days in jail. So the word arrest is not totally correct, it is really ‘house sentencing.’

Sounds like a better option, right? But here are five things you may not know about house arrest:

An early step in many criminal cases is a motion to dismiss the charges. It is a request from the defendant, asking the court to end the case before it ever gets to trial.

Motions to dismiss can be based on numerous issues and only some of them are granted. While every criminal case is unique, let's take a look at a few of the reasons why a court will grant a motion to dismiss.

Juveniles occupy an odd place in the criminal justice system -- sometimes treated as adults, sometimes not. And when determining whether juveniles get jury trials, the answer is like that of many legal questions: it depends.

So let's take a look at some of the factors that determine if a juvenile will get a criminal jury trial.

It happens. An innocent person’s life is thrown into shambles because of a false accusation.

A police officer shows up and starts asking you questions. He’s saying someone accused you of rape, theft, fraud. You’re innocent, but they don’t believe you. You’re being falsely accused. What do you do?

Here are three things you should keep in mind if you are falsely accused of a crime:

Police in Charlottesville, Virginia say they have found no evidence to substantiate a University of Virginia students' claim that she was gang raped at a fraternity party in 2012. The accusations were published by Rolling Stone in November 2014, sparking nation-wide discussion and controversy.

However, Police Chief Timothy Longo told a news conference that a five-month investigation did not uncover any evidence to "conclude to any substantive degree that an incident occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house or any other fraternity house, for that matter." Longo added, "That doesn't mean something terrible didn't happen to Jackie ... we're just not able to gather sufficient facts to determine what that is."

Robert Durst will be staying in jail for the foreseeable future. Now that authorities have Durst in their grasp, they aren't going to let him go any time soon.

A Louisiana magistrate denied bond, also known as bail, for Robert Durst at a bail hearing in New Orleans. Durst was arrested recently after "The Jinx," an HBO documentary, showed him allegedly confessing to killing a California woman and his wife. He was also charged with illegally owning weapons and drugs. Prosecutors argued that Durst is a flight risk, and the magistrate agreed. Durst's lawyer, Dick DeGuerrin, didn't put up much of a fight and did not seek bail.

When can a judge refuse to grant bail?

As parents have told children many times, "Don't talk to strangers." In this case, it's "Don't buy from strangers on Craigslist unless you're at a safe zone."

A pregnant Colorado woman was attacked when she responded to a Craigslist ad to buy baby clothes. The victim went to the seller's house alone. While there, the seller stabbed the victim in the stomach and cut out her fetus. The victim survived the stabbing after calling police. Unfortunately, the fetus died.

This is only another in a long line of stories where buyers were attacked or killed by sellers they met on Craigslist. Recognizing the need for a safe place to complete Craigslist transactions, many police departments around the country have designated their parking lots or lobbies as safe zones. Conshohocken, Philadelphia claims to have created the nation's first Craigslist Transaction Safe Zone last year.

While it is reassuring to have a safe place to conduct face to face transactions, who is liable if you still get attacked at a "safe zone"?

In the last month, a Michigan couple was charged with animal cruelty for neglecting five horses and letting a pony die. An Alabama man pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty for killing a neighbor's cat. And a reality television star angered fans when he tried to run over a cat with a sleigh.

With so many animal lovers demanding justice, readers may be wondering: Are there any defenses to an animal cruelty charge?

The answer, of course, depends on the circumstances of each particular case. But here are three potential animal cruelty defenses that defendants may want to consider:

If a tree fell in a forest and no one heard it, did it happen? If you drove while intoxicated, but no one saw you, did you break the law?

It was a long day at work. You stopped by a bar, had a few drinks, and got buzzed. During your drive home, you decide you're a little too tipsy, and pulled over and sleep it off in your car. Next thing you know, an officer is knocking on your door, and you're getting arrested for driving under the influence.

Is this possible? Can you get arrested for a DUI if the officer never saw you drive?

Penn State is once again at the center of a scandal. A Pennsylvania State University fraternity has been suspended for allegedly posting pictures of unconscious and nude women onto two private Facebook pages.

Penn State's Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) has been suspended for one year pending an investigation by police and university officials into the Facebook pages. According to CNN, one page was entitled "Covert Business Transaction"; this page was shut down after a victim complained and was replaced with a second page entitled "2.0."

The pages were discovered by a victim who saw a topless photo of her on a fraternity member's open Facebook page. Other pictures showed unconscious women fully or partially naked in sexual or embarrassing positions, along with drug sales and hazing. Somebody wiped the pages clean before police were able to get a warrant, but authorities were able to find 20 printed images that were originally on the pages.

Police are still investigating and have yet to arrest anybody. However, what could these frat members even be arrested for?

In a case that prompted stricter potency limits on edibles in Colorado, a man accused of shooting his wife after eating marijuana laced candy.

Richard Kirk, 48, of Denver, pleaded not guilty to first degree murder last week. Kirk was arrested in April 2014, after his wife Kristine was shot while on the phone with 911. Kristine told 911 operators that her husband had eaten pot candy and was paranoid and hallucinating. Richard allegedly crawled through a broken bedroom window, got his gun from a locked safe, and shot his wife in the head.

Will prosecutors be able to prove first degree murder and convict Richard Kirk?

Police have arrested and charged a man accused of shooting and injuring two police officers during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, last week.

Jeffrey Williams, 20, allegedly shot one officer in the shoulder and another in the face during a protest Thursday night. Tips from the public led officers to Williams' home, where they found a handgun that matched the shell casings at the scene of the crime, CNN reports. Williams was charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle, and three counts of armed criminal action.

While investigation is ongoing, what will prosecutors have to prove in order to convict?

A sheriff's deputy took on two drunken Spring Breakers at a Florida beach brawl and, lucky for us, the whole thing was captured on shaky cellphone video (though not in Internet-approved sideways, smh).

As always, police encounters like this are teachable moments. So let's dive right into the video and break down where these two gentlemen went legally wrong:

The consequences for an underage driver getting a DUI can be severe. But can parents get in trouble if an underage child gets a DUI?

While most people are solely responsible for their criminal actions, there may be cases where parents are on the hook (criminally, civilly, or both) for a child's underage DUI.

The Utah Senate has voted to allow a firing squad to carry out executions if the drugs necessary for lethal injections are not available.

The bill, which now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk, would make Utah the only state to permit a firing squad to perform an execution.

You may have heard of or seen incidents of animals being hurt or mistreated by humans. But what exactly is animal cruelty under the law?

One recent case has animal rights activists fuming. A North Carolina woman was arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty after she allegedly let her dog die of starvation. The dog had medical issues, and the woman claimed she spent hundreds of dollars trying to nurse the dog back to health. Animal control investigators suspected foul play when the dog was surrendered to animal control, sick and severely underweight. The case is pending, and if convicted, the woman could spend up to 30 months in jail.

Did the woman really commit animal cruelty? The simple answer is that it depends on the jurisdiction.

If someone wrongs you, you may feel like seeking retribution. But is "an eye for an eye" revenge legal?

There short answer is no -- there is no "eye for an eye" law in the American criminal code. But why is such a simple concept not used more our legal system?

Here's a look at where the "eye for an eye" idea came from, and why it might not be able to work in modern society:

The biggest worry about getting a DUI is having that conviction on your permanent criminal record. So what's the best and easiest way to get your DUI expunged?

Expungement is the legal term for wiping arrests and convictions off your criminal record. While all cases are different, and expungement may not always be available, here are a few tips that can aid you in keeping your rap sheet under wraps:

Jodi Arias will be sentenced to life in prison after jurors failed to agree on whether to sentence her to death. A previous jury convicted Arias in 2013 of killing her lover, Travis Alexander.

With jurors deadlocked on sentencing and no indication they could reach a consensus, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial and will now decide if Arias should be eligible for parole after 25 years.

It's a legal phrase we hear all the time, but we many not know exactly what it means. So what is the burden of proof in a criminal case? And who carries this burden?

As a general principle, the burden of proof is the obligation to present enough evidence to prove that your allegation is true. This obligation, and the amount of proof necessary, differs depending on the type case and what claim the evidence is presented to prove.

Here are three things you should know about the burden of proof in criminal cases: