FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

July 2015 Archives

I know what you're thinking: It's just a misdemeanor, right? No big deal -- I can handle this myself. But misdemeanors are crimes that can include jail time and are prone to turn into felonies if you're not careful.

So while you may not think a misdemeanor charge is serious, you may still want the help a qualified criminal defense attorney. Here's why:

[DISCLAIMER: This article is not legal advice. For your safety, if you are being detained by police, you should follow all officer instructions.]

An interesting legal quirk came to our attention the other day from this legal summary: "It's not a criminal attempt to escape where the arrest was unlawful." So, if an officer's reason for arresting you is invalid or illegal, you can't be charged with trying to flee that arrest.

Given the current climate of police shootings, especially against those fleeing from police, this seems like dangerous advice. So let's take a closer look at where this rule comes from and what it means for criminal suspects and defendants.

We've all seen them attached to stop signs or lamp posts in residential neighborhoods: yellow "SLOW Children at Play" signs or the newer, red "Drive Like Your Kids Live Here" signs.

Do these signs make a difference? And is it legal to put up your own traffic-related signs?

Red and blue lights flashing in the background. A siren whoop. Looks like you have to pull over. What did you do? Are you been pulled over for no reason?

Traffic stops may be a daily occurrence for police officers. However, cops can be jumpy during stops because they're dangerous. Just a few days ago, an officer from Hayward, California was shot and killed only 45 seconds into a routine traffic stop. In another case in Texas, Sandra Bland was pulled over for the relatively minor infraction of failing to signal. By the end of the stop, the officer became upset, and Bland was arrested.

Even if you think you were pulled over for nothing wrong, here are five tips on what to do during a traffic stop:

The transition from life in prison to life outside can often be jarring, at best. If you're not lucky enough to have a ride home and a supportive network, that adjustment can be even worse.

Finding a job can be the hardest part about transitioning back into society. Despite all the programs and incentives available to make it easier ex-cons easier, some of the old hurdles -- fear, prejudice, etc. -- still exist. So here are a few ideas for getting a job after jail.

As it should be obvious to everyone by now, the cops are on Facebook. Heck, they may even put your arrest on their own Facebook page.

So it shouldn't be that surprising that a New York state court made the police's job a little easier by ruling that Facebook must turn over photos, private messages, and personal account information in response to legitimate warrants. The ruling was in regards to 381 warrants served on the social media company by New York prosecutors, but could have much larger online privacy implications.

Thinking of getting a pet? Are cats and dogs too normal for you?

While many of us love kitties and puppies, some people want something a little bit more exotic, such as a gorilla, Chinese alligator, ploughshare tortoise, or hyacinth macaw. With the illegal animal smuggling industry worth an estimated $20 billion, second only to the illicit drug business, many people are getting their hands on exotic animals that they have no right to possess.

Is owning an exotic animal a crime?

Can I Ship a Gun?

Want to start an argument? Bring up gun control laws. No matter which side of the debate you're on, everyone's got an opinion. Despite all the contention surrounding this issue, not everyone knows the intricacies of firearms laws.

For instance, is it legal to ship a firearm through the mail? And does it matter which carrier you use? Let's take a look:

Can Cops Ask If You Have a Weapon?

When stopped by the police, you can expect to be asked the usual identification questions. Beyond that, the police may begin to ask additional questions to determine if any criminal activity has been taking place

If an officer asks you specifically if you're carrying a weapon, do you have to answer? Is that question even legal? A recent case decided by the Oregon Supreme Court sheds some light on this question.

"I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive..." Don't get Carrie Underwood mad.

You've probably once been just as mad as Carrie Underwood and wanted to key someone's car for parking too close, stealing your spot, cutting you off.

Sure, keying someone's car isn't a nice thing to do, but is it a crime?

Back in December 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it would refrain from enforcing federal marijuana prohibitions on reservations. Then, earlier this month, officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, state, and local law enforcement raided two large-scale marijuana growing facilities on a northern California reservation.

While the U.S. Attorney's Office has yet to file charges in the case, it has left many wondering about the legal status of marijuana on Native American reservations.

Thousands of people are spending weeks, months, even years in Rikers in New York City for non-violent crimes, just because they couldn't pay their bail.

According to the New York Criminal Justice Agency, only 12 percent of defendants in New York City can pay bail. As part of a growing movement calling for bail reform after Kalief Browder's suicide, New York City recently announced that its judges will start offering bail alternatives to certain offenders.

Snitches get stitches, as the popular refrain goes. But jailhouse snitches can get much more -- money, food, housing considerations, reduced or dropped charges, and, as promised in one case, the opportunity to jail the army and "legally kill some people."

Multiple reports have revealed a complex and comprehensive jailhouse snitch program in Orange County, California, shining a light on the use and legality of jailhouse snitches like never before.

So how does law enforcement use jailhouse snitches and is their testimony legal?

Before states passed laws decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, thousands of people were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail for possession.

For many who were convicted for marijuana possessions, their crime is no longer a crime under new state laws, which allow adults to possess a small amount of marijuana. However, those already convicted are still in prison serving sentences for outdated law.

Is there any legal recourse for those who were convicted before marijuana possession became legal?

A jury yesterday found James Holmes guilty on all murder counts in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Holmes killed 12 people in the shooting, and was charged with two murder counts for each: murder in the first degree after deliberation, and murder in the first degree with extreme indifference.

But what is extreme indifference murder, and how does it differ from a standard first degree murder charge?

A jury has found James Holmes guilty in killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. Holmes opened fire on a crowd during a showing of The Dark Knight in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in 2012.

The jury, selected from 9,000 possible candidates and short four members who had previously been dismissed, came to the verdict after just over a day of deliberation. The jury also found Holmes guilty of attempted murder and assorted weapons charges.

Is Road Rage a Crime?

We've probably all been guilty of road rage at least once in our lives. However, when road rage escalates from stewing in your car to aggressive driving or vicious assaults, road rage can get you arrested.

Just this week, a case of road rage was caught on camera in Yuma, Arizona. A motorcyclist, wearing a GoPro camera on his helmet, allegedly cut off another car. When both the car and motorcycle were stopped at a light, the driver got out of his vehicle, walked straight up to the motorcyclist and punched him in the face! The driver proceeds to shove a passenger on the motorcycle and try to punch the motorcyclist several more times before being taken down.

Hey everyone! Watch me break the law!

If two boys commit a crime but no one is watching, did it really happen? Perhaps not, which is why two teenage boys had the bright idea to film and livestream their illegal ice cream stealing escapade.

Unsurprisingly, the video landed them in juvenile court.

When police come to question you as a suspect in a crime, you know the rules: anything you say can be used against you in court. So, you don't say anything. However, your Fitbit may talk loud and clear on your behalf.

For example, earlier this year, Jeannine Risley called the police claiming she had been sexually assaulted while asleep by a "man in his 30s, wearing boots." Instead of searching for and arresting the supposed attacker, police charged Risley with a crime.

Why? Blame her Fitbit.

President Obama commuted prison sentences for 46 drug offenders on Monday, noting that their long sentences (lifelong in 14 cases) didn't fit their crimes. The commutations reflect a trend at federal, state, and local levels of relaxing harsh minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

These commutations also reflect Mr. Obama's view of America, which he called "a nation of second chances." As The New York Times pointed out, this brings the President's commutation total to 89, the most by any president since Lyndon Johnson, and more than the last four presidents combined. So what are the differences between commutations and pardons, and what are the limits to the presidential pardon?

Living with a criminal record isn't easy. It's harder to get a job and get into college, and a criminal conviction may even get you kicked off American Idol.

All jokes aside, housing is one of our most basic needs, so can landlords refuse to rent to people with a criminal record? And do you have to explain a criminal conviction on a housing application?

Do you think you're being sneaky? Think again. Big Brother is always watching.

In the old days, police tracked debit and credit cards to find the bad guys. Now, that most on the run criminals know not to use their credit cards, the authorities have a new tactic. They're tracking your Spotify and Netflix accounts!

No one wants to get a DUI. But sometimes we don’t realize how intoxicated we are until sitting down behind the wheel.

If you have that moment of clarity, can you just pull over and try and sleep it off? Or can you get charged with DUI, even if you weren’t driving at the time?

Our national parks are among our greatest treasures. Yet, too many people recklessly, arrogantly, and maliciously deface the federal property.

If you ever consider signing your name or drawing a little doodle on the wall of the Grand Canyon, just know that it's a federal crime.

Hate crimes gained national attention following the church shootings by Dylan Roof, which left nine people killed in a Charleston, South Carolina. From statements he made, we know that the attack was racially motivated.

In most states, Roof would be charged with a hate crime. However, South Carolina is one of the few states to not have a hate crime law. The Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a hate crime, but has not announced yet whether or not they'll charge Roof with a hate crime under federal law.

When criminals such as Roof are charged with hate crimes, what penalties could they face?

While there are no specific laws outlawing homelessness per se, many cities have ordinances that essentially make it illegal to be homeless. As just one example, good Samaritans from Texas to Florida have been ticketed or arrested for just giving food to the homeless.

To help you better understand the laws, here are some local laws and ordinances that cover homelessness:

The issue of police violence has been on everyone's mind lately. (To the point that the NYPD can't run a simple social media campaign without everyone pointing out their alleged misconduct.) And while prominent cases like Freddie Gray's get national attention, many smaller cases of abuse may slip through the cracks.

This is mostly due to the cost of litigating a police brutality claim: good lawyers aren't cheap and cases against cops rarely pay off. But what if victims of police brutality had deeper pockets? One new crowdfunding website aims to answer that question.

Cause a Forest Fire, Go to Jail

If you live in Colorado, you're probably smelling a lot of smoke right now. A huge wildfire burning in Canada and Alaska, covering more than 2-million acres, has spread smoke as far south as Colorado.

With the hot dry conditions of summer, even a small spark can become a huge fire. If you caused a wildfire or a forest fire, you may end up in jail.

Last week, a young woman was randomly shot and killed by a man she did not know.

This week, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, also known as Francisco Sanchez, has been charged with murder in the death of Kathryn Steinle.

Bill Cosby admitted to acquiring sedatives with the intent to give them to women he wanted to have sex with, according to court documents released yesterday. Cosby also admitted to giving drugs to at least one woman before sex.

The admissions came in depositions taken during a lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and raping her in 2004. Under oath, Cosby conceded he had several prescriptions for Quaaludes and intended to give them to women.

Finally, bad dog owners are getting what they deserve for abandoning their dogs in hot cars.

Oklahoma police arrested two women after their dog was rescued from a hot car for more than two hours!

With summer now in full swing, many of us will be spending more time out on the water. And many newcomers to the boating scene are surprised to discover that you can get a DUI on a boat.

According to the Coast Guard, "a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration." Therefore, every state has boating under the influence laws, which function similarly to driving under the influence laws. Here are three things you need to know about BUI laws.

The police are at your door. They want to questions you because you're suspected of a crime.

Yikes! Your first instinct may be to tell them about everything, including the time in third grade when you stole your teacher's candy. Or, you may want to bolt and run.

If you ever become implicated in criminal investigation, here are some tips you can follow:

Are you in Oregon right now? Do you notice that pungent scent in the air? It's probably the scent of legal recreational marijuana.

Last year, Oregonians voted to make recreational use of marijuana legal. Today, Oregon residents can legally light up recreationally for the first time!

Oregon's Measure 91 went into effect today. Here is what you need to know: