FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

September 2015 Archives

What Are the Consequences of Fighting in Public?

Even in the land of the free, fighting in public is illegal. It is disorderly conduct that disturbs the peace. And keeping the peace is part of the social contract.

You didn't sign that contract but were born into it, and being a member of society means following certain rules of behavior that keep a general sense of peace. Ignoring those rules by brawling in public is a criminal offense, punishable by fines, jail time, or both.

Heroin overdoses nationwide have been skyrocketing, and police forces have been responding with enhanced penalties for dealers. In some cases, prosecutors are even charging dealers with murder if one of their customers ODs.

It's a relatively new phenomenon, and seemingly at odds with the softening stance in the War on Drugs.

Marijuana Arrests Happened Every 51 Seconds in the U.S. Last Year

States are increasingly legalizing marijuana, but weed smokers are still not getting off scot-free. A marijuana possession arrest happened every 51 seconds somewhere in the US last year, according to FBI data on American crime in 2014.

These figures show law enforcement is out of touch with the public it serves, say marijuana legalization advocates. They point to the FBI's 2014 figures for serious violent crimes -- murder, rape, and assault -- noting that half of these cases went unsolved.

Most people accused of a crime don't just sit in jail waiting for their trial. Instead, they are released on bail, a sort of financial insurance policy on their future appearance in court. But when faced with the choice of going to court and going on the run, not all criminal defendants choose the former.

So what happens if you skip town while you're out on bail? Nothing good.

Family Sues for Inmate Death From Acute Withdrawal

What is a life worth? Jailed for thirty days for failure to appear on a careless driving charge, a man died in custody halfway through a sentence that could have been completed with community service or a $772 fine. Now David Stojcevski's family is suing Macomb County, Michigan, the sheriff, jail employees, and Correct Care Solutions, and the private contractor responsible for inmate medical care, blaming their neglect for David's wrongful death last year.

Th county is not commenting on the case publicly but is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. The Stojcevksi family seeks an unspecified "substantial sum" for the wrongful death, court costs, attorney's fees, and punitive damages. But perhaps most importantly, it is seeking to change policy with this action, "so that this kind of failure ... never happens again."

Remember Pig-Pen from Peanuts? Constantly walking around surrounded by a cloud of his own filth? Well it turns out we're all like Pig-Pen, if you consider a microbial bubble of bacteria, yeast, cells, and cell parts filth. (Yes, we do.)

Researchers have discovered that every person is surrounded by clouds of skin and fart bacteria, and cops, at least, are pretty excited about this.

Employees Can Defend Themselves Against Criminals, Says Utah Court

Imagine getting fired from your job because you defended yourself during a robbery. Oddly, such things happen. Now the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that workers under serious threat can defend themselves and sue for wrongful termination if they are fired for failing to follow company safety policies.

The ruling stems from a 2011 incident when a shoplifter pulled a gun on Walmart employees. Six workers were fired for fighting the armed shoplifter, a move justified by their failure to follow designated de-escalation policies, the company said.

Do Sodomy Laws Still Exist?

Way back in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit consensual sex between two adults. This decision invalidated state sodomy laws in the 14 states that still had them on the books. But that doesn't mean those laws went away.

Today in 2015, 12 of those states still have sodomy statutes. And even though these laws may not be fully enforceable, law enforcement continues to use them to harass citizens and state legislatures refuse to remove them.

The case of 'Baby Doe' took Boston, and eventually the nation, by storm when the female toddler's body was found in a trash bag on Deer Island in the Boston Harbor. Yesterday, the girl's mother and her boyfriend were arraigned in District Court, accused of murdering the girl and covering it up.

Michael McCarthy has been charged with murder and held without bail, while Rachelle Bond was charged as an accessory after the fact and had her bail set at $1 million. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Penalties for Hitting the Road With No Motorcycle License

You ride a motorcycle because you're a free spirit who loves the open road and resists all things safe and conventional. Still, some rules are best not to break. Otherwise, you may quickly find yourself taking the bus around town.

Driving a motorcycle without a designated license or learner's permit will get you in trouble in any American state. How much trouble precisely will depend on individual state laws. Penalties range from simple fines to bike confiscation and being barred from riding a bike for some time.

Is It Illegal to Smoke in a Car With a Child in the U.S.?

It has been a while since people could smoke in most restaurants or coffee shops or hotel rooms, but they could light up in cars. Not so if children are present -- at least not in the United Kingdom as of October 1st, 2015.

The new U.K. smoking law bans smoking in private vehicles with passengers under 18 in England and Wales. Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $80, as are drivers who allow smoking passengers. This move is part of an international trend and is based on an understanding that secondhand smoke is harmful

Are there similar laws in the United States or elsewhere around the world?

September 18 is National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. One thing many people aren't aware of is how many ways being HIV positive is criminalized, or how it can lead to increased charges or more severe criminal penalties.

From state disclosure requirements to decades in prison for spitting, HIV criminalization is varied and may include some laws you've never heard of.

September 17 is Constitution Day, marking the anniversary of Constitutional Convention delegates signing the document in Philadelphia in 1787. Since then, the document has continued to evolve, both in its structure and its interpretation.

While the Constitution lays out the foundations of our government, the Bill of Rights forms the basis of our protections against the government. This is particularly true in the realm of criminal law. Here are the three most crucial amendments regarding our criminal rights:

Most Wanted Fugitives: Uncle Sam's Hunt for Healthcare Fraudsters

Healthcare fraud does not make for great drama like, say, a bank robbery. But it does cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year, and its perpetrators are dangerous criminals of the most deceptive kind.

These fraudsters are often doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals entrusted with our care, and their schemes endanger lives. But these are the people we'd be least likely to suspect of crime.

Now the threat of healthcare fraud is made abundantly clear with the Office of the Inspector General's Most Wanted Fugitives website.

The arrest of a black doctor and her husband in Mississippi has added to the tensions between white police officers and the black community and has raised questions about the legality of the arrest itself. What began as a routine traffic stop ended with Dr. Marcia Bowden and her husband, Ira Marche, in jail, and Dr. Bowden was even taken to the emergency room during the incident.

How did things escalate so quickly? It's early in the case and there are competing reports from Bowden and the police, but here are a few questions raised by the arrest:

Normally, when Facebook and the police collide in the news about a criminal case, it's because the social media site is handing over personal user information to law enforcement. Generally social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are required to comply with police warrants requesting user data, and convictions based on that information are upheld.

But does it work the other way around? Can defense attorneys get access to the same social media user information if it may exonerate their client?

College Campus DUI Laws

No, not all college students are of legal drinking age. Yes, most college students are going to drink anyway. (They're especially going to drink at these ten schools.)

If and when they do drink, hopefully they do so responsibly and don't end up behind the wheel of a car. Law enforcement, both on and off campus, is cracking down on alcohol offenses. College students may also face additional DUI penalties from the school.

What Happens at a Bond Hearing?

After two days of hearings that included testimony from Walter Scott's mother and brother as well as a 153-page motion containing performance reviews and a psychiatric evaluation for North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, who is charged with murdering Scott, the judge deciding whether to grant Slager bond has yet to make a ruling.

Although Judge Clifton Newman said today he will make a decision "as expeditiously as possible," the length of the hearings and the lack of a definitive answer have left many wondering what is going on. What normally happens at a bond hearing? And why is this one different?

Psychedelic drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin contained in "magic mushrooms," and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) remain listed as Schedule I narcotics by the federal government. As a result, these drugs are illegal under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

But recent studies have shown that certain psychedelics, when paired with psychotherapy, can have positive impacts for patients suffering from anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Does that mean your therapist can prescribe you acid, Molly, or some other psychedelic drug?

Homeless Man Scammed by Fake Lease on Craigslist

A homeless man in Memphis, trying to get back on his feet, got a bittersweet taste of the milk of human kindness after he fell for a scam ad on Craigslist and was saved by a sympathetic landlord. Anthony Owens found an apartment listed online and met with an impostor apartment owner, turning over a $100 deposit fee to the stranger.

Owens had been living in a friend's van, but when he tried to move in to his newly rented apartment, lease in hand, he discovered he had no apartment or contract after all. The man Owens thought was his new landlord was a deadbeat tenant, according to Glenda Glinsey, the actual property owner.

While rare, home burglaries are inevitable, and can be emotionally traumatic. Beyond the physical damage and financial loss, a break-in can be scary, even if you're not at home.

And while you may not be able to prevent all home robberies, there are some vital first steps you can take afterwards.

Let's say, hypothetically of course, that you did it. Or, at least, that you're willing to say you did it in order to lessen your possible punishment. Do you still need a lawyer if you're not going to fight a criminal charge?

As it turns out, there are quite a few things a criminal defense lawyer can do that you can't, so you may want to have an attorney on your side when you plead guilty.

Last week, federal agents raided the offices of Rentboy.com and arrested its CEO along with six other employees. The Justice Department alleged "Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution."

The authorities seem to have strong evidence that Rentboy was in violation of prostitution laws. Nonetheless, the raid has raised questions regarding the motivation and efficacy of busting the website. Many people contend that Rentboy helped to make sex work safer.

A 17-year-old high school student has been sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for using social media accounts to assist supporters of the Islamic State. U.S. officials have declared the militant group, also referred to as ISIL or ISIS, a terrorist organization.

Ali Shukri Amin admitted to using his Twitter account to provide advice on how to travel to Syria to join ISIL and how to use Bitcoin to funnel money to the group.