FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

December 2015 Archives

Will My DUI Case Go to Trial?

The holidays were fun and you had a good time ... until you got charged with DUI. Now you are looking at a new year full of difficult choices, most notably whether to take a plea or go to trial.

The good news is that you decide. The bad news is that trial is a dice roll, and even if you are found not guilty, you will still have to go through the stressful experience. How do you know what to choose?

Pressing Criminal Charges: What Is It and Who Does It?

We hear the phrase "pressing charges" a lot in movies and on TV. After a while, you kind of get the feeling you know what it means. But many people have the false impressing that anyone can press charges.

Individuals do not press charges, nor do police. In the context of the criminal law, only a municipal, state, or federal attorney can decide to charge someone with a crime and file a charging document. Prosecutors decide whether or not to do so based on evidence provided by people and police, but the latter two never press charges.

Drug abuse and addiction aren't limited to illicit drugs like crack and heroin -- more and more people every year become addicted to prescription drugs. And like illegal drug abuse, abusing prescription medications can lead to serious criminal penalties.

Fines and potential jail time can vary, depending on the drug possession laws in your state. Here's an overview of the criminal penalties associated with prescription drug abuse.

Can I Drive With an Open Container in My Trunk?

Say you are driving to a friend's house and you want to bring a few opened bottles of booze from your holiday party to finish up. You put them in the trunk of your car, stop at the store for some snacks, and make it to your destination, no problem. Did you break the law?

It depends. Technically, driving with an open container in a car is prohibited. But what is open? A defense attorney would argue that open container does not apply to a bottle that is closed, or topped, and enclosed in a trunk. Whether that is technically correct depends on state law and the context of your stop.

Just because some states are decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use doesn't necessarily mean you can legally possess pot. And even in states where some marijuana possession is allowed, there are still rules and regulations that buyers and sellers must follow.

If you've been arrested or charged with marijuana possession, your first thought is necessarily how you will defend yourself. And, lucky for you, you have legal options.

Arizonan Charged With ISIL Super Bowl Bomb Plot

An American alleged ISIL supporter, already associated with an attack on a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas, was indicted last week for a Super Bowl bomb plot last year, according to CNN.

Court documents reveal that Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, also known as Decarus Thomas, is charged with providing material support to a terror organization. He allegedly gave the Islamic State In the Levant (ISIL, also called ISIS to the dismay of some) addresses of US service members. Kareem was also charged with transporting firearms and ammunition across state lines, as well as making false statements to authorities.

Holiday Shoplifting Roundup

'Tis the season for gifts. And, for those without adequate disposable income or with a penchant for criminality, 'tis also the season for shoplifting.

Desperation, debt, decadence, and downright desire can all lead a person to shoplift during the holiday season, so here's your roundup of holiday shoplifting stories:

California Governor Pardons Robert Downey Jr. for Past Crimes

It is a Merry Christmas for Robert Downey Jr. who today was pardoned by California Governor Jerry Brown for a decades-old felony drug conviction. The move restores the movie star's voting rights, and is a reward for his good behavior and rehabilitation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Although Downey was known as a Hollywood bad-boy for his drug problems and associated arrests, he has in recent years become a symbol of respectability, playing a super hero in major movies. He applied for the pardon and is one of 91 people who were granted this governmental gift by California today.

Attempted 1st-Degree Murder Charge for Failed Coat Hanger Abortion

A woman who tried to give herself an abortion with a coat hanger when she was 24-weeks pregnant is being charged with attempted first-degree murder in Tennessee. Anna Yocca, 31, panicked when she saw blood in her bathtub from wounds to her womb and called her boyfriend for help. He took her to the hospital, where the child was born. The baby is alive but on a respirator, according to The Washington Post.

Now Yocca is facing prison for the failed abortion. The tragic case raises questions about Tennessee's abortion policies and women's bodies as a political battleground. Tennessee technically allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy but there are no clinics that perform them after 16 weeks in the state.

In a trend that either proves how far gender equality has come or shows how prevalent school shootings have become, three teenage girls have been arrested for threatening school violence in two separate incidents in Colorado.

The second incident involved a middle school girl posting "I have a gun in my backpack" to Facebook. The first incident is a bit murkier.

No Indictments in Sandra Bland Death, but Prosecutor Says It's Not Over

A Texas grand jury this week issued no indictments associated with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead by an apparent hanging in her jail cell this past summer. Bland's death made national headlines because the African American woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, allegedly got into an altercation with the officer over a lit cigarette, and was found hanging by a trash bag in her jail cell after only three days in custody in Texas.

Local officials vehemently denied that Bland was mistreated, and the grand jury's failure to indict in the criminal case seems to support those claims. But Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor, said that "the case is still open," and that grand jurors would reconvene next month to discuss other aspects of it, according to the New York Times.

'Tis the season for furiously clicking that "Track Package" button in sales confirmation emails. Whether you're worried about outgoing gifts making it to their destination on time or excited about an incoming present, tracking a package online can become a daily or even hourly obsession.

And it can get you arrested, if you happen to be tracking a package full of drugs from China.

What Is the Crime of Providing 'Material Support' to Terrorists?

When a terrorist act occurs, authorities look to punish the perpetrators. But they also investigate known associations and try to tie the act to people involved in planning: those who provided material support.

In the case of the recent San Bernardino, California shootings, for example, federal agents charged Enrique Marquez, 24, according to a statement from the Department of Justice, reported on CNN. Marquez bought the two rifles eventually used in the shooting, apparently in preparation for different terror attacks that never happened. But he is still facing life in prison for his involvement, however passive, in the San Bernardino tragedy that took place earlier this month.

Criminal Consequences for Christmas Vandals

A rash of Christmas vandals, determined to take the fun out of kitsch, are attacking inflatable Santa Clauses and other outdoor holiday displays around the country. But yes Virginia, it is a crime.

Police do prosecute vandals of all kinds, and those who attack outdoor holiday displays are in no way exempt from being charged with a crime. In fact, some citizens are so offended by the abuses that they have set up their own surveillance to help cops catch these culprits.

Let's look at two recent cases.

UK Millionaire Acquitted of 'Accidental' Rape

A man who claimed he accidentally penetrated an 18-year-old woman when he fell on her was acquitted of rape charges by a British jury. After brief deliberations, millionaire Ehsan Abdulaziz was found not guilty, despite some very strange explanations of what happened, according to the New York Daily News.

How Much Do I Have to Steal to Be Charged With a Felony?

The fifty states all define crimes slightly differently, so there is not a single blanket answer for when a theft graduates from a misdemeanor to a felony. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the severity of the crime involved, or in the case of a theft, the value of what was stolen.

But there is more to it. Three factors impact a theft charge: what was stolen, how much was stolen, and the alleged thief's prior record.

After 16 hours of deadlocked jury deliberations, the judge finally declared a mistrial in Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter's trial in the homicide of Freddie Gray. Jurors told the judge they could not reach a verdict on any of the charges against Porter, the first of six officers to stand trial after Gray died in police custody last April.

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a new trial date for Porter will be set on Thursday morning.

You've been arrested for a DUI, your arraignment is coming up, and you're itching to tell your side of the story. Maybe you weren't drunk, or you think the breathalyzer was broken, or you shouldn't have been pulled over in the first place. All you have to do is explain this to the judge, and everything will be all right.

Not so fast, my friend. While an arraignment might be your first court appearance, it's not a full-blown trial. And while you may not be able to win your case at arraignment, you could lose it. So here's why you might want a lawyer by your side at your DUI arraignment.

Criminal Consequences of Stealing Packages

It is a federal criminal offense to tamper with the mail. So no matter how delightful and intriguing the neighbor's deliveries seem, avoid the temptation to pilfer a package from their porch because you're short on Christmas gifts.

Theft of a letter, post card, package, bag, or mail from a US post office or a collection center associated with USPS is subject to fines and up to five years imprisonment, according to the United States Code, Section 1708. Receiving mail that was stolen is similarly punishable.

Gun control advocates have long sought to close the so-called gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without submitting to the same background check requirements imposed on licensed dealers. But congressional attempts at passing such legislation have thus far been fruitless.

So President Barack Obama may decide to take matters into his own hands. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Obama administration is considering the use of an executive order to expand background checks on gun sales. How do these orders work? And can the president really pass gun control laws without congressional approval?

You didn't really hit that other car -- it was more a love tap. No need to get the authorities involved, right? Well, your car might not agree.

New car technology can tell us where we are, where to go, and even where other cars are. And it can tell the cops if you've been involved in an accident. So you might want to think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.

Policing the Police: NYPD to Settle With Whistleblower Cop

New York City is settling a lawsuit with a police officer who blew the whistle on illegal practices in his precinct and was punished, despite being a hero cop. If the $280,000 settlement is approved by the federal court, the city will pay 17-year NYPD veteran Craig Matthews for retaliating when he exposed wrongdoing, reports the New York Daily News.

Matthews was considered a hero after shooting down a crazed gunman near the Empire State Building in 2012. That same year, he exposed stop and arrest quotas at his precinct in the Bronx and the police force retaliated. Matthews was made to pay for speaking up with punitive assignments, lost overtime, and a mark on his record.

Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer, was convicted of 18 charges associated with the serial rape and sexual assault of 13 women while on duty. He was charged with over 30 criminal counts and it took the jury 45 hours of deliberations over four days to come to their verdict.

Holtzclaw is half-white, half-Asian, and his victims were all black. All 13 testified at his trial, and their stories are horrifying.

Can I Carry a Gun Drunk or on Drugs?

It is illegal to carry a gun while intoxicated, even if you do have a license to possess the weapon. But the penalties and precise restrictions vary from state to state, and there are some places where the language of the law is imprecise.

The safest bet, of course, is to never drink alcohol or do drugs when carrying your gun. This ensures you cannot get in trouble or jeopardize your permit. Just like a driver's license, a permit to carry a firearm is granted by the government and not an entitlement. By applying for and obtaining a license, you agree -- expressly and by implication -- to submit to state scrutiny.

Not every hit and run involves a serious injury or extensive damage. It can be as simple as walking into a restaurant after you bumped another car while parallel parking. Technically speaking, a hit and run occurs whenever a person involved in a traffic accident leaves the scene before identifying themselves or reporting the accident.

A hit and run can happen to anybody, so what should you do if you're accused of a hit and run?

Can Cops Sue Civilians for On-The-Job Injury?

Last week, a routine traffic stop in Maryland made national headlines when a suspected drunk driver plowed into a police officer and his vehicle, putting the officer in the hospital with critical injuries. The driver was not hurt at all and refused to take a breath test at the scene. Police took him into custody and said they expected to charge him, NBC News reported.

Noah Leotta, 24, was in critical condition in the days after the incident. He had volunteered to work on a special holiday alcohol-enforcement patrol, Police Captain Paul Stark said, "It is ironic that here he was trying to keep the community safe and the roads safe for everyone, yet he was struck by someone who is suspected of having alcohol or drugs in his system."

Law enforcement is always getting fancy new tools to solve crime. Better DNA analysis, cell phone tracking and surveillance, and even social media can all help cops catch criminals. But what about stopping crime before it starts?

New data analysis tools may be able to help law enforcement forecast where, when, and maybe even by whom crimes will be committed. But can predictive policing work? And can it be ethical?

Man Held in Guantanamo Bay for 13 Years on Mistaken ID

Everybody makes mistakes. But one made by the Department of Defense for 13 years with Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri takes the cake. He has been held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay for over a decade and he is the wrong guy, Gawker reports.

Captured in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan in 2002, the man from Yemen was considered an al-Qaida facilitator, courier, or trainer. But, says the DoD, "we now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to [his]."

Affluenza Teen Caught Violating Probation, per Tweets

A teenage boy sentenced to probation for drunk driving and killing four people in 2013 is under investigation for playing beer pong. Ethan Couch was caught drinking on camera at a party, allegedly, and the video was posted on Twitter, tagging the Tarrant County District Attorney, Gawker reports.

Couch is famous for his "affluenza" defense. In 2013, his doctor testified that he was the victim of privilege and should not be punished for being too rich to care about consequences. When the teen got a probation plea, despite causing four deaths, Couch became the symbol an unjust system that punishes rich and poor differently. That's likely why @BlondSpectre tweeted the video of him violating probation.

Prince George's County Police Officer Jenchesky Santiago was convicted of first-degree assault and three other charges for pointing and holding his gun in a black man's face. The incident occurred in Bowie, Maryland in May 2014, although officials only now released video of the incident in conjunction with Santiago's criminal conviction.

Warning: the video below is graphic and contains profane language.

Many of us have been a little too tired to drive at one time or another. (Actually, one out of every 24 of us admits to drowsy driving.) And drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. So if your eyelids are getting heavy out on the highway, you might be thinking a little nap at a rest stop might be a good idea.

But is it legal? I mean, it says "Rest Area" right on the sign, but are you actually allowed to sleep in your car at one?

Driving While Taking Pictures Is a Traffic Offense

Now that so many of us have camera phones, we are all photographers. The muse is at work wherever we go, and the urge to snap a shot while driving or at a stop may be irresistible. But it is dangerous and you may be ticketed for it.

While there may be no explicit statement about photography in your state traffic laws, snapping photos when you're supposed to be focused on the road and other drivers is distracted driving. Distraction causes accidents, and distracted driving is a traffic infraction.

A husband and wife walked into a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California yesterday morning and opened fire. The two were killed after a police pursuit and shootout, but not before they killed 14 people and wounded up to 21 others.

Details were hard to come by as the story unfolded yesterday, but law enforcement and news organizations have begun to piece together a narrative of the shooting. Here is what we know so far:

Is It Legal to Pass on the Right?

The details vary from state to state but, generally speaking, passing laws are created to keep drivers safe. Tickets remind us that even on the open road, there are rules and you must stay in line with the law. You can pass on the right in some states but only under very specific conditions.

Passing on the right lane is only ever allowed when it does not endanger other drivers and the way is visible. While you will still need to look up the traffic laws in your state, let's take a look at California's code, which provides for passage on the right in very particular circumstances.

Just because you managed to get home, or wherever else you were driving, doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. You may have managed to avoid the sobriety checkpoints or being pulled over, but if you drove drunk you can still be arrested and charged with a DUI. While arrests for DUI after the fact are rare, they do happen and the penalties can be just as serious.

Here’s how the police (and you) may deal with a DUI arrest after the fact:

What to Do If Accused of Domestic Abuse

If you are criminally charged with domestic violence, or if someone is filing a civil request for a restraining order against you, you must get representation. Do not try to defend yourself without help, and do understand that the consequences are extremely serious.

While the two situations are different -- the criminal case and the civil request for restraint -- they can become intertwined. Let's look at how domestic violence is defined and what to do if you find yourself accused.

Over the weekend, University of Illinois Chicago engineering student Jabari Dean took to the comments section of a hip hop culture website and threatened to shoot students and staff at the University of Chicago. That threat led the FBI to close the school's campus Monday, and led to Dean's arrest the same day.

It's a reminder that law enforcement takes online threats seriously, especially when they involve campus shootings.