FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

January 2016 Archives

Street Gangs Are Getting Involved in White-Collar Crimes

We like to think that society gets more sophisticated as we acquire technology and wealth, and there is some evidence that this is true. Even street gangs are savvier now than ever before, and they're working on new scores, like financial frauds that were once the domain of white collar criminals.

The turf of street gangs has traditionally been the street, usually the streets where gang members lived. But now our notions of connectedness have changed, and the same goes for gangs, who are turning from violent crime to identity theft, tax and medicare fraud, and money wiring schemes, reports the Associated Press. While all crime harms society, and financial fraud is devastating, there may be reasons to be pleased with the egalitarian turn that crime is taking.

If you've been paroled out of jail, or are on probation trying to avoid jail, the last thing you probably want to see is law enforcement at your front door. Often officers want to search your home, and they don't always have a warrant.

But do they need one? Or can law enforcement just search your home if you're on parole or probation?

How Common Is Violence in the Workplace?

Everybody gets irritable about work sometimes. No matter how awesome a job might be, all jobs have some annoying aspects. That said, not all of us respond to stress the same way. We don't all go postal, as the saying goes.

So just how common is workplace violence? The US Department of Labor (DOL) says it is "a frustrating problem facing Federal agencies today" with "staggering costs." And the numbers that the agency cites might shock you.

Planned Parenthood Plot Mastermind Faces Prison for Fake ID Use

When Texas prosecutors began investigating Planned Parenthood last year after anti-abortion activists released videos implicating the organization in fetal tissue sales for profit, it seemed likely that criminal charges would soon follow. But the scandalous plot took a surprise twist, and now the anti-abortion activists are on the spot.

Harris County, Texas, grand jurors indicted the schemers instead of the targeted organization. Now, David Daleiden, the mastermind behind the scheme, faces two criminal counts. He is charged with a misdemeanor tied to the prohibition on peddling human organs and a felony for use of a fake i.d. to deceive and harm Planned Parenthood. The young man, 27, faces decades in prison if convicted, reports Time.

Is Quitting the Military a Crime?

When you joined the military you pictured international adventures, being part of a team, and fulfilling a dream. But now you are a few months into your enlistment and instead of feeling thrilled, you're filled with regret. Should you quit? Can you? What are the consequences?

Early release from the army is possible, although you have signed a somewhat extraordinary employment contract. Don't just go Absent Without Leave (AWOL) or desert without a word because that will get you punished by a military tribunal. But be aware that there are certainly limits to how you can leave the army.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, President Barack Obama announced that he would prohibit solitary confinement for juveniles being held in federal prisons. The president pointed to the devastating and lasting psychological consequences of solitary confinement, as well as the need to give offenders a second chance as reasons for the ban.

The measure comes one day after the Supreme Court expanded the prohibition on mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders and amidst larger efforts from both parties in Congress to reform the criminal justice system as a whole, and sentencing and prisons in particular.

In March 2012, an off-duty police officer shot and killed Kenny Smith outside a Cleveland bar. Although Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty initially said Officer Roger Jones "correctly and heroically took action to protect the safety of the citizens of Cleveland," Smith's family was awarded $5.5 million in a wrongful death claim in September.

Smith's family has yet to see any of that money, and they possibly never will. That's because Cleveland's law department is trying a new way around paying millions in civil judgments against the city's police officers.

Do Online Dating Apps Lead to More Crime?

Dating has changed. Now people inspect profiles and assess suitable matches online. It seems safe enough, which must be why so many seek romance with dating apps like Tinder and Grindr.

But there is some concern that this sense of safety is deceptive as dating apps are increasingly mentioned in connection with crime reports. Are these apps responsible for more crime, asks The Guardian? Or are the apps now simply a part of our dating stories?

We already know the rights of those arrested and charged with a crime are limited. DUI suspects must submit to blood and breath tests. And the police can collect DNA samples from anyone they arrest. But what about jails forcing women inmates to submit to pregnancy tests?

This somewhat unusual practice was allegedly commonplace in Alameda County jails for several years, until the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the county over the practice. While the county has agreed to discontinue mandatory testing, whether it's legal in other jurisdictions remains to be seen.

LA to Pay $24M in Wrongful Conviction Settlements

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it takes longer to get to the punch line in life. Two men falsely imprisoned for decades will be getting cash from LA: $24.3 million between them, reports ABC News. And one of the men is named Kash Register. No kidding.

Kash Delano Register and Bruce Lisker this week settled wrongful conviction lawsuits with the Los Angeles City Council. Each spent more than 25 years in prison as murderers, convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Can You Be Charged With a Crime Against Humanity?

Crimes against humanity are atrocities committed on a grand scale, often during war, and directed at a civilian population. They are prosecuted by either national or international tribunals.

The first such trial was in Nuremberg, Germany in 1947. The Nuremberg trials were prosecutions of the most prominent Nazi Party leaders alive after World War II, people responsible for the death and displacement of millions throughout Europe, and their trials were international events because they implicated humanity itself. Unfortunately, these were not the world's last woes by any stretch of the imagination. The definition of crimes against humanity has since expanded as such prosecutions continue.

The Department of the Treasury announced a new strategy in crime fighting: figure out who's behind companies used to pay "all cash" for high-end residential real estate. The Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said it will now require title insurance companies to identify buyers of luxury real estate in Manhattan, New York and Miami-Dade County, Florida. 

Those of us who can't afford a mansion or high-rise condo can at least rest easy that we're not being added to a government watch list. (Yet.)

Victimless Crime and Punishment Overview

The phrase 'victimless crime' can be surprisingly controversial. A victimless crime is defined as an offense to which all parties consent and no one is injured. But not everyone agrees on how 'injury' should be defined; and some ask, if no one is injured why is it a crime?

Widow Sues Twitter for Supporting Terrorists

Social media is often celebrated for connecting people internationally and providing a voice for the many. But a new lawsuit filed in federal court by the wife of a man killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan sees a dark side to the free flourish of exchange. Tamra Fields blames Twitter for allowing terrorist groups to thrive on its platform, and is suing the company, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims that "for years, Twitter has knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits. This material support has been instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out numerous terrorist attacks."

Has Twitter violated any criminal laws?

2015 seemed like the year of the white collar criminal. From crooks on Wall Street to cooked wagons to cyber-wagering, the past year gave us our fair share of villains in business suits.

But who are the most notorious white collar criminals out there today? And what does their tomorrow look like?

Are There Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge?

Statutory rape is an unusual crime with very few defenses. Even if an underage partner consents to sex, relations with that partner are against the law and will be charged criminally, regardless of use of force.

People below a certain age cannot legally consent to sex. Statutory rape laws exist to protect children, even from themselves, so if a youth says they are of age to consent, that has historically not been a defense. Meanwhile, the consequences for an adult charged with this crime have been severe. But as times and norms have changed, states too have started to modify the laws.

Obviously, possessing illegal drugs anywhere can get you into trouble. But all states and even the federal government have increased penalties for possession in so-called drug-free zones like schools.

So when do these laws apply, what do they look like, and what are the possible penalties for bringing drugs to school?

How to Act in Court for a Speeding Ticket

You got pulled over for speeding and you've heard about people beating tickets. So you go for it. Before the officer is even by your car, you are preparing your legal arguments, an eloquent list of reasons why you should not be fined for failing to follow traffic laws.

You're pretty sure this will work because you read about people doing this on the Internet. But the officer is unimpressed by your claims and now you have to go to court. How can you master the sport of beating tickets? Beyond your interaction with law enforcement, how should you act in court?

Alumni Accuse RI Prep School of Sexual Abuse

About 40 former students at a prestigious Rhode Island prep school have made what are being called "credible reports of sexual abuse, and in some cases rape" by former staff and students, The New York Times reports. The accusations span four decades and are aimed at seven former staff members and four students at the St. George's School.

The school last month announced it was doing a preliminary investigation and it will soon announce who will take over. St. George School found 26 cases of abuse in the 70's and 80's. Victims' lawyers report another 40. "Together, the school's report ... and the lawyers' reports ... paint a picture of unchecked sexual misconduct at the elite prep school in Middletown," writes The NYT.

AZ Considers Police Filming Limits Despite Constitutional Right

Arizona Senator John Kavanagh has proposed a law that will make it illegal to film police up close when they are working. The legislation would make it a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and a $300 fine to film police within 20 feet of their work, reports Ars Technica.

But similar proposals have failed in others states and the law on filming police has been settled by courts around the country. We do have a First Amendment right to record police officers at work in public as long as it is not surreptitious or disruptive.

Gun violence, and the laws intended to curb it, has increasingly become the central focus of politicians, legislators, citizens, and courts. And judging from recent laws and rulings, that won't change any time soon.

One of those new laws is California's "gun violence restraining order," which allows police to seize and destroy firearms possessed by mentally ill people. How does this law permit legal gun seizures, and under what other circumstances may police legally seize guns?

A Process Primer Ahead of 'Shrimp Boy' Appeal

Last week Raymond Chow, the San Francisco Chinatown mobster-turned-community-activist known as Shrimp Boy, was found guilty of 162 criminal counts by a jury in a federal court. He immediately announced that he'll appeal the verdict. What does that mean exactly?

Appeals can be confusing and are often misunderstood, even by defendants. So before Shrimp Boy files his brief, let's look at the appellate process, what it can and cannot do, and what an appeals court reviews.

2 Refugees Arrested in the U.S. for Terror Ties

Terrorism-related arrests are increasingly commonly in the United States. Last year, nearly 70 people were reportedly arrested for involvement in actual terror plots or for providing material support to a terrorist organization. 2016 starts with two new arrests, this time in Texas and California.

The two arrests may be related and the accused may have had ties with each other, CNN reports. Both men are described as Iraqi-born Palestinians living as refugees in the United States, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Both are accused of lying to officials about their alleged ties to terrorist organizations.

Are Militias Legal?

They're right there in the Constitution, prefacing the right to bear arms: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ..." Those words were ratified in 1791, a time before a standing army, National Guard, or city, county, or state police forces.

Are militias still necessary? And beyond that, are they even legal?

Criminal to Cop: Can It Be Done?

Sometimes our dreams develop based on strange or unexpected encounters -- a college student attends jury duty and is inspired to go to law school, say, or a teen is arrested and swears to join the police force someday. But will that youthful conviction bar you from making good on the dream of becoming a police officer?

The unfortunately unsatisfying answer is maybe. It depends. Let's take a look at what crimes disqualify a convicted criminal from becoming a cop.

Brian Encinia, the state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, has been indicted for perjury and will be fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after her arrest, and a grand jury determined Encinia lied on his arrest report.

DPS has initiated termination proceedings against Encinia, and special prosecutor Darrell Jordan said that a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

'Making a Murderer' Makes Lawyer Hero ... Just in Time

Lawyer jokes abound and attorneys are widely mocked and reviled. But the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer has given many Americans a new lawyer to love. And he came just in time, according to The New Republic.

One of the defense attorneys featured in the documentary, Dean Strang, has been making headlines and finding fans based on his portrayal in the series, which covers the murder trial of Steven Avery in 2007, who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit only to be accused of murder while his exoneration proceedings were happening. Along with defense lawyers Jerome Buting, Dean Strang has been called a hero for standing by Avery, and their timing could not be better.

President Barack Obama broke down in tears while introducing an executive order on gun control and condemning the gun violence and Congressional inaction that necessitated it. "Each time this comes up," the president said, "we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying. I reject that thinking."

Obama's use of an executive order to tighten gun control laws has become a lightning rod for Constitutional and political debate (all Presidents except William Henry Harrison have issued them, and Obama's total number of orders is the fewest of any two-term president since Franklin D. Roosevelt). But what does the order actually do, and how will it impact gun ownership?

Is It a Crime to Point a Gun at Someone?

It is a crime to threaten someone with physical harm if you seem to have the means and intent to cause the threatened harm. That crime is called assault.

Assault is generally defined as a threat that puts someone in fear of imminent harm, although state statutes do vary and assault is a particularly confusing crime because the term is sometimes used to refer to the related crime of battery as well. Pointing a gun at a person is likely to threaten their sense of safety and can certainly give the impression of intent to harm, so people are charged with assault for it.

We all know you can't threaten to kill the president. But what about a normal person? Or a whole race of people? Does it matter if it was on social media? And do emojis count?

While the First Amendment protects our freedom of speech, certain speech, like threatening to kill someone, can be a step too far. Here are the penalties you could face for murder threats.

Ethan Couch remains in custody in an immigration detention center in Mexico City, after almost a month on the run from law enforcement. The so-called "affluenza" teen and his mom were apprehended in Puerto Vallarta last week, apparently hiding out following a possible probation violation.

Couch was 16 when he struck and killed four pedestrians while driving drunk in Ft. Worth, Texas in 2013. He managed to get just probation and rehab after a defense expert testified Couch suffered from "affluenza," meaning he had been too coddled to be held responsible for his crime.

So why is he still in Mexico, and not back in the United States? And could his attempted escape to Mexico work?

How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Cost?

Criminal defense lawyers vary widely in quality and price. You can pay a lot for an attorney's fancy office but that is no indication of skill in court. Or -- if you are indigent -- you could end up with a truly top notch attorney with lots of experience, appointed by the state, whose fees you do not pay.

Apart from how much a lawyer charges, there are many other factors that influence what you'll pay for a criminal defense attorney. Let's take a look at them here, so you can know what to expect when you hire a lawyer.