FindLaw Blotter: March 2016 Archives

FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

March 2016 Archives

Cannabiz: Can I Sell Marijuana to Dispensaries?

Any question about the business of cannabis has to be answered the same way -- it depends. Whether you are interested in growing marijuana for personal use or becoming a professional cultivator, the legality of the endeavor will depend on state and local laws and ordinances.

To the extent that weed is legal today, it is highly regulated and the rules vary quite a bit from one locale to the next, and state to state. Your best bet is to do a lot of research, armed with the following general principles, and then talk to a local lawyer.

If you've never seen or heard of an ignition interlock device, it's pretty much a breathalyzer for your car. You breathe into a sensor, and if your blood alcohol content is above a certain limit (or, in some cases, if alcohol is present at all) the car will not start. Some devices ask for breath samples while your driving, and others can alert law enforcement if you've violated a condition of probation or parole.

States have been passing laws requiring drivers with multiple DUIs, or sometimes just one offense, to install and pay for interlock devices in their vehicles. And there's been some new data on the effect ignition interlock devices have been having on alcohol-related car crashes.

Can I Go to Jail for Not Paying Restitution?

You were ordered to pay restitution at your sentencing hearing and you haven't done it, so you're scared you will go to jail. And you may, although there is a process and a prosecutor will have to prove a willful failure to pay in order to punish you for this.

In some criminal cases, restitution is ordered as part of sentencing, whether after a trial verdict or in a negotiated resolution. Paying restitution is often made a condition of probation, for example. Let's take a look at how restitution arises and what happens if you do not pay.

When you ask for a loan, a bank will run a credit report to see if you're a good candidate. Data from other banks, lenders, and vendors will spit out a credit score and the bank will then make its decision accordingly.

And when you commit a crime, local police now have the ability to run a threat report, gathering data from arrest reports and property records to social media postings in order to create a threat score, and tailor their response accordingly. If it all sounds a bit like Philip K. Dick's precogs, you're right, with all the attendant privacy and punishment concerns.

Burner Phones Could Be Made Illegal

You probably know about burner phones from televisions shows -- they are cheap, untraceable, disposable cell phones, and they may soon be a thing of the past if California Congresswoman Jackie Speier has her way. She has proposed a bill that would require everyone buying a phone in the US to register with a personal identification.

The proposed bill is meant to minimize crime and terrorist activities, eliminating opportunities for exchange between criminal elements. Although Speier may be underestimating the creativity of criminals and determination of terrorists, the proposal is certainly getting the attention of lawmakers and media.

White-collar criminals might not look like the typical gangster in TV or movies, but they are breaking the law nonetheless, and often doing serious financial damage in the process. Whether bilking your grandmother out of her retirement funds or embezzling from your retirement fund, white-collar crime can take many forms and is often perpetrated by people trusted with access and authority.

Here are seven of the biggest white-collar crime concerns right now:

Teen Driving Curfews Linked to Lower Crime

Some states have graduated licensing programs that limit teenage drivers, barring them from the roads at night. These programs have proven successful in curbing car accidents among young people, and a new study finds they seem to also lower teen crime.

Notably, states that have had these programs in place for the longest time have seen the biggest drops in teen crime. The study's authors suggest that more states should consider the connection between night driving, crime, and violence for the safety of teens and adults alike. Let's connect the dots.

Most prisons outlaw cell phones. And yet that doesn't seem to stop many prisoners from obtaining cell phones and even keep up with their Facebook and Twitter accounts from inside. (Maybe all those prison guards should stop smuggling cell phones to inmates. Or prisons could hire more phone-sniffing dogs like the one at Riker's Island.)

And here's a new worry, from "Alabama's most violent prison" -- inmates are using cell phones to organize and livestream protests and prison riots.

Types of Prescription Drug Crimes

Prescription drugs are not legal for everyone, just the people to whom they are prescribed and only in the amounts allowed by the prescription. In other words, you can go to jail, pay fines, and be convicted for crimes (some of which are ultimately subject to a prison sentence) for abuse, distribution, or otherwise unauthorized use of prescription drugs.

Not every state has a separate statute to address prescription drug use in the criminal context. But they do all punish illegal drug use, which includes illicit prescription drug distribution and possession. So though it feels like no big deal to pop a pill from someone else's medicine cabinet or pill bottle, it can get you in a lot of trouble.

13,000 Arrested in 6 Weeks in Justice Department Sweep

For six weeks this winter, while most of us were just going about our daily routines, the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with local law enforcement, was conducting a massive sweep of 12 cities, arresting 13,000 people. The action targeted repeat offenders that the DOJ considers most dangerous, including many murderers it turns out.

Operation Violence Reduction, as this sweep was called, focused on cities where crime has been rising. In Baltimore, 23 people wanted for murder were arrested in less than two months, the Washington Times reports. And there are more impressive and scary numbers in this story.

Even if you live in a state that legalized marijuana for recreational use, and even if you have a prescription for medical marijuana, and even if you were never high on the job and only used marijuana in your personal time, you can still get fired for using marijuana. And if Comcast is allowed to fire a quadriplegic telephone operator in Colorado who used medical marijuana on his own time to treat violent muscle spasms, those with careers in education and public service are understandably a bit nervous about getting their own prescriptions or marijuana cards.

So does getting a marijuana card put you on some government list? And will your employer find out?

In 2009, the state of Ohio attempted to execute convicted murderer Romell Broom. Over the course of 95 minutes a medical team tried fruitlessly to find a suitable vein through which to administer a lethal dose of drugs. As The Washington Post reported, "they jabbed, poked and stuck the man at least 18 times, twisting and turning catheters this way and that ... They made holes in his arms, legs and elbows, his wrists, the backs of his hands and his ankles ... They took breaks, leaving the man on the gurney, and then came back to try again ... And at one point, a physician came in and inserted a needle until 'she struck bone.'"

In the end, the medical team gave up and Broom, in pain throughout the botched execution, was given a temporary reprieve. But that reprieve may be over. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the state can try to execute Broom a second time.

When Is Sexting a Crime?

You've probably heard of sexting by now. The word is a mashup between sex and texting and the act amounts to electronically conveying lewd and suggestive images with a smartphone or other technology.

Just as we now have new vocabulary associated with technologies that have infiltrated our lives, so do we have new crimes. But little legislation directly addresses sexting per se. Instead, prosecutors charge people using existing laws.

How Road Rage and Reckless Driving Are Related

Almost everyone has experienced road rage, that disproportionate anger we feel about other people's driving. It's not that irritation is wrong but road rage is often excessive for the situation. And it endangers everyone.

Road rage can lead to reckless driving, and there is certainly conceptual overlap between the two terms, yet there are distinctions. Transportation safety agencies are extremely concerned about road rage, but generally speaking it has yet to become a technical offense in itself, although there are exceptions. Most often, road rage is a term used to describe a bunch of different behaviors that amount to aggressive driving.

When victims of crime appear to be targeted for their race, nationality, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, one of the first questions that gets asked is whether the attack was a hate crime. As when Dylann Roof shot and killed nine parishioners in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina after telling them, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go."

Ultimately, Roof was not charged with a hate crime, which can raise even more questions about what qualifies as a hate crime and when and how they are prosecuted. Here are a few answers to those questions:

Homemade Bombs Target Police and Judge in Indiana

In a small city south of Indianapolis, a disconcerting pattern seems to be emerging. There were two bombings within two weeks this month, according to the Associated Press, and they appear to be aimed at those in contact with the criminal justice system in Madison, Indiana.

Both bombs were reportedly homemade devices. One targeted a judge at home and the other detonation was in the parking lot of the city hall police department. No one was injured but people are wary. As national authorities investigate, residents and the Madison law enforcement community wait nervously.

Caring for those in need can be a dangerous proposition. According to one recent study, almost 80 percent of nurses reported they were attacked while on the job in the past year. And health care workers overall are subject to more workplace violence and missed more work due to workplace assaults than any other profession.

Assaulting anyone is a crime, but assaulting certain people can mean increased criminal charges and penalties. Do these protections apply to nurses?

Electronic Everything: Crime and Control in the Cashless Society

"Take the money and run" is not an option in a cashless society, which is why some experts say that increased use of debit cards causes a drop in crime rates. There is evidence to support this, according to a new study discussed in The Washington Post linking a switch from cash welfare payments to debit cards with fewer criminal incidents.

But there are also reasons to fear life in a society where all the wealth is held electronically, as the New York Post points out. Do we want Big Brother (read an all-powerful government) able to yank all of our money whenever? Plus, street gangs, like the rest of us, can evolve technologically and have -- they are increasingly involved in crimes that were traditionally the domain of white collar criminals.

Until fairly recently, there were few laws regulating the private sale of guns. Known as the "gun show loophole," secondary sales and gun sales between private parties, such as at gun shows, were not subject to federal and state laws requiring background checks and record-keeping.

But both states and the federal government are cracking down on private gun sales, and in some cases requiring any gun sale to through licensed dealers. Does that apply if you're just trying to sell a gun to a family member?

Can I Be Jailed for Failure to Pay Criminal Fines?

It's a bitter irony but you can be made to pay prosecution costs and the costs for your jail stay in many states. In other words, you fund your conviction and punishment, and that's not necessarily all.

The practice of demanding payment from defendants is increasingly popular as state budgets shrink and courts look for ways to pay for the criminal justice system. It's been fought by some civil rights groups, who have argued in courts and by the press that constitutional protections for the poor have eroded.

Can I Switch My Criminal Defense Attorney Mid-Case?

So you hired a criminal defense attorney who seemed to suit your style but now you have been working with this person for a bit, and you are not thrilled. You can change lawyers at most stages of your defense, although not all, and not without the court's approval.

But there is a process for this -- you must file a motion with the court to substitute counsel -- and the details will vary from state to state. Before you make the switch, let's consider when and why you might want to change lawyers and the process for doing so.

Massachusetts Judge's Son Charged in Illinois Hate Crime

Two young men were arrested this weekend for spray painting racial slurs and the name "Trump" in a non-denominational chapel in Illinois. The Northwestern University students were in court on a bond hearing, where the judge was vocal about her feelings, according to ABC News.

"These allegations are disgusting to me," Judge Peggy Chiampas told Anthony Morales, 19, and Matthew Kafker, 18, both of whom are charged with hate crimes. For many young teens, getting chided by a judge must be scary. But Kafker was raised by one -- he is the son of the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, reports The Boston Globe.

They may not seem like serious offenses, but even minor crimes can have major consequences. While misdemeanors are capped at one year in jail, any incarceration can have a serious impact on your life and even misdemeanor convictions can end up on your record.

Here are a few minor criminal offenses, along with some tips on how to deal with them before they become major criminal problems:

After a Trump supporter was caught on tape sucker punching a protestor at Donald Trump's rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina last week, the Cumberland Sheriff's Office considered whether to charge the presidential candidate with inciting a riot. This was not the first physical altercation at a Trump rally, but it garnered national media attention perhaps because deputies, also from the Cumberland Sheriff's Office, immediately arrested the black man who had been punched, and only later charged the white man who punched him.

Trump's alleged response to the sucker punching incident was, "He was swinging, he was hitting people and the audience hit back. That's what we need more of." But it's what he has said at other rallies that may get him into trouble.

We've all heard the Miranda warnings before: "You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during the interrogation; if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you." Criminal defendants who can't afford a lawyer are most often assigned a public defender who is employed and paid by the county, state, or federal government. The vast majority of these governments don't bill defendants for these services.

Not so for South Dakota, where defendants are charged a $92 an hour for the right to a public defender, and then charged with a crime if they can't pay.

Is Chicago's Crime Spike Tied to Police Fear of Viral Videos?

Chicago police are taking it easy, or so it seems from the spike in murders and violent crime the city's experiencing. But they are not having a good time. If anything, officer morale is falling to new depths as murder rates rise, according to NPR.

Police Department officials attribute this to fear. Specifically, says Interim Superintendent John Escalante, fear of being at the center of the next national brutality scandal. Escalante stepped in as chief following release of a video showing police shooting black teen, Laquan McDonald, 16 times as he backed away, a video which rocked the Chicago Police Department and led to a US Justice Department investigation. Now Escalante must convince Chicago cops that they can follow the rules and keep the city safe.

Is Police Use of Sound Cannons to Disperse Crowds Legal?

We all have different ideas of appropriate communication based on our backgrounds, experiences, and occupations. Take the New York City Police Department, whose spokesman called sound cannons, "A safe and effective communication tool."

The police department is being sued by a group of 5 photojournalists, activists, and students who say they were injured by the sound cannons at a protest in December 2014, according to Reuters. The group is seeking unspecified damages for use of these allegedly deafening devices to disperse legal protesters, calling it unconstitutional.

It seems like every day we're hearing news of criminal defendants, some of them on death row awaiting execution, being exonerated by DNA evidence or otherwise having their convictions overturned. Often, they have spent decades in jail, all for crimes they did not commit. Beyond the moral and legal obligations to have a criminal justice system that doesn't incarcerate innocent people, there are financial reasons to make sure only guilty parties are convicted and go to jail.

A recent study found that serious mistakes in California's criminal justice system cost the state (and taxpayers) over $282 million between 1989 and 2012. This total included trials, incarceration expenses, appeals, and compensation for those wrongfully imprisoned in cases where the state failed to prosecute the right person or obtained flawed or unsustainable convictions. These are mistakes that must be avoided at all costs.

Parents Face Prison for Delayed Medical Treatment for Kid

Parents can make most decisions about the health of their children, but not all as a case in Alberta, Canada shows. A couple that gave their child a home remedy for his meningitis is facing five years in prison and the loss of their other children after a 19-month-old with meningitis died, according to Raw Story.

The baby was given supplements with an eye dropper rather than being brought to a hospital. Ezekiel Collet ultimately died from meningitis, or inflammation of the brain and spinal cord caused by infection. Prosecutors say that they are not accusing the parents of failure to love their child, simply failure to acquire the proper care.

Over 20 years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman, the Los Angeles Police Department announced it had "recovered an item with possible evidentiary value related to the Brown/Goldman double homicide." (The fact that this announcement was made on Twitter, while a dramatized miniseries on the trial airs on television, demonstrates just how far removed we are from1995.)

While the discovery of a knife supposedly recovered from Simpson's former estate has piqued even more interest in the case -- after all, the murder weapon was never found -- for now it only raises more questions about the police investigation, and offers little in the way of answers. But we do know whether O.J. could face a new murder trial.

They say there's a first time for everything, but that's not much of a comfort when you're talking about a DUI. The prospect of a losing your driver's license -- not to mention a criminal conviction on your record -- can be a scary possibility, especially when you don't know what to expect.

While dealing with a DUI charge for the first time is never easy, knowing these five DUI laws can certainly make it less painful.

Florida Governor Signs New Death Sentencing Law

Florida's Governor Rick Scott signed a new death sentencing law yesterday after the US Supreme Court invalidated the state's sentencing system in January. Capital punishment has been on hold since the old law was deemed a violation of a defendant's constitutional right to a jury trial.

The old Florida law allowed a mere majority of jurors to recommend a death sentence, according to The Miami Herald. The new Florida law allows the death penalty to be imposed if 10 of 12 jurors agree it is appropriate, among other developments. In most states, the death penalty must be recommended by a unanimous jury.

In an effort to focus on more serious crimes and reduce its backlog of criminal court cases, police officers in Manhattan will no longer arrest people for low-level offenses and prosecutors "will no longer prosecute most violations or infractions." The new initiative, set to begin today, will allow NYPD officers to issue criminal summonses instead of making arrests for offenses like littering, public consumption of alcohol, and public urination.

So can you walk around the Big Apple with a big can of beer or an appletini? Not quite. But your chances of going to jail for carrying booze around the city just went way down.

Geo-Tracking: Should Phone Location Info Require a Warrant?

It's the American way to expect privacy. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that no warrant shall issue without a detailed description of the person, place, or thing to be searched and probable cause. We expect law enforcement to follow rules that balance our right to privacy with the police's need for information to track down criminals.

But the balance shifts constantly as new technologies are created. Now privacy is threatened electronically, and while the FBI fights Apple over phone encryption, lawmakers are debating warrantless geo-tracking. It sounds fancy but basically the question is whether police should need a warrant to get location info from cell phone towers. Let's explore this.

Crime Facts: 4 Violent Crimes Defined by the FBI

If you judged by television shows or movies, you might get the idea that crime is the major preoccupation of American life. But just how often do crimes occur and which ones occur most commonly?

It is actually a bit difficult to determine because this is a big country with many jurisdictions and compiling the data is not easy. Still, the Federal Bureau of Investigations does just this every year, issuing a report about the previous year's criminal activity around the country based on reports from law enforcement authorities. Let's look at some of the highlights of the Bureau's release in 2015.

It may seem like a minor charge, something kids get in trouble for when they try to sneak an extra candy bar out of the store. But a shoplifting charge can have serious consequences -- to your criminal record and your bank account -- especially if the charge is a mistake, like you were not charged for something or the cashier forgot to remove the magnetic sensor.

Whether you're planning on fighting the charge, or just want to make sure you're getting the best plea bargain, you should probably hire a lawyer if you've been charged with shoplifting.

What Goes on a Criminal Record?

If you're accused of crime, you're probably wondering what will end up on your record, especially if you're not convicted. Unfortunately, the answer -- as it almost always is when it comes to legal matters -- is that it depends on a lot of factors, most notably state laws.

Is It a Crime Not to Send Your Children to School?

If you're not a big fan of public education, you may be hesitant about signing your kids up. Maybe you feel kids should learn from the university of life, and not from traditional education system.

If that is your plan, think again, as you could end up in big trouble. School attendance is compulsory in every state. Although the laws vary and there are some exceptions for homeschooling, there is nonetheless a general requirement that students attend school from age 6 to 16. Let's look at the law.

Facing criminal charges is a scary prospect. Fortunately, you don't have to face them alone. Having legal counsel when charged with a crime isn't just a good idea, it's a constitutional right. And one that you're probably better off exercising.

But even if you made the decision to hire a defense attorney, you still have to pick the right one. So here are five pieces of advice to consider when hiring a criminal defense lawyer:

The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned a law making it a criminal offense to refuse a blood alcohol test during a DUI investigation. The law had made it either a misdemeanor or a felony to refuse to submit to warrantless breath or blood tests.

Many states have penalties for refusing sobriety tests, but the court in this case determined that criminal convictions based on refusals violate drivers' Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

How Much Does Dealing With Your First DUI Cost?

Welcome to the club. You have now joined the millions of people in this country charged with the crime of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI). According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics nearly 1.5 million people are arrested annually and charged with this offense.

Now you are facing your first court appearance and wondering what to do and what it will cost you to clear up this situation. The answer depends on a number of factors, including where you were arrested, the facts of your case, and how you choose to resolve it. Let's look at your options.