FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

July 2016 Archives

Between varying state laws and the seemingly continuous legal challenges, it can be hard to keep track of which open carry gun laws apply in which states (and to which guns). Lucky for us, Thomson Reuters put together a handy interactive map displaying which states allow open carry, which restrict it, and which prohibit it, and how the law differs from hand guns to long guns. (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw's parent company.)

So now you have open carry laws from all 50 states in one map, and can easily tell whether you need a license or a permit to open carry in your state.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Shoplifting?

You saw something you wanted. It was small and you were tempted, so you took it. Is that bad? Yes, especially if you got caught and are charged with petty theft. Criminal cases are always a big deal even if the charge you pick up is relatively minor.

If you got caught shoplifting and have been charged criminally, then yes, you do need a lawyer. Any criminal charge has consequences beyond the potential punishment associated with the offense, and a good defense attorney can make the state work to prove its case against you or negotiate a favorable resolution.

Dog in a Hot Locked Car: Teen Faces 5 Years in Prison for Animal Cruelty

Dogs may be our best friends, but humans are not always very friendly to their dogs. One woman in Virginia, 19, left her pet puggle -- a cross between a beagle and a pug -- in a hot car parked outside a pet store in Falls Church.

According to a press release from the Fairfax County Police Department, someone spotted the dog and called the authorities, but not soon enough. Although officials managed to break into the car and get the animal to the veterinarian in the nearby pet store, the dog died soon after. The owner, Megan Kurtz Campbell, was arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty.

Woman Faces Life in Prison for Fake Rape Fantasy Ad Responses

Some people can't take a break up and they want to make their exes pay when their love doesn't last. But a 29-year-old California woman is learning the hard way that revenge is a dish best not served at all.

Michelle Hadley could spend her life in state prison after responding to rape fantasy advertisements on Craigslist in the name of her ex-boyfriend's wife, according to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney's Office. She is charged with numerous felony offenses, including six counts of attempted forcible rape.

Top 5 Common DUI Questions

Everyone knows you shouldn’t drink and drive, or more generally, drive while impaired. Yet DUI and DWI are relatively common offenses, the types of crimes committed at all levels of society.

For this reason, it is a good idea to know a few things about handling a charge in advance of it happening. Of course, no one plans to get pulled over for DUI or charged with a crime, but why not be prepared for the worst just in case? Arm yourself with important basic information.

Welcome to FindLaw’s DUI Law series. If you have been charged with a DUI, know someone who has, or just want to know about the law and how to protect your rights during a DUI stop, please come back each week for more information.

One drunk driving conviction is bad enough. Now you’re facing a second? Like any other criminal offense, the statute is aimed at discouraging repeat offenders, so the penalties you may be facing are bound to be more severe than the first time around.

Here’s what could happen if you’re convicted of a second DUI, and how you might be able to minimize those penalties.

The right to a trial by an impartial jury of your peers is thought of as fundamental to our criminal justice system. But does it always work out that way? As it turns out, only some offenses require jury trials, and even some of those may end up in front of a judge instead. And what about verdicts -- are juries allowed to rule anything they want?

Here's everything you need to know about juries in criminal cases, from our FindLaw archives:

NJ High Court Says Cops Can't Stop Drivers for Legal High Beam Use

A driver having the high beams on alone on an empty city street at night is not a valid basis for a traffic stop, at least not in New Jersey. The state's highest court affirmed rulings below, finding that the search of a passenger in a car stopped on an empty street, based on illuminated high beams, was not reasonable. The lights did not give the officer probable cause. As a result, the passenger's arrest on a number of charges is suppressed, reports NJ.com.

In the face of recent police shootings, almost everyone has an opinion. And while the First Amendment protects your right to say most things, even critiques of the police, freedom of speech does have its limits.

Those limits have been tested by some social media posts -- and the subsequent arrest of posters -- following the sniper attack that targeted police in Dallas. So what can you say about the cops on social media before they start knocking on your front door?

Police Hope 3D Printed Fingers Will Unlock Murder Victim's Phone

As technology becomes more sophisticated, the police too are increasingly creative. Michigan authorities, for example, recently commissioned a set of 3D printer fingers to unlock a murder victim's smart phone.

The police believe that the phone holds information about the crime, Fusion reports. Keeping in mind the difficulties of the FBI wrangling with Apple over defendant phone privacy, the Michigan authorities came up with a very creative workaround: copying the victim's fingers in the hopes of unlocking the phone.

Can My Lawyer Turn Me In?

A lawyer can only adequately represent her client if she knows all the facts. On the other hand, a client may be wary of telling his attorney everything, for fear of it reflecting poorly on his case or that the attorney will turn around and spill the beans to prosecutors or the judge.

While there are legal protections in place to foster full communication between criminal defendants and their counsel and you should feel comfortable answering all of your attorney's questions honestly, these protections have their limitations. Here's what you need to know about attorney-client privilege in criminal cases, and when your lawyer might be required to breach it.

Snapchat Crime: Teen's Conviction for Video Upload Upheld

New technologies often lead to new legal issues. So it is with Snapchat, a social media site where people post videos that disappear after 24 hours. A California appeals court this week upheld the conviction of a 16-year-old high school student who uploaded a 10-second video of a fellow student masturbating in a bathroom stall and was charged with misdemeanor invasion of privacy.

The boy who was filmed committed suicide two weeks later, reports Ars Technica, but he was not considered in the criminal case. At issue here is privacy.

Prison Phone Call Price Cap Is in Limbo: FCC to Vote on New Proposal

Prisoners are not usually a coveted consumer group, except for a select few companies that profit from incarceration. Among these are prison phone companies Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies, which have been charging prisoners and their families exorbitant rates to communicate.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a rate cap on calls of all kinds and the companies fought it hard, winning a stay in a March federal appeals court ruling. That stay is still in place and compromise efforts by the FCC are under consideration, reports Ars Technica.

Whether you're a rancher or a suburban mom, seeing a coyote can be a bit frightening. Shepherds have always tried to keep them away from their flocks, and as neighborhoods expand, seeing a coyote lope down a street or through a city park becomes more common.

So are you free to shoot a coyote if it's near or on your property? And do you have to prove that you, or your children, or your sheep were in danger?

3 DUI Statistics You Should Know

Welcome to FindLaw’s DUI Law series. If you have been charged with a DUI, know someone who has, or just want to know about the law and how to protect your rights during a DUI stop, please come back each week for more information.

Drunk driving is dangerous and can have serious consequences for the drinking driver and everyone around. But DUI is a relatively common crime, one committed by people of all backgrounds and classes.

Sometimes people drive while intoxicated because they don’t realize they are doing it, unaware that they’re impaired until too late. Others just don’t appreciate the gravity of the risk, which includes not only lost lives but also criminal charges. So let’s take a look at some DUI statistics that may influence your decision to drive while intoxicated or to let others do so.

The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland has been the site of countless protests and counter-protests by both demonstrators and delegates inside and outside the convention. And if you're wondering about the legality of these protests, we've got you covered. (If you're wondering about the legality of plagiarizing a speech, or using a band's song without permission, we've also got you covered, here and here.)

To make sure you don't violate the laws while making your voice heard, check out these five things you need to know about legally protesting, at conventions and elsewhere:

Can Police Force Catheterized Urine Collection in DUI Cases?

How determined should authorities be to collect evidence from a reluctant suspect? Should they be allowed to strap someone down on a hospital gurney and take urine using a catheter without the person's permission but with a warrant? What if the warrant doesn't specify catheterization but simply authorizes police to collect blood or urine generally?

These are the questions that one South Dakota defendant, Dirk Landon Sparks, is asking after undergoing a forced catheterization to collect his urine. He seeks to have the warrant quashed and the evidence against him suppressed, saying that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment reasonableness requirement makes no allowances for such an invasive procedure. Let's consider his claims.

There's your classic DUI, where someone is pulled over for swerving or at a checkpoint, smells like alcohol, slurs his speech, fails some roadside tests, and gets arrested. These are, sadly, almost too common to count.

But then there are your more adventurous drunk driving affairs, involving pet squirrels and attempts to fake black ice on the road. Here are five of our favorite strange DUI stories, from the FindLaw archives.

When the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision this week saying that logging onto a computer network with someone else's credentials constituted criminal hacking under federal law, a wave of panic rippled through the Netflix and chill community. After all, some of us -- and we're not naming names -- are treating a friend's username and password like a free all you can eat buffet, and we don't want the feds kicking in the door in the middle of season three of "Orange Is the New Black."

So is the end of shared streaming access? Are you going to get locked up for logging into HBOGo on mom's account? Probably not, but there are reasons to be careful.

Federal Judge Rules Against Cell Phones as Secret Tracking Devices

A stingray, or cell site simulator, is a device that mimics the activity of a cell phone tower and provides authorities with location data. This week, a federal judge in New York ruled that such evidence requires a search warrant.

Cell phones may not be secretly turned into tracking devices, US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan ruled, finding this violates the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Reuters reports that this ruling is the first of its kind at the federal level.

Welcome to FindLaw's DUI Law series. If you have been charged with a DUI, know someone who has, or just want to know about the law and how to protect your rights during a DUI stop, please come back each week for more information.

Driving drunk? Bad idea. Driving drunk with a child in the car? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Drunk driving exposes you and other drivers to potentially deadly accidents, and drunk driving with kids in the vehicle puts them at risk as well.

In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that almost 20 percent of all traffic fatalities involving children 14 and younger were alcohol-related. Some states have responded by adding severe penalties to their DUI statutes if a child is in the car at the time, and other states apply child abuse statutes to cases of drunk driving. Here's when a DUI becomes child endangerment.

Police Nationwide Warn Players About Pokemon Go Crimes

In less than one week since its release in the U.S., Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game that is played on smartphones and in the real world, is changing how we live. Even if you don't play at catching imaginary Japanese video game characters in the world, you will be dealing with players running around all over town and maybe on your property.

If you're playing, try not to commit any crimes. Also, beware of unknown Pokestops, where you might become a victim. The game has already been blamed for contributing to rising crime rates. Certainly, police have had much to say about it.

Jail seems like enough of a burden in and of itself. You lose your freedom, perhaps your job and future employment possibilities, contact with your loved ones, and jail isn't always the safest place to be. As it turns out, incarceration can be expensive as well.

It may not seem like it from the outside, since most people think prisoners basically get free room and board for their time inside, but going to prison can cost you a pretty penny. Here's how much it costs to go to jail, from arrest to release:

Costs of Criminal Justice: Paying Legal Financial Obligations

It costs a lot to run a criminal justice system that accuses, investigates, prosecutes, and incarcerates people. Increasingly, jurisdictions are passing on the costs of the system to those caught up in it.

This is meant to help localities pay for criminal justice, but the result is that poor people especially are finding it very difficult to escape the clutches of the system, sometimes long after they have done the time for their crimes. Let's look at Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) and their impact as reported by the Atlantic.

Normally, when you think of good guys using tech to take out bad guys, you think of drone strikes on terrorists overseas. And, intentionally and sometimes accidentally, those drone strikes have started to hit a little closer to home -- targeting and killing American citizens, but not on American soil, yet.

But in the aftermath of the Dallas sniper attack on police, local law enforcement deployed an explosive-carrying bomb robot and detonated it near the suspect, killing him. Many believe it marks the first time officers have used a robot to kill a suspect, and some are worried about whether the police will expand the use of this kind of lethal tech in the future.

Welcome to FindLaw's DUI Law series. If you have been charged with a DUI, know someone who has, or just want to know about the law and how to protect your rights during a DUI stop, please come back each week for more information.

A future with self-driving or autonomous cars can be a bright one: less traffic, fewer accidents, and hopefully no more road rage. One of the many problems self-driving cars can help to solve is drunk driving. Impaired drivers could simply let their self-driving cars take over and get them home safe and sound.

But would it be that simple? We just had our first fatality in a self-driving car, but we have yet to have our first DUI in one. How would police handle a DUI in a self-driving car?

Arrested for Resisting Arrest: What You Need to Know

Luckily for many of us, the absurdities of the criminal justice system are an abstraction. If charges sometimes seem farcical from a distance, we don't worry because we don't think we'll be arrested. But some cases highlight issues in the system that cannot be ignored, and with protests happening all around the country, it seems like a good time to understand the crime of resisting arrest.

Justice Department Investigates Police Killing of Alton Sterling

Cell phone videos captured by citizen reporters show us cops on the job. Sometimes what we see is awful. Yesterday, such a video emerged, showing footage of two Louisiana police officers shooting Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, father of five, as he's pinned on the ground.

The Daily Beast spoke to Abdullah Muflahi, the convenience store owner who on Tuesday night in Baton Rouge filmed police killing his friend outside his shop. "It was a nightmare, it was a nightmare," Muflahi said. "I kept expecting to wake up."

The U.S. Justice Department has announced that it will investigate the killing. The conduct of the two police officers will be scrutinized by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.

The End of Money Bail?

Even if you've never been arrested, you've probably heard enough to know that the first thing you probably want to happen is to get bailed out. Bail is an exchange of money for a criminal defendant's freedom pending trial. The payment is designed to ensure a defendant's appearance at subsequent trial proceedings, and can either be a pre-determined amount based on the offense or vary depending on a defendant's criminal history or the circumstances of the case.

But a case coming out of Calhoun, Georgia may be calling the money bail practice into question. The city was jailing indigent defendants accused of misdemeanors and minor ordinance violations who couldn't raise enough money to pay bail, sometimes for as long as a week. After a federal judge ruled this violates a defendant's constitutional rights, the case is headed is headed for a federal circuit court of appeals, and possibly farther. Here's what that could mean for the money bail system.

Intent is an important element of criminal law and most crimes have an intent element, called mens rea. This refers to a defendant's mental state.

A defendant must have the requisite intent to be convicted of a crime -- an act alone will usually not suffice. So if you shoot someone with no intent to kill, that is not murder. The requisite mental state, coupled with the defendant's actions, is needed for a conviction for most crimes, and a statute that fails to articulate a defendant's mental state may be challenged.

That is what happened to stalking laws in Illinois, which were recently found unconstitutional.

What to Know About California's New Gun Laws

Just ahead of Independence Day weekend, California's governor addressed the pressing issue of gun ownership. He signed six gun control bills and vetoed five measures, including one that would have allowed people to petition courts for a temporary restraining order on gun ownership for seemingly dangerous coworkers.

The legislation, initiated after the San Bernardino shooting, reached Governor Jerry Brown's desk just the day before he acted, reports the Los Angeles Times. The bills moved quickly after last month's mass shooting in a Miami nightclub. Gun ownership advocates called the measures draconian, although the governor also vetoed certain limits on gun owners.

The vast majority of police interactions and criminal charges are settled long before trial and never see the inside of a courtroom. Those that do, however, can be long, complicated affairs. From setting a trial date to deciding who can testify and choosing a jury, criminal trials can be confusing, but they don't need to be.

Here are seven of the biggest questions concerning criminal trials, and where to go for answers:

Does Rising Heat Lead to Summer Crime Spikes?

The summer heat has various effects on different people. Some become lazy and want to lie in the shade all day, and some get hot and bothered, all riled up, which may be why crime rates rise with the temperatures during the summer season.

Scientists have found a connection between high temperatures and higher crime rates. But it's not clear why crime rises in the summer. No one knows the reason for the phenomenon but there is evidence that it happens, as well as two competing theories circulating. Wired examined the different studies of the climate crime connection and called the link between heat and violence hazy. Let's consider.

The first dope dominoes that fell in Colorado and Oregon may start toppling more state prohibitions on marijuana. California, which last put recreational weed on the ballot back in 2010, will give it another go this November, as will four other states; and three more will put medical marijuana to a vote this fall as well.

Along with Congressional pressure on the DEA to reclassify marijuana, these waves are all part of a national sea change on the use, both medicinal and recreational, of pot to treat everything from cancer treatment nausea and post traumatic stress to a bad day at the office. So it's probably a good time to look at where state marijuana laws stand now, and what they might look like come 2017.