FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

December 2016 Archives

Of all the places to give birth, jail sounds the least appealing. While jails and prisons in every state are required to provide medical care for their inmates, the way pregnancy and birth are handled varies quite a bit from state to state. Perhaps one of the most shocking practices that is allowed in over half the states is restraining or shackling an expectant mother, even while in labor, to the bed.

When it comes to questionable policies, it doesn't end there either. Some states only provide 24 hours of bonding time with the newborn, while others may provide for 48 or 72 hours. Only 10 states have programs that allow mothers to stay with the newborns beyond 72 hours, with New York being the most generous, allowing up to four years. Despite solid medical evidence that allowing newborns and mothers to have continued contact benefits both mother and child, most states do not have nursery programs, nor the means to provide childcare.

Unfortunately, despite the policies and duties that are in place, all too often, due to the deliberate indifference of correctional officers or prison administration, inmate pregnancies can go horribly wrong.

Freedom of speech has its limits, and some speech can be considered criminal. Fraud, threats, and lying to the police can all land you in jail, so deciding what expression is legal and what is not can be a difficult exercise in line-drawing.

So where does providing "emotional and legal support" to people who choose to end their own lives fall on that spectrum? On the criminal end, according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction of a national right-to-die group for assisting in a woman's suicide in 2007.

After two botched executions in 2014 of an Arizona inmate, and an Oklahoma inmate, much public attention was brought to the issue of what drugs are administered to execute death row inmates. After the two-hour long execution, Arizona's attorney general temporarily halted all other executions in the state, and a court order keeps the temporary ban in place until the order is lifted. While the two-hour long execution was successful, the inmate struggled, grasped for air, and moaned in pain during the process, which evidenced that the anesthetic, midazolam, was not working properly.

A problem for many states, like Arizona, that seek to execute death row inmates is the availability of humane methods. Drug manufacturers, while usually more than willing to make a sale, generally do not want their product to be associated with the death penalty and have made their products difficult to obtain for death penalty states.

While it may be common knowledge that caffeine is considered a drug, one California man may be facing an unheard-of DUI charge. After allegedly cutting off an officer from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, he was arrested for DUI. However, his breathalyzer results were clear of any alcohol. When his blood sample was taken, it also showed no trace of any drugs or alcohol, excepting caffeine.

The driver was arrested in August 2015, and the charges were not filed until June of 2016. While the district attorney in charge of prosecuting the case insists that the charges are not based upon caffeinated driving, the driver’s attorney explains that there is no evidence whatsoever of drugs or alcohol in his client’s system.

If you thought shoplifters were lone wolves who either couldn't afford food or were looking for a cheap thrill, think again. Just like in any industry, pooling your resources leads to increased profits. And shoplifters have learned that certain consumer products become very valuable when they hit the street and have begun coordinating attacks on stores designed to get the most bang for their robbery buck.

It's referred to as "organized retail crime," or ORC, and according to one California police sergeant, it works "just like a Fortune 500 company."

As everyone should know by now, school shooting threats, even if intended as jokes, are not cool and can get you arrested. For those still unaware, look no further than a 17-year-old high school student in California who allegedly left a "very crude" note in the school's office that included a specific threat to "shoot up the school and kill staff and students."

The student was promptly identified and arrested, and the school was shut down for a day.

Four more public officials are facing criminal charges due to the scandal over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, discovered in mid-2014. These four new defendants bring the number of people charged with a crime in a relation to the scandal up to 13. The four officials include two former state emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, and two Flint city water plant officials, Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson.

The two state employees are facing felony charges that could land them each 20-year prison sentences. The state level employees are the highest level officials charged thus far in the scandal. Both Earley and Ambrose reported directly to the state governor. The charges stem from knowingly endangering the public and failing to protect the public from the health hazard. The two water plant officials also face serious felony charges as well for conspiring with Earley and Ambrose.

It's fine to celebrate the holidays with a little drink, but no one wants a drunk driver ruining their holiday celebrations. And cops know better than most how dangerous drinking and driving can be. Perhaps that's why they crack down on DUIs during the holiday season and they're getting especially creative this year.

Here's a look at three unique ideas for keeping drunk drivers off the roads this year.

Yes, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington already legalized recreational marijuana use. Yes, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts joined them this year. And yes, the general trend is that states are relaxing their pot prohibitions.

But no, the federal government has not decriminalized cannabis. So yes, you can still get busted for pot possession on federal land, even if you're in a legalized state.

Recently, a Florida sheriff's department led an undercover human trafficking sting operation, in Polk County, hoping to arrest those who engage in prostitution as well as rescue victims of human trafficking. The sting, named "Operation Not So Silent Night," resulted in 114 arrests, as well as the discovery of 4 victims of human trafficking. The sting operation ran from December 8th through the 13th, and targeted both the sides of the problem.

Law enforcement placed ads online and responded to ads online in order to engage their suspects. When a potential buyer or prostitute arrived, law enforcement would make the arrest. The arrests were almost evenly split between those offering and those paying. Unfortunately, one officer was groped by a suspect before the arrest was made.

Despite the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaporizers, neither can be used on a plane. Recent regulations passed by the federal government went into effect this year officially prohibiting e-cigarette use or vaping. Additionally, because of the risk of fire posed by e-cigarette batteries, they are not allowed to be charged on planes.

Prior to the regulations, each individual airline had an independent policy prohibiting it, which was backed by a federal regulation allowing airlines to enact their own policies that don't conflict with the law. The penalties for violating federal aviation regulations can be extraordinarily severe.

People tend to celebrate the holidays with a few adult beverages. Not unexpectedly, many local and state police departments tend to crack down on drunk drivers during the holiday season. Which leaves many celebrants wondering about their rights when it comes to a DUI stop, especially in regards to field sobriety tests.

Can I decline a field sobriety test? What happens if I do? Can I get arrested anyway? What if I want to challenge the tests in court? We would never encourage anyone to drive after they've been drinking, and we can't give you specific legal advice, but what we can do is answer your most common questions about DUIs and field sobriety tests.

FAQ for DUI Probation

Facing a conviction for drunk driving can be really scary. You may have felt compelled to take a plea bargain, especially if it meant you avoided all jail time. Depending on your situation, usually any deal that avoids time behind bars is preferable to facing the unknown of a criminal trial. However, even if you avoid jail, you are likely going to be on probation for some time.

When a person charged with a DUI is sentenced to probation, they usually have lots of questions about probation. Below, you'll find 5 of the most frequently asked questions about DUI probations.

A Charleston jury found self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof guilty on 33 counts of federal hate crimes in the massacre of nine black church parishioners in the city last year. It took less than two hours for the twelve jurors to agree on guilty verdicts for each criminal charge, and they must now move on to the penalty phase of Roof's trial.

At stake is whether Roof will be put to death for the slayings or spend the rest of his life in prison, and he has requested to represent himself.

After 29 years, police have made an arrest in connection with the murder of Kae Robinson. Robinson was only 19 years old, and was sunbathing at Lake Weatherford in Weatherford, Texas when she disappeared and was later discovered murdered. While investigators continued to follow up on leads over the decades, the case had seemingly gone cold. That is, until this past January when the case was reviewed and a new approach taken.

The renewed investigation culminated in finding a suspect. The newly discovered suspect, Ricky Lee Adkins, is now 59 years old, and lived in the area during the time of the murder. While information connecting Adkins to the murder is scant in the news, a grand jury returned an indictment on capital murder charges. However, DNA evidence linking Adkins to the murder is currently being tested by authorities.

In June, Michael Steven Sandford reached for a police officer's gun at a Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas. After his arrest, he reportedly told Secret Service agents he planned to kill Trump and would try again if he were released from custody.

Sandford was sentenced to one year and one day in prison on Tuesday, meaning that, with credit for time already served and good behavior, he could be released as early as April. But it seems highly unlikely that the would-be assassin, who has been diagnosed with obsession-compulsion, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders and was on the anti-psychotic medication Risperidone at the time of the incident, will make good on his promise to try again.

Is Doctor Shopping Illegal?

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels in the United States, with the powerful prescription painkillers becoming more deadly than car accidents. In order to feed their addiction (or to obtain drugs for resale) many people will engage in "doctor shopping," going to multiple physicians and convincing them to prescribe more and more opioids. (Some have even been caught doctor shopping at veterinary clinics.)

So is doctor shopping actually illegal? And can doctors get in trouble if they've been duped?

Tips for Winning Your DUI Case

Facing criminal charges for driving under the influence can be scary and confusing. While a plea bargain deal may appear to be very attractive, most deals require a person to admit guilt or plea “nolo contendre,” which allows the court to adjudge a person as guilty.

When it comes to “winning” your DUI case, some might consider getting a good plea bargain as a win, while others will only accept an outright dismissal or not-guilty verdict. If you are only interested in the later, then the following tips might help you get to that dismissal or not-guilty verdict.

One of the most frequently enforced criminal laws against minors is underage drinking. On college campuses across the country, police departments are ready to surprise party-goers under the legal drinking age with arrests for being underage and under the influence. While college students are usually all over 18 years old, the legal drinking age is still 21, and as such, anyone under 21 who is caught drinking or possessing alcohol can be arrested for a minor in possession (MIP).

What comes as a shock to most is that in nearly every state, a person under the age of 21 can be arrested merely for holding an alcoholic beverage in public. It doesn’t matter if the bottle of alcohol is sealed shut, or belongs to another person. In most states, law enforcement doesn’t even have to see alcohol to make an arrest. Merely being intoxicated or registering a BAC above 0 can lead to a minor’s arrest for MIP. While most states have strict laws prohibiting minors from possessing, buying, or drinking alcohol, punishments vary from state to state.

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that an international ransomware and hacking operation, which hit a Pennsylvania county's district attorney's office for a $1,400 ransom, had been shut down. The bust happened as a result of a coordinated effort between 40 nations as the cybercrime operation had a worldwide impact. The DOJ announced that arrests were made in four separate countries and dozens of servers that hosted the malicious programs were shut down.

The Pennsylvania county district attorney's office was infected because a single employee clicked on a link in a phishing email that the employee believed to be from another legitimate government agency. The one click led to the office's files being locked until a bitcoin ransom was paid. The Pennsylvania prosecutors traced their hack back to Australia. Other victims of these attacks have had their computers taken over, and have had sensitive banking data stolen, leading to theft through illegal wire fraud.

Rideshare drivers have to put up with quite a bit of nonsense from riders, but one thing they don't have to put up with is a beat down. No matter how bad your Uber or Lyft driver messes up the route to your favorite mojito serving Scandinavian Jazz bistro, you can't hit them. As a former Taco Bell executive can attest to, attacking a rideshare driver can have far reaching consequences, including civil and criminal charges, as well as public humiliation and getting fired.

While riders that attack their drivers might not have their entire lives unravel like a wet, poorly rolled soft-taco, they can face criminal penalties just like an assault on any other person (FYI: the legal term for a physical attack on someone is actually "battery" not "assault"). Like many other crimes, assault (and/or battery) charges usually have varying degrees which differ depending on each state's criminal laws. And like all criminal charges, even a little misdemeanor can have far reaching consequences.

Perhaps it's the salacious nature of the crime that gets arrests on the news. Or perhaps police are more conscious of illegal sex trafficking of women and children, and are trying to put an end to it. Either way, reports of large-scale prostitution busts have been sweeping headlines from Texas to Virginia.

Two recent sting operations in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina netted a total of 21 arrests. Here's a look at police crackdowns nationwide.

Despite how rare it actually is that a criminal conviction will be based upon a fingerprint, thanks to the popularity of televised cop dramas, some would-be criminals go to extreme lengths to avoid fingerprint detection. Over the last few decades, numerous stories have emerged of criminals literally cutting and burning off their fingerprints. Shockingly, even plastic surgeons are being asked to help alter fingerprints.

Technically there is no law against a person altering or changing their fingerprints. However, other laws may be able to use an altered print as evidence for another crime. Also, it should be noted that changing a fingerprint does not remove a fingerprint. So after a fingerprint has been altered, a person will continue to leave fingerprints. If a person has changed their fingerprints, it is likely that any prints they leave will be more identifiable than they were before.

Additionally, fingerprints cover a person's entire finger and palm, and those with altered fingerprints may find themselves getting their full hand "fingerprinted." Simply the edges of a person's fingerprint, if not completely changed, can lead to a positive identification.

If you're buying a firearm, you've got quite a few options, from registered dealers to friends and family. You may even have a local pawn shop that carries pre-owned guns. Not only can pawn shops provide guns at generally discounted prices, they can be a great source for antique guns and rare or hard-to-find firearms.

But buying a gun from a pawn shop has its own risks and rewards, as Gil Horman at Guns and Ammo pointed out. Here are a few legal considerations to keep in mind before you purchase a firearm from a pawn shop.

Although the media portrays hackers as malicious computer programmers, it doesn't actually take as much know-how as one might expect to violate computer hacking laws. For starters, merely accessing another person's e-mail or social media accounts without authorization violates a decades-old federal law, and can also violate state and local criminal laws.

However, not all hacking is malicious or illegal. There are many "hackers" that are actually working to improve software, improve security, and generally do good things. What will make hacking a computer or device a crime depends largely on the type of hacking and the ownership of the device or computer.

You know you're not at your best when you're not well-rested. But being a little off your game when you're behind the wheel can be especially dangerous. A new study found that missing just one or two hours of sleep could double your risk of a car accident, and that getting fewer than four hours of sleep can make you over ten times more likely to crash.

And even if you didn't intend to fall asleep behind the wheel, if you do get into an accident, you could be facing serious criminal charges. Here's a look at "drowsy driving" and the possible criminal penalties.

If you ask most travelers this holiday season, they will tell you the biggest headache in airports is the security line. Shoes on? Shoes off? How much liquid can I have again? Beyond slowly kicking your carry-on through the line is about the pinnacle of boredom.

Surprisingly, there are ways to make this experience worse. So if you're trying to make your trip through airport security as smooth as possible, here's what not to do:

When a jury is asked to deliberate after hearing the evidence at a trial, they are instructed to apply the facts to the law in order to reach their decision. Judges actually provide juries with written instructions on the legal claims, which usually provide step-by-step explanations on how to apply the case facts to the law. However, on rare occasion, a jury will disregard the law, disregard the instructions, and reach a decision that is at odds with the evidence.

When a jury refuses to convict despite the evidence clearly showing a defendant's guilt, it is called jury nullification. Significantly, when a criminal jury acquits a criminal defendant, double jeopardy attaches and the prosecution cannot appeal or retry the case.

Accidents happen to the best of us. But some accidents are more dangerous than others, and some accidents can carry criminal charges and penalties. So it is with accidental shootings.

Accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm can be a criminal offense, depending on state laws. Criminal charges are most likely to apply when a person is acting recklessly while handling a gun. Here's a look at a few state statutes on accidental shootings and the criminal penalties involved.

The San Francisco criminal courts recently tossed out approximately 66,000 arrest warrants issued by local judges for defendants who failed to appear in court on quality of life crimes over the last 5 years. Generally, minor crimes such as urinating on a sidewalk, or being drunk in public, are characterized as quality of life crimes and punished by fines rather than jail.

However, San Francisco's justices have seen that the local homeless population, who cannot afford the fines, overwhelmingly commit these quality of life crimes. Although the San Francisco court has dropped the outstanding bench warrants for these, the charges/crimes have not been dropped.

During the holidays, it's not uncommon for cities across the country to see upticks in crime rates. Typical holiday crimes tend to involve either theft or poor decisions. While you may not be able to safeguard yourself from everything, knowing about the common holiday crimes might be enough to prevent becoming a victim.

Below, you'll find 5 common holiday crimes that everyone should know about.

While it may seem like a good or clever idea in the heat of the moment, lying to a police officer can land you in some real serious trouble. While the Fifth Amendment provides individuals with the right to be free from self-incrimination, otherwise known as the right to remain silent, there is no constitutional right that provides the freedom to lie to cops. Not even the First Amendment’s freedom of speech will protect a person if they are caught lying to police.

The penalties for lying to the police vary depending on the severity of the falsehood and the response/result of the falsehood. Additionally, aside from the differences in criminal law from state to state, lying to federal officers is treated much more seriously and is punished as a federal crime.