FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

October 2017 Archives

In December 2015, Virginia-born Mohamad Khweis bought one-way plane tickets from the United States to London, then to Turkey. By November 2016, he had been indicted on terrorism and weapons charges.

In between, Khweis had been smuggled into Syria, joined ISIS, fled the group, and was captured by Kurdish forces in Iraq. And last week, after contradicting himself on the witness stand and failing to provide a credible story as to his time with ISIS, Khweis was sentenced to 20 years in prison. What happened?

When Jay Rosoff alerted sheriff's deputies that his 85-year-old father Moe was not moving around in his West Boynton, Florida home following Hurricane Irma, he was expecting help from officers and hoping for the best. And while three officers did help Moe get to the hospital after finding him collapsed on the floor in his bathroom, another did something far worse.

The same surveillance cameras installed in Moe's house that told Jay his father might be in trouble also showed Palm Beach County sheriff's Deputy Jason Cooke entering the home after it was empty, rummaging through cabinets and drawers, and allegedly stealing medication, cash, and jewelry. Moe Rosoff passed away at a hospital hours later, and Cooke has been charged with grand theft of a controlled substance and armed burglary during a state of emergency.

When it comes to crimes that shock the public conscious, the recent shooting in Las Vegas clearly qualifies. Almost 60 people were killed, and many more were injured, when a man opened fire on a crowded music festival. While not as shocking, the brother of Stephen Paddock, that Las Vegas shooter, Bruce Paddock, was recently arrested on possession of child pornography charges.

It is alleged that Bruce Paddock was in possession of over 600 images of child pornography, including several depicting children under the age of 12. He was arrested in Los Angeles, California, and is currently being held in custody with a $60,000 bail which has not been posted. His attorney sought a release from custody into the care of a nursing facility as he had recently had back surgery, and requires a wheelchair for mobility and constant pain management.

There are Halloween pranks and hijinks, and then there's Halloween crime. Often there will be a fine line between the two.

As parents, before you let your little to medium-sized troublemakers loose on the neighborhood, you may want to discuss some of the most common pranks that are actually crimes. Not that your child will be doing any of it, but in case they see it, you'll want them to be informed.

As many have noted, the rise of the American carceral state has coincided with the demise of slavery, leading many others to note that burgeoning prison populations have replaced forcible servitude based on race. In some ways, this is framed as a positive and redemptive story, like California inmates being paid $1 an hour to fight forest fires. In other, worse ways, it looks more like work at the end of a whip, like extorted labor from inmates at private immigration detention centers.

Either way, few law enforcement officials have so nakedly admitted to wanting to retain inmates as a source of cheap labor as Louisiana Sheriff Steve Prator. In the face of the Bayou State passing a set of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the prison population, Sheriff Prator expressed his interest in keeping "good prisoners" incarcerated: "In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money."

So which inmates should we be interested in releasing, and should the amount or value of their labor factor into that decision?

As states have been relaxing their marijuana prohibitions and the feds have refused to budge on theirs, questions abound about whether and when federal law enforcement officials can investigate, charge, and prosecute marijuana users complying with state laws. A 2014 law, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, appeared to clarify that issue, prohibiting the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent States from implementing their own medical marijuana laws, including prosecuting legal medical marijuana users.

Last week, the DOJ admitted it was violating that protocol when it charged five Washington residents with federal drug distribution crimes for growing and consuming medical marijuana under state law. And while this may be good news for medical marijuana patients, it may not last that long. Here's why.

Two and a half years after he was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to those charges this week. According to reports, there was no pre-trial agreement between Bergdahl and Army prosecutors prior to the guilty plea, meaning he could face the maximum penalty for both counts.

So what are the penalties for military desertion? And could Bergdahl be looking at more time in confinement for the misbehavior charge?

Two years ago, as fourteen wildfires engulfed almost 250,000 acres in California during a historic drought, we wondered whether prison inmates should really be making up 30 percent of the firefighting force in the Golden State. This week, after 41 fatalities and almost 150,000 scorched acres in Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, the question isn't so much whether inmates should be fighting forest fires, but whether they should be paid more to do so.

The American Bar Association is reporting that almost 4,000 inmates in California are getting paid $1 an hour to clear and maintain fire containment lines. One bonus? For every day spent battling blazes, "incarcerated" fire fighters can shave two days off their prison sentence.

When you're being read your rights and advised of the law, you want that information to be accurate; especially if English isn't your native tongue and you're relying on a translation of your rights. But a Massachusetts woman is claiming that a local police department "has for years used an erroneous and unlawfully coercive Spanish-language advice of rights form in connection with arrests and prosecutions of Spanish-speaking Hispanic individuals" for DUI-related offenses.

And this is two years after the local district attorney admitted the form was a problem and would be working with the police department to "rectify it." Now the woman is suing the city, the police department, and the district attorney in federal court.

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibits accessing a protected computer without authorization. That seems clear enough, until you consider the myriad permutations of authorization.

Let's say I have permission to access a computer at work. Can I give authorization, by way of my username and password, to a coworker? What about someone else? Let's say a former coworker had his access to our computer system revoked, and I let him use my login info -- does that make me a hacker? Or him?

The Supreme Court declined to weigh in on these questions, presumably believing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had settled them adequately. So what were those cases and what constitutes hacking nowadays?

Maybe Worth County, Georgia Sheriff Jeff Hobby watched Lean on Me one too many times. In that movie, high school principal Morgan Freeman violates fire codes and countless other laws in order to keep his students safe from drug dealers. Perhaps that's what Hobby thought he was doing when he and 40 other officers locked down Worth County High School for four hours, ordering around 800 students up against walls, patting them down, and even demanding cell phones as part of a massive, warrantless drug search last April.

While the surprise sweep yielded no drugs whatsoever and led to zero arrests, the sheriff himself and two of his deputies were indicted on charges ranging from violation of oath of office to misdemeanor sexual battery.

Vaccinations have been a hot topic for years now, and even with little evidence they are harmful to children, many parents are choosing to not vaccinate their kids. And for the most part, that's OK, legally speaking. But there are a few exceptions to that rule, and one of them is when a judge orders you to vaccinate your child.

This week, Michigan mom Rebecca Bredow was sentenced to seven days in jail for failing to vaccinate her 9-year-old son, but her real crime was ignoring a consent order to do so.

We tend to get most of our legal information, especially in the criminal context, from television and movies, with the odd, sensationalized news story thrown in. And that's true when it comes to criminal appeals as well: prisoners on death row can delay their execution for years on appeal; good convictions get tossed out on a technicality, bad convictions get overturned after an innocent person spends decades in prison; DNA evidence exonerates someone sentenced to die.

But the appeals process isn't quite as simple as saying, "I didn't like the verdict." Nor is it as interminable as many think. Here's what you need to know about criminal appeals.

'Making a Murderer' subject Steven Avery had his motion for a new trial denied by a Wisconsin judge this week. The motion for a new trial was based upon new evidence, including DNA evidence and witnesses that were never provided to the defense by the state.

Despite losing the motion, Avery's attorney has not given up the fight. Apparently, the decision came as a surprise to both sides, as they had recently reached an agreement regarding testing certain pieces of new evidence, and amending the motion for a new trial based upon the anticipated test results. However, the judge considering the motion was unaware of the planned tests and amendment.

The Supreme Court, when not on summer vacation, is pretty busy. And the fall 2017 docket, the Court's first with new Justice Neil Gorsuch, is shaping up to be a momentous one. While the Court will be deciding a variety of cases, from the enforceability of arbitration clauses to political gerrymandering and from discriminatory bakers to sports gambling, the justices will also be weighing in on some serious criminal law cases.

Here's a look at a few of those cases, and what they could mean:

In a move sure to harsh the mellow of many a Mile High City marijuana enthusiast, Colorado is outlawing certain edibles, targeting those that might confuse children into ingesting cannabis. Not only does this mean no more pot gummy bears, but any edible "in the distinct shape of a human, animal or fruit, or a shape that bears the likeness or contains the characteristics of a realistic or fictional human, animal, or fruit, including artistic, caricature, or cartoon renderings."

The new rule goes into effect October 1, perhaps in an effort to ensure that toddlers' Halloween treats are free of any THC-laced tricks.

Hours after Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of Las Vegas concertgoers, killing 58 and injuring over 500 more, his brother told reporters Paddock was "not an avid gun guy at all." "Where the hell did he get automatic weapons," Eric Paddock told CBS News. "He has no military background or anything like that."

Police discovered at least 10 guns in the Mandalay Bay hotel room from which Paddock shot, including .223 caliber and .308 caliber assault rifles. Investigators believe all of the weapons were purchased legally, although initial reports suggest some of the rifles used may have been altered to function as automatic weapons. Here's a look at Nevada's gun control laws, which may have governed the sale and possession of those weapons.