FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

May 2009 Archives

Phil Spector Sentenced to 19 Years to Life, Must Pay Victim Restitution

As expected, Phil Spector received a sentence today which could very well mean he'll live out the remainder of his days in prison. The AP reports that the former music producer and songwriter was sentenced today to 19 years to life in prison for second degree murder in the shooting death of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson.

Spector's infamy is probably far more fresh than his fame, at this point, as the AP noted that "[d]uring jury selection, only a few panelists remembered Spector's heyday as producer of teen anthems including "To Know Him is to Love Him" by The Teddy Bears, The Ronette's "Be My Baby," The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and The Righteous Brothers' classic, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'.""

Spector's murder case has taken a long, circuitous route since he was charged in 2003 (a jury deadlocked in an earlier trial on the murder charge), and Spector has spent millions in defense fees. The sentence is adding some more to his tab too, as the judge "ordered Spector to pay $16,811 in funeral expenses, $9,740 to a state victims' restitution fund and other fees."

A tragic story out of New York today where a police officer, Omar Edwards, was shot and killed by a fellow cop last night. The shooting, unfortunately has raised questions about race and the procedures followed prior to the shooting. However, looking at the alleged circumstances of the offense may also make one wonder who could bear the brunt of criminal responsibility in this case.

The New York Times reported on those circumstances, as follows:

"Officer Edwards, a member of the Housing Bureau Impact Response Team, left duty about 10:30 p.m., approached his car and saw that a man had broken the driver's side window and was rummaging through the vehicle. The two scuffled, and the man escaped Officer Edwards's grip by slipping out of his sweater."

Edwards proceeded to chase after the suspected car thief, now suspected to be one Miguel Santiago (previously arrested on charges of robbery, assault and drug offenses). Thereafter, three plainclothes officers in a car encountered Edwards who was running with his gun drawn, and the fatal shooting ensued.

Pit Bull Bans Face Court Challenges: Are Pit Bulls Illegal Where You Live?

An appeals court yesterday breathed new life into a lawsuit challenging Denver's ban on pit bulls. The case and the ban itself stir emotional debate on all sides because it places owners with deep emotional bonds to their dogs squarely in the crosshairs of those concerned over the safety issues posed by an allegedly dangerous breed.

Denver, in response to such safety concerns, passed an ordinance in 1989 banning ownership of dogs generally described as "pit bulls" (using breed descriptions from the AKC) . The law says that pit bulls found in Denver are subject to impoundment, and, if the dog is established to be a pit bull at a hearing, it will be destroyed "unless the owner pays the costs of impoundment and agrees to permanently remove the animal from Denver". Morever, a violation of the ordinance is also a criminal offense with a maximum 1 year imprisonment and $1000 fine.

As suggested, the law isn't particularly new and state courts had previously rejected challenges to the ban's constitutionality. In this case, a lower federal court had dismissed all claims brought by the three pit bull owners early on, but a court of appeals yesterday ruled that, to the extent the owners had suffered past consequences due to Denver's ban on pit bulls, they could proceed on a claim that the pit bull ban was "not rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

Jayson Williams Sentence Requested, but Does He Need Jail Time or Help?

Former NBA star Jayson Williams might finally be doing some jail time, and it may be due to his recent behavior as much as the convictions hanging over his head. Briefly recapping the sad, long-running story of Jayson Williams, he was accused of aggravated manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his driver, Costas Christofi, in 2002 (the AP story has more of the details). Although Williams ended up getting acquitted of that charge, he did get convicted for covering up the fatal shooting, and there was a mistrial on a reckless manslaughter count.

Despite Williams' convictions, the judge in the case delayed sentencing pending his retrial for reckless manslaughter. Further complicating the issue of actually sentencing Williams are allegations of racial bias against the prosecution. The AP noted that in 2007 it was discovered that "an investigator in the prosecutor's office used a racial slur to describe Williams in 2002." Defense attorneys for Williams have since been trying to have the cover-up convictions overturned (presumably to the great annoyance of prosecutors).

Supreme Court Rules Pesky Prisoner Civil Rights Lawsuits Can't be Tossed Out

In a sharply divided 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court today slapped down a New York law limiting the legal avenues available for prisoner civil rights lawsuits against corrections officers.

Courts across the nation are no strangers to lawsuits brought by prisoners against corrections officers, wardens, judges, and sometimes pretty much anyone in the justice system they may feel is responsible for their plight. Considering that inmates do have quite a bit of time on their hands, perhaps it isn't too surprising that some are able to spend chunks of this time pursuing legal redress for perceived or real wrongs.

This was precisely why New York enacted Correction Law section 24.3, which as explained by the state's Attorney General, was designed to "further New York's legitimate interest in minimizing the disruptive effect of prisoner damages claims against correction employees, many of which are frivolous and vexatious."

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today overturned its own previously established rule limiting police from initiating an interrogation of a criminal defendant once he has requested an attorney at an arraignment or similar proceeding. Wait, does this mean what it sounds like it means? Can police simply ignore a defendant's prior request for an attorney and just pepper him with questions instead?

The way the alarming headlines read, one might think so, but in practical reality, things may not be changing quite as much as it sounds (although the four dissenting justices might disagree). Usually people hear about their "right to an attorney" in the context of the Miranda warnings that we hear recited all the time on TV or movies. What they might be surprised to know is that those famous Miranda warnings actually deal with the Fifth Amendment's protections against self-incrimination, as opposed to our rights to an attorney.

What Do New Poisoning Charges In the Sandra Cantu Murder Case Mean?

Could Melissa Huckaby Have Been Stopped Sooner?

California prosecutors brought new charges against Melissa Huckaby, the Sunday school teacher that got arrested in the highly publicized Sandra Cantu case. CNN reports that the additional charges involve the poisoning of another girl and a man. Considering that, if convicted on murder, rape and kidnapping charges, Melissa Huckaby would already face the death penalty, one might wonder why prosecutors would even bother bringing such charges, praticularly since they may result in a delay.

At this point, there can only be speculation, particularly since the results of toxicology and autopsy reports on Sandra Cantu were sealed and will not be made public (the judge explained there was a "great danger of public outrage"). However, just one possible reason may be that there is a tie-in between the methods and/or purposes behind the poisonings of the two individuals and whatever may have happened in the Sandra Cantu case. If so, it could serve to reinforce the evidence and other charges against Huckaby.

Criminal Self Representation in the Downturn: Five Considerations

When anyone gets arrested and charged with a crime, it can be a very traumatic experience. One of the first things that may cross their mind is whether they should call an attorney for help (at least, if they've watched any TV show or movies). If someone is a celebrity or simply loaded, it's pretty much a no-brainer to bring in an attorney, but for the average person in the midst of the current economic downturn, it might not be such an easy decision.

Everyone has a constitutional right to an attorney, but only some people qualify for a free attorney. If the individual charged with a crime is essentially not poor enough, they will have to decide whether or not to hire legal counsel, or represent themselves. The severity of the charges a person faces, as well as penalties (i.e. any jail time?) is probably the most important factor. But, in weighing any potential costs associated with any attorney, here's five key considerations to keep in mind:

Five Alabama police officers have been fired over the beating of Anthony Warren as he lay unconscious following a high speed chase and wreck in Birmingham. The video footage, which can be seen on CNN, is shocking, but perhaps just as alarming should be how long it took for the video to get discovered and actually lead to any consequences. The chase is believed to have occurred in January of 2008, more than a year ago, but just recently (and perhaps accidentally) came to light.

Now, obviously the five police officers who lost their jobs could face further penalties of both civil and criminal nature. Beating an unconscious suspect, even for a relatively short period of time, opens the door wide open to claims of excessive force in the context of a civil rights suit, as well as criminal charges to boot.

But setting aside what happens to the five policemen directly involved in the beating, perhaps it should be just as important to consider what happens to anybody involved in a coverup of the video. Indeed, an AP report indicated that authorities "believe numerous Birmingham officers and as many as a half-dozen supervisors saw the video over the past year, but none reported it."

The fall of federal prosecutor-turned-defense attorney to the stars Paul Bergrin has been swift, and now, hard. A couple of weeks ago he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to promote prostitution in exchange for a relatively lenient sentence involving probation and a fine. That was pretty bad, in and of itself, but it turns out that the serious felonies were just lurking in the wings, the AP reports. Paul Bergrin was charged today with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering among a slew of counts in the indictment against him.

According to the story, the charges would link Bergrin to the killing of an FBI informant (Bergrin has long been suspected of being involved). Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr. had this to say:

"A licensed lawyer, a former prosecutor essentially became one of the criminals he represents, supporting, encouraging, indeed directing, a criminal enterprise that engaged in murder and murder conspiracies, drug trafficking and financial fraud," Marra said in the statement. "Bergrin can now expect to feel the full weight of the very legal system he turned on its head with his conduct."

Missing Jury Duty: What Happens?

An Oregon man found out that being "extremely bored" doesn't make skipping jury duty okay. Grant Faber, 25, "just couldn't take it" anymore so he decided not to come back to jury service from a lunch break. The judge, understandably displeased, put out an arrest warrant for Faber based on contempt of court. Now Faber's situation was pretty extreme, considering he did actually show up and just decided to leave in front of the court's face. But what happens in the run-of-the mill case where someone accidentally, or due to unforeseen circumstances, missed jury duty?

The rules and penalties on missing jury duty vary depending on where a person lives, but jury duty is mandatory everywhere. Facing jail time for missing jury duty, however, is not common and a lame excuse and/or an angry judge might be prerequisites. Judges would probably prefer not to add more of a burden to the system by throwing someone in jail, after all. Penalties for skipping jury duty can be either civil or criminal, but often take the form of monetary fines. Furthermore, it might not achieve much to skip jury duty, as states and judges will still require that the jury service be served.

Colleen Hauser, Mother of Minnesota Boy Refusing Chemo, to be Arrested?

The case of Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old child who has Hodgkin's lymphoma but refuses to undergo treatment, took a dramatic twist into criminal-land today after he and his mother, Colleen Hauser, failed to appear in court for a hearing. According to a local news report, the judge in the case proceeded to issue an arrest warrant for Colleen Hauser, and followed that up with an order requiring that Daniel be taken into protective custody.

For anyone just catching up on the case, Daniel and his parents have refused to get treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs. But a judge last week ruled that the parents had "medically neglected" Daniel and that the state was permitted to intervene to get him the necessary treatment. At that time, the judge had indicated that custody would remain with the parents, although that's no longer going to be the case.

With all the ongoing chatter about legalizing marijuana, it appears that some government authorities might be thinking they'll go ahead and skip a few steps ahead and join the pot growing and distribution process. First, CNN reported about the "government's stash" of pot kept on the campus of the University of Mississippi, and now it turns out that if you lived in Gallatin County, Illinois, the person to see about buying an ounce of pot might have been your local sheriff.

Yep, according to the AP, federal authorities arrested Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin yesterday on a number of charges of distributing marijuana and carrying a firearm while trafficking drugs (the latter charge is just a tad ironic, assuming this was his service weapon).

However, the federal offense of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime is actually a very serious offense which is commonly thrown into the mix in cases involving drug dealers. Lawmakers know well that the presence of guns at drug deals, houses, etc. is no surprise, and for this reason even just having one nearby can be enough to have these charges stick. That said, a police officer being in uniform with his service weapon, while also dealing drugs, does add a twist to the issue.

Father Calls 911 Over School Board Member Son's Messy Bedroom

In another in a series of eyebrow-raising 911 calls is a report out of Ohio about a father who just couldn't take his son's messy habits any longer. Apparently this dad's 9-1-1 call was triggered after his son hurled a "plate of food across the kitchen table" and "balled his fist up at his dad when told to clean his room."

Another rebellious teen-gone-wrong? Nope, turns out the son in this case, who shares his dad's name Andrew (but apparently not his standards of cleanliness) is 28 years old. Teaching his son a lesson took on an extra level of irony here, considering that the junior Andrew Mizsak just happens to be a member of the local school board.

Should Dating or Social Networking Sites Be Required to Screen Users?

In what appears could be a tragic story of online chatting, turned-to-stalking, turned-to-violence, the AP reported on a 23 year old New York woman who was allegedly killed by a jilted online acquaintance. Although details are a bit sketchy at this point, the case does raise questions about online safety, particularly in the context of online dating sites.

According to police allegations, Raymond Dennis (aka Mike, as he was known online), met 23-year-old Nimzay Aponte online via AOL and (a dating site). Aponte allegedly refused to meet Dennis after their initial online encounters, but this was not enough to dissuade Dennis. According to the New York Daily News, "Dennis allegedly tracked Aponte to a job fair she was attending" where he found her talking to a group of men and women. He became enraged, stormed off, but came back and fatally stabbed Aponte at the same job fair the next day.

A story came out today on a Morehouse soon-to-be-graduate, Joshua Brandon Norris, who recently got "the break of [his] life" thanks to a pretty sweet plea deal on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. However, as noted by CNN, the case raises questions about just how such a plea deal came about, and whether any legal options remain available for the victim of Norris's offense, Rashad Johnson, who also happened to be another Morehouse student.

CNN described the circumstances of the shooting, which remain somewhat murky:

"The incident began at a Halloween party in 2007 at an Atlanta club, where Morehouse college kids had gathered for a bash. The club owner said he saw Norris causing trouble, and a bouncer threw him out the front door.

Minutes later, the people in the club heard gunshots and everyone hit the floor. The club owner said the shooter was the man he saw kicked out."

Although Erika E. Sifrit, who was convicted in the 2002 killings of tourists Joshua Ford and Martha "Genie" Crutchley in Maryland, has been referred to by a prosecutor as "Little Miss Scrapbook" (she kept "souvenirs" of her crimes), perhaps another nickname might be more appropriate for Erika and her husband Benjamin Sifrit. Perhaps, the "Cannibal Couple"? Well, almost, according to court documents relating to her request for a new trial, the AP reports. But it turns out that her decision not to be a cannibal might have come back to, well, bite her.

Reportedly, Erika Sifrit asked for a new trial based on "ineffective assistance" of counsel. What does that mean? As you might be aware, everyone has the constitutional right to counsel in a criminal case. What many people might not know is that not only is a criminal defendant entitled to an attorney, but that attorney also has to perform in a reasonably "effective" manner.

Cyberbullying Law Coming Soon? MySpace Suicide Case Leads to Legislation

As the now-infamous MySpace suicide case winds to a close, it looks like Congress may at the same time be taking a shot at legislation aimed squarely at cyberbullying. The law introduced last month, entitled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act after the victim in the MySpace case, would become the tool of choice for prosecutors to pursue cyberbullies. This became pointedly necessary, at least politically and in the court of public opinion, after prosecutors had to strain to find a way to go after Lori Drew in the Megan Meier case, eventually doing so using an anti-hacking law in a novel fashion.

CNN's SciTechBlog yesterday pointed out valid concerns regarding the broad language of the bill, particularly as it pertains to bloggers and those who enjoy partaking in "flame wars" on message boards. Specifically, the law makes it a crime punishable by fine or up to 2 years of prison time to communicate online "with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person." Huh...not confessing to anything here, but that language alone is pretty worrying (as anyone who may be prone to gloat and/or taunt electronically over real or fantasy sports victories might agree).

Under fire from numerous state attorneys general, Craigslist is canning its "erotic services" category for ad listings. That is, at least, in its current form which will be replaced with a modified version.

Calling Craigslist a "blatant Internet brothel", Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced, "I was informed by Craigslist late last night that it will eliminate the 'erotic services' section within seven days, create a new section called 'adult services,' and manually review every ad posted there to bar flagrant prostitution and pornography." Furthermore, CNN notes advertisers will be getting charged $10 for each ad placed.

I suggested in a prior post on the subject of prosecuting websites for users' misconduct that, despite potential legal protections Craigslist may enjoy, it's quite possible that websites and/or providers are approaching the public-opinion tipping point at which it becomes necessary to re-calculate the "balance" between online freedoms, on one hand, and abusive or illegal behavior on the other.

Death Row Inmate Paul House Cleared After 22 Years: What Next?

Paul House, an individual convicted and sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey has now been cleared of the charges against him. House's incarceration and appeals took an exceedingly long and circuitous route (he was convicted in 1986), and it wasn't until 2006 that the Supreme Court finally heard and considered new evidence challenging House's conviction.

The 2006 Supreme Court case was noteable, because House managed to establish the very difficult "actual innocence" exception in a federal appeal. House was forced to meet this standard because procedural rules would otherwise have blocked his appeal entirely. As a result, it was not enough for House to simply argue that prosecutors made a mistake during his trial. He actually had to show that if had the jury heard the evidence he was offering, "it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." House was able to prevail and get his appeal heard, but ended up facing even more delays.

Michelle Braun, New "Hollywood Madam", Makes Deal With Prosecutors

Some celebrities and sports stars may be quakin' in their boots, err designer-footwear-of-choice, err cleats, today in light of reports that Michelle Braun has made a deal with prosecutors for her full cooperation in her money laundering and Mann Act case. Why the potential star panic over one little woman from Florida, you ask? Well, it turns out that Michelle Braun might not have dealt with run-of-the-mill clients on either side of the prostitution/solicitation fence. Instead, Braun may have run a business which catered to celebrities and sports stars with a selection of porn stars and fashion models.

The case also provides a prime example of the crime of money laundering, which tends to create some confusion in the minds of many. The term money laundering, which evokes visions of throwing wads of cash into a wash cycle, actually isn't way off. Money laundering, in general terms, is basically when someone takes the proceeds of just about any criminal endeavor (i.e. dirty money), and channels them via seemingly legitimate means, thus "cleaning" the money by concealing its origins.

Many people probably read news stories or see TV shows where criminal suspects get off the hook based on some kind of "technicality", where frustrated officers and prosecutors are left behind shaking their proverbial fists at the broken justice system. A recent appellate case out of California shows that there exists a flip-side to the coin, and that law enforcement's hands might not be quite as tied down as people may think when it comes to trickery.

The case in California involved a serious offense, a shooting murder that was committed outside a Jack In The Box restaurant and AM/PM. During the police investigation into the murder, they ended up interviewing then-suspect and eventual defendant, Darious Antoine Mays, about his involvement. He denied any involvement in the shooting and apparently repeatedly asked to take a lie detector test. However, the police had a problem on their hands because they had no polygraph examiner available just then. They could have asked him to come back, of course, but that would mean letting him go ... so instead what police did was stage an entire fake lie detector test. They didn't hold back on the theatrics either, apparently, and the court described it as follows:

Arrested: Do I Get an Attorney for Free?

Even though most people know that a defendant in a criminal case has the right to an attorney, there might be some misconceptions as to whether everyone has the right to a free attorney.

Yes, even though the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the "assistance of counsel" for every invididual accused of a crime, it really doesn't say anything about whether the government has to pay for that attorney. Actually, historically, the law was understood to indicate simply that if you wanted an attorney and could shell out the dough for one, you had every right to do so. But as far as free help went, this was a concept developed over time by the court system itself.

Luckily for defendants in need, however, the rule has generally become that anyone who is too poor to hire a lawyer has to have one provided to them. Essentially someone can't go to jail for either a felony or a misdemeanor without having the assistance of counsel (unless they gave up that right). Pretty simple right? Well, not so fast, as you're probably already wondering, what's "too poor" and who gets to decide?

Stephen Morgan, the 29-year-old man accused in the fatal shooting of Wesleyan University student Johanna Justin-Jinich had his bail raised by a judge to a whopping $15 million. Considering bail had previously been set at "only" $10 million, some people might be wondering just how a judge makes these kinds of decisions about bail and if there are any guidelines or limits in general.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution protects individuals from "excessive bail", but in practice that means different things for different people, as well as for different offenses. Bail is intended to allow people to live their lives relatively freely until they are found guilty in a court of law. After all, if you were accused of a crime you didn't commit you'd want to go to work and try to live your life as best you could until you were found not guilty, right?

Can I get Arrested for Bar Fighting?

Alright, most people have probably heard of Kiefer Sutherland's arrest by now. Yes, the star of FOX's long-running show "24", whose character Jack Bauer finds, chases, beats down, and/or tortures terrorists all over the world, apparently decided his next target would be fashion designer Jack McCullough at a nightclub. At any rate, Sutherland ended up getting arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, according to the AFP.

Although there doesn't appear to be any indication that the fight was mutual, people might be wondering about the legality of bar fights in the first place. After all, whether its TV or movies, for some reason you never see the police show up to, much less someone get arrested for, a bar fight. The poor bartender just ends up holding his hands on his head and gazing in dismay at a scene of shattered tables, barstools and mirrors as the combatants stumble on out. Well, just in case there is any doubt remaining, yes, you can very easily get arrested for a bar fight.

Right in time for Mother's Day weekend, Madlyn Primoff, the mother/attorney from New York who decided it would be a good idea to discipline her bickering children by kicking them out of her car, got good news today. The AP reports that a judge in White Plains "said he would dismiss the child-endangerment charge against her in six months if she stayed out of trouble."

This particular result wasn't too much of a surprise, as there were probably a number of parents who at least sympathized with Primoff (perhaps even, secretly, admired her?). The defense's side of the story also puts things in a bit of a different light, per the AP:

Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti said later that Primoff intended merely to drive around the block and pick the girls up, but they were gone when she returned.

"She wasn't abandoning her children," he said.

New Jersey's high court has shot down two N.J. towns' ordinances which placed limits on where certain sex offenders can live, reports the AP. The decision addresses sex offender residency laws passed by the New Jersey towns of Galloway and Cherry Hill, but as will be discussed below, could have a far more wide-reaching impact.

For a little background about these laws and the case, Galloway's sex offender residency laws prohibited certain sex offenders whose victims were children from "living within 2500 feet of any school, park, playground, or daycare center" in the city. Upon getting notice from the city, a sex offender would have 60 days to move or risk getting fined and/or imprisoned. In one town, a 20-year-old college freshman who was convicted of a sex offense when he was 15 years old (the girl was 13) challenged the law after he was told to move more than 2500 feet away from campus.

New Jersey's high court didn't really give a whole lot of its own explanation in the ruling, and instead used the reasoning of the appeals court below in finding that the towns' ordinances conflicted with New Jersey's Megan's Law (which requires authorities to disclose certain sex offender information to the public). But it's probably fair to wonder, how could restrictions on sex offenders conflict with the very law trying to inform the public about sex offenders?

Richard McTear Eligible for Death Penalty for Throwing Baby from Car?

In news that probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, a Florida man who allegedly threw his former girlfriend's baby out from a moving vehicle has been charged with first-degree murder. CNN reported on the disturbing story of 21-year-old Richard Anthony McTear Jr., who was apparently not related to 3-month-old Emanuel Wesley Murray, and described the allegations as follows:

"Police had been called to his former girlfriend's apartment about 3:15 a.m. The mother, Jasmine Bedwell, 18, told investigators that McTear had hit her several times and threatened 'to kill the both of y'all,' the sheriff's department said in a statement announcing the charges.

McTear threw a car seat containing the child across the room during the fight, causing the boy to fall onto the apartment's concrete floor, investigators said. He then picked up the boy and drove off in his blue Chevrolet Impala, throwing the child out while on the interstate, the sheriff's department said."

In the wake of the disastrous press generated for Craigslist by alleged "Craigslist Killer" Philip Markoff, it probably should come as little surprise that Craigslist is now reported to be engaging in talks with the Attorney Generals of a number of states aimed at getting rid of ads on the site for prostitution and "other suspected illegal sexual activities".

However, for South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, this might be too little, too late. According to the AP, McMaster sent a letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster saying that, despite much of the "valuable service" provided the public by the site, "it appears that the management of Craigslist has knowingly allowed the site to be used for illegal and unlawful activity after warnings from law enforcement officials and after an agreement with 40 state attorneys general." The letter goes on to give Craigslist until May 15 to take down "sex-related postings from its South Carolina sites" or face prosecution.

Bruce Windsor, Deacon Turned Bank Robber? "Recession Robberies" on the Rise

Bruce Windsor, a former deacon and family man from South Carolina, allegedly resorted to bank robbery in the face of rising financial difficulties, reports the AP. Alarmingly, Windsor's case may simply be a reflection of an ongoing trend of rising violence and crime during the recession, too.

His family had difficulty comprehending his long fall: "This is something Bruce has never done," his sister Lisa Weaver told a judge in the case, "The only thing I can think of is he must've just snapped under the pressure. ... I can't imagine the desperation that must have caused this." Windsor may have indeed been under intense financial pressure, the story noted, as he was a real estate investor whose troubles predated and continued through the recession.

Regardless, he allegedly decided to put on a wig, sunglasses, and a mask, and attempted to rob a bank at gunpoint. He got caught by police during the attempt, and apparently no one was injured, but as noted, the crime left everyone wondering why he would do such a thing.

Mix red wine, sleeping pills, an anti-depressant, plus an international trip to meet an online acquaintance, and what do you get? Airplane passengers on board a United Airlines flight last week from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Heathrow Airport in London got the distinct displeasure of finding out the answer to that question, according to a complaint filed by the government against Galina Rusanova.

An FBI Special Agent's affidavit accompanying the complaint broke down some of the more interesting details. Apparently, a few hours into the flight Rusanova already appeared "very intoxicated" and had trouble getting into her seat. It was right about then that she kicked her feet up on her now-red wine-filled food tray and started kicking the seat in front of her. When approached, Rusanova asked for more wine, but was not served .

Perhaps displeased with the absence of wine, a crew member then "observed her drink a bottle of liquid soap that she had apparently removed from the bathroom." At that point, she was probably still relatively in the legal clear, but a crew member then tried to wrangle her to her seat, and things went swiftly downhill for Rusanova. Multiple crew members and a passenger got involved, and although the details are unclear as to exactly how, at some point Rusanova ended up allegedly "snapping like a dog" while trying to bite a flight crew member's leg.

Following up on the topic of tough life sentences imposed on youths, it looks like the Supreme Court may soon give a final answer on the question of whether sentences of life without possibility of parole (LWOP) imposed on teen offenders violate the Constitution.

The Court today announced that it would take up the cases of Joe Sullivan and Terrance Graham, both of whom are from Florida. As reported by CNN, Joe Sullivan was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for a rape committed when he was 13 years old. Terrance Graham, on the other hand, received the same LWOP sentence for a "violent home-invasion robbery while on parole for another felony" committed when he was 17 years old.

This may be particularly timely, considering that a California appellate court ruled last week that an LWOP sentence imposed on then-13-year-old Antonio de Jesus Nunez for a kidnapping offense (with no injuries involved) violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, that court stated the sentence was "so freakishly rare as to constitute arbitrary and capricious punishment violating the Eighth Amendment." However, the California court also indicated that its decision was not an easy one, and that it is usually a job for legislators and prosecutors to draw up penalties and pursue them, respectively.

Supreme Court Identity Theft Ruling Raises Government's Burden of Proof

In a 6-3 decision today captioned Flores-Figueroa v. US, the Supreme Court has ruled that in order to establish the crime of aggravated identity theft, the government must show that a defendant knew that a form of ID they used actually belonged to another person (as opposed to, for example, being just a randomly picked set of numbers for an SSN).

The ruling applies to a federal aggravated identity theft law that imposes an additional penalty on defendants who use, transfer, or possess fake IDs in connection with certain felonies. This particular Supreme Court case involved Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican citizen who "gave his employer a false name, birth date, and Social Security number, along with a counterfeit alien registration card." The SSN and the number on the registration card given to Flores-Figueroa's employer in the year 2000 didn't belong to anyone, but in 2006 he gave his employer new cards that actually had numbers belonging to other people.

Florida Radio Host Shoots Dog, Hits Wife Too

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A Florida radio personality, Shannon Burke, reportedly got really fed up with a pet dog last night ... and ended up shooting his wife. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Burke told police he became angry with his wife's pet dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. That was when he apparently began "waving a firearm that he thought was not loaded". Another local news report indicated, however, that "[a]ccording to Burke, he was angry and got into an argument with his wife, Catherine, and at one point grabbed her dog, and used his .40-caliber pistol to threaten the dog, when he said, the gun accidentally went off."

At any rate, the end result was that a shot went through his dog's leg and also grazed his wife's head. Fortunately, neither the dog's nor the wife's wounds are life threatening, but Burke now faces charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and animal cruelty (despite his claims that the shootings were an accident).

Following up on prior posts about teens sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole (for short, "lifers"), a California appeals court yesterday voided Antonio de Jesus Nunez's life sentence, which was imposed for a kidnapping for ransom offense committed when he was 14 years old. Noteably, the court stated that considering Nunez "is the only known offender under age 15 across the country and around the world subjected to" such a sentence for a crime that did not involve an injury, much less a homicide, the sentence was "so freakishly rare as to constitute arbitrary and capricious punishment violating the Eighth Amendment."

The court of appeals detailed Antonio de Jesus Nunez's crime and background in detail in its opinion, but by way of a very brief summary here, the facts underlying the offense involved a kidnapping and ransom, of course, but also included circumstances of a pretty wild, gunfire-filled police car chase. Somehow, however, it appears that no one was seriously injured in the whole affair.