FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

October 2009 Archives

DC Sniper Muhammad to Die by Lethal Injection

John Allen Muhammad, convicted DC sniper is scheduled to be executed next month.

Virginia officials said he declined to choose between lethal injection and electrocution.

For Marion Lewis, it's an easy choice.

He said he'd prefer to personally execute Muhammad.

In his CBS interview, Lewis said if it were up to him, Muhammad would be taken into the Idaho desert and killed slowly over three days. 

Instead, Lewis will be present in the Virginia death chamber to watch Muhammad die on Nov. 10.

Madoff Accountant David Friehling to Plead Guilty

Things aren't quite adding up for David Friehling, the former accountant for Ponzi-scheme operator Bernard Madoff.

He is expected to plead guilty to fraud and other charges, according to a letter today from prosecutors to U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.

According to the latest update by Reuters, Friehling is expected to plead guilty to securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, making false statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and breaking tax laws, the office of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan said in its court filing.

Shots Fired at CNN's Lou Dobbs' House Probed by Police

Lou Dobbs, a CNN television anchor and managing editor dodged gun shots fired at his New Jersey home earlier this month.

A veteran journalist, Dobbs is known for his outspoken views on topics including illegal immigration and believes he was singled out because of it. Dobbs is a fervent proponent of U.S. border enforcement.

Medical Marijuana Laws: Onus on States

The dope game has changed.

Since the recent federal decision not to prosecute legal users or providers of medical marijuana, states are scrambling to figure out their new role.

According to the Washington Post, the Department of Justice will not focus on those who comply with state and local laws, but instead focus on cases involving higher-level drug traffickers, money launderers or people who use the state laws as a cover.

That means local and state officials will not only have more work but a tougher job at that. They will need to crackdown on places that profit by selling pot to people who don't qualify as medical users.

Police Plan Halloween DUI Patrols

Trick or treat. Tipsy or Tow. Whatever situation you may find yourself in on Halloween night, it's important to be safe.

Law enforcement agencies around the country will be stepping up their patrol looking for drunken drivers.

New Hate Crimes Law: More Help for the States

President Obama signed a new hate crimes bill into law Wednesday, extending new federal protections to include people who are victims of violent crimes because of their sexual orientation, gender or because they are disabled.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act is part of newly expanded hate crimes legislation. Federal hate crimes laws already punish attacks motivated by race, religion or ethnicity and will now include attacks motivated by someone's gender or the fact that the victim is gay, lesbian, transgender or disabled.

Bystander Duties: Gang Rape Puts Eyes on Witnesses

Five people are now in custody in connection with the gang rape and beating of a 15-year-old girl outside her Northern California high school campus after a homecoming dance.

Police say she was allegedly attacked by a group of young men near benches located at the far end of the school yard. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, as many as two dozen people witnessed the rape or knew about the incident and did not report it. That's what many psychologists call bystander non-intervention.

Feces Attack over Courtroom Restraints Dispute

For many California criminal defendants going before a jury, they aren't too concerned about making a fashion statement. Instead, they simply want to make a good first impression.

That is why California courts in an effort to ensure a fair trial generally allow law enforcement agencies to unshackle, remove handcuffs or unsecure criminal defendants in court when a jury is present.

Weusi McGowan, 38, also was worried about what not to wear in the courtroom during his robbery trial. According to an article by the San Diego Union Tribune, he smeared feces on his lawyer and threw it at jurors because he believed some of them previously saw him in restraints while being escorted into the courtroom.

Night Stalker Tied to SF Murder: Will He Be Charged?

The DNA evidence linking the infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the "Night Stalker," to the April 10, 1984 death of 9-year-old Mei Leung might finally solve one of many cold cases for the San Francisco Police Department.

It also brings San Francisco police officer Holly Pera's nightmares to an end. She's been haunted by them ever since she first worked the original case years ago.

La-Z-Boy DUI: Yes, Almost Any Vehicle Counts

[Editor's Note: the lounger turns out not to have been a La-Z-Boy brand lounger.]

Providing yet another illustration of the fact that operating just about any type of motorized vehicle while intoxicated counts as driving under the influence, a Minnesota man recently pleaded guilty to DUI by motorized armchair.

First of all, details on the crime. The Deluth News Tribune reports that back in August of 2008, Dennis LeRoy Anderson was driving home in his motorized lounger from the Keyboard Lounge in Proctor, Minnesota when he was blindsided by a parked car. Actually, according to the News Tribune, Anderson claimed he was driving just fine until a woman hopped on, causing him to crash into the parked car.

Anderson's admission to having downed 8 or 9 beers was confirmed by the fact that he blew a reported 0.29 blood alcohol level (more than three times Minnesota's legal limit).

In Minnesota, "motor vehicle" means "every vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires." It does not include vehicles that move solely by human power, but would include anything powered by an engine -- be it a lawn mower, a recliner, a bar-stool or anything else.

Enough about the crime -- what about the lounger?

California Prison Population: Court Orders Cuts (Again)

In August, a federal appeals court ordered California to come up with a plan to reduce its prison population. California submitted a plan that came nowhere near the level of reduction ordered by the court. Now that court has ordered California to come up with a satisfactory plan, or the feds will come in and do it themselves.

As previously discussed, in August, a panel of federal judges ordered California to come up with a plan to reduce prison population to a mere 137% of the capacity for which its prisons are designed, within 2 years.

California prisons currently confine an estimated 150,000 inmates, which is 188% design capacity. With current facilities, this means a reduction of over 40,000 prisoners is required.

Why must California trim its prison ranks? Because the court found overcrowding to be the primary cause of prison medical and mental health care so bad that it was found to violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court also found that overcrowding created criminogenic effects in California prisons (meaning the prisons actually produce more crime).

After California's legislature got involved, the plan submitted by the state to the feds fell far short of what had been ordered.

Yesterday, the court ordered California back to the drawing board. It did not begin contempt proceeding for defying its previous order, but the court gave the state 21 days to craft a plan that cuts prison population by over 40,000 in two years, or risk the feds doing it for California.

Supreme Court Allows Ban on DUI Stops Based on Tips

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a controversial DWI case from Virginia. By refusing to hear it, the Court lets stand a Virginia ruling that police may not pull someone over on suspicion of DUI based solely on a tip, rather than direct observation of suspicious driving.

The vehement dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts raised fear that the court's refusal to hear the case would increase the likelihood of drunk drivers remaining on the road in some states. In his words, not allowing officers to pull drivers over based on a tip will allow drunk drivers "one free swerve."

In the underlying case, a Virginia man was pulled over after an anonymous tip that he was driving while drunk. The officer did not observe any traffic violations, but found the man to reek of alcohol after pulling him over.

The state Supreme Court in Virginia, however, overturned the DUI conviction. It held that pulling someone over based on a tip, without directly observing any dangerous driving, violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

DNA and Cold Cases: Indicting John Doe

Could technology effectively do away with statutes of limitations? Prosecutors in a growing number of states are indicting the DNA of criminal suspects when they don't know whom to charge. This allows them to prosecute the suspected perpetrator if they later identify the DNA, even if that doesn't happen until long after the statute of limitation would normally have run out.

Many types of crimes in many states are subject to statutes of limitation. This means that prosecutors must bring charges within a certain number of years, or the suspect cannot face prosecution. Sex crimes in many states have statutes of limitations, as do many property crimes such as car theft, burglary and robbery.

To avoid having the clock run out, prosecutors in some places use what are called "John Doe indictments" or "John Doe warrants." This means issuing an indictment or a warrant to arrest a suspect whose identity authorities do not yet know. In jurisdictions allowing this, the general rule is that police or prosecutors must put forth a description of the suspect sufficient to provide reasonable certainty of being able to identity the person later. With each person's DNA being unique, prosecutors argue that no better description of a suspect could be imagined.

Indicting someone's DNA means the case can be put on hold until prosecutors are able to find out whose DNA they've got.

SC Brothers Executed in 1915 Pardoned in 2009

Thomas and Meeks Griffin were electrocuted by the state of South Carolina in 1915 for allegedly murdering confederate Civil War veteran John Louis. Last Wednesday, they were pardoned for that murder.

The Griffin brothers' pardons happened with the aid of their great nephew, prominent radio host Tom Joyner.

Joyner participated in Professor Henry Louis Gates' "African American Lives 2" series which aired in 2008 on PBS. While analyzing Tom Joyner's genealogy, Professor Gates informed Joyner that he was related to two men executed in South Carolina in 1915 for a murder many believed they did not commit. Thomas and Meeks Griffin were the brothers of Joyner's grandmother Ruth Griffin. (Video of this portion of the series can be seen here.)

With the assistance of historians and attorneys, Joyner pursued the case to clear his great uncles' names. Last week, the South Carolina Board of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services granted the pardons.

How did Joyner make the case? He used voluminous affidavits collected from locals before the execution, along with a petition filed by those who tried to save the Griffin brothers' lives. After they'd been found guilty at trial (in which their counsel was allowed two days to prepare) and appeals had failed, over 120 locals asked the governor to commute the sentences. Amongst those who signed the petition: two trial jurors, the grand jury foreman, the town's mayor, and a former sheriff.

Medical Marijuana Laws: New Federal Guidelines

The Department of Justice released new guidelines addressing the enforcement of marijuana laws and medical marijuana. The guidelines reverse federal policy under the Bush administration by instructing federal officers not to go after marijuana users or suppliers who comply with their states' medical marijuana laws.

According to the LA Times, the formal move came after some confusion surrounded federal marijuana raids which happened after Obama took office. Obama stated during the campaign that federal raids on state compliant medical marijuana would stop.

As described by Attorney General Holder, the move is part of the DOJ's broader attempt to "effectively focus our resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws."

The DOJ press release states that 14 states have enacted laws allowing for some form of medical marijuana use.

While the guidelines represent a change in national policy toward state sanctioned medical marijuana, federal authorities will continue to pursue marijuana traffickers who are not in strict compliance with state laws.

Balloon Boy Hoax Criminal Charges Coming for Heene?

Richard Heene wanted attention for his family, but probably not the kind it is now receiving as authorities look likely to file criminal charges over the alleged Ballon Boy hoax.

According to the Coloradan, police in Larimer County Colorado say they have evidence showing the incident was a hoax, and have recommended charges be filed. Here is a brief rundown of the drama surrounding Balloon Boy Falcon Heene who was feared stuck in a UFO looking balloon "accidentally" untethered in the Heene's backyard. As we all learned, Falcon was not in the balloon. If police are right, his parents never thought he was in it, either.

What charges could Richard Heene, his wife and possibly others face?

They could face charges for conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant.

Under Colorado law, attempting to influence a public servant means using deceit or a threat with the intent of changing how a public servant performs his or her function. In this case, it could relate to allegedly using deceit to cause many public servants (from various departments of government) to swing into action to find and rescue young Falcon.

This is a class 4 felony, punishable with between 2 and 6 years in prison and fine of up to $500,000.

Alleged Pothead Busted with Pot Stuck to His Head

A 29 year old man in Lebanon, Pennsylvania was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana in a local convenience store. Reportedly, as he walked toward a police officer who happened to be in the store, the officer noticed what appeared to be a small bag of pot stuck to the man's forehead.

Let's add forehead to the list of bad places to hide contraband -- actually go ahead and add the whole head and facial area to the list.

We all know how hard it is to play it cool with anything stuck to your face or forehead. This is particularly true if that something is a bag of marijuana and you come across a uniformed cop.

All of us also want someone to let us know when we've got something between our teeth or on our face, but again, not when it's a bag of marijuana and not when it's a police officer calling it to your attention.

As the Lebanon Daily News reported, Cesar Lopez learned this lesson the hard way.

Arpaio Immigration Raids Continue: Under What Authority?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio recently lost his authority to enforce federal immigration laws on the streets of Maricopa County, Arizona. However, Arpaio's 12th publicized raid is happening as this piece is being written. Under what authority is he acting?

[Update: After this post on Friday, Arpaio's sweep reportedly netted 66 arrests, with 30 suspected illegal immigrants reportedly handed off to federal immigration officials.]

As per custom, Arpaio announced the location of the raid shortly before it began (so media and protestors (including Al Sharpton) might attend). Today's "crime suppression" is headquartered at the Maricopa County's District No. 3 substation at Dysart and Bell roads.

In the past, Arpaio's sweeps have typically taken the form of raiding workplaces or (like today) setting up shop at intersections and stopping people for traffic violations (no matter how small). Any drivers or passengers suspected of being an illegal immigrant would be detained and processed under Arpaio's authority from the feds. (This has angered many, particularly legal residents and citizens jailed for essentially not having their IDs on them.)

Here is a brief summary of how local law enforcement can become authorized to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforce immigration laws, and how as of yesterday Sheriff Arpaio lost his authority to enforce immigration laws on the streets. (He retains the authority to enforce immigration laws within Maricopa County jails -- the source of the vast majority of immigrants the county has handed off to ICE.)

So what power authorizes him to round up suspected illegals today?

Joe Arpaio, Local Police and Federal Immigration Laws

We've been hearing a lot about Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. In addition to his tough on crime chain gang tactices, he became a lightning rod for immigration debate by using a tremendous amount of his county's resources to go after illegal immigrants under federal immigration laws. Then the feds clipped his wings a bit. So what's the relationship between local police and federal immigration laws?

First of all, some background. Local authorities like police departments and prison officials can obtain authorization to enforce federal immigration laws by partnering with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This came about through immigration laws passed in 1996 which added provision 287(g) to the Immigration and Nationality Act, allowing local jurisdictions to enter into agreements with ICE to help enforce immigration laws. The law was intended to aid in the removal of serious criminals who were also illegal immigrants.

Local jurisdictions sign an agreement setting out what they will do, how their officers will receive training from ICE, and who will foot the bill for what. Here is a brief summery of the program and list of local jurisdictions that have signed up.

Sheriff Apaio of Maricopa County, Arizona became the 287(g) poster boy -- boasting the most officers (over 160) deputized to enforce immigration laws. His "crime suppression" operations drew nationwide attention by going after those whose suspected crime was illegal immigration (rather than enforcing immigration laws on those who've committed serious non-immigration crimes).

Property Seizure in the War on Drugs

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case about the extent to which police can seize property connected to drug crimes without offering any procedure for owners to contest the seizure.

The scenario of concern in the case happens across the U.S. Police, while investigating or making arrests in a drug case, seize property that may be connected to the case, like cars. What happens next depends on state law, but in many places, property owners go months or even years without their property, even when no charges are filed against them.

In his brief summary of the case before the Supreme Court (Alvarez v. Smith), George Mason law professor Ilya Somin points out how state seizure laws can threaten innocent property owners whose car or other property gets swept up in the War on Drugs. In Illinois, state law offers no procedure to challenge the seizure, and requires no proof from police that seizure is necessary to preserve evidence.

And as with this lawsuit's original plaintiffs, this can happen even when the owners are never charged with violating any law.

As Professor Somin points out, those whose property is seized are often poor -- meaning that the loss of a car for months on end is a very big deal.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether by not providing a procedure to challenge seizure, Illinois has violated its the right to due process of those whose property is seized. The court of appeals below ruled that the seizure law does in fact deprive property owners of due process.

Wrongly Convicted Texas Inmate Freed after 15 years

Yesterday, a Texas court freed Richard Miles, who was serving 40 years for a murder committed in 1994. Prosecutors admitted that Miles' trial had been tainted by failure to notify Miles or his attorney of another man's confession, and that Miles is likely innocent. Miles' attorneys will press on -- with the aim of a formal finding of innocence, which would entitle him to compensation for the 15 years he spent behind bars.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Miles was released straight from the courtroom -- with the court and prosecutors forgoing the usual trip back to jail for release processing. Miles had been convicted for a shooting that left one person dead. After spending one year in custody before being tried, he spent 14 more years behind bars.

What was wrong with his trial? Most importantly, the defense was never informed of a call received by a woman reporting another man's confession to committing the crime. The Morning News cites the Dallas County District Attorney as stating that police (rather than prosecutors) failed to report the call.

Beyond the other confession, the trial's key piece of evidence -- the testimony of an eye witness -- was also laden with problems. According to the Morning News, the witness identified Miles after having seen police escort him out of a squad car in handcuffs. She picked him out of a photo line up in which Miles was the only man wearing a white tank top (which the gunman was described as wearing).

After being released, Miles (who was convicted when he was 19) hugged his mother, who immediately cut off his jail ID bracelet.

So what happens now with Mr. Miles?

L.A. Marijuana Dispensary Crackdown Coming?

Los Angeles County and City officials say that they plan to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries selling pot over-the-counter. The move resembles recent crackdowns in San Diego, with law enforcement targeting marijuana dispensaries they claim are illegally operating for profit.

Recently, we discussed San Diego's attempt to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries which they argue violate California law by operating for profit. As mentioned, California law allows for patients and care-givers to "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes."

Los Angeles has seen a boom in marijuana dispensaries unlike that in any other California city. This can largely be attributed to an ill-defined "hardship exemption" which allowed many dispensaries to set up shop (supposedly more than 600 new dispensaries after a 2007 moratorium meant to limit the number of licensed dispensaries, which then numbered 186).

The California Attorney General's guidelines on enforcing medical marijuana laws conclude that only medical marijuana cooperatives or collectives are allowed -- and that medical marijuana cannot be cultivated or distributed for profit.

As reported by the L.A. Times, Los Angeles officials appear to have a similar reading of California law. According to L.A. County's District Attorney, "[t]he vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory."

Facebook Poke Could Lead to Jail Time

In another example of "now you can do it through Facebook," a Tennessee woman might face repercussions including jail time for Facebook "poking" someone in violation of a protective order.

Typically, when we hear about protective orders we think about protection from physical violence, like forbidding someone from coming within 100 yards of another person.

Courts, however, can and do include many other forms of protection in protective orders. They routinely forbid contact in all forms, whether it's carrier pigeon, mail, fax, telephone, email, or a Facebook "poke."

A Facebook poke is a quick message you can send another Facebook user, causing them to see an icon on their Facebook page indicating that you've poked them.

Though it seems something that wouldn't need saying, don't "poke" someone who has a protective order against you. And if you get poked by someone you've got a protective order against, take a look at the protective order and contact your attorney, because the order has likely been violated.

Though her attorney declined to give ABC News details about the underlying protective order, Shannon Jackson, 36, was subject of a court order to stay away from another Tennessee woman. The order included prohibition from "telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with [the alleged victim], directly or indirectly."

Expanded Hate Crimes Definition: What is Covered?

The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

As reported by the New York Times, the House attached the expansion of hate crime protections to a military expenditures bill. In the Senate, support for hate crimes legislation and the unwillingness of opponents to vote against authorizing the military expenditures appear likely to ensure passage of the expanded protections.

This time, expanded hate crimes provisions will not face a Presidential veto (unless President Obama's opposition to the military portions of the legislation proves too much). In 2007, a similar strategy was used -- attaching the House and Senate supported hate crimes legislation as an amendment to a defense reauthorization bill. After then-President Bush threatened to veto the whole bill, the hate crimes amendment was dropped.

So, what exactly are the existing federal hate crimes protections? And what would change by expanding them to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability?

Lawyer Planned Witness Intimidation in SF Murder Trial?

A murder trial in San Francisco featured some courtroom drama in which eight men stood up and stared at the case's star witness as she was asked whether she could identify the gunman. They did so at the request of the defendant's attorney. Could the attorney be charged with witness intimidation?

Media focus on witness intimidation and attitudes about "snitching" continues in the wake of the video taped killing of a Chicago teen.

Meanwhile, the murder trial of Charles "Cheese" Heard in San Francisco offered some scripted courtroom theatrics which prosecutors have called a "blatant act of witness intimidation."

Heard is on trial for allegedly murdering Richard Barrett.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, a woman who allegedly saw the shooting testified on Tuesday. As defense counsel asked whether she recognized the gunman, "eight reputed gang members stood up in unison, crossed their arms and stared at the witness." The witness nonetheless identified Mr. Heard.

The judge refused a request from the prosecutor to clear the men from the courtroom. They were later arrested outside the courtroom on suspicion of gang related witness intimidation.

Heard's lawyer, Eric Safire, admitted that he arranged the incident. Wednesday, he asked the court and the District Attorney's office for assurances that he himself would not be arrested for witness intimidation. He received no such assurances.

The Ensign Affair, Lobbying Laws & Honest Services Fraud

Senator John Ensign is back in the news after a New York Times article questioned whether the aftermath as his affair violated criminal laws and Senate ethics rules. At least preliminary investigations on both fronts appear likely. What criminal laws might come into play? Conspiracy to assist a former employee break a federal lobbying law, and perhaps "honest services fraud."

For the background on Senator Ensign's affair with the wife of his former co-chief of staff Doug Hampton, and the "soft landing" in a lobbying job Ensign reportedly arranged for Hampton, see the New York Times article that has some anticipating investigation by the Department of Justice.

So, what laws would be in play?

First off, federal lobbying laws. Federal law forbids some former employees of Senators from lobbying any Senator for one year after their employment. In this context, lobbying means knowingly communicating with or appearing before any Senator (or employee of the Senate) with the intent to influence them regarding something on which the former employee seeks action by any Senator or any part of the Senate.

The same one year cooling off period applies to former employees of House members, except they are banned only from lobbying the specific House member who used to be their boss.

This law speaks about the former employees turned lobbyists, but what about the elected officials they lobby?

Dog Fighting Videos and the First Amendment

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Today the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case over whether a federal law criminalizing videos that depict animal cruelty violates the First Amendment.

For background on the case at hand (US v. Stevens), see this write-up in the Christian Science Monitor. To summarize, a Virginia man was convicted of selling dog fighting videos from Japan, where dog fighting is legal. An appeals court struck down the law as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

As described by the LA Times, today's questioning included a hypothetical posed by Justice Samuel Alito asking whether Congress could pass a law forbidding the "Human Sacrifice Channel." We won't know the court's decision (whether to narrow the law or strike it down entirely) until later in the term.

As detailed by NPR, the law at issue was passed 10 years ago with the intent of punishing the purveyors of "crush videos" -- videos of small animals getting crushed by women's bare feet or women in high heels.

Life without Parole for Juveniles? High Court to Decide

This term, the Supreme Court will hear two companion cases asking whether sentencing juvenile perpetrators of non-homicide crimes to life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The two cases, described briefly by the New York Times, involve Joe Sullivan, sentenced to life without parole for a rape he committed when 13 years old, and Terrance Graham, who received life without parole for an armed robbery committed when he was 16. Both cases come from Florida.

The question before the court is whether sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for crimes short of murder violates our Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The fact that the court will hear both cases separately has led some to predict that perhaps a distinction will be drawn between 13 and 16 years of age.

Erin Andrews Peephole Charges & Interstate Stalking

An insurance salesman living in Illinois has been charged with taking (and attempting to sell) the hotel peephole videos of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews. Michael David Barrett has been arrested and charged with interstate stalking.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that Barrett stalked Andrews across multiple states and on more than one occasion booked a hotel room in the same place she stayed.

Though prosecutors claim his conduct included physically following the sportscaster across state lines, they charge that Barrett's alleged use of his cellular phone to take and send the videos, along with his emails offering to sell the videos to online gossip magazine, violated the federal law against interstate stalking.

So, what exactly is interstate stalking?

Letterman Extortion: Producer Busted; What is Extortion?

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has indicted Robert Joel Halderman for attempted grand larceny over the David Letterman blackmail plot. So what exactly is larceny, when is it "grand," and what constitutes extortion?

The alleged blackmail attempt and Letterman's comments about it to his studio audience yesterday have been widely reported. Someone tried to blackmail him for $2 million using the threat of exposing Letterman's dalliances with staff members.

That someone was allegedly Robert Joel Halderman, who has long worked as a CBS news producer, most recently on 48 Hours Mystery. Halderman was indicted today on one count of first degree attempted grand larceny, which carries a possible sentence of 15 years. He pleaded not guilty.

Larceny is the wrongful taking of someone else's property. It can take many forms. Under New York law, larceny includes taking someone's property:

  • by writing bad checks;
  • through trick, embezzlement or use of false pretenses;
  • by taking control of "lost" property you know to belong to someone else;
  • in exchange for false promises; or
  • (most importantly here) through extortion.

In New York, larcey becomes grand larceny if the property taken or demanded is worth more than $1,000, is amongst certain special types of property, or is taken in certain ways (including extortion).

So what exactly constitutes extortion?

Polanski Saga Turns: Former Prosecutor Says He Lied

The saga of Roman Polanski's sex crime in 1977 and recent arrest took yet another turn this week. A former prosecutor, whose interview plays a large part in an influential documentary about the case, now says he made the whole thing up.

The line between film and life was already blurred when a documentary film intervened to bolster legal arguments that the director of Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby got an unfair trial more than 30 years ago. Now it turns out that fiction in that documentary could prevent the charges against Polanski from being thrown out.

In Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, former Malibu, California prosecutor David Wells spoke at length about issues which Polanski's lawyers seized upon as evidence that the famous director's trial was improper.

Now that Polanski's lawyers have cited those statements in requests to have the charges against dropped, Wells says he made it all up.

Check out his less than graceful explanation to Wolf Blitzer (which contains an excerpt from the documentary):

Texas Governor Railroads Death Penalty Case Probe

This week, Texas Governor Rick Perry abruptly replaced three members of a commission investigating the forensics behind the conviction of now executed Cameron Todd Willingham. The move came days before the commission was scheduled to hear an expert's report harshly discrediting the arson investigation in Willingham's case.

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted in 1992 for murdering his three small daughters by setting the family's house on fire. His story was recently featured on Nightline.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Governor Perry's reshuffling of the Texas Forensic Science Commission comes days before its was to hear damning testimony about the Willingham arson investigation.

While prosecutors and critics continue to argue over Willingham's guilt or innocence, Governor Perry's move has turned attention to the kind of forensics used in death penalty convictions, the state's willingness to examine possible mistakes, and to whether his upcoming election has anything to do with the move.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission does not rule or issue finding on someone's guilt or innocence. In the Willingham case, it is investigating whether forensic negligence took place.

The Willingham case is the Commission's first review case. Before Perry's reshuffling of Commission members, it was supposed to hear from Craig Beyler, a pre-eminent fire scientist whom the Commission hired to write a report about the Willingham arson investigation. That's been shelved.

Beyler did not have good things to say. His report, released in August, concluded that not only was the investigation flawed, but that no reasonable investigator could have concluded that the fire was intentionally set.

Guns in Bars: Arizona Opens the Door

While we wait for the Supreme Court to decide the extent to which cities and states can regulate guns, as of yesterday, Arizona allows concealed weapons in bars.

As reported by the Arizona Republic, those with concealed weapons permits in Arizona may now take their guns into Arizona bars and other establishments licensed to sell alcohol, unless the bar has posted adequate signage forbidding guns. Gun toters are not allowed to consume alcohol while in the bars, however.

The new law will not apply to those openly carrying their guns (which is largely legal in Arizona). Open carriers must still leave their guns outside the bar.

Even in bars banning guns, the law will protect those charged with illegally packing heat if:

  • the person has not been informed of the bar's policy,
  • the person is from out of state,
  • the bar's sign has fallen down, or
  • the bar's sign hasn't been up for at least 30 days.