FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

January 2010 Archives

Move to Legalize Marijuana Headed to California Ballot

Pot backers say they have collected more than enough signatures needed to put a measure to legalize marijuana on the California ballot for November, 2010.

According to the Associated Press, 700,000 signatures have been collected across all 58 California counties for the ballot measure. Supporters need 433,971 valid signatures from registered voters to make the statewide ballot.

As previously discussed, the initiative, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 would allow cities and counties to adopt their own laws to allow marijuana to be grown and sold. It also would make it legal for anyone 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and impose taxes on marijuana production and sales.

LA City Council Approves Pot Ordinance to End Green Rush

The L.A. City Council has given a nod to a medical marijuana ordinance, with its final approval to end the so-called "Green Rush" that swept through Los Angeles and much of the state.

The new pot ordinance will close hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that cropped up during the past five years, the Associated Press reports. The ordinance caps the number of medical marijuana clinics in the city at 70.

As previously discussed, it also requires dispensaries to be located in a 1,000 feet buffer zone  from schools, parks and other public gathering spots. The new guidelines will push medical marijuana dispensaries out of neighborhoods and into harbor and industrial areas such as Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles.

Sex Offenders After Prison: May They Attend Church?

Trying to shed the label of "sex offender" can be hard when many churches are not welcoming.

In fact, Dick Witherow, pastor and author calls sex offenders modern day lepers. But unlike many faith communities, Witherow's church, Miracle Park, about 90 miles outside of Miami supports sex offenders' rights to worship. Wearing ankle bracelets and electronic monitors on their belts sex offenders are invited to fill the pews.

So, may sex offenders attend church? Do they have a right to worship?

Although sex offenders have the right to worship, finding a church to attend can be a challenge.

NIMBY: New Yorkers Want Venue Change for 9/11 Trials

As the upcoming 9/11 trials in New York City draw near, many residents say NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and urge the U.S. Justice Department to move the venue.

New York City business and community leaders say the trials should not take place in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.

Even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed.

According the Associated Press, Mayor Bloomberg recently told federal officials he would be "very happy" if the trial was moved. As previously discussed, professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 detainees will be tried in a civilian court in lower Manhattan.

Recently, Rep. Peter King introduced a bill to block 9/11 trials in New York City. The bill would prohibit the use of Justice Department funds to try Guantanamo detainees in federal civilian courts.

Sex Offenders After Prison: Limits on Computer Use

The Internet is often prime recruiting grounds for sex offenders to recruit children or expose them to sexual exploitation.

In many cases, children have come into contact with sex offenders through chat rooms and social networking sites including MySpace and FaceBook.

So, what are the limits on computer and technology use for those convicted of sex offenses?

Although rules may vary, many state lawmakers have begun to advocate for ways to limit sex offenders' use of technology to find more victims.

Major Overhaul Planned for Immigrant Detention System

Under the current U.S. immigrant detention system, many detainees are denied adequate medical care, face cruel and inhumane conditions and have fallen out of touch with their families.

It's this kind of widespread treatment of detainees that has led the head of U.S. immigration enforcement to announce plans for a major overhaul of the government's controversial detention system, the Arizona Republic reports.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is addressing oversight, medical care and tracking of detainees at facilities.

Sex Offenders After Prison: Sex Offender Monitoring

Tracking sex offenders is a complex process.

To do it, many states have rolled out tough comprehensive plans. For example, in California, Jessica's Law has been enacted as a way to provide sex offender management.

But with so many people on the sex offender registry list, it has become challenging for law enforcement to effectively track them all.

Bus and Commercial Truck Drivers Banned From Texting

Bus and large commercial truck drivers have been banned from texting while driving or using handheld cell phones.

The U.S. Department of Transportation now prohibits drivers of interstate buses and trucks over 10,000 pounds from sending text messages on hand-held devices, and is effective immediately, the Associated Press reports.

Officials from the trucking and bus industry said they support the texting ban. The trade association for the wireless industry, CTIA, also supports the ban.

To date, 19 states and the District of Columbia already prohibit all drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Sex Offenders After Prison: Any Place to Call Home?

States are required to keep tabs on registered sex offenders.

That means states need to be informed about where sex offenders live and where they've found a place to call home.

For example, California's Megan's Law requires law enforcement agencies to track where sex offenders live and provide community notifications.

Individual states decide what information is available and how the public can access it. In some cases, the information is available through a toll free number, the police station, newspapers or a public sex offender web site.

Nearly 50 Guantanamo Bay Detainees to be Held, not Tried

The Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force is recommending that nearly 50 detainees be held indefinitely without charge.

According to the Washington Post, the task force determined that those Gitmo prisoners facing indefinite detention are too dangerous to be released and there is not enough evidence for a criminal trial.

In addition, the panel recommends that 35 others be brought to the U.S. and face military or civilian trials.

States Grant Low-Risk Criminal Offenders Early Release

The bleak economy has many states trying to figure out how to cut cost to improve their bottom line.

To do it, many states have rolled out an a program to grant mostly low-risk criminal offenders early release.

They have begun to release thousands of criminal offenders earlier than laws previously permitted.

Texas Judge "Vindicated" by Ethics Report?

As so often happens in our legal system, issues of law, ethics and procedure are rarely black and white, rarely easily resolved. Another example of this truism was announced yesterday, in the decision "vindicating" embattled Texas Judge Sharon Keller. The report by special master Judge David Berchelmann, who oversaw Keller's ethics trial, finds that Judge Keller did nothing to warrant removal from the bench or further punishment "beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered."

Police Arrest 7th Suspect in Homecoming Dance Gang Rape

An ex-con who allegedly participated in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl leaving her homecoming dance in Richmond, California has been arrested.

According to the Associated Press, 43-year-old John Crane Jr. walked into the police station and turned himself in without incident.

Crane was recently identified by investigators as a suspect in the gang rape of the 16-year-old girl. Police described him as an ex-con with a history of violent crime.

Dennis Blair & the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group

Barring some serious turn of events, the civil trial process is already underway for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

But if the nation's intelligence chief Dennis Blair had it his way, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group should have been brought in first.

Since the incident, others are also beginning to question how and why the government decided to place the 23-year-old Nigerian national in the civilian court system. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair lamented before a Senate panel that the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) should have questioned Abdulmutallab in the hours after he was taken into custody on a landed Detroit-bound airliner.

Lethal Injection Round Up: Executions by Single Shot

Lately, FindLaw's Blotter has reported on several posts about Ohio's switch to a new single shot lethal injection.

The state recently transitioned to a single drug, rather than a three drug cocktail in its death penalty procedures. With other states still using the three drug cocktail, all eyes are now on how the single shot method will work in Ohio.

In December, Ken Biros became the first person in the U.S. to die by lethal injection with a single shot drug. Since then, Vernon Smith was the second death row inmate executed using a single shot lethal injection.

But as the New York Times reports, litigation over lethal injection has not gone away in Ohio even though the state has switched to a one-drug execution protocol.

DOJ Report: Juvenile Inmates Victims of Sexual Abuse

Recent findings from a major DOJ report show that many juvenile inmates were victims of sexual abuse.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the federal report by the Justice Department revealed that three in 25 juveniles in detention centers are sexually abused. In addition, 13 detention centers around the country were "high rate of sexual misconduct" -- at least 20 percent of young inmates said they were raped.

New GA Legislation Seeks to Ban Texting While Driving

Georgia is on the verge of joining several other states who already ban texting while driving.

Georgia would become the 20th state to ban texting while driving if the legislation passes

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, State Republicans Allen Peake and Amos Amerson introduced bills in the Georgia House that would prohibit the practice and come with a fine and driver's license penalties.

LA Marijuana Dispensary Laws: Part 3

After long delays, the L.A. City Council has settled on its controversial medical marijuana ordinance, tentatively approving dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from places where children congregate, such as schools, parks and libraries.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the council gave preliminary approval to the 1,000-foot buffer zones and will vote again in a week because the 11-3 tally fell short of the 12-0 result that an ordinance needs to pass on the first reading.

But today's vote, however, has put an end to months long debate over the city's fast-spreading pot outlets. The city council has been hammering out its medical marijuana laws to cap the number of dispensaries.

Jon Corzine Signs NJ Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Outgoing NJ Governor Jon Corzine has signed legislation granting chronically ill patients legal access to marijuana.

NJ Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill on his last full day in office before Gov.-elect Chris Christie will be sworn in.

The new law legalizing medical marijuana in New Jersey to help patients with chronic illnesses also is the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation.

LA Marijuana Dispensary Laws: Part 2

The L.A. City Council has voted to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries next to residences.

As previously discussed, the decision is a part of the city's ongoing effort to tackle the controversial issue of how to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, hundreds of marijuana dispensaries have opened and city officials can do little to close them without a law.

Now, only a few contentious issues are left to resolve - including where dispensaries can locate and how many will be allowed.

The city council will address that at their next meeting as they approach home stretch of approving final medical marijuana dispensary rules, as previously discussed.

Feds Look into Sheriff Joe Arpaio Abuse of Power Allegations

The Department of Justice has impaneled a federal grand jury to investigate allegations of abuse of power by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

According to the Associated Press, Sheriff Joe Arpaio initially said he was unaware of the federal grand jury probe despite subpoenas sent to at least two county officials.

LA Marijuana Dispensary Laws: Part 1

The L.A. City Council crackdown on marijuana dispensary operations has been happening in stages.

As previously discussed, since the boom in marijuana dispensaries unlike that in any other California city, the LA council has been working strategically to restrict the number of dispensaries.

A new federal approach to medical marijuana laws also puts the onus on states to crack down on those who profit by selling pot to people who don't qualify as medical users.

Court Limits Guantanamo Bay Detainees' Rights

Guantanamo Bay detainees now officially have limited rights in court.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently held that presidential war powers to detain suspected terrorists trump the international law of war.

As reported by the New York Times, this decision effectively limits the rights of those held in Guantanamo, and perhaps others suspected terrorists and war fighters taken into U.S. custody.

Push for Federal Oversight of Inglewood Police

One California Congresswoman, Rep. Maxine Waters, is pushing for federal oversight of Inglewood police department.

She is determined to do so after a report released by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found significant flaws in police policies covering use of force.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a comprehensive review by the Justice Department found Inglewood's police policies on the use of force are poorly written and legally inadequate despite recent reform efforts. In addition, a 33-page letter to the city's mayor from federal officials calls for numerous changes in the way the department trains and investigates its officers.

NJ Set to Adopt Nation's Strictest Medical Marijuana Laws

New Jersey is expected to become the 14th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, making the strictest marijuana laws in the nation.

It will be one of the lasts duties by Gov. Jon Corzine who has said he'll sign it into law before leaving office.

According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the state legislature approved legalizing medical marijuana by a vote of 48-14 in the Assembly and 25-13 in the state Senate. It would make New Jersey one of the few on the East Coast to legalize the use of marijuana to help patients with chronic illnesses, but calls for the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation.

Lethal Injection: Ohio Uses Single Shot on Second Man

Ohio has executed its second death row inmate using a single shot lethal injection.

The state executed Vernon Smith with its new shot lethal injection method. Vernon Smith was executed for the shooting death of a shopkeeper during a 1993 robbery.

According to the Associated Press, this was the second time the new one drug method was used since it replaced the standard three-chemical combination.

Military Mom Update: Army Files Criminal Charges for Refusing Deployment

Military mom Spc. Alexis Hutchinson who refused to deploy to Afghanistan, claiming she had no one to care for her infant son, now faces criminal charges and potentially a military court-marshal.

According to the Associated Press, the Army has filed criminal charges against Hutchinson, a 21-year-old Army cook. She possibly faces a prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge if she is convicted by a court-martial.

The way it works is that charges have been filed, but now an officer will be appointed to decide if there's enough evidence to try a case against her.

Corrections Crackdown on Illinois Early Release Prisoners

The Illinois state Corrections Department is making early release prisoners walk a straight line -- far more strict than anything ever before.

After more than 100 parolees are back in jail after being released under the "MGT Push" (meritorious good time credit) program, the department is cracking down all parolees with strict new regulations to ensure public safety.

According to the Associated Press, the state Corrections Department has begun "intensive compliance" checks on early release inmates freed under the MGT Push program. In addition, state records show that the department has picked up 110 parolees in the last ten days, most of them serving sentences for unlawful weapons charges or battery.

Attempted Murder Charge for Illinois Early Release Inmate

As previously discussed, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suspended the state's second early release program, acknowledging that many of the freed inmates were back behind bars.

What he didn't mention was that several of those early release inmates had allegations of violent crimes including an attempted murder charge.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Laws Proposed

Oregon medical marijuana advocates are seeking to secure a November ballot measure to create a system in which state-licensed pot growers would distribute their crops under new marijuana dispensary laws.

According to the Associated Press, backers of the initiative have turned in 61,000 petition signatures in hopes of qualifying the issue for the ballot. A total of 82,769 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure, and backers have until July to collect the remainder.

Oscar Grant Case: Judge Rejects Courtroom Cameras

The first proceedings for the Oscar Grant case are underway in Los Angeles.

But the public will not be able to see what goes on during the trial as a judge has rejected courtroom cameras.

The racially charged case involving former Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer (BART) Johannes Mehserle accused of a fatal shooting of an unarmed passenger on New Year's Day last year was moved from Alameda County.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Johannes Mehserle will stand trial for the murder of Oscar Grant before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry in May.

Pres. Obama Renews Pledge to Close Gitmo

As the attempted terror attack on a plane arriving in Detroit has heightened concerns about Yemen, President Obama has renewed his pledged to shut down the Gitmo bay detention center.

According to the Associated Press, White House officials said the government will not send additional detainees from Gitmo Bay detention center to Yemen for now, which could increase the number of inmates to be held at a planned prison for terror suspects in Illinois at Thomson Correctional Center.

Balloon Boy Hoax: Richard Heene Reports for Jail Sentence

Richard Heene, father who staged the balloon boy hoax has turned himself in to begin his jail sentence.

According to the Associated Press, Heene will begin his 90-day jail sentence. He also is on the hook for four years probation. The judge ordered that Richard Heene could not profit directly from his crime.

Illinois Suspends Second Early Release Program

Facing serious criticism, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suspended a second early release program for state prisoners, pending review.

According to the Associated Press, this early release program is separate from "MGT" (meritorious good time credit) secret release program that was recently halted.

The Corrections Department confirmed that Gov. Quinn has stopped a separate program to release 1,000 nonviolent offenders who are within the last year of their sentence. About 170 prisoners have been released to electronic monitoring under the program Quinn announced in September.

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

A federal grand jury indicted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

The Nigerian man was indicted on six charges including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people.

He has pleaded guilty to six federal charges. The Nigerian national is on painkillers after having suffered second- and third-degree burns in the flight but told the judge he understands the charges.

According to the Associated Press, 23-year-old Abdulmutallab was traveling from Amsterdam when he tried to destroy the plane carrying by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive concealed in his underwear, officials say.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon Steps Down from Office

Amid allegations that she stole from the poor, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has stepped down from her post.

Her decision to do so ends a three-year tenure and is part of a plea deal struck with prosecutors to avoid Dixon being thrown out office.

According to the Associated Press, Dixon 56, was convicted on a single charge that she stole $500 in gift cards intended for the needy.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Charged by DOJ, not Military

The terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate a device as a plane approached Detroit carrying 300 passengers on Christmas Day.

However as the investigation continues into the Christmas Day attack on a Northwest Airlines, some lawmakers would rather see a military trial for alleged plane bomb terror suspect.

According to the Associated Press, Rep. Peter King of New York says says the accused Nigerian man should be tried by a military tribunal rather than a civilian court.

Miami-Dade Ground Zero for Medicare Fraud and Abuse

Federal investigators consider Miami-Dade County ground zero for Medicare fraud and abuse cases.

According to CNN, federal agents recently shut down operation of five separate rings that allegedly filed $61 million in false claims with Medicare, and charged 32 people in Miami, Detroit, and Brooklyn.

Illinois Early Release Prisoners Arrested for New Crimes

More than a dozen Illinois prisoners freed in an early release program are back behind bars and accused of new violent crimes.

The state secretly allowed the early release of inmates under an early release program by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

As previously reported, the governor recently suspended the early release program as it had drawn concern from prosecutors.

Security Plans for 9/11 Trials Soar Beyond $75 Million

Security plans for the upcoming 9/11 trials in New York City will top $75 million.

According to the Associated Press, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says the security plans for the 9/11 trials cost more than the the initial estimate of $75 million. Although he didn't say the exact amount, he told the media holding the 9/11 trials has soared "way beyond" the estimated cost.

American Law Institute Abandons Death Penalty Work

The American Law Institute is walking away from its decades of death penalty work that has helped to shape and synthesize our modern capital justice system.

According to the New York Times, the American Law institute is made up of about 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors and is responsible for creating the framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago. The group has decided to abandon the field, citing frustration and that the justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.

Philly Domestic Abuse Cases Call for New Police Policies

New police policies will be enforced when responding to the growing number domestic abuse cases in Philadelphia.

The New York Times reports that in response to a sharp increase in homicides stemming from domestic violence, officers will now change how domestic abuse calls are handled.