FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

October 2011 Archives

Hot New Crime Trend: Truck Tailgate Theft

Truck tailgate theft.

It may sound weird, but such thefts are reportedly sweeping the nation. From San Diego to New York, thieves are removing tailgates from the back of newer model pickup trucks.

Oswego, Ill. has seen six such thefts since May.

And tailgates cost about $4,200 a piece.

Neb. Mom Caged Her 2 Sons in a Dog Kennel

A Nebraska mom is facing charges that she caged her two sons in a wire dog kennel. Ashly Clark, 22, has been charged with a myriad of crimes ranging from felony to misdemeanor child abuse and false imprisonment.

Police were dispatched to the trailer home when they received a call requesting they check on the welfare of the children.

What they found was a home in complete disarray. Officers say the trailer was filled with the smell of urine. They also found garbage and animal feces throughout the home. 

Officers then found Clark's two boys, ages 3 and 5, caged in a 30 by 42-inch wire dog kennel.

Halloween 101: Halloween DUI Checkpoints Planned

If Halloween's Monday date isn't enough to deter you from getting your party on, it's definitely not enough to stop police from getting their checkpoint on.

As is tradition this time of year, police departments across the country are planning Halloween DUI checkpoints. They'll be out in full force to protect the little ones, and nab the drunken ones.

This likely includes the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before, so don't get any scary ideas.

And yes, driving drunk is scary. Especially when caught.

Texas Gym Teacher Had Lesbian Affair With Girl

A gym teacher in Pasadena, Tex. has been arrested for having an affair with a 14-year-old student.

Rebecca De La Garza, 26, met the 8th grade girl while teaching at Thompson Intermediate. The two exchanged 22,400 text messages and 2,400 phone calls over an 8 month period, according to probable cause documents.

Police also allege that the two engaged in sexual contact while at school--in both De La Garza's office and the locker room storage closet.

Cops' Bust Follows 'Heroin for Sale' Fliers

Maybe your neighbor took down a fence without your consent. Or maybe they blast reggaeton music all night long. Both pale in comparison to the problems played out among neighbors in North Portland, Oregon.

Residents on North Massachusetts Avenue were so irritated with one of their fellow homeowners that they decided to make heroin fliers advertising the sale of the illegal drug.

This definitely wasn't your typical suburban spat, nor your normal police reaction.

Bath Salts Epidemic Makes Possession a Felony

In response to a growing epidemic, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued an emergency bath salts ban on Friday.

For the next year, mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and methylone, will be classified as Schedule I drugs. Persons who possess or sell these chemicals--or any substance that contains them--may face federal felony drug charges.

This is in addition to any penalties imposed by laws in the 37 states that have limited access to the synthetic stimulant. A number of counties have also regulated the substance.

Halloween 101: Can I Wear a Mask While Driving?

The above sounds like a strange question, but with Halloween on the horizon, it's the perfect time to get a little bit freaky.

Well, as long as you're safe.

Which is why it's important to ask whether a designated driver can wear a mask while driving. And whether the benefits (Amusement? Convenience?) of doing so outweigh the risks.

Thief Used Crane to Lift Jeep Wrangler Off Lot

Car theft is common, but a Jeep-Chrysler dealership in La Porte, Ind. has an uncommon tale to tell.

Early last weekend, an unknown suspect used a crane to steal a car from the dealer's lot. Security footage depicts a flatbed truck with an attached crane pulling onto the premises. The crane then grabs a 2008 Jeep Wrangler by its roof, smashing windows and probably destroying the hardtop.

The thief then drove away with the $25,000 car. It has yet to be found.

Super Bowl Porn Hacker Admits to X-Rated Prank

Tucson resident Frank Tanori Gonzalez has admitted to being the Super Bowl porn hacker, according to prosecutors in Pima County, Ariz.

Gonzalez interrupted the 2009 Super Bowl broadcast with a 37-second clip of the porn film Wild Cherries 5. Thousands of Comcast viewers witnessed the x-rated video footage, which aired with just 3 minutes left on the clock.

The 39-year-old Cox Communications employee pleaded guilty to 2 counts of computer tampering. He will serve 3 years probation and pay a $1,000 fine.

Lions, Wolves Roam Zanesville, Ohio Streets

Terry Thompson, owner of an exotic animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio, opened the cages to his animals and set them free Wednesday. He then fatally shot himself. What transpired next was a frantic operation conducted by local authorities. At least 25 exotic animals were shot and killed.

The animals killed include lions, wolves, bears and at least one tiger.

Thompson owned the 46-acre preserve. He also had a troubled past.

When Do You Have a Right to a Jury?

One of the most common questions from those facing criminal prosecution is whether they have a right to a jury trial. And just what that right entails.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees "an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." The right is also limited to "all criminal prosecutions."

Though this seems pretty simple, over 200 years of interpretation have changed the meaning of this clause.

Halloween Laws: Keep Your Halloween Party Legal

There are no actual Halloween laws, but there are some laws you should be aware of if throwing a Halloween party.

The holiday is a time to get into (or out of) character and have a little fun. This often involves copious amounts of alcohol, loud noise, and very late nights. It also tends to involve friends of all ages.

Such a mixture can be volatile. And it in some cases, it can be illegal. So as we approach the big night, keep the following in mind.

Chaining Disabled Adults in PA Basement was 'Pure Evil'

Four disabled adults were found chained in a basement in Philadelphia, malnourished. The horrific crime was part of a fraudulent scheme to collect their disability checks.

A Philadelaphia police spokesman described the crimes as "pure evil."

Three suspects, Linda Ann Weston, Gregory Thomas, and Eddie Wright were arrested and charged with multiple counts of criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal trespass, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.

Cornel West Arrested on Supreme Court Steps

Princeton University professor and civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West was arrested Sunday during an Occupy D.C. protest at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just prior to his arrest, West gave a speech to a group of 500 people. He then spontaneously led about 200 demonstrators to the Court's steps.

His intent was to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The frequent "Real Time with Bill Maher" guest wanted to point out the "relation between corporate greed and what goes on too often in Supreme Court decisions."

Tiffany Startz Acquitted in Party Punch Death

An Illinois judge has ruled that Tiffany Startz is not guilty in the party punch death of rapper John Powell.

A fellow partygoer had offered $5 to anyone willing to take a punch from Startz. Powell, who was performing at the party, agreed to the bet. When his head snapped back, a vein burst open and caused a deadly brain injury.

Prosecutors charged Startz with reckless conduct and battery. She successfully argued that Powell had consented to the hit.

PA Judge, 70, Traded Justice for Sex?

Pennsylvania state judge Ross Cioppa is facing charges of bribery, indecent assault and official oppression. Judge Cioppa is accused of demanding sexual favors from female defendants in exchange for favorable treatment.

The seasoned judicial veteran, age 70, was implicated after an investigation following complaints over Judge Cioppa's conduct.

In two separate incidents, he is accused of approaching female defendants in landlord-tenant disputes. Each time, he asked them for sexual favors. He told them he would be more favorable to their case if they complied.

Public Nudity Advocate Strips Down in Court

Holly Van Voast is a public nudity advocate in New York. She is so deeply entrenched in her beliefs that she stripped down in court.

Why was she in front of a judge in the first place? She was summoned to court for stripping in the middle of Grand Central. When she arrived at her hearing, she took off her black coat and revealed her breasts in the middle of court.

She did so in front of the judge. And her 89-year-old attorney.

Could PTSD Be a Defense in Seal Beach Shooting?

New information about Seal Beach shooting suspect Scott Dekraai has some wondering whether he will get off scot-free.

Court records indicate that Dekraai has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since 2007. Medical documentation also suggests that contact with his ex-wife is incredibly stressful and unhealthy.

On Tuesday, the couple's bitter custody battle involving their 8-year-old son resulted in a restraining order. Is this enough of a trigger to successfully launch a PTSD defense?

NM Woman Looks for Pot on Craigslist

Not many people would turn to Craigslist to buy weed. But Anamicka Dave, 29, of New Mexico did with an ill-advised Craigslist ad. She's now paying the price.

Sure, the online listing site has advertisements for all manner of goods. You can buy and sell electronics, furniture, and other goods. You can even use Craigslist to find an apartment or a "casual encounter."

But be warned: use Craigslist to solicit drugs and you might get caught. Which is exactly what happened to Ms. Anamicka Dave.

Walmart Bleach Fight Sends 19 to Hospital

Police have arrested Theresa Jefferson, 33, in connection with a Walmart bleach fight over the weekend.

Jefferson reportedly targeted her intended victim, and followed her into a Baltimore-area Walmart. Once inside, she attacked the woman with bleach, Pine-Sol and ammonia.

The chemicals mixed, creating a toxic gas. Hazmat crews were called, and nineteen people were sent to the hospital for eye and respiratory injuries.

Girl Scout Exec Caught with Hand in Cookie Jar

Former Girl Scouts money manager Yaasmin Hooey, 35, was caught doing something decidedly against the organization's credo. Hooey is accused of pilfering $310,000 from the non-profit.

Hooey served as the organization's director of finance in New York. Authorities say she started stealing money in 2008. She wrote 65 checks using the director's forged signature. She also sent 9 wire transfers to her own checking account.

What did Hooey buy? Railroad tickets, groceries, and other items including a $13,000 diamond ring and a luxury cruise. That's the equivalent of... well, a whole lot of Thin Mints.

'Superhero' Phoenix Jones Arrested for Assault

Self-proclaimed superhero Phoenix Jones was arrested for assault in Seattle on Sunday.

As the costumed leader of the Rain City Superhero Movement, he has resolved to fight Seattle crime one incident at a time. Unfortunately, it appears as though this particular incident was actually an early-morning dance party--not a violent fight.

Jones' mistake caused him to pepper-spray the unsuspecting victims, leading to charges of fourth-degree assault.

GPS Windshield Mounts Legal in Your State?

Is it legal to use GPS windshield mounts?

This is a common question for those who wish to affix the directional devices to their vehicles. After all, suction cups are often the cheapest option, and tend to be a free part of the GPS package.

Luckily, the answer is yes, you can mount a GPS to your windshield.

But, as usual, this response comes with a few caveats. Especially for those of you who live in California or Minnesota.

Topeka, Kansas to Legalize Domestic Violence?

A fight between county and city officials may end in the repeal of Topeka's domestic violence laws.

Budget cuts have caused the Shawnee County District Attorney's office to announce that it will no longer prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic violence. The city attorney's office also insists that Topeka does not have the resources to prosecute these crimes.

In an attempt to force the county to relent, the Topeka City Council is now considering repealing its domestic battery laws.

Won't this legalize domestic violence?

Occupy Wall Street Protestor's 1st Amendment Rights

Why are the Wall Street protestors out on the street? And what is the overall point of the Occupy Wall Street protests?

No one seems entirely sure, and in the grand scheme the legality of the protests spreading the country, it doesn't actually matter. Participants have a Constitutional right to be out there day after day, even if their message gets lost in the crowd.

Indeed, the First Amendment guarantees both the freedom of speech and the right to "peaceably assemble."

Cupertino Shooter Shareef Allman Killed by Police

Ending a 24-hour manhunt, police have shot and killed Cupertino shooter Shareef Allman Thursday.

Allman is accused of attacking coworkers at the Lehigh Hanson Permanente Cement Plant early Wednesday morning. He reportedly interrupted a weekly meeting with a handgun and AK-47 assault rifle. He killed three and left seven wounded.

He then fled the scene, forcing nearby schools and neighborhoods into lockdown.

Is it Legal to Dumpster Dive?

One man's trash may be another man's treasure, but you should make sure you aren't breaking any laws when you go dumpster diving. Is there anything  illegal about dumpster diving, anyway?

It depends.

It may be legal, depending on where you live, and what laws and ordinances your city and state have passed with regards to dumpster diving.

It's possible that dumpster diving can violate trespassing laws -- especially if the dumpster is on private property.

Parents Locked Boy, 7, in Coffin in Basement

A Scranton couple has been arrested and charged after police found evidence of a 7-year-old boy locked in a coffin.

Neighbors found the child crying in a basement doorway clad only in a shirt and diaper. When police were called to the scene, the boy explained that his mother, Lori Gardner, and step-father, Brian Sleboda, had confined him in the family's basement.

He accused them of locking him in a coffin and taping him to a chair on multiple occasions.

Can I Refuse a Sobriety Test?

If you've ever thought about refusing a breathalyzer test or a field sobriety test you might want to think again.

Many states have enacted laws that dole out punishments if you voluntarily refrain.

Why exactly are you compelled to consent to testing? It's because most states have what's called "implied consent" laws.

Halloween 101: Are Nunchucks Legal?

Halloween is all about candy. And the best costume. And to be the best, a costume must be authentic. Even the accessories. Which brings us to this season's ultimate question:

Are nunchucks legal?

This may seem like a silly question, but we're talking about the real deal here. You know, a pair that can cause serious bodily harm. A pair that screams Turtle Power! or Thundercats HO! A pair that any real ninja would be proud to own.

Convinced of the question's importance? Okay, let's go.

SAT Cheaters Paid Others to Take Exam

Nassau County prosecutors recently charged seven Long Island teens in an SAT cheating scandal. Six students at Great Neck North High School are accused of paying alumnus Samuel Eshaghoff between $1,500 and $2,000 to sit for the exam in their names.

The SAT cheaters were caught after teachers reported rumors to the Educational Testing Service (ETS). An investigation uncovered a wide gap between SAT scores and GPA , and was eventually referred to prosecutors.

Many are now wondering why SAT cheating is criminal.

Amanda Knox's Defamation Conviction Upheld

American student Amanda Knox was freed by an Italian court on Monday. Nearly all of Knox's criminal charges, including the murder charges, were overturned.

All, that is, except for Amanda Knox's defamation charge: That count -- with its 3-year prison sentence -- was upheld.

Why? Italy's defamation laws are different than the defamation laws we have stateside.

In the U.S., defamation is a civil matter. People sue each other alleging libel or slander in order to get monetary damages in civil court.

Not so in Italy, where defamation can be a criminal charge that carried jail time.

When Do I Have a Right to a Lawyer?

When do you have the right to a lawyer? If you watch a lot of Law & Order, you probably know some of the basics. And you might even be able to recite the Miranda warning by heart.

But what exactly does the right to a lawyer mean? Do you know the difference between the right to a court-appointed lawyer guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment versus the right to have an attorney present during police interrogations?

Ecstasy Is Not a Controlled Substance: CA Court

Is Ecstasy a controlled substance?

You're probably thinking "yes," but according to a California appellate court, it's not that simple.

The court ruled that Ecstasy is not automatically a controlled substance under state law. Instead, prosecutors must prove this fact through expert testimony and scientific evidence.

Popular culture and common sense are not part of the state's evidentiary rules.