FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

April 2012 Archives

Who Has a Duty to Report Child Abuse?

Child abuse has been thrust into the national consciousness after the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Now with the zaniness surrounding "Octomom" Nadya Suleman's latest child neglect fiasco, some may be wondering when the duty to report child abuse attaches.

From a moral perspective, the answer is "whenever you see it." But like with many things in the world, people don't always do what's right. Abuse can devastate a child's life. Studies have shown the damage inflicted can often reverberate throughout a victim's lifetime.

Both the federal and all state governments have passed laws requiring reporting in some form. And many of these rules are broader than you may think.

Philly Bank Robbers Dress as Islamic Women

A group of bank robbers disguised in Islamic women's garb have hit at least five Philadelphia banks since December, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The robberies have generated worries among government, law enforcement, and the Muslim community. Islamic leaders have offered a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the suspects' capture. Leaders fear the string of robberies will place Muslim women in danger of discrimination and heightened scrutiny.

This isn't the first time Islamic clothing has come under fire due to security concerns.

Turns out the real George Zimmerman had a lot more money than what he revealed at his bail hearing last week, thanks to website donations. Prosecutors want Zimmerman's bail increased accordingly, Reuters reports.

Zimmerman's website,, raised more than $200,000 from online donors before it was taken down, his lawyer Mark O'Mara disclosed Thursday. Zimmerman was released on $150,000 bail and remains in hiding; he faces a second-degree murder charge for killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

"What George Zimmerman did was deceive the court" in saying he was indigent, a lawyer for Martin's family said, according to Reuters. Zimmerman's bond should be revoked, the Martin family's lawyer said.

Should the US Legalize Prostitution?

With the recent Secret Service scandal still in its infancy, discussions about the place for legalized prostitution in the U.S. have resurfaced.

Among the debated topics, the question of whether the practice would be safer if it were legal remains dominant. Prostitution occurs in every part of the world. In Columbia, where the Secret Service scandal originated, prostitutes are allowed to operate legally in specified "tolerance zones."

But should America follow in a similar vein, and if they did, would it make the sex trade safer?

When it comes to the least peaceful states in America, the Bayou State is improving but remains in a class by itself, a new report finds.

Louisiana remains America's least peaceful state for the 20th straight year, according to the 2012 U.S. Peace Index. Louisiana has the nation's highest homicide rate, and is tied with five other states in having the highest incarceration rate as well.

"Louisiana is well above the national average on every indicator," the Index report says. "Furthermore, the gap between Louisiana and [second-least peaceful state] Tennessee is greater than any other gap between two states."

'Brothel on Wheels' Cab Drivers Indicted in NYC

If you thought Hustler's mobile strip club was ridiculous, meet Vincent George, Sr. and Vincent George, Jr., a father-and-son team accused of operating a brothel on wheels. The pair has been indicted on charges of promoting prostitution, sex trafficking and money laundering.

Their business partners, six Manhattan cab drivers, have also been indicted. Together, the group allegedly shuttled women around town while they engaged in sex acts in the cabs' back seats. They charged between $200 to $500 a session.

Death Penalty on Trial in California

A California death penalty abolishment measure has made it onto the state's November ballots.

If voters pass it, California will be the 16th state to no longer have a death penalty statute in its books. In addition, the 725 inmates currently on the state's Death Row will have their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That sentence will also be the harshest punishment California prosecutors will be able to seek.

Despite the benefit to inmates, proponents are promoting the measure in a much different way.

Man Charged with Felony For Stealing a Soda

The next time you're at a McDonald's with a self-serve soda fountain and want to sneak a sugary beverage into your water cup, remember this man. Then ask yourself if stealing soda is worth a felony charge.

It's not by the way. At least to everyone, but Mark Abaire. The 52-year-old entered a McDonald's in East Naples, Florida and asked for a free cup of water. But he allegedly had more sinister plans in mind when he filled the cup with soda instead. A manager confronted him outside and subsequently called the police, who arrested him.

Abaire now faces a felony theft charge for his actions. How is this possible for just a $1 soda?

Convicted murderer Joran van der Sloot is one step closer to being extradited to the United States to face criminal charges related to the Natalee Holloway case, his Peruvian lawyer said.

"I think he will be extradited within the next three months," Joran van der Sloot's attorney Maximo Altez told CNN.

A judge in Peru approved a U.S. government request for van der Sloot's "provisional detention" -- the first step in the international extradition process, CNN reports. Now the ball is back in the United States' court, so to speak.

FL Boy, 4, Tests Positive for Cocaine

It's easy to feel like a bad parent sometimes. But if you're ever feeling down on your child-rearing skills, take comfort in the fact that at least your 4-year-old boy isn't on cocaine. Unless he is, than you're a less-than ideal parent.

Police in Jacksonville responded to a complaint that prostitution and drug activity was going on in a Florida hotel room. When they arrived, they found a 4-year-old boy, along with two other men. The boy later tested positive for cocaine at a local hospital.

So where was his mother in all of this?

Pastor's Mom Shot Dead After Church Service

An Aurora, Colorado church service ended in tragedy when the pastor's mom was shot to death.

An argument between two drivers had broken out in the parking lot of the Destiny Christian Center, NBC 9 News reports. The reason behind the dispute is unclear, but one of the drivers was chased out of his car and entered the church, police said. Pastor De Lono Straham's mother, Josephine Echols, went outside to investigate the commotion and was shot.

Luckily for the other congregation members, the tragic event came to a quick end.

Top 5 Stupid Criminal Excuses

Getting caught in uncompromising positions can lead people to give some pretty stupid excuses for their behavior. But nowhere is stupidity at its finest than when it's a stupid criminal excuse.

We've combed the Internet to find the most ridiculous reasons criminals have given to get out of a pair of handcuffs. So for your cruel enjoyment, here are five of the dumbest excuses ever given to explain a crime.

JetBlue Pilot Clayton Osbon to Plead Insanity

Was Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue pilot, insane?

This question has been on the minds of many since Osbon was arrested on March 27 after having an in-flight meltdown. He had to be restrained by passengers after he began making incoherent statements, talking about religion, running up and down the aisle, and banging on doors.

Mental illness appears to be the culprit, which is why Osbon's attorney has notified the court that he plans to pursue the insanity defense should the prosecution move forward.

It's 420 today: the unofficial pot-smoker's holiday that's observed annually on April 20. (Despite rumors to the contrary, marijuana remains illegal under federal law -- today, and every day.)

Why "420"? Explanations abound, but the Huffington Post traced the term's origins to a group of California high school buds who would meet at 4:20 p.m. to search for an abandoned plot of pot plants, way back in 1971.

More than 40 years later, there seems to be a growing tolerance for marijuana nationwide; two states, Colorado and Washington, will vote on decriminalizing pot in November. But partaking in the drug can still come with pot-ential legal consequences.

Possible consequences of 420 include:

McDonald's Employee Spit in Women's Tea

McDonald's Spit Tea.

It's not on the fast food chain's traditional menu, but until Thursday, you were able to find it at a single location in Simpsonville, South Carolina. A mother and daughter did -- and then they called police.

Officers have since arrested and charged Marvin Washington, Jr. with unlawful and malicious tampering with food. He allegedly spit in the duo's sweet tea.

Cops Handcuff Girl, 6, Over Tantrum

Police in Milledgeville, Ga. are defending an officer's decision to handcuff a 6-year-old on Tuesday as she threw at major tantrum at Creekside Elementary School. When the officer arrived, kindergartner Salecia Johnson was on the office floor screaming and crying.

Just before, the girl reportedly threw a bookshelf at the principal and stomped on a paper shredder. The officer tried to calm her down, but she began fighting with him. At this point, he placed the 6-year-old in handcuffs "for her safety."

A Florida judge recused herself Wednesday from the George Zimmerman case because of a potential conflict of interest. A new judge has been assigned to take over.

Judge Jessica Recksiedler is set to be replaced by Judge Kenneth Lester Jr., the Orlando Sentinel reports. Recksiedler stepped aside after disclosing her potential conflict, and after Zimmerman's attorney made a formal request for her recusal.

So what was Judge Recksiedler's potential conflict? And what is the process to get a judge removed from a case in general?

Tax Refund Schemer Stole 300 Identities

Manhattan prosecutors have indicted 12 people believed to be involved in a tax refund scheme. The group, led by Petr Murmylyuk, is accused of using more than 300 stolen identities to fraudulently collect tax refunds.

To do this,  Murmylyuk launched a fake job placement website at The site advertised itself as "sponsored by the government and intended for people with low income." Once individuals submitted personal identifying information, Murmylyuk would file false tax returns on their behalf.

Will roadside marijuana testing soon be as common as alcohol breath tests? States are debating the issue of how to deal with stoned drivers, as scientists work on a new roadside saliva test for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.

Currently, all states prohibit driving under the influence of controlled substances, including alcohol and marijuana, the Associated Press reports. This applies even if a driver is a medical marijuana patient.

But only a few states impose specific limits on blood or urine THC levels for drivers who are stoned, according to the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws. Those states are:

Mom Caught Driving, Texting With Baby in Lap

A mother of three was arrested in California after she was caught driving and texting with her 1-year-old baby in her lap.

Shawndeeia Bowen, 29, was pulled over recently by Torrance police after another driver saw Bowen driving on a freeway with an infant on her lap. The concerned citizen called 911 to report the dangerous act, KTLA reports.

Bowen still had her cell phone in hand and her baby was crying when cops pulled her over. However, she told police she pulled her infant from the backseat because it was necessary.

The private affairs of Secret Service agents in Colombia are under scrutiny, after one agent's alleged argument with a prostitute at a hotel.

The woman allegedly refused to leave the agent's hotel room until he paid her $47 for the night, the website reports. Hotel managers called police, who forwarded their incident report to the U.S. embassy.

In all, 11 Secret Service agents, part of an advance team ahead of President Obama's visit to Colombia on Friday, were sent home for alleged "personal misconduct," CNN reports.

But did they do anything illegal?

Facebook Addiction Nets AZ Man 10 Years in Prison

An Arizona man got a 10-year prison sentence because of his Facebook addiction. William Hall claims his addiction to the social media site led to him to violate his probation.

Hall was convicted of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and surreptitious photographing in October 2010. As part of his sentence, Hall was given 10 years of probation and required to register as a sex offender, Forbes' website reports.

In addition, Hall also couldn't use the internet without his probation officer's approval. The tough part was that Hall was a Web designer.

Think you're safe walking around while texting or talking on your cell phone? Well hold the phone -- and hold it tightly -- because thieves may have you in their sights. Especially if you're in one of America's top 10 cities for stolen cell phones.

A mobile security firm has released its top 10 list, pinpointing not just the worst cities for stolen cell phones, but also how those stolen phones add up to a huge expense for consumers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Meantime, the FCC is answering calls to address the issue by announcing the creation of a national stolen cell phone database, according to the Times.

Connecticut Death Penalty Repeal Approved by Lawmakers

Big news out of Connecticut's House of Representatives: Lawmakers have voted in favor of a bill to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut . If the measure passes, Connecticut would be the fifth state in five years to end capital punishment.

Members of the House voted 86-62 in favor of the measure. It must now be sent to Governor Dannel Malloy for final approval. But Malloy has promised to sign the bill into law, MSNBC reports.

But with the death penalty soon to be gone in Connecticut, what will rise in its place?

What Is an Affirmative Defense?

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey announced on Thursday that George Zimmerman had been arrested and would be charged with second degree murder. During that press conference, a reporter asked her about the possible implications of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

In response, she explained that the law provides Zimmerman with an "affirmative defense," and that if it was raised, it would be dealt with in court. She further vowed to fight the "affirmative defense."

What's an affirmative defense?

FL Psychics Claim Religious Rights in Fraud Case

Lawyers for a group of Florida psychics accused of fraud have enlisted the First Amendment's free exercise clause in their defense. The group is a family of gypsies headed by Rose Marks. They've been telling fortunes in the Ft. Lauderdale area for nearly 20 years.

In August, federal prosecutors filed charges against the Marks family, accusing its members of preying on vulnerable individuals. They reportedly earned $40 million in exchange for telling fortunes, curing people of diseases, cleansing souls and chasing away evil spirits. 

NY Teacher Karyn Kay Beaten to Death by Son: Cops

Manhattan prosecutors have charged Henry Wachtel with the murder of his mother, high school English teacher Karyn Kay. The teen is accused of pummeling Kay to death on Tuesday morning, an event that was recorded by 911 operators.

Kay called emergency services when she realized her son had a seizure. When the seizure ended, he allegedly began beating her with her fists. Unconscious and bloody, she died hours later at a local hospital.

Neighbors say Wachtel could be heard screaming, "I'm sorry mommy!" over and over as an ambulance took her way.

George Zimmerman is under arrest, charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida special prosecutor announced Wednesday.

Zimmerman, 28, who's been in hiding since news of Martin's killing gained worldwide attention, turned himself in on an arrest warrant, called a capias, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey said at a news conference.

"I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly," Corey said in remarks broadcast live on TV and online. "We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts in any given case, as well as the laws of the state of Florida."

So what is second degree murder?

Boy, 7, Is Serial Arsonist, Fire Marshal Says

A 7-year-old arsonist? They do exist.

Fire officials in Juneau, Alaska have identified a 7-year-old boy suspected of setting at least five fires during the past four months. The unnamed child admitted to the crimes, but failed to provide a motive.

He apparently found a lighter and decided to set things on fire. It's very possible he was just intrigued by the flames.

George Zimmerman's defense lawyers announced Tuesday they're withdrawing from the case, citing ethics and a series of alleged actions by their former client, taken without their knowledge or consent, Reuters reports.

"We have lost contact with him," attorney Craig Sonner told reporters at a news conference in Sanford, Fla., where Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in February.

Zimmerman, who has not been charged and remains in hiding, claims Martin's killing was justified because it was self-defense. His lawyers said Tuesday they stand by Zimmerman's claim, but then explained why they could no longer represent the 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain.

Two Oklahoma men accused in a deadly Tulsa shooting spree that set the city on edge are behind bars in lieu of more than $9 million bail each, the Tulsa World reports.

Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, made their initial court appearances Monday via video link, but they were not charged. Arraignment was pushed back to April 16 so prosecutors can review the case, the World reports.

One Tulsa city councilman called the shooting spree a hate crime, because all the victims were black and the suspects appear to be white, NPR reports.

But prosecutors urged caution.

The incidents surrounding Trayvon Martin's shooting death will not go to a grand jury after all, the Florida special prosecutor in charge of the investigation announced Monday.

"State Attorney Angela Corey has decided not to use a grand jury in the Trayvon Martin shooting death investigation," Corey's office said in a statement, according to Reuters.

A grand jury was initially set to convene Tuesday to consider whether Martin's killing would lead to criminal charges. But Corey's decision to nix the grand jury idea is not altogether surprising.

Are Voice Stress Tests Admissible at Trial?

Voice stress tests are the new polygraph. The technology records a suspect's voice when he answers easy questions ("What's your name?) and hard questions ("Did you do it?").

It then compares the two, looking for voice pattern changes that are thought to be indicative of psychological stress or lying.

Over 1,800 law enforcement agencies nationwide use at least some form of the technology. But are voice stress tests even admissible at trial?

Waitress Sues to Reclaim $12K Tip, Gets the Cash

A $12,000 tip? No service is that good. Nonetheless, Stacy Knutson, a waitress in Moorhead, Minn. claims an unidentified man left her a $12,000 tip. And that the cops took it.

Knutson turned in the money for fear that the individual may have made a mistake. After all, he left the cash -- rolled up tightly and secured with rubber bands -- in a to-go box on her table. But once law enforcement got a hold of it, they decided not to let it go.

They claim it's drug money and smells like marijuana.

Could Charles Manson Be Granted Parole?

New photos of Charles Manson were released on Thursday to much Internet fanfare. The cult leader and convicted killer is looking decidedly haggard, but remains easily identifiable by the swastika tattooed on his forehead.

The photos, which were taken at a California correctional facility, have surfaced just one week before his twelfth parole hearing. Yes, on April 11, Charles Manson is up for parole.

Could it be granted?

Police Gave George Zimmerman Voice Stress Test

George Zimmerman's defense team is growing, suggesting that he's planning for a grand jury indictment and a subsequent criminal trial. Interestingly, his new attorney has begun releasing some previously unknown facts.

Did you know that, on the night of Trayvon Martin's death, Sanford police gave George Zimmerman a voice stress test?

They did, and the results probably contributed to his release.

Drug arrests are serious offenses, and can lead to lengthy prison terms. Often, a person caught with drugs is charged not just with possession, but also "intent to distribute."

Prosecutors can try to prove intent to distribute with circumstantial evidence -- by establishing other facts that allow a judge or jury to infer that a defendant was dealing drugs.

Each drug-dealing case is different, but in general, here are six factors that prosecutors often use to establish an intent to distribute:

NY to Collect DNA From All Convicted Criminals

New York became the first state to pass an "all crimes DNA" law last week, greatly expanding the collection of DNA from convicted criminals. Under the new NY DNA law, individuals convicted of both felonies and misdemeanors must submit a DNA sample that will then be entered into the state database.

The law also expands defendant access to DNA testing both before and after trial. Taken together, the law's provisions are expected to help close unsolved cases, exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and eliminate innocent suspects.

Underage Escort Ads Target of New WA Law

A new escort ad law in Washington seeks to reduce the number of underage escorts by imposing criminal penalties.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into Washington state law last week. The law subjects classified advertising companies to criminal punishment if they allow sex-related ads featuring minors to be published, The Seattle Times reports.

The law requires both print and online publications to make a good-faith effort to verify the ages of the people advertised in sex-related ads. But some Washington classified companies don't like the new law.

Is Your State Among America's Most Corrupt?

A new study has ranked the most corrupt states in America.

The Center for Public Integrity graded all 50 states in 14 categories, including campaign finance, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, and access to information.

Analysts looked at 330 corruption risk factors in the study. They then assigned overall grades from A (least corrupt) to F (most corrupt). 

 And the results were rather surprising.

What's Difference Between Parole and Probation?

It's understandable if you've used "parole" and "probation" interchangeably -- they both describe the legal status of an offender who has been conditionally released into the world.

But parole and probation are not the same thing. They actually describe two different punishments and processes -- one carried out by the traditional criminal justice system, and the other by the correctional system.

Plus, only parole, by definition, involves jail.

Trayvon Martin's tragic death has drawn worldwide attention to Stand Your Ground laws, which generally allow the use of deadly force if a person reasonably feels he is in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.

Trayvon Martin, of course, is not the first case where the shooter claimed a "stand your ground" type of defense. Here are three other notable "stand your ground" type of defense cases:

Hernando Riascos Torres and Diego Ortiz -- Pasadena, Texas (2007):

Torres, 38, and Ortiz, 30, were undocumented immigrants allegedly caught leaving the scene of a home burglary. Neighbor Joe Horn, 62, called 911. "I've got a shotgun," he told a dispatcher. "Do you want me to stop them?"