FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

May 2012 Archives

Drunk Woman Smashes Through Long Island Home

A 21-year-old Brooklyn woman is thanking her lucky stars after an early Monday morning crash. At about 4 a.m., Sophia Anderson, 21, and a male passenger plowed through a Long Island stop sign and straight into the home of 96-year-old Helen Indiere.

The car took out two rooms and a number of appliances before landing in the yard, where it slammed into a cypress tree. It thankfully missed Indiere and her live-in health aide, both of whom were sleeping about 20 feet away.

Which Crimes Can Get Legal Immigrants Deported?

In February, a top Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official admitted that the department has turned its attention to undocumented immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. These people are first in line to be deported.

But the reality is that you don't need to be undocumented to be deported for a crime. The U.S. can revoke your green card or work visa if you are convicted of a specific type of crime even though you are legally in the country.

What are "bath salts"? We're not talking about the cosmetic variety that you add to bath water for soaking. Rather, the term "bath salts" describes illegal designer street drugs that have been linked to violent delusions and even death.

In a bizarre and gruesome example, bath salts may have driven Rudy Eugene, 31, to strip naked and eat the face of Ronald Poppo, 65, on Saturday, some police and doctors in Miami believe. Police shot and killed Eugene when he refused to stop eating Poppo's face; Poppo is in critical condition at a hospital.

Bath salts were also blamed in another Florida incident in which a man overdosed on the drug and died. Similar cases nationwide have led the Drug Enforcement Agency and state lawmakers to take action.

A man on South Dakota's death row seems to be following in his big brother's infamous footsteps: Both were sentenced to death, albeit 25 years apart for different crimes in different states, the Associated Press reports.

Rodney Berget is set to be executed in September for beating a South Dakota prison guard to death with a pipe in a foiled escape attempt in 2011.

Rodney Berget's scheduled execution comes 12 years after his older brother, death-row inmate Roger Berget, was executed in Oklahoma for a separate kidnapping gone bad.

Drinking and Parking Can Be Illegal

Consider this: after a night of drinking, you head back to your car. You don't have cab money, and no one will pick you up. At once, you decide to do the responsible thing and sleep it off in your car. 

Smart move. Or is it?

Possibly not. Though the law explicitly prohibits driving while under the influence, it actually prohibits a lot more. In some jurisdictions, you can be busted for parking while drunk. This is what many refer to as a parked car DUI, and its existence is contrary to common sense.

Why Some Trayvon Evidence Shouldn't be Released

Though the public has been privy to hundreds of documents in the Trayvon Martin murder case, both state prosecutors and George Zimmerman's attorney would like for that to stop. Assistant State Attorney Bernardo de la Rionda and Mark O'Mara have filed motions requesting that the judge limit the public release of certain subsets of Trayvon evidence.

Prosecutors want to withhold the names of witnesses, photos of Trayvon's body and a few recorded statements. O'Mara wants to bar the release of text messages, emails and journal entries made by Zimmerman.

The disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 may be solved, as a New Jersey man has allegedly confessed to Patz's murder. Pedro Hernandez, 51, reportedly told relatives he had "done a bad thing and killed a child," The New York Times reports.

On the 33rd anniversary of the boy's disappearance, prosecutors on Friday charged Hernandez with 2nd-degree murder.

One of Hernandez's family members called police with that tip a few weeks ago, though Hernandez apparently had been making the claims for decades, New York City's police commissioner said.

So can Hernandez's relatives, or anyone in a similar situation, face legal trouble for failing to report an alleged criminal confession?

Grandma, 74, Charged with Murder of Grandson

Jonathan Hoffman, 17, died Friday in the upscale Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield Township. His grandmother, Sandra Layne, is accused of shooting him 8 times in the chest, including while he was on the phone with emergency services.

Layne has since been arraigned on murder charges and is being held without bond. Her attorneys are claiming that she was afraid of her grandson and that she shot him "because she felt she had no choice."

Missing California teenager Sierra LaMar is likely dead, and a local man has been arrested for her kidnapping and murder, investigators announced Tuesday.

LaMar, 15, of Morgan Hill, Calif., disappeared on her way to school March 16. Her bookbag and some clothing were found two days later. Hundreds of volunteers joined her family's search for the missing teenager to no avail.

Investigators now believe LaMar's disappearance was a stranger abduction, the "worst type of crime," Sheriff Laurie Smith said told the San Jose Mercury News.

NY Man with 23 Suspensions Arrested for DWI

A suspended driver's license isn't a good thing. Neither is driving on a suspended license. But when you drive drunk on a suspended license, well, you're just asking for it. It being jail time, of course.

Kurt Knoernschild, 53, was arrested early Thursday morning after running a red light in Long Island, NY. When cops ran his license, they realized that it had been suspended. And that this wasn't the first time.

Since 1979, Knoernschild has had his driver's license revoked twenty-three times.

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student convicted in a webcam spying incident that preceded his gay roommate Tyler Clementi's suicide, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Ravi, 20, plan to appeal the sentence, The Star-Ledger reports. Until then, Ravi remains free.

A jury in March convicted Ravi of 15 criminal counts including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and witness and evidence tampering. Ravi remained silent in court Monday, which drew a sharp rebuke from the judge:

Why is Louisiana the Prison Capital of the World?

One out of every 86 adult Louisianans is currently behind bars. That's nearly double the national rate. It's also triple that of Iran, seven times that of China, and ten times that of Germany. These statistics have earned Louisiana the designation of being the prison capital of the world.

And according to The Times-Picayune, Louisiana's staggering incarceration rate can be traced back to the need for "cold, hard cash."

Most inmates are housed in local, for-profit facilities, according to the paper. These facilities account for a $182 million industry that needs prisoners to stay a flout. Rural sheriffs also have an interest in filling prison beds because "a good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations."

For the second time this year, a home owned by Justice Stephen Breyer has been hit by a burglar, The Washington Post reports.

The latest burglary took place May 4 at Breyer's home in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The burglar seemed to take a shining to silver, as he (or she) stole two silver candlesticks along with a 100-piece silver set from the Justice's home, according to police.

That's $3,000 worth of stolen silver, the Post reports. But at least the Justice didn't come face-to-face with the intruder, as happened in Breyer's last run-in with a burglar in February.

The special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin murder case publicly released more than 180 pages of documents Thursday, more than a month after accused murderer George Zimmerman's defense team requested them.

The documents include transcripts of 911 calls, results of Martin's autopsy, and a description of Zimmerman's injuries the night of the shooting in Sanford, Fla. The documents are posted on FindLaw's Courtside blog.

The documents have renewed debate and speculation about what happened Feb. 26 when Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. Some are also wondering why it took so long for the documents to be released to the public.

CA Patient Jailed for Not Taking His Meds

Can you be arrested for not taking medication?

If you answered in the negative, you'd be wrong. California health officials have petitioned for the arrest and prosecution of Armando Rodriguez, a Stockton drug user who has an active case of pulmonary tuberculosis. After refusing to take his medication on multiple occasions, he was arrested.

He's since been charged with refusing to comply with a tuberculosis order.

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law cannot be used by a senior citizen accused of manslaughter in the 2010 killing of an unarmed Air Force veteran, a judge has ruled.

Trevor Dooley, then 69, admits shooting and killing his neighbor David James, 41, of Valrico, Fla., during an argument in a neighborhood basketball court, Tampa's WFTS-TV reports.

The dispute began when Dooley yelled at a teenager to stop skateboarding on the court. James, who was playing basketball with his 8-year-old daughter, stood up for the skateboarder -- asking Dooley to show him a sign saying skateboarding wasn't allowed.

What happened next is in dispute.

NY Mom Sent Death Threats to Little League Coach

For some mothers, their dedication to their children has no bounds. A New York mom who sent death threats after her son was excluded from a Little League travel team has been sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years of probation, Newsday reports.

Janet Chiauzzi, 45, wrote threatening letters to John DeMasi, a Little League official, when her son failed to make it onto the team's summer roster. She also sent threats to DeMasi's wife and son, who was 10 years old at the time. One letter read that "if something terrible happens" to DeMasi's family, the son could blame his father.

The judge called Chiauzzi's actions "despicable." But while her sentence was steep, it could've been a lot worse.

[5/18/2012 Update: Mississippi police arrested the suspected highway shooter, 28-year-old James D. Willie, after ballistic tests allegedly matched his handgun to bullet casings found near the two murder victims. Fears of a police impersonator were unfounded, the Associated Press reports. Investigators are now trying to determine a motive for the murders.]

Authorities in Mississippi are warning drivers about a possible fake police officer who may be pulling drivers over and then shooting them dead.

Two drivers were found shot and killed in two separate incidents in northern Mississippi last week, CNN reports. "The concern is that someone is posing as a law enforcement officer, and that is how these vehicles end up on the side of the road," the director of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation said Monday.

The MBI is warning drivers to be wary if an officer attempts to pull them over, and suggests two courses of action if a driver is suspicious about a traffic stop Mississippi:

Can You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?

It's never a good idea to drive drunk -- it puts people's lives in danger. But just because you did something wrong, doesn't mean you should give up your right to refuse a breathalyzer test, right?

Not exactly.

So let's get down to it: Are you legally allowed to refuse to take a breathalyzer?

While you might be hoping that the answer is "it depends on your state," it's actually the opposite.

Man Pardoned by Haley Barbour Charged in Fatal DUI

A man who was pardoned by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has been charged with driving under the influence. The man was convicted for DUI three times before, Reuters reports.

Harry Bostick is accused of crashing a car into another vehicle while driving drunk. The collision killed the other driver, 18-year-old Charity Smith. Bostick, a former IRS agent, allegedly left the scene following the accident.

Bostick received one of the over 200 pardons from ex-Governor Barbour earlier this year. He was given the pardon for a 2009 felony DUI conviction. So why was a thrice convicted drunk driver allowed to go free?

A "sensitive" law-enforcement device aimed at stopping terrorists led police to pull over a radioactive man who'd just undergone a medical procedure.

A Connecticut state trooper conducted the traffic stop after a passing car set off a radiation detector in the officer's cruiser, the Connecticut Post reports. But instead of finding hazardous materials, the officer found a perplexed off-duty firefighter.

"I asked the officer, 'What seems to be the problem?'" firefighter Mike Apatow told the Post. "He said, 'You've been flagged as a radioactive car.'"

Mom Helped Daugther, 13, 'Sext' Her Boyfriend

Would you want your mom to help you sext? Probably not. And even if you did, it's doubtful that your mom would even give you sexting help, right? Right. Which is why this story is so disturbing.

A 35-year-old Utah woman has been arrested for helping her 13-year-old daughter take nude photos with her cell phone. She allegedly did this knowing that the photos were to be sent to her daughter's older boyfriend.

That boyfriend is 30-years-old and lives in Oregon.

Another "tanning mom" is facing child endangerment charges, but not for allegedly taking a child into a tanning booth.

Police in Elizabethtown, Pa., arrested Krista Mann after finding her two children -- a 6-year-old girl and a 10-month-old boy -- unattended in a running car while she went tanning at a salon across the street, WGAL-TV reports.

An officer approached the car and asked the girl where her parents were. The girl told the officer about her mom's tanning appointment -- but then said she wasn't supposed to talk to strangers and started to cry, police said.

Ex-FAA Chief Randy Babbitt is now cleared for departure, after a judge dismissed an embarrassing DWI charge that led to his ouster from the agency.

Babbitt, 65, resigned his post in December after he was arrested for an alleged wrong-way DWI in Virginia. Babbitt underwent an alcohol breath test at the scene, but police initially declined to publicly release the results of that test.

Now we know why, thanks to evidence that Babbitt's DWI lawyer introduced at trial -- including video of Babbitt's arrest, which convinced the judge to toss his DWI charge, the Associated Press reports.

Joran van der Sloot's Extradition to US Not a Done Deal

Despite claims otherwise, Joran van der Sloot's extradition to the U.S. is not yet set in stone. Though a Peruvian judge approved his "provisional detention" last month, the convicted murderer has indicated that he intends to fight his extradition.

In court on Tuesday, van der Sloot told a judge that he would rather serve out the remainder of his 28-year murder sentence in Peru than be sent to the U.S. Rumor has it his jailed lifestyle is significantly more cushy than it would be in a federal prison.

What is an Arraignment?

What is an arraignment? It's a crucial step in any criminal case. Life can present all kinds of surprises. And even the most upstanding citizens can falter every once in a while.

An arraignment is the first courtroom proceeding defendants will encounter. Are you itching to find out what an arraignment entitles? You're in luck.

America's first 911 texting service is a potential life-saver, and the FCC is calling for even more future 911 upgrades such as photo and video messaging.

Verizon Wireless is set to be the first U.S. carrier to offer a 911 texting service, which will allow customers to send cell-phone text messages to a 911 dispatch center, PC Magazine reports.

The result could be potentially life-saving, especially for hearing-impaired customers who are increasingly turning to text messaging. It could also come in handy when time is of the essence -- or when it's too dangerous to make a 911 phone call.

Man Straps Kids to Hood of Car, Drives Drunk

Monday night was an unpleasant one for Aaron Stefanski and Jessica Clark of Fort Wayne, Ind. The pair was pulled over by a U.S Marshal who had noticed four kids strapped to the hood of their car.

Minutes before the arrest, a witness had called local police to report the couple. The witness had watched them strap the kids to the car while they were parked in a liquor store parking lot.

Who would have guessed that Stefanski was drunk?

George Zimmerman Waives Right to Speedy Trial

Accused murderer George Zimmerman has waived his right to a speedy trial, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, filed the motion with the court. He also filed a second one asking for more time to prepare his defense. Both motions state the prosecution isn't objecting to Zimmerman's requests.

So why would someone want to waive their right to a speedy trial? The answer isn't as crazy as you might think.

Teen 'Go-Kart Bandit' Nabbed After 100 Break-ins

First there was the Sundance Kid, and now there's the "go-kart bandit." A 14-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with about 100 home burglaries in Nashville, Tenn., the New York Daily News reports.

The teen's name wasn't released because he's a minor. But police believe the young suspect stole and vandalized homes in at least four different neighborhoods. The teen allegedly found his targets by trolling the alleys behind homes in a go-kart. He got in by kicking in the back doors.

So what would he steal? And more importantly, where were his parents?

When is an Autopsy Required?

People usually have a lot of questions when a loved one dies, especially around the cause of death. Finding out involves a medical examination by a coroner, but when is an autopsy required?

The answer isn't always a clear one. When a person dies, an autopsy can be ordered depending on the situation -- such as in the case of famed painter Thomas Kinkade, who recently died.

You might be surprised to learn when autopsies are mandated by the law.

Cold Case Murder, Rape Solved After 36 Years

Police in Westfield, New Jersey have arrested Carlton Franklin, a 51-year-old man accused of raping and murdering Lena Triano. When police were unable to identify the suspect, the 1976 case was marked unsolved.

But a prosecutor recently came across the file while investigating another unsolved murder. He was able to match the preserved DNA evidence with Franklin, who had served 20 years in prison for kidnapping and robbery before being released in 1999.

Drunk Family Pulls Girl, 7, in Toy Car Behind SUV

Meet Belinda and Paul Berloni -- they're in the running for grandparents of the year. Or not.

The couple was pulled over on Sunday afternoon when a Sheriff's deputy in Sarasota, Fla. noticed them towing a strange object behind their SUV. That object was none other than a toy car.

It was being "driven" by their 7-year-old granddaughter. Oh, and the couple was drunk.

FAMU band member Robert Champion's hazing death has led to criminal charges against 13 people, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Eleven people are facing felony hazing charges, while others face misdemeanor charges in the homicide of Champion, 26, a drum major from DeKalb County, Ga., the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Champion endured severe beatings by fellow members of Florida A&M University's famed "Marching 100" band in a brutal hazing ritual aboard a chartered bus in November, prosecutors said. But the state's attorney on Wednesday declined to identify the students charged.

A deeply tanned New Jersey mother says she's being burned by false charges that she took her 5-year-old daughter to a tanning salon, where she was allegedly burned in a tanning booth.

"It's all made up," Patricia Krentcil, 44, of Nutley, N.J., said before a court hearing Wednesday, when she pleaded not guilty to child endangerment, the Associated Press reports.

Krentcil, a regular tanning salon patron, insists her 5-year-old daughter got burned from being outside in the sun too long, she told the AP. 

Prosecutors tend to disagree, however.

Sears Worker Secretly Taped Women for 3 Years

Los Angeles police recently arrested Alejandro Gamiz, 27, on suspicion of burglary and the surreptitious filming of unsuspecting women. The maintenance worker at a North Hollywood Sears is accused of placing hidden cameras in the store's fitting rooms and bathrooms.

Gamiz worked for the retailer for three years, and reportedly placed up to 60 cameras behind store walls. When a loss prevention employee recently noticed something suspicious during a routine inspection, the company notified the Los Angeles Police Department.

Ready to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Well, get ready for DUI checkpoints and increased patrols for drunken drivers nationwide.

For the first time in five years, Cinco de Mayo falls on a weekend. That's why many law enforcement agencies are setting up DUI checkpoints beginning Friday night, or even earlier.

But stationary checkpoints aren't the only tool police will be using to make sure drivers are sober this weekend.

As Cinco de Mayo approaches, it may be a good time to review one of the "No. 1" complaints associated with drinking holidays is: public urination.

It's a common complaint, made worse by a lack of public restrooms and exacerbated by holidays like this weekend's Cinco de Mayo, which many use as an excuse to get drunk. (Of course, the holiday actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. But you probably already knew that.)

As you probably also know, public urination can lead to fines or even jail time, depending on where you choose to do the deed. And even in places where it's not technically illegal, you could still face charges.

Which is the most peaceful state in America? Look no further than the Pine Tree State, which takes the title -- but not by force, of course -- for the 11th straight year.

Maine remains America's most peaceful state, with New England neighbors Vermont and New Hampshire close behind, according to the 2012 U.S. Peace Index.

The Index also shows the nation, as a whole, is more peaceful than at any time in the last 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Institute for Economics and Peace, which produces the annual report.