FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2012 Archives

George Zimmerman remains in jail with bail revoked, as a judge considers arguments for and against releasing the accused murderer before trial.

Judge Kenneth Lester told attendees at a court hearing in Sanford, Fla., on Friday he needed more time to weigh the evidence, the Associated Press reports.

Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara "briefly considered calling his client to the stand, but ultimately decided against it," according to the AP. The Zimmerman defense team's Twitter feed, however, provided a slightly different take:

Cornell University's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was found guilty of hazing, while three frat members were cleared in the alcohol-related death of a pledge in 2011.

The conviction means the family of George Desdunes, 19, of Brooklyn, N.Y., will see -- at most -- $12,000 from the local fraternity chapter for the criminal conviction, The Ithaca Journal reports. But the family has also filed a civil lawsuit.

In a hazing ritual gone wrong, SAE fraternity pledges kidnapped Desdunes from his home, bound his hands and feet with zip ties and duct tape, and then forced him to drink alcohol until he passed out, according to The New York Times.

Honesty is the best policy, but it can also get you arrested if you cop to a crime. That's what happened to Christopher Stringham, who interviewed for a job with the Missouri Highway Patrol and allegedly admitted to molesting a child.

Stringham, 26, of Park Hills, Mo., was asked a rather routine job-interview question about whether he'd ever committed a crime for which he could be convicted, St. Louis' KMOV-TV reports.

Stringham answered yes, and allegedly volunteered that he'd inappropriately touched a child several times. He also implied each alleged incident was an accident.

Police Impersonator Pulls Over Real Cop

Here's some free advice: if you fake being a cop, don't try to arrest a real cop.

That was the "rookie mistake" made by Anthony Kenneth Mastrogiovanni when he pulled over an off-duty Capitol Heights Police officer on Wednesday. Mastrogiovanni pulled the officer over on the highway in Maryland for allegedly speeding and told the officer that he was a Louisiana military police officer.

Unluckily for Mastrogiovanni, the officer he pulled over actually knew the law.

A nationwide child prostitution sting led to the rescue of 79 teen victims and the arrest of more than 100 alleged pimps, the FBI announced Monday.

The three-day "Operation Cross Country" sweep took place in 57 U.S. cities between Thursday and Saturday, Reuters reports. The child prostitutes, all U.S. citizens between 13 and 17 years old, were rescued at various locations including truck stops, storefronts, and hotels.

Of the rescued teens, 77 are girls and two are boys. "Just like any kind of a hostage, they're being held against their will," an FBI assistant director said, according to CBS News.

Heroin Burrito Gets Deputy 2 Years in Jail

This sting operation involved a former reality television star and a heroin burrito filled with 24 grams of the drug.

Henry Marin once wanted to join the Los Angeles sheriff's department. He even tried out for the department on a short-lived reality show on Fox, reports the Los Angeles Times.

He didn't make the grade. Now just a few short years later, the 27-year-old will be headed to jail after receiving a two-year sentence for trying to smuggle drugs into prison inside a burrito.

Teen Murderers Can't Get Mandatory Life Without Parole

A mandatory sentence of life without parole for teen murder is not constitutional according to a Supreme Court ruling on Monday.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court determined that mandatory sentencing schemes for homicide crimes are not applicable to juveniles tried for homicide. Mandatory sentences do not allow judges and juries sufficient discretion to consider youth as a factor in sentencing according to the majority opinion by Justice Elena Kagan.

The decision marks the third case in five years by the Court that deals with sentencing for juveniles.

George Zimmerman's bail request should be granted, as the accused murderer "accepts responsibility" for allowing the court to be misled about his finances, his attorney argues in a new motion.

Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara filed the motion ahead of a bail hearing set for Friday, when O'Mara will again try to secure his client's release pending trial, the Orlando Sentinel reports. A trial date has not yet been set.

In a Motion to Set Reasonable Bond, O'Mara argues Florida's state Constitution practically requires Zimmerman's pretrial release.

Are Parents Liable if Their Kid is a Bully?

Bullying is not just a national issue, it's an international one. In June, an Australian former judge said that parent liability for bullying should be the law in Australia.

That raises the question of parent liability for bullies in the United States.

The issue of bullying is a big one as more and more states regulate what the term "bully" really means and how and when a bully can be liable for their actions.

So as a parent, can you be held liable if your child is a bully?

House Arrest and the Top 5 Alternatives to Jail

You may have heard about boxing champ Floyd Mayweather and his recent request to be released from prison to house arrest partly due to the fact that he did not want to drink prison tap water.

Not surprisingly, his request was denied.

House arrest is one of the many forms of alternative sentencing that may be preferred over prison. If you're convicted of a crime that normally carries jail time, you should know that you could request an alternative penalty if the circumstances dictate. Here's a look at five common alternatives to jail:

TX Dad Who Killed Daughter's Attacker Not Charged

A grand jury decided not to bring charges against the Texas dad who killed a man molesting his daughter.

The man, whose name has not been released in order to protect his daughter's identity, allegedly found Jesus Mora Flores sexually assaulting his daughter at the family's ranch. He attacked Flores in an effort to protect his daughter and then called 911. The family ranch is in a remote area and Flores died before an ambulance reached the property.

The father was never arrested and the news from the grand jury means the family will hopefully be able to deal with this terrible incident in peace.

Drunk Woman Drives Car Into Golf Course Sand Trap

Patricia Maione drove her car into a sand trap on Monday evening and then tried to convince officers that her GPS told her to do it.

Maione told police that the GPS told her to turn left which she did. That left turn took her through a cornfield in Northbridge Massachusetts and then onto the golf course. She drove through Whitinsville Golf Club until her car got stuck in the sand trap.

Police weren't buying her story of the faulty GPS.

Detroit Man Gambled Away $1.5M from ATM Error

Ronald Page's Golden Ticket was his ATM card. Every time he went to an ATM, the Bank of America ATM allowed him to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The retired Detroit man maintained about $100 in his account, but took out $1.5 million thanks to the ATM mistake.

So what do you do when you have access to unlimited funds and all the time in the world? You gamble.

A North Carolina K-9 officer took a bite out of crime, but the alleged criminal bit back. Now the man who bit Maxx the police dog is being held on $1.25 million bail.

The dueling attacks took place in Wilmington, N.C., where Travis Glaspie, 22, was wanted on outstanding warrants for illegal firearms possession and firing into an occupied vehicle. When police spotted Glaspie, he allegedly took off running, Wilmington's WWAY-TV reports.

That's when K-9 Officer Maxx leapt into action.

Money Laundering Scheme Sent Medicare Money to Cuba

Oscar Sanchez was arrested last week for a money laundering scheme that sent millions of Medicare dollars to Cuba.

Prosecutors claim that Sanchez helped launder $31 million in fraudulent Medicare payments. His check-cashing business made it possible for Sanchez to launder Medicare checks and wire payments between 2005 and 2009, according to The Miami Herald.

This is the first money laundering scheme out of Miami that directly links Medicare fraud dollars to Cuba. The organization of the scheme was designed to hide the final destination of funds from the authorities.

Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's much ballyhooed plan to decriminalize pot won't happen this year, as Republican state lawmakers are refusing to support the idea, The New York Times reports.

Cuomo announced two weeks ago he wanted to change the state's marijuana possession laws. Under his plan, the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view -- the No. 1 cause of arrests in New York City -- would no longer be a crime. New York City's mayor, police commissioner, and prosecutors from all five boroughs supported the proposal.

But with this year's legislative session set to end Thursday, Gov. Cuomo seems to have run out of time to make a deal with reticent Republicans.

NC Woman Threw Hot Grease on 8 Neighbors: Cops

Regina Terry went into her house during a fight with her neighbors and came out with a pot of hot grease.  Then she threw it at them.

The North Carolina woman evaded police after the incident but was arrested on Monday, some 70 miles from the scene of the crime. The content of the argument is unclear but it escalated over the course of the afternoon, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The relationship between Terry and the McLean family who lived next door was always contentious, but nothing physical had occurred before. Neighbors weren't prepared for the screams that erupted from the McLean house on Sunday afternoon.

NY Stop and Frisk Policy Challenged for Racism

On Sunday, several thousand demonstrators conducted a silent march down Fifth Avenue in New York to protest the NYPD's stop and frisk policies.

The protest was led by members of labor unions, the N.A.A.C.P., student groups, Occupy Wall Street members, and even a group of Quakers, reports The New York Times.

If you knew some of the statistics involving minorities and New York's stop and frisk policy, you probably would have protested too.

Nanny Arrested After Two Girls Drown in Pool

Marta Sonia Corvi, a live-in nanny in Dallas, Georgia, was charged with two counts of misdemeanor reckless conduct after two girls drowned in a pool while she was caring for them.

Corvi was watching her employer's daughter, Sophia Juaraz, as well as Corvi's own granddaughter, Mia Penoyer, both age five. The rest of the family went grocery shopping and the girls wandered outside. Corvi was on the phone and didn't notice they were missing until the family returned and found them drowned in the pool.

As terrible as this must be for Corvi - her grand-daughter died after all - this charge may be the least of her worries.

Small Town Murders Up, Overall US Violence Down

Moving to the suburbs because you think that may be safer for your family?

Well, you better think again. According to a national study, the US murder rate and murder statistics between city and town may surprise you.

When to Ask a Judge to Let You Out of Jail Early

Floyd Mayweather received a 90-day prison term for beating his ex-girlfriend.

But only a few days into his sentence, the 35-year-old boxer says that prison has not been too kind to him and sought to modify his prison term with an early release from jail.

So just when can you ask a judge for an early release from jail?

A Texas jury found a retired firefighter guilty of murder, despite the man's claim of justifiable homicide under Texas' version of a "stand your ground" law.

Raul Rodriguez, 47, faces up to life in prison for shooting and killing his unarmed neighbor when the two argued over a noisy house party in 2010, the Associated Press reports.

Annoyed by the loud gathering, Rodriguez grabbed a flashlight, a handgun, and a camcorder, and decided to crash the party. He harassed people at the party and then lured three men into the street, prosecutors claimed.

A registered sex offender in North Carolina was arrested for having a Facebook account, which the woman knew was against state law, authorities said.

Kimberly Watkins, 47, of Fayetteville, N.C., was convicted of several child sex crimes in 2007, the Associated Press reports. Watkins signed up for Facebook, purportedly to keep in touch with friends and play games, according to a sheriff's press release.

But that's not allowed under a 2008 North Carolina law that prohibits anyone with "registered sex offender" status from accessing most social networking websites.

A father's day with the kids can become criminal if a dad's not too careful. The urge to show your children that you're a cool dad must be balanced by making sure they're safe at all times.

Some recent "bad dads" in the news have called attention to potential legal consequences when watching children on your own. Here are five scenarios in which a father could face criminal charges:

A Florida woman was doused with gasoline and set on fire at a 7-Eleven in a horrific crime caught on tape.

The woman, who is not being identified, is being treated for severe burns, police in Boynton Beach, Fla., told The Palm Beach Post. Her ex-boyfriend, 59-year-old Roosevelt Mondesir, was arrested on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder.

The woman met Mondesir at the 7-Eleven, where they were supposed to exchange custody of their 4-year-old son. But the boy, who was in Mondesir's custody, was not there.

Stand Your Ground Laws May Fuel Crime

Stand Your Ground laws are often touted as a crime deterrent but is that really the case? Since Trayvon Martin's death in April these laws have come under scrutiny for effectiveness and safety risks.

Now investigators are looking more closely at the effect of these laws on a community.

Florida's Governor Rick Scott announced that its Stand Your Ground law, which sparked this national debate, will be investigated by a newly created state task force. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has also announced its own nationwide investigation.

Initial results are in and it doesn't look good for stand your ground supporters.

Zimmerman's Wife Arrested for Perjury

George Zimmerman's wife Shellie was arrested for perjury on Tuesday in connection with her husband's bail hearing. George Zimmerman's bail was revoked after Judge Kenneth Lester discovered that Shellie lied about the couple's financial situation.

Now Shellie Zimmerman will get her own day in court.

Shellie testified that the couple had limited funds while concealing more than $100,000 Zimmerman had collected from website donations. The warrant issued on Tuesday referenced Shellie's testimony in the hearing as the basis for her arrest. 

Shellie's under-oath testimony and other statements may make it hard for her to fight this charge.

Texting Driver Kills Man, Avoids Jail

Talk about light sentences. Texting driver killer Nechama Rothberger will avoid jail time for striking and killing 53-year-old deliveryman, Tian Sheng Lin.

Instead, the penalty she faces may surprise you.

Rothberger crashed her Toyota Camry into Lin in Brooklyn in 2010. At the time of the accident, Nechama Rothberger was texting on her cell phone when she struck Lin who was riding a scooter.

Sexual contact with a teenager can pose legal risks, and not just for adults. In some states, minors can also face prosecution for statutory rape, depending on a variety of factors.

Punishments for statutory rape can include probation, fines, mandatory prison time, and even a requirement to register as a sex offender. A key factor is where the alleged sex acts took place, because each state's laws are different.

In general, states consider four factors when it comes to statutory rape laws:

A Texas father beat and killed a man allegedly caught trying to sexually assault his 4-year-old daughter — a killing that may be justified under a Texas statute similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

The killing and alleged assault happened Saturday in rural Shiner, Texas, east of San Antonio. The 4-year-old girl remained in her home while other relatives tended to horses, CNN reports.

When the girl’s father returned to the house, he allegedly caught his daughter being sexually assaulted by a 47-year-old acquaintance, the sheriff said.

The Rev. Creflo Dollar Jr.'s megachurch members vowed to support their pastor Sunday as he publicly denied charges he beat and choked his 15-year-old daughter last week.

"A family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional. Things escalated from there," Dollar, 50, explained from the pulpit, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"She was not choked. She was not punched. ... Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism," the Rev. Dollar continued.

Sheriff's deputies, however, believe otherwise.

Eighteen child victims were rescued in a massive child porn sting that led to 190 arrests in 33 states and seven countries, authorities announced Friday.

Some of the child victims were living with alleged pornographers, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said, according to Agence France Presse. The child-porn sweep, called Operation Orion, also serves as a warning for parents and children about the dangers of online encounters with strangers, the agency's director said.

"Many of the child exploitation cases under Operation Orion began with a child or teen chatting with someone he or she met online," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.

Are police legally allowed to search closed containers in your car?

This question arises from time to time in our FindLaw Answers Criminal Law forum, usually in cases where police conduct a traffic stop and then find small amounts of drugs inside a closed container in the driver's car.

But a closed container search may not always be legal. Depending on the circumstances of the search, what's found may not always be admissible in court. Here are some basic principles.

George Zimmerman's new bail hearing is set for June 29, when his lawyer will again argue for his client's release from jail before trial, the Associated Press reports.

Zimmerman had been free after posting 10% of his original bail, set at $150,000 in April. But a judge revoked Zimmerman's bail last week, after finding Zimmerman and his wife lied about their finances to get a lower bail at the April hearing. Zimmerman returned to jail Sunday.

The June 29 bail hearing will be similar to the April hearing, but this time, Zimmerman will have a lot to prove to the court.

Life behind bars means giving up privileges, including the use of a telephone to make calls whenever you want. Though some jails and prisons (and even some state laws) give inmates specific phone-use privileges, many of those calls can legally be recorded and used against the inmate in court.

Case in point: George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Prosecutors used recorded jailhouse phone calls between Zimmerman and his wife to prove they misled the court about their finances. That led a judge to revoke Zimmerman's bail and order him back to jail.

So which types of jailhouse phone calls can legally be recorded, and which cannot?

A Massachusetts teenager has been convicted of motor-vehicle homicide in the state's first-ever trial for texting while driving.

Aaron Deveau, 18, of Haverhill, Mass., denied he was sending or receiving text messages in the moments before a fatal crash in 2011, CNN reports.

But prosecutors argued Deveau was indeed texting when his car veered across the center line and hit an oncoming car. That car's driver was placed on life support and later died; a passenger was seriously hurt.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall vote Tuesday and is now facing death threats, some of which could result in criminal charges, police said.

Wisconsin police agencies and the state's Department of Justice are investigating the Twitter death threats, which were tweeted and shared via social media, Milwaukee's WTMJ-AM reports.

"Scott Walker will die within the next week. I've already payed [sic] for the hit," one death threat said, according to the station.

So when does a social-media death threat become criminal?

School's (almost) out for summer in Rye, N.Y., which apparently means one thing: an annual paddling ritual known as "Freshman Friday" -- which this year led to three arrests for criminal hazing and assault.

"Freshman Friday" is akin to the hazing depicted in the 1993 movie "Dazed and Confused," in which high-school upperclassmen track down incoming freshmen and beat them with wooden paddles.

But in Rye, N.Y., last week, the paddling was so brutal that one victim had to be treated at a hospital, according to ABC News. Three students were arrested, and more arrests may follow.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to change the state's marijuana possession law because of a "blatant inconsistency" in the way the law is enforced, New York's WNYC radio reports.

New York decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, making it only punishable by up to a $100 fine. But possessing marijuana "in public view" remains a misdemeanor that can lead to arrest.

That's what's been happening in New York City, where police routinely ask people they detain to empty their pockets in a procedure known as "stop and frisk." If marijuana is produced, it's technically "in public view," and the person gets arrested.

Joran van der Sloot's extradition to the United States will not happen until after he serves his sentence for murder in Peru, the country's highest court has ruled. That could be as long as 28 years.

But the decision by Peru's Supreme Court is not final, as Peru's justice minister and Cabinet must also approve it, van der Sloot's lawyer told the Associated Press.

Van der Sloot, convicted of murder in Peru, faces U.S. charges in connection with the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba. "At the end of the day, the decision on whether to extradite Joran is political," his attorney told the AP.

Accused murderer George Zimmerman must return to jail within 48 hours, after a judge found he and his wife lied about their finances at a bail hearing in April.

Zimmerman "can't sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods," Judge Kenneth Lester said in making his ruling, the Associated Press reports.

Many news reports say the judge revoked Zimmerman's bond. But technically, those reports are confusing the terms "bond" and "bail."

Students at NY Proms to Face Breathalyzers

Some schools give lectures while others try to scare students straight. But this year, eleven Long Island school districts are taking a completely different approach to the presence of alcohol at prom.

Perhaps to the chagrin of some NYC DWI lawyers, students at these schools will be subjected to a prom Breathalyzer test. That's right -- if faculty believes a student is under the influence of alcohol, the student will be taken aside and asked to blow.