FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

September 2012 Archives

MA Crime Lab Scandal Centers on Tampered Evidence

Prosecutors often rely on crime lab results to prosecute cases. That's why the scandal in Massachusetts over a rogue crime lab technician is serious news.

Chemist Annie Dookhan admitted to mishandling evidence including faking results, forging signatures, and skipping necessary paperwork on thousands of drug-related cases. She had worked at the now-closed William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute from 2003 until her resignation in March. The lab was shut down in August after it became clear how many cases were mishandled, reports The Republican.

But this isn't just a professional embarrassment. It's a criminal justice nightmare as well.

The man behind "The Innocence of Muslims," the online video that set off weeks of violent protests around the world, has been arrested for violating his probation, federal prosecutors say.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lived in Cerritos, Calif., before going into hiding, was set to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Nakoula was convicted in 2010 of charges including bank fraud and identity theft, and spent about a year in federal prison. But he was still under probation from that conviction, which restricted his computer and Internet use.

Those restrictions likely led to Nakoula's arrest.

The attorney-client privilege is important to any lawsuit. But in some cases, the attorney-client privilege can be destroyed, either by design or by accident.

What is the attorney-client privilege? In general, it means confidential communication between a client and her lawyer cannot be used in court. The privilege generally covers legal advice and law-related discussions between a lawyer and a client, whether written or oral.

So what doesn't fit under the privilege, or can destroy the privilege altogether? Here are five scenarios to consider:

Princeton 'Creepshots' Get Student Arrested

A student at Princeton University was arrested for the 'creepshots' he took on his phone after a fellow student fell asleep.

'Creepshots' are photos taken of an unsuspecting subject that are in some way sexual. In this case the photos were allegedly sexually explicit and taken after the victim passed out from drinking.

The alleged perpetrator, Richard Charles Tuckwell, used his cell phone to take the pictures. It's not clear whether the photos were given to anyone else but that doesn't make it any less of a crime.

The Big Apple loves Apple -- so much so that about one in seven crimes in NYC involves an Apple product getting stolen, according to the New York Police Department.

So far this year, NYPD officers have taken a bite out of more than 79,000 crimes, according to New York's WABC-TV. More than 11,000 of those crimes -- about 14%, or nearly one in seven -- involved the theft of an iPhone, iPad, or another Apple product.

Overall, crime in the Big Apple is up 4% this year compared to last. But for Apple products, crime reports are way up, by 40%, police say.

How do these iThefts typically occur?

How to Change Your Public Defender

If you can't afford an attorney, you have the right to have a lawyer provided for you in a criminal case, which generally means a public defender. But what if you want a new public defender because of problems with your assigned one?

A public defender is a government-paid attorney whose sole job is to represent criminal defendants who can't afford their own lawyer. Public defenders are held to the same standard as any other lawyer, and generally do an excellent job for their clients.

But just like in any other field, sometimes public defenders can be difficult to work with. If you think this may negatively affect your case, then you need to know how to get a new lawyer.

What should you do if you're accused of shoplifting? Depending on the situation, it can be a minor nuisance or a potentially costly criminal ordeal.

Depending on the amount allegedly stolen, shoplifting can be met with a mere citation, or charged as a misdemeanor or even a felony. How you behave when confronted about alleged shoplifting can also affect your case.

Here are five things to expect and think about if you're faced with a shoplifting accusation:

Amish Beard Cutters Guilty of Hate Crimes

A leader of an Amish sect and all 15 of his followers were convicted of hate crimes for cutting off the beards of Amish rivals.

If you're not familiar with the Amish faith, hair and beards are considered sacred symbols of righteousness, writes NBC. When someone forcibly cuts these off, it is a big deal.

So a bishop of a Amish sect in Ohio, Samuel J. Mullet Sr., was accused of a particular heinous hate crime when he was charged with ordering his 15 minions to target nine religious rivals last year and cut off their hair and beards, reports NBC.

Judge Sets $1 Million Bail for Facebook Death Threats

Eric Yee was arrested after making some statements on ESPN's website that were construed as death threats. A judge set his bail at $1 million.

Making threats can get you in legal trouble, especially in today's climate where there is concern about cyber bulling and online comments turning into physical violence. While First Amendment rights apply to the Internet, that right doesn't extend to statements that are likely to lead to violence.

It's not completely surprising that Yee was arrested after making threatening comments. It's the amount of bail and the actual charges against him that are surprising.

A DUI crash is nothing to laugh out loud about. Just ask a Kentucky judge who sent DUI suspect Paula Asher to jail for a Facebook post that seemed to make light of her legal ordeal.

"My dumb (expletive) got a DUI and hit a car... LOL," Asher's Facebook post said, according to Louisville, Ky.'s WAVE-TV.

That may have been funny to Asher and her friends, but it didn't get her any "likes" in court.

Man Gets a DUI for Riding a Horse in Kentucky

A Kentucky man was arrested for a DUI for riding a horse. You heard that right - a DUI on a horse. Danny Reynolds says that he had a couple beers at his son's birthday party before going on a ride down a trail with some friends, reports WKYT.

Reynolds, 55, says that he is diabetic and stopped along the trial to eat some crackers to get his blood sugar level up. That's when a deputy arrived and told him to get off the horse. Reynolds apparently staggered when he got off the horse, and the deputy arrested him for driving under the influence.

The vehicle Reynolds was driving, of course, was his horse.

Police have a variety of tools at their disposal to catch suspected drunken drivers. But is it legal for police to draw your blood when they suspect a DUI?

In general, the answer is yes. While field sobriety tests (like being told to touch your nose or walk a straight line) and alcohol breath tests may be more common, police can also force you to undergo an alcohol blood test.

Can you refuse a blood test? It depends. But the punishment for refusal may be even worse than testing positive for alcohol or drugs. Here's why:

New Citadel Sex Abuse Charges Surface

The Citadel is still dealing with a sex abuse case that was first made public almost a year ago but now a new one has surfaced. The prestigious South Carolina Military College confirmed Tuesday that there are new sexual assault complaints from students.

The prior case involved Citadel alum Louis "Skip" ReVille, who allegedly engaged in sexual activity with campers at the college's summer program.

Current allegations involve a former student of The Citadel who is accused of sexual misconduct against at least two different students.

Boy Scout Sex Abuse Files to End up in Court?

It's a sad commentary when the alleged Boy Scout sex abuse scandal barely makes a ripple in the news.

We have all become so jaded to child sex abuse scandals that we just automatically figure that any large organization having to do with youths will have sex abuse and attempts to cover up the sex abuse -- as was allegedly the case with the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America were tightly associated with innocence and growing up in America. But with hundreds of reports of allegations of sex abuse possibly about to be released, the organization may become more intimately tied to courtroom battles and criminal charges, reports Reuters.

'Bucket List Bandit:' Bank Robber Arrested, FBI Says

The man police named the 'bucket list bandit' has finally been caught after a spree of bank robberies.

Michael Eugene Brewster of Pensacola, Florida, was arrested Thursday in Oklahoma during a routine traffic stop. Police pulled him over for driving a vehicle that was reported stolen. The Utah license plates on the vehicle were fake, reports the FBI.

From there, police found enough evidence to believe he was the interstate bank robber and arrested him. Now he's in trouble with the federal government and probably also with the many states where he stole money.

5 Reasons Prosecutors Drop Criminal Charges

Just because you’ve been initially charged with a crime, does not necessarily mean that the prosecutor will move forward and prosecute you for the crime. In fact, there are many situations where prosecutors will drop criminal charges.

In a criminal case, the state is the plaintiff in the case and the suspect is the defendant. So whether the state decides to move forward with a case is largely up to prosecutorial discretion.

Below are five reasons why a prosecutor may decide to drop the criminal charges against you:

Bank Robbers Throw Money Out of SUV During Chase

Two bank robbers were caught by police following a car chase that involved stolen money being thrown out of a car window.

Were the bank robbers real life Robin Hoods? Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor of South Los Angeles? Or were they just plain robbin'?

The safe bet would be these crooks were just trying to steal money and create a diversion for their getaway. But a Los Angeles police officer smartly pointed out that the bank robbers would have long run out of money long prior to the police giving up their chase, reports NBC.

Man Kills Girlfriend for Revealing She's HIV+

Not telling your sex partners that you are HIV positive is a pretty terrible, but does it justify murder?

That's the question Larry Dunn Jr. is probably asking himself since he was arrested and charged with murdering his girlfriend, Cicely Bolden. He confessed to stabbing her after she told him she was HIV positive.

The couple had sex before she made her confession.

It's understandable that Dunn was upset but that doesn't mean he can get away with murder.

Joshua Scott Albert's Facebook activity suggests he doesn't much like cops. But is that a crime?

Philadelphia prosecutors think so, and announced a status update earlier this week: Albert, 26, is now a fugitive, charged with harassment, making terroristic threats, and criminal solicitation to commit murder, the Philadelphia Daily News reports.

How can a person's Facebook posts lead to criminal charges?

Hepatitis C Infector Gets 30 Years in Prison

No, your mind is not playing tricks on you. Another hospital technician was linked to spreading Hepatitis C. This time, Steven Beumel was convicted of intentionally spreading the disease at a Florida hospital.

The 49-year-old radiology technician admitted to stealing syringes of the pain killer Fentanyl during patient procedures, reports the Orlando Sentinel. To hide his theft, Beumel replaced the used syringes with saline contaminated with Hepatitis C.

Steven Beumel worked at the Mayo Clinic's Interventional Radiology Unit and potentially infected thousands of patients with the deadly Hepatitis C. Two patients have been linked to Beumel, including one patient who died.

This case should not be confused with the other Hepatitis C infector case.

When Are Police Allowed to Use Tasers?

The issue of when police are allowed to use Tasers came up again recently as an Oklahoma police officer was suspended after he was caught on camera tasing a handcuffed woman.

In the video, the police officer is seen talking to a woman in custody when the woman appears to spit on the officer. The officer then took out his Taser and shocked the woman, leaving the probes in the woman for over a minute, reports ABC.

The officer was placed on two-week unpaid suspension and will have to undergo more training. The ACLU commented on the case saying that while spitting on an officer is inexcusable, tasing of the handcuffed woman was unjustified, reports ABC.

Fence Dispute Leads to Deadly HOA Shooting

A former doctor in Kentucky has been charged with murder for killing one person and critically wounding another during a HOA shooting last week.

Fifty-five-year-old Mahmoud Yousef Hindi allegedly sat in on a HOA meeting at a church for a short while before pulling out a gun and firing. Hindi allegedly killed a former HOA president and critically wounded another, reports The Associated Press.

It's not entirely clear what sparked the HOA shooting, but Hindi has had a long-lasting feud with the HOA over a fence he had on his property and some believe this may have sparked the deadly violence.

Legal for Police to Read My Text Messages?

The question of whether police can your read text messages hasn't gotten any clearer since the Supreme Court declined to decide the issue back in 2010.

The most recent ruling on the issue comes out of Rhode Island where a judge found that police could not read a person's private text messages without a warrant. Michael Patino was arrested after police arrived at his girlfriend's home responding to an emergency call and looked at his cell phone.

The Rhode Island state court ruled the police shouldn't have read the texts but that only makes the issue more complicated among states.

5 Things to Know About Missing Persons Reports

Missing persons reports are a popular story component on crime and legal shows but in real life the situation is much more dramatic. By the time a missing persons report is filed, tensions are often running high and that can mean important details are missed.

It doesn't help that TV and movies don't tell the whole story about how to file missing persons reports. There are important things to consider that are often left out. And there are some details that just aren't true.

Knowing the facts before a crisis can be critical when things go wrong. Find out the important facts you need to know if you ever file a missing persons report.

3 Crimes For Threatening a Politician

Ever think of threatening a politician? With the endless loop of commercials and phone calls, it's only our sanity and knowledge that threatening a politician may be a crime that stops most of us from doing so.

But every year, a few people do lose it and lash out with threats and actions against a politician or political candidate.

Here are the three most likely crimes and situations involving someone who threatens a politician:

Sixth Amendment Right To Counsel: What is it?

The Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to an attorney. That sounds all well and good but we all know there's no such thing as a free lunch. There has to be a catch somewhere, right?

Well, not really.

The Sixth Amendment only provides the right to an attorney at a criminal prosecution so in a civil suit it won't help you out much. But civil suits result in fines which, while possibly challenging to pay off, won't take away your freedom.

Criminal suits can result in jail time, so it's important to have someone on your side every step of the way.

Hold on. Is it really every step of the way?

Drew Peterson Guilty of 3rd Wife's Murder

Drew Peterson has been found guilty of murder in the death of his third wife Kathleen Savio.

A jury on Thursday found the former Illinois cop guilty of drowning Savio in her bathtub in 2004. The 58-year-old Peterson now faces up to 60 years in prison. His sentencing is set for November.

The jury's verdict ends the long, drawn-out prosecution of Drew Peterson. His story captivated a national audience not only because of the bizarre facts surrounding Kathleen Savio's death, but also because Peterson was also suspected by many to have played a part in the disappearance of his fourth wife Stacy Peterson, who remains missing, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

FAMU Dance Team Suspended for Alleged Hazing

Not one year after the hazing death of a Florida A&M University (FAMU) marching band member, there's another alleged hazing incident -- this time involving a FAMU dance team.

A parent tipped off the university about the alleged hazing involving the all-female Torque Dance Team, reports CNN. The hazing reportedly happened at an off-campus event over Labor Day weekend. It allegedly involved alcohol consumption and running up hills. It's not clear if anyone was hurt.

FAMU was quick to take action and suspended the dance team pending an investigation. Final action against the team is likely to follow the investigation. There is no word yet on criminal charges.

How Hard Can You Spank a Child?

Sparing the rod may spoil the child, the old saying goes. It may also stave off allegations of child abuse. But in this age of politically correct parenting, how hard can you spank a child, if at all?

A recent study may make parents think twice about spanking. Kids who are spanked or otherwise physically punished are more likely to suffer from mental disorders, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse as adults, according to the journal Pediatrics.

As far as state laws are concerned, however, parental punishment like spanking may be considered criminal battery or abuse, depending on the circumstances.

NJ Man Slashed Throats of Sleeping Kids

Osvaldo Rivera stands accused of slashing two children in the throat -- killing one -- after going on a drug-induced rampage.

The Camden, New Jersey man allegedly went inside a neighbor's apartment and attacked the two sleeping children. The younger child, a six-year-old boy, was killed, while his 12-year-old sister survived the initial attack and is currently in a hospital, reports The Associated Press.

When Rivera was found hiding between a mattress and bedroom wall, he reportedly admitted to authorities that he was high on marijuana and PCP, reports the AP.

Breaking Gun Storage Laws Can Land You in Jail

It's your Second Amendment right to purchase a gun (so long as you aren't disqualified) but that doesn't prohibit laws on safe gun storage.

While not all states require guns to be locked up at home, the majority of them do. Some states also punish adults when children get their hands on improperly secured firearms and cause harm.

These laws don't just apply to parents. If people under 16 ever come into your home - friends, family, or neighbors - they apply to you too.

Noisy Car Stereos, Exhaust Keep Getting Drivers Pulled Over

If your car stereo is too loud it could be labeled as a noisy nuisance and depending on where you live you could be stuck with a fine. That's what happened to Tom Palumbo when he tried to crank the bass while driving in Florida.

Florida law makes it a criminal offense to drive with a stereo so loud that a police officer can hear it from 25 feet or more away. It's not the only state that has stepped up enforcement of car noise ordinances and passed new ones in the last few years.

Laws vary among states on what level of noise is considered offensive and when police can issue a ticket.

Sometimes the punishment is a fine but sometimes it's much worse than that.