FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

December 2014 Archives

2014 in Review: Top 10 Blog Posts From FindLaw's Blotter

FindLaw's Blotter attempts to cover the latest in criminal news as well as provide common-sense explanations of the legal intricacies of the criminal justice system. With 2014 coming to a close, we've tried to reflect on the stories that have caught our readers' attentions most -- both news-based and general.

With that, here are the 10 most popular posts from FindLaw's Blotter in 2014:

5 Dumb Ways to Get Arrested on New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve is a fantastic time to get together with friends and family and reflect on the year coming to a close. It's not really an opportune time to get arrested.

We don't mean that there's ever a great time to be arrested, but with the courts closed around the holidays, you may have to wait a bit longer for your arraignment if you can't make bail.

Here are five dumb ways to get arrested on New Year's Eve:

2014 in Review: Top 5 Blog Posts About Dealing With Police

If you've ever watched the television show "Law & Order," you know from the show's opening sequence that "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders."

Police are tasked with enforcing the law, but they are also subject to it. In a year marked by controversy over the use of deadly force by police against unarmed subjects in Missouri, New York City, Ohio, and elsewhere, there were many questions regarding the extent of police powers in 2014.

Here are the five most popular posts from 2014 about dealing with the police:

Top 10 DUI Stories of 2014

With 2014 drawing to a close, we hope that our readers have made it this far without a drunken driving incident.

Others haven't been as lucky or prudent in the past 12 months, as you may discover in our 10 most popular DUI stories of 2014:

Sex-Offender Santa Arrested for Failing to Register Employment

A sex offender working as Santa Claus in Jackson County, Missouri, was arrested more than a week before Christmas.

James R. Gray, 50, was arrested and charged with failing to register as a sex offender because he failed to report his employment -- which in this case was as a Santa in a "home decor-type store." The Kansas City Star reports that it's not illegal for a sex offender to portray Santa Claus, but not registering employment is another story.

Why are law enforcement coming down so hard on this sex-offender Santa?

Sleeping Man in Elf Suit Arrested for DWI

A New Jersey man wearing an "Elf on the Shelf" costume was arrested for DWI after police officers found him passed out in a car.

About 3:30 a.m. Friday, Riverdale police say that officers responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle found 23-year-old Brian Chellis passed out behind the wheel of a Toyota van, reports NJ Advanced Media. The van was running, with the headlights on and music playing, according to police.

Despite being asleep when found by police, Chellis was issued a summons for driving while intoxicated. Can you really get a DWI while sleeping?

Markus Kaarma Convicted for 'Garage Hopper' Shooting

Montana homeowner Markus Kaarma was convicted Wednesday of shooting and killing 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede, whom he caught in his garage.

The jury didn't buy that Kaarma had feared for his life when shooting the teen, as he had originally claimed, and found him guilty of deliberate homicide. ABC News reports that Kaarma is facing up to 100 years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for February 11.

What does this deliberate homicide conviction mean for Kaarma?

Girls in 'Slender Man' Stabbing Found Competent to Stand Trial

Two girls accused of stabbing a friend because of a belief in "Slender Man" have been found competent to stand trial.

Anissa Weier, 13, and Morgan Geyser, 13, allegedly attempted a sort of ritualistic murder to please "Slender Man" -- a fictional, shadowy figure that began as an Internet meme. According to ABC News, the victim, a then 12-year-old friend of Weier and Geyser, was stabbed 19 times with a large kitchen knife last May, but thankfully survived.

What does competency to stand trial mean for these girls in the "Slender Man" trial?

14 Charged Over Deadly Meningitis Outbreak in 2012

Fourteen people are facing federal criminal charges after a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people nationwide.

Those indicted include the co-founders, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, reports The Associated Press. They are accused of failing to follow proper safety standards, and in some cases, acting with "wanton and willful disregard" of the possible risks posed by allowing drugs to become tainted with mold and bacteria.

Contaminated steroids from NECC caused more than 750 people in 20 states to become ill, some with a rare form of meningitis.

What Is Constructive Possession?

Constructive possession is often thrown around in criminal cases where a person is charged with the illegal possession of something that wasn't in his or her actual possession.

The distinction can be hard to ferret out at times, but constructive possession is, in many cases, just as effective as actual possession in obtaining a conviction.

So what are some examples of constructive possession?

Spending Bill Defunds DOJ Efforts to Fight Medical Marijuana

The federal spending bill recently passed by Congress may have a dramatic impact on the government's enforcement of federal laws criminalizing marijuana even in states that have legalized medical use of the drug.

The bill is currently awaiting President Obama's signature, reports the Los Angeles Times. But if he signs it as expected, the bill will bring an end to the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana in states where it's been legalized.

But while the bill signals a new level of tolerance for medical marijuana at the federal level, an amendment still pushes back on Washington, D.C.'s recent passage of a law legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Supreme Ct.'s 'Mistake of Law' Traffic Stop Ruling: 5 Things to Know

As the dust settles on the Supreme Court's ruling in Heien v. North Carolina, privacy and civil rights advocates are worried about how "mistakes of law" could allow officers to abuse suspects.

The Washington Post reports that although the basic reasoning of the case is simple, "it leaves some complications." The basic ruling: Officers can have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle based on a reasonably mistaken view of the law.

As for the complications, here are five things to know about the Supreme Court's "mistake of law" ruling:

When Police Want to Question You, Can You Say 'No'?

Police don't have to arrest you to get you to talk. Often they simply ask you to come down to the station for questioning.

Here's the funny thing about our legal system: This "request" is considered just as legally binding as an invitation from your neighbor to come gossip about the new house across the street. And correspondingly, police need not read you your Miranda rights, arrest you, or tell you to call a lawyer if you decide to come in and speak with them.

So can you say "no" to a police request for questioning?

Mapp v. Ohio: Plaintiff in Landmark Civil Rights Case Dies

Dollree Mapp, the appellant in a groundbreaking case, Mapp v. Ohio, which fundamentally strengthened our Fourth Amendment rights, has passed away.

Despite being in a landmark Supreme Court case, it took about a month after Mapp's death for the media to take notice. The New York Times reports that Mapp was believed to be 90 or 91 when she died October 31 in or near Conyers, Georgia.

In remembrance, let's review the Mapp case and all it has done for civil rights.

Marijuana Breathalyzers: 5 Things You Should Know

Scientists at Washington State University are reportedly developing a marijuana breathalyzer device that would allow law enforcement to test drivers for marijuana intoxication.

Breathalyzers are currently one of the methods used to test the blood alcohol concentration of a driver suspected of DUI. But Washington State University scientists believe that same technology can be repurposed to allow for the officers to determine marijuana intoxication, reports The Seattle Times.

What should you know about this marijuana breathalyzer and marijuana DUIs in general? Here are five things to keep in mind:

NYC Jail Guard Arrested for Inmate's Death in Overheated Cell

A jail guard for New York City's Rikers Island unit was arrested Monday in connection with the overheating death of a mentally ill prisoner earlier this year.

Carol Lackner, 34, was stationed in a special jail unit for mentally ill inmates and has been accused of falsifying records to make it seem as if she was checking on inmates when she wasn't. Lackner was tasked with checking on ex-Marine Jerome Murdough, 56, every half-hour in February, when he roasted to death inside his 101-degree cell.

What criminal charges is Lackner facing for Murdough's death?

Kan. Airman's HIV Assault Case to Get Military Court's Review

A Kansas airman accused of knowingly exposing his sexual partners to HIV is facing review by the nation's highest military court.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is set to determine Tuesday whether David Gutierrez was properly punished for aggravated assault and for violating an order to notify partners of his HIV status and use condoms. As The Associated Press reports, Gutierrez argues that since HIV is now treatable and exposure risk from heterosexual intercourse is low, aggravated assault wasn't an appropriate charge.

How does this military case reflect on HIV transmission laws in general?

Protesters Blocking Streets: What Are the Legal Consequences?

When protestors take to the streets, in many instances they also take over the streets by blocking traffic. But by doing so, these protestors may be inviting more than just attention to their cause, but also potential legal consequences.

Over the weekend, multiple protests spurred by a grand jury’s decision not to bring criminal charges against the New York City police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner resulted in blocked streets and freeways. These protests included a demonstration in Oakland, California in which protestors blocked a freeway, resulting in a heated stand-off with police, reports CNN.

What potential legal consequences do protestors face for blocking streets? Here are a few possibilities:

Police Body Cameras: What Defendants, Victims Need to Know

Police body cameras are being put forward as a possible solution to the growing problem of police brutality and misconduct in America.

President Obama announced Monday that the White House would call for $75 million to be allocated over the next three years to purchase 50,000 recording devices. According to The Washington Post, after incidents like the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, "there is no longer a question" about whether police body cameras will become the new standard.

But what should defendants and victims of police misconduct know about police body cameras?

Is It Legal to Travel With Pot?

With an increasing number of states legalizing recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, those traveling between states may be curious about the legalities of traveling with marijuana.

The first two states to pass laws legalizing the recreational of marijuana, Colorado and Washington, have both seen an influx of pot tourists -- those coming to the state to legally purchase and use marijuana. But what happens when travelers from other states attempt to pack some pot in their luggage and return home?

Is it legal to travel with pot?

5 Alcoholic Holiday Drinks That Don't Mix With Driving

The holiday season has various traditional recipes and rituals attached to it, not least of which is holiday drinking.

Mulled wine, spiked cider, and of course eggnog play a large role in many holiday parties. But as you may learn, these drinks do not mix well with those who plan to drive.

Check out our take on these five alcoholic holiday drinks which might put you at risk for intoxicated driving:

NYPD Officer Not Charged in Eric Garner's Chokehold Death

A grand jury has decided not to bring criminal charges against the white New York City police officer videotaped applying a chokehold to an unarmed black man who was fatally injured in the struggle.

The man killed in the incident, 43-year-old Eric Garner, was suspected of selling loose cigarettes on the street, reports The New York Times. The decision not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, comes less than two weeks after the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. also declined to bring criminal charges against a white officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.

What led to the grand jury's decision not to indict Pantaleo?

Missing Teen Found After 4 Years, Hidden Behind Fake Wall

A 13-year-old boy was found in a Georgia residence behind a fake wall, four years after his mother reported him missing in Florida.

The teen, who has not been identified, was found in a Jonesboro, Georgia, home along with five other people, including the boy's father, Gregory Jean. According to Reuters, Jean, 37, and Samantha Joy Davis, 42, are facing charges of false imprisonment, cruelty to children, and obstructing an officer.

What legal consequences could these alleged kidnappers face, if convicted?

How to 'Press Charges' After a Crime Occurs

A law enforcement officer asking the victim of a crime whether he or she wants to "press charges" is familiar to most people from depictions in cop shows or television dramas.

While victims have the power to report crimes to law enforcement and provide details of crimes to officers and prosecutors, they do not have the power to mandate that a suspect is charged in a criminal case. Even in the event a criminal is arrested, whether or not that person is ultimately prosecuted for the crimes he or she may have been accused of is typically at the discretion of prosecutors, who may choose to pursue the case or decide against it.

So what does it mean to "press charges" after a crime occurs?

Black Friday Crime Roundup 2014

The tremendous deals afforded only those people who get to Walmart at 6 AM on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, inevitably lead to pushing, shoving, trampling, fighting, and then arresting. Sometimes, they lead to stealing, and this year, they've also led to picketing, as consumers protest stores being open on Thanksgiving, requiring employees to work on a day when they should be at home with their families.

To help kick off the holiday shopping season, here's a roundup of some Black Friday crimes from the long weekend.