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February 2015 Archives

Top 3 Crime-Related Legal Questions From FindLaw Answers: Feb. 2015

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We see a lot of great questions in our Answers community every day. Here's a look at the Top 3 recent questions from our criminal law boards:

1. Should I take or refuse a sobriety test if I'm pulled over for a suspected DUI?

DUI-related questions are among the most frequently asked on our message boards. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this particular question. So much depends on the specific circumstances of your situation -- whether you've actually been drinking, how close you think you might be to the legal limit, etc.

Recreational pot is now legal in Washington, D.C., to a certain extent. Initiative 71 took effect at midnight, after some 70 percent of District residents voted to approve the measure last fall.

While some possession and private consumption of marijuana is now permitted in the capital, D.C.'s pot scene won't immediately resemble that of Colorado or Washington state.

Here's a look at where the District's statute stands now, and the possible hang-ups moving forward:

Eddie Ray Routh has been found guilty of murdering former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and Kyle's friend Chad Littlefield. The jury sentenced Routh, a former U.S. Marine, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, concluding what had been dubbed the "American Sniper" trial after Kyle's autobiography and subsequent blockbuster movie of the same name.

Coinciding with the release of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie depicting Kyle's life and service as a sniper in Iraq, Routh's murder trial gained widespread media coverage. Other veterans, some biopic subjects themselves, have been vocal in their support for Kyle and in their outrage at his killer.

Although the verdict was read Tuesday night, the story isn't quite over yet. Here are five things to know about what the jury decided and where the case goes from here:

Last November, voters in Alaska took to the polls to legalize recreational pot. Ballot Measure 2 went into effect today, allowing some state residents and visitors to legally own certain amounts and types of marijuana.

Alaska's marijuana laws are still catching up to front runners like Colorado and Washington state, so how is recreational weed regulated in The Last Frontier? Let's take a look at a few of the particulars.

There are legal phrases we hear all the time, and "the right to a speedy trial" is one of those. But what does the right entail, and just how speedy is speedy enough?

Because each criminal case is unique, there is no one answer to this question. But here are some considerations when thinking about speedy trial issues:

The "Occupy" movement has spread to the streets and to the schools. And if you're planning on "occupying" somewhere, you should be aware of the possible legal consequences.

While it's unlikely that you'll be pepper-sprayed or shot with a projectile, here are a few potential outcomes protesters could face when occupying public (or private) spaces:

If you’re one of the many, many drivers recently charged with a marijuana DUI, you may be wondering if there is any way to challenge it.

Maybe you thought cops were just looking for drunken drivers, and you could sneak by undetected by just smoking a little weed. Or maybe you were like Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell and didn’t even know you could even get a “DUI for being high.”

Either way, with the relaxing of state marijuana laws, coupled with more police awareness regarding the symptoms of stoned driving, drugged driving arrests are on the rise. So here are three challenges unique to the marijuana DUI scenario that may apply to your case:

Police have charged a New Jersey mom, a first-grade teacher, with endangering the welfare of a child after a 15-year-old attending a drinking party at her home had to be hospitalized.

Tracey Harding, 50, of South Brunswick, was allegedly aware of the boy's condition, but told the teen's mother he was sleeping when the mother called looking for her son, The Associated Press reports.

In some cases, it's parents acknowledging that their kids will drink anyway and trying to provide a safe environment and keep an eye on them. In other cases, it's parents trying to be cool and impress their kids. Even with the best intentions, moms and dads can get into legal hot water for allowing their kids to imbibe on their watch.

The video that follows, depicting a clear-cut head-butt in a Texas Walmart, has been making the social media rounds lately. So we decided to give it the legal blow-by-vicious-blow breakdown it so richly deserves. Please come along...

After the shooting deaths of three Muslim students in North Carolina, some are calling for hate crime charges. How are hate crimes defined in that state?

Craig Stephen Hicks is accused of shooting Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, each in the head, in a Chapel Hill condominium complex February 10. While relatives and some Muslim groups contend the killings were religiously motivated, prosecutors say it's too early to know whether religion played a role, The Wall Street Journal reports.

So what does North Carolina's hate crime statute actually say? And would the state's hate crime laws apply to Hicks's prosecution?

Mom Charged With Kidnapping for Trying to Teach Boy, 6, a Lesson

Back in the old days, if you wanted to teach a kid a lesson, you'd send him to his room. A Missouri family, though, apparently didn't think that was good enough.

In order to teach a 6-year-old boy not to talk to strangers (because he was "too nice"), his mother, grandmother, aunt, and a co-worker of the aunt pretended to kidnap the boy and held him in a basement, police say.

All four adults are now facing felony charges for their tough-love stunt. Is it really illegal to kidnap your own child?

The good news: There are fewer drunken drivers on the road. The not-so-good news: There are more "drugged drivers" on the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its 2013-14 survey of 9,000 drivers at 300 locations from coast to coast. The findings: 1.5 percent of weekend drivers had illegal blood-alcohol concentrations, down from 2.2 percent of drivers in 2007 and 7.5 percent of drivers in 1973. Meantime, Reuters reports that 10 times as many drivers surveyed, 15.2 percent, had illegal drugs in their system.

An increase in the prosecution and penalties for drunken driving offenses may be responsible for the drop in alcohol-influenced drivers. But what accounts for the rise in drugged drivers? And how does the law deal with drivers under the influence of legal and illegal drugs?

What Counts as Criminal Mischief?

Although many criminal charges are very specific, others, such as criminal mischief, can encompass a wide variety of criminal behavior.

Criminal mischief generally includes what is commonly known as vandalism, dealing mainly with crimes committed against property such as defacing someone's building with graffiti or breaking the windows of a business. Although vandalism may be included under state criminal statutes forbidding "criminal damage" or "malicious trespass," in many states, vandalism may be charged as criminal mischief.

What typically counts as criminal mischief? Here are a few examples of criminal mischief laws in different states:

When Can You Get a Change of Venue for a Criminal Trial?

The Boston Herald reported today that the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given the judge in charge of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case until 5 p.m. tomorrow to rule on a change of venue request.

This is apparently the third change of venue request Tsarnaev's attorneys have filed with Judge George A. O'Toole. The defense wants the trial conducted in a different state, claiming that Tsarnaev wouldn't be able to get a fair trial in Massachusetts.

So when can a defendant move for a change of venue?

'Suge' Knight Case: When Can a Judge Revoke Bail?

Last week, we blogged about music producer Marion "Suge" Knight's arrest on suspicion of murder for allegedly running over two men with his car. One of the men died.

Today, a Los Angeles judge revoked Knight's bail, which had been set at $2 million. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claimed that Knight was a flight risk.

Under what circumstances can a judge revoke bail?

What Counts as Community Service?

In criminal cases, criminal offenders are sometimes ordered to perform community service in exchange for a reduction of fines or term of imprisonment. But the exact nature of this community service is not always specified by the court.

This can lead to disputes regarding what actually suffices for community service by a criminal offender. In one recent example, actress Lindsay Lohan may be facing jail time after she tried to count socializing with fans toward the 80 hours of community service she was ordered to perform for a reckless driving charge in 2012, reports Time. Prosecutors are arguing that Lohan's meeting with fans should not be counted towards her required community service.

So what does typically count as community service?