FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

April 2015 Archives

Thanks to the Google School of Law, people seem to think that the First Amendment protection on free speech allows them to say any nasty thing they want. It doesn't.

Ebony Dickens, of Atlanta, Georgia, learned that the hard way after she posted a noxious rant on Facebook calling for black people to "rise up and shoot at every white cop in the nation starting NOW." Her rant goes on, "Might kill at least fifteen tomorrow. I'm plotting now." She thinks she's bullet proof, and writes, "Freedom of speech tho. So when you can absolutely show me in the 1st amendment where it explicitly says you can't say 'kill all cops,' then I'll delete my status."

Well, she deleted her whole Facebook account hours before local police, FBI, DHS, and New York Police arrested her and charged her with disseminating information related to terrorist acts. More charges may come later.

There have been multiple reports recently of U.S. authorities arresting and charging people who've tried to support ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. Just this month, six Minnesota men were apprehended trying to travel to Syria and join the terrorist group.

So what, exactly are these would-be terrorists charged with? And what are possible penalties for trying to join ISIS?

Attorneys are expensive. There's no argument about that.

So, why hire one if you're just planning on pleading guilty? Even if you never plan on going to trial, you will want an attorney who can help you. Here's why:

Everybody's got that story, overheard at a party or from a friend of a friend, of getting out of a ticket or beating a charge on some technicality. Or, you watched undercover cops on TV dance around the inevitable question.

We may want to think there might be some kind of "Get Out of Jail Free" card that can be used against the system, but most of them are myths. Here are five of the most persistent myths about criminal law.

The police know when you check in to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. Or, at least sometimes they do.

A Motel 6 in Rhode Island has agreed to turn over daily guest lists to the police. This is one of many steps the motel chain is taking to curb the number of criminal incidents occurring at the hotel. The hotel does not directly alert guests during check-in that their names will be turned over to the police.

Is that legal? Don't hotel guests have a right to privacy?

The governor of Maryland has declared a state of emergency in Baltimore after protestors in the city clashed with police and others engaged in looting and extensive property damage on Monday. The night of violence followed the daytime funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died from a severed spine while in police custody. It's the second time in six months that a city has called on the National Guard to help quell violent protests, after Missouri deployed Guard troops in Ferguson in response to protests last summer and fall over the shooting of Michael Brown and the failure to indict the officer who shot him.

Declaring a state of emergency allows a government to alter some executive functions and institute temporary laws until the crisis is over. Here is how a state of emergency works generally and how it might look in Baltimore this week.

You're driving along on the freeway when, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a police car parked on the shoulder of the road. You hit your breaks and slow to the speed limit. You drop your cell phone on the passenger seat. As you drive by, you nervously peer into the rear view mirror to see if you're going to be pulled over.

Your worries may be legitimate. Here are our picks for the top 5 reasons people get pulled over:

The trial of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes begins today and is expected to focus more on punishment than on guilt. Holmes killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater over three years ago, but he has pleaded not guilty, contending he was legally insane at the time of the shooting.

This case bears some similar elements to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial for the Boston Marathon bombing: little question of guilt, but large arguments about the proper punishment. And like Tsarnaev, Holmes is attempting to avoid the death penalty. But there will also be some significant differences as well.

3 Illegal Car Modifications

What's wrong with a nice factory produced car? Cars, we think you're beautiful just the way you are. However, people love to modify their cars.

A few years ago, we wrote about five illegal car modifications. Those modifications are just a little bit old-school now, so we're back with three more illegal modifications for the right now crowd.

Being confronted and questioned by police, no matter the scenario, can be a scary prospect. But it can be a little less scary if you know your rights.

Along with knowing your legal and constitutional protections when talking to (or not talking to) officers is having some common sense tips on things you should really never say to police.

If you committed a crime, but no one saw it, did it really happen?

To be convicted of a crime, there must be evidence that you committed the crime. In the case of a DUI, such evidence would include results of the blood alcohol test and witnesses seeing you drive erratically.

However, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that circumstantial evidence can also be used to prove a DUI.

Last November, hackers who had gained access to Sony Entertainment Pictures data began releasing emails, un-released films, and personal information gained from a possibly year-long attack. Last week, WikiLeaks posted the entire collection of stolen data, around 200,000 documents and emails.

The hack itself was illegal under nearly all state and federal computer crime laws. But does that mean posting and reading the leaked documents is criminal as well?

A Cook County judge brought a police officer's manslaughter trial to an abrupt end on Monday, acquitting the officer of all charges. The acquittal means that the officer, Dante Servin, probably cannot be re-tried for the killing of Rekia Boyd. Servin had been the first Chicago officer to face a trial for a fatal shooting since 1997.

Essentially, Judge Dennis Porter the judge said the prosecution failed to prove Servin acted recklessly, and therefore could not be guilty as a matter of law. This ruling walks a legal fine line that has angered many who followed this case specifically, and the issue of police officers shootings generally.

There are quite a few issues at play here that have left both the public and trained attorneys scratching their heads. So let's see if we can separate them out and explain what the court was thinking.

5 Speeding Ticket Myths

You're more likely to get a ticket in a red car. You can beat a red light camera ticket by wearing a hat that blocks your face. Fact or fiction? Nobody knows how they started, but there are some speeding ticket myths that have become common what passes for common wisdom.

Today, we're playing Mythbusters, and we're going to bust some speeding ticket myths for you. Buckle up.

On "CSI," DNA analysis takes minutes to do. Fingerprints are matched in seconds. Hair comparisons are so easy to do that even detectives can take a look into a microscope, and see the match. We have been duped by TV to believe that forensics give quick, clear, easy -- and correct --answers.

If only it worked that way in real life. The Justice Department and the FBI have admitted that nearly every FBI forensics examiner in the FBI's microscopic hair comparison unit gave faulty testimony at every trial they testified in since 1980, reports The Washington Post. Twenty-six of 28 examiners gave faulty or misleading evidence in favor of the prosecutor in 257 of 268 trials. Of those 257 defendants, 32 were sentenced to death, 14 of which have either been executed or died in prison.

This is only the beginning. The FBI has only reviewed 342 cases and has about 1,200 more remaining.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been fighting federal immigration law for what seems like most of the 21st century. And, as the old tune goes, the law has won.

But according to contempt charges in federal court, the sheriff hasn't taken the loss to heart. Instead, he and four aides allegedly violated a court order barring the sheriff's immigration enforcement patrols. U.S. District Judge Murray Snow found the patrols illegally racially profiled Latinos and now must determine if and how Arpaio will be punished for disobeying his order to discontinue the practice.

Just in time for 4/20, Georgia became the 24th state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. But don't go investing in Funyuns stock just yet -- Georgia's law is fairly restrictive when it comes to what a medical marijuana patient can possess, and it doesn't address how they're supposed to get it at all.

Peach State residents with one of eight specified disorders may possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil containing no more than five percent THC. However, no cultivation of said oil is permitted in Georgia, so patients will have to leave the state, acquire it elsewhere, and return with it, presumably passing through one or more of Georgia's neighboring states, all of which currently prohibit any marijuana possession.

With the myriad complications of Georgia's new law, and the national pot holiday coming up next week, we thought it might help to (cough) clear the air (cough) about some other notions regarding medical marijuana.

You're relaxing in your car when a police officer knocks on your window. When you roll it down, a pungent waft of marijuana smoke hits the officer in the face. He then orders you out of your car, searches your vehicle, and finds marijuana. Wait, he didn't have a warrant to search! He tells you he doesn't need it because he recognizes the smell of marijuana.

Is it legal to do a warrantless search based on the smell of marijuana?

I'm sure you want to forget about that DUI. Never think about it, or bring it up again. However, your job or job applications may not allow you to forget.

As much as you'd like to leave it in the past, do you have to disclose your DUI to your employer or on a job application?

Whether they do it to avoid punishment for their own crimes or out of some civic duty, confidential informants know they're entering into a dangerous enterprise. After all, snitches get stitches, as the saying goes.

What a "CI," as they're known, does not anticipate is being outed as an informant by their own officers/handlers and being shot in their home as a result. This unfortunately happened to one CI in Richmond, California, and now the city is compensating him for his injuries.

Even the hardest, most jaded juvenile offender looks out of place in a jail. Juveniles are children. Their minds don't mature properly until their early twenties. So, why do we put children in jail? An Arkansas study found that youths who were previously incarcerated for a crime were 13.5 times more likely to commit another crime.

A better method of dealing with young offenders is juvenile probation. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 61% of cases involving delinquent youths were granted probation instead of detention.

Here is what you need to know about juvenile probation:

After a long and winding legal road, a judge sentenced convicted killer Jodi Arias to life in prison without the possibility of parole. While the verdict itself felt like mere formality, the trial was anything but.

The case, in which Arias was accused of stabbing and shooting her boyfriend to death in 2008, garnered international infamy. And after she was convicted, her sentencing took on a legal life of its own. Now that the case has drawn to a close, here's a timeline of important events that led to the verdict:

In 2015, most, if not all, of us have a very powerful weapon in our pockets. That weapon is our cell phone. The modern cell phone's ability to record high quality videos and pictures makes it more than just a communication device. It is now a tool in the fight to combat police brutality and protect our civil rights.

In the case of Walter Scott, police officer Michael Slager previously claimed that he shot Scott in self-defense when Scott tried to take his taser. Since Scott died in the confrontation, there was nobody to contradict Slager's story, until a grainy cell phone video went viral. A bystander, lucky to be in the right place at the right time, recorded Scott running away. Slager, more than several feet behind Scott, shot him in the back eight times, and killed him.

If all we had was Slager's story, any investigation might have found his use of force was justified. With the video, Slager has been charged with murder.

Martha Stewart had one. Paris Hilton had one. What are we talking about here?

An ankle monitor! For many first-time and non-violent offenders, jail is not the right sentence. The better alternative is house arrest or some other type of monitored sentence. And, you can’t have house arrest or (any kind of monitoring) without an ankle monitor.

There are many myths surrounding this little piece of jewelry, so here are five things to know about the ankle monitor:

What is Looting?

A hurricane just hit. An earthquake just rattled the earth. A protest just turned into a riot. The police are busy. Inevitably, you will see reports of stores being broken into, trashed, and looted.

What is looting? Is it a crime?

Mommy blogger Lacey Spears was sentenced for the poisoning death of her son.

Lacey Spears was a prolific blogger. She wrote hundreds of entries about her young son who seemed to always be sick. The boy died of salt poisoning when he was only 5 years old, reports The Associated Press.

This is where the story takes a disturbing turn. Prosecutors arrested Spears and charged her with murdering her son. She was accused of making her son sick so that she could blog about it. She wanted attention and sympathy from other people. Spears took it too far one day and killed her son by putting too much salt in his feeding tube.

A jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty on all counts regarding his involvement in the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon. But the case isn't over yet, and the jury's work isn't finished.

Seventeen of the 30 charges for which Tsarnaev was convicted carry a possible death penalty, so now that jurors have found him guilty, they must decide whether to impose that penalty or life in prison. Let's take a look at these separate stages of capital punishment cases and how they work.

After weeks of trial, 92 witnesses for the prosecution and four for the defense, and two days of deliberation, the jury has reached a verdict on the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He is guilty, guilty, guilty.

On April 15, 2013, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded in Boston where crowds of people were gathered to watch the annual Boston Marathon. Three people died, including 8-year- old Martin Richard, restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, and Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu. More than 200 other spectators were maimed and injured. It wasn't long before authorities identified Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the culprits. After a lengthy manhunt, the killing of MIT officer Sean Collier, and Tamerlan's death, Dzhokhar was found hiding in a boat and arrested.

A white North Charleston, S.C. police officer was charged on Tuesday with the murder of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, following a traffic stop over the weekend.

Officer Michael Slager said he shot Scott after a scuffle during which Scott took Slager's Taser. However, a bystander's cell phone video of the incident showed the officer shooting Scott in the back while he ran away.

Who better to be your getaway driver than your own 13-year-old son? You don't even have to pay him!

An inebriated Albuquerque man, Sergio Barrientos-Hinojosa, allegedly had his 13-year-old son drive him to a gas station to buy beer. That's not a good start, even if he didn't want a DUI. While leaving the station, Barrientos-Hinojosa got into an argument with another customer and started shooting a gun he retrieved from his car. Investigators report that he then ordered his son to hit the gas and make a break for it, while he busily fired his gun in the air.

The two didn't get very far though. Police at a nearby DUI checkpoint stopped the car, and arrested the father. Doesn't he know that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?

The Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law released a report last week detailing the deaths of 14 inmates in the last eight years due to "[t]he extreme, suffocating heat in Texas prisons." The report, entitled "Reckless Indifference: Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons," concluded "[i]nmates and guards at TDCJ prisons are regularly subjected to extremely high temperatures and humidity levels resulting from Texas summertime conditions and the lack of air conditioning and adequate ventilation in TDCJ facilities."

Do these deaths constitute cruel and unusual punishment? And should jails be required to provide air conditioning for prisoners during extreme heat?

Closing arguments in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's murder trial for 2013 Boston Marathon bombing began this morning. Prosecutors reviewed the evidence and told jurors Tsarnaev and his brother targeted "civilians, men, woman and children, because he wanted to make a point. He wanted to terrorize this country. He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people."

Tsarnaev has been charged with 30 counts in the bombing that killed 3 and injured over 260 others, and could face the death penalty if he is convicted as expected.

Can You Hit And Run on a Bike?

We hear, all too often, of a car hitting a bicyclist and then zooming away from the scene of the accident without offering any help. This is hit and run.

But, what if a bicyclist causes an accident? Do hit and run laws apply to bicyclists?

Beware the Easter DUI

Spring is finally here, and Easter weekend is upon us.

Maybe you're planning on some March Madness margaritas. An IPA during the Easter egg hunt. Or a few glasses of red with Sunday dinner. (Some of you may even get your 4/20 celebrations started early...) If you're cracking open a cold one this weekend, be aware that cops are cracking down on DUIs, booze or blunt induced.

So here are a few tips to help avoid a bummer of a Bunny Day:

What is the price tag on a life unlived because you were wrongfully convicted for a crime you didn't commit?

For Juan Rivera, who sued after spending 18 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't do, that price was $20 million. This is the largest settlement ever in U.S. history to compensate a person for a wrongful conviction. In 2012, a jury awarded a Chicago man even more, $25 million, for his wrongful conviction.

If you've been wrongfully convicted, here is what you need to know about getting compensation for your lost time:

Jurors found eleven former Atlanta public school employees guilty of racketeering and other charges on Wednesday. The educators, and 21 others who took plea bargains before the trial, were accused of altering answers and coaching students to change answers on standardized tests.

The cheating scandal encompassed 44 Atlanta public schools, with teachers, principals, and administrators under pressure to meet test score targets to get promotions and cash bonuses. The convicted educators could face up to 20 years in prison.

It was just a love tap. Your car barely hit that other car. You can't even see the scratch unless you look closely. Should you stay? Should you go? Would it be hit and run?

Most of us know that when we get into a car accident, especially if someone may be hurt, we need to stay at the scene of the accident. Leaving would definitely be hit and run. But, what if there was only property damage? You hit an unoccupied car in the parking lot, and the owner is nowhere to be found. You don't have time to wait around, so you just leave a note with your name and phone number. Is that enough?

Is it still hit and run if you leave a note?

Maybe you heard about a famous athlete getting a suspended sentence, or you or someone you know has been offered one as a plea bargain. But what is a suspended sentence and how does it work?

While sentencing rules vary by jurisdiction, judges often have significant leeway in sentencing, and may suspend a sentence in certain cases. Let's take a look at what this means and how it works in practice.