FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

October 2015 Archives

This weekend we're all winding our clocks back an hour. (Or our cell phones and smartwatches are doing it for us.) Some of us, author included, consider Daylight Saving Time an antiquated hassle that needs to go the way of the horse and buggy. But some new crime statistics make a pretty good argument to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.

It turns out that having more daylight in the evening (a function of setting our clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time) reduces crime rates. So perhaps we can't just junk this weird time shift that no one understands without creating some safety risks.

When Can Police Use Deadly Force?

Police may use deadly force when it is necessary and proportional. While on duty, officers' lives are genuinely endangered, as last week's shooting death of a New York officer shows.

So what do those words "necessary and proportional" mean? How is an officer supposed to determine whether deadly force is justified in the heat of the moment?

An Arlington, Texas man carving a Halloween pumpkin with his daughter stabbed an intruder on Tuesday, unwittingly ending a two-hour, carjacking crime spree. After catching the man rifling through his wife's purse, Scott Hackney stabbed him in his back with a pumpkin carving knife.

Hackney held the man down while a neighbor summoned police, and the home intruder received treatment at a local hospital before heading to jail.

Prison Phone Call Costs Fall Drastically

The Federal Communications Commission decided to cap the cost of prison calls. This is good news for prisoners and their families and bad news for phone companies that make a fortune connecting inmates with the outside world.

Two years ago authorities approved a cap that helped significantly reduce rates by a quarter to a half. But talking to an inmate can still be a serious financial drain. Last week, FCC authorities voted to cap prison phone rates at 11 cents a minute and minimize transaction fees.

Florida is famous for, among other things, its expansive Sunshine Laws, some of the most permissive in the country when it comes to access to public records. That's why you get so many amazing mugshots to go with those weird Florida Man stories.

But these are just people who've been arrested. What if they didn't do it? What if they're never convicted of a crime, and their mugshots are now up on the Internet forever? How is it legal for states and police departments (and private companies) to publish mugshots before a person is declared guilty?

A brutal video surfaced yesterday of a white male school resource officer in South Carolina slamming a black female student to the ground and arresting her while she was seated at her desk. The officer was placed on administrative leave and there is an internal investigation ongoing.

Following this incident, many are wondering: What constitutes an appropriate use of force against students in a school setting?

School security and school resource officers have become an ever-present component of high school life, but what are the rules and regulations that control their behavior?

Police Prosecutions for Murder Spike in 2015

Police prosecutions for murder and manslaughter are on the rise. Researchers attribute this to increased public protest over use of excessive force by officers rather than a rise in civilian deaths, Reuters reports.

This year, 16 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter as compared to an average of five per year in the previous ten years. But it is too soon to say whether the increase represents a substantive change or a statistical fluke, according to researchers.

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney, but does the Constitution mandate that the attorney be good? What if your attorney doesn't give you enough information, or gives you incorrect information? Or what if he or she is really bad at trial work?

Not every guilty verdict means the criminal defense attorney screwed up, but there are some cases where a lawyer's contribution to the defense (or lack thereof) is inadequate under the law. Here's what you can do about it:

Can Cops Evict a Tenant?

Police officers do not generally get involved in evictions. Sheriffs do, however. There are limited situations in which sheriffs will participate in the process of removing a tenant but only when enforcing a court order.

Although eviction rules and procedures vary from state to state, generally a landlord must first succeed in an unlawful detainer suit before any official authority will work to remove tenants. To get a general idea of how you involve sheriffs in the eviction process, let's look at a procedure in California as an example.

These days, road rage incidents have become more common and more publicized. Fortunately, most are harmless yelling back and forth. Unfortunately, not all end in anger and hurt feelings. Some road rage incidents turn fatal.

That was the case in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a driver opened fire on a truck, killing a 4-year-old in the back seat.

Hit and Run Driver Tweets Photos

A man tweeted a photo of a boy he killed this weekend, leading police to him. Trevius Williams,16, was picking up bread for his mom at the corner store when he was fatally struck by a car in Jacksonville, Florida, reportedly driven by Keenan Mikel Slaughter, 19.

Photos of the bleeding corpse, posted by the driver, went viral and led police to the perpetrator. The graphic images infuriated Williams' mother, Connie Cole. She told reporters, "To be honest, I'm enraged ... I don't know whether to be mad or sad ... How dare you do that? How dare you stand over my son's mangled bloody body and take a picture of him?"

The New York Police Department has X-ray vans and has been driving them around the city for at least three years. Unfortunately, that's about all we know about the NYPD's use of the vans, since it has been battling in court to keep as many details of the program secret as it can.

ProPublica has sued the city, requesting the release of documents relating to the policies, procedures, and training associated with uses of X-ray vans along with information on prior use and the possible health effects of irradiating residents. In January, a judge ordered the NYPD to release the documents, but they are appealing the decision on the grounds that the release would hamper investigations.

Go to Jail or Give Blood: a Shakespearean Bargain to the Poor

In Shakespeare's day, a pound of flesh served as security for debt. Now, a mere pint of blood will suffice ... if you owe court fees in Marion, Alabama at least.

Judge Marvin Wiggins offered offenders in his courtroom a deal in September -- they could pay up, or give a pint of blood and get $100 knocked off their fees. Or they could go to jail. "The sheriff has enough handcuffs," he said.

For the most part, the criminal justice system doesn't just punish criminal acts -- a defendant must also have the intent to commit a crime to be found guilty. In legalese, this is known as mens rea, Latin for a guilty mind.

There are a couple exceptions to the rule, and different crimes can have different intent requirements. Here is how mens rea comes into play with criminal prosecutions:

New York and Connecticut gun control laws banning semiautomatic assault rifles and large-capacity magazines will stand, according to a federal appeals court. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York held that the restrictions don't violate the Constitution.

The court did, however, strike down a provision in New York's law barring gun owners from loading more than seven bullets in a clip as well as a Connecticut prohibition on the non-semiautomatic Remington 7615. Similar bans on semiautomatic weapons have been upheld in other states.

Feds Seize Lethal Weapons in Epic Ghost Gun Bust

Ghost guns are haunting our communities. Weapons without serial numbers that circumvent gun control measures are a risk to public safety yet are in wide circulation.

Last week, federal officials busted eight men in California responsible for the manufacture and distribution of hundreds of these weapons. Undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives bought or seized more than 230 homemade assault rifles and silencers in a major takedown, the biggest in California Central Valley history.

Cell phones have made our lives easier, giving us the Internet at our fingertips no matter where we go. With all the ways cell phones help us in our daily lives, it's no wonder they can help us stop crimes as well.

Here are five ways that you, or law enforcement, can use cell phones to fight crime:

Avoid Home Security Scams. Are You a Target?

Your home is secure and everyone knows it. You've got that sign in your yard that advertises your security system, and it deters crime. Or does it?

Home security system scams are not new but they are on the rise. The targets of these scams are almost asking for it. Or, more precisely, they are advertising their vulnerability.

Find out how you can avoid doing the same and keep your home safe.

5 Reasons to Call the Cops on Your Neighbors

The police should never be called on a whim. In most cases, it's best to resolve issues with neighbors the neighborly way: without threats or police cars.

That said, there are certainly cases when efforts at polite exchange fail. Here are four situations in which you should seriously consider calling the police about problems in the neighborhood.

Gun Shop Liable for Cop Shooting, $5 Million Awarded by Jury

Weapons dealer Badger Guns was found liable for the shooting of two police officers. Relying on an exception to a federal law -- which generally does not hold gun shops liable for weapons used in crime -- a Milwaukee jury awarded a $5 million judgment for the officers.

Weapons dealers are not liable for guns sold that are then used to commit crimes. But this case was based on a carve-out that says if the seller knew or should have known the guns were being used to commit crimes it can be held responsible for the sale.

What Is Espionage?

Over the weekend, an Iranian court convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian of espionage. But what exactly did he do, and what exactly constitutes espionage?

Rezaian's trial was entirely secret, although accusations involve giving the U.S. government information on Iranian companies that were violating the country's trade embargo. Would this classify as espionage in the United States?

First American Agent Charged for Cross-Border Shooting of Mexican

The first American agent charged for a cross-border killing pled not guilty to second-degree murder last week. Border Patrol agent Lonny Swartz will face trial next month for the 2012 shooting of 16-year-old Mexican Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.

Swartz is accused of shooting into Mexico at Rodriguez and hitting him ten times, with eight shots to the back. He says he acted in self defense, responding to rock throwing by the boy, and is supported by Tucson Border Patrol colleagues.

Cultural Destruction Is Finally Prosecuted as a War Crime

The International Criminal Court is prosecuting cultural destruction for the first time. Last week it began proceedings against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, leader of the Islamist extremist group Ansar Dine that took over Timbuktu in 2012 and destroyed ancient artifacts before being ousted in 2013.

In its statement announcing the surrender of al-Mahdi last month, the ICC explained the legal basis for prosecution of cultural destruction as a war crime: "Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are serious crimes under the Rome Statute -- the founding treaty of the ICC, adopted by more than 120 states from around the world. No longer should such reprehensible conduct go unpunished."

We see it all the time on TV and in movies: the protagonist is walking down the street, and police officers in plain clothes are following him. Or the suspect starts driving, and there's an unmarked police car tailing a few cars back.

But just because it's commonplace in dramatized versions of real life, does that make it legal? Do the police need a warrant to follow you?

ACLU Challenges Secret Debtors' Prison System in Ohio

The American Civil Liberties Union is battling the modern day debtors' prison system. It is a secret system, nestled within criminal justice, and it happens to be profitable for private contractors who benefit when poor people don't pay fines and end up with jail time.

This week, the Ohio chapter of the ACLU filed a suit against Benton County, accusing the locality of illegally incarcerating people who cannot pay their court fines. Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller confirmed that the practice happens to The Seattle Times, saying he has spoken up against it.

Facebook and the New York Attorney General have formed a prolific crime-fighting partnership. The two have teamed up to find missing children and curb illegal gun sales. Now the Batman and Robin of Gotham justice are working on a new plan to battle online sex trafficking.

The latest partnership hopes to use Facebook's mountains of user and ad data to identify human traffickers and child victims of sex trafficking.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Petty Theft Charge?

You were caught stealing or are being accused of stealing. The charge is petty theft. Since the charge includes the word "petty," it must be no big deal, right?

Wrong. You definitely do need a lawyer.

A female student diversity officer at the University of London has been charged with making racially motivated malicious communications after she tweeted using the hashtag #killallwhitemen. Bahar Mustafa, who works in the Students' Union of Goldsmiths, allegedly used the hashtag on her since-deleted Twitter account.

Mustafa had sparked a controversy by asking straight white men not to attend an event for black and ethnic minority students in April. She's now facing a possible six months in jail for the tweets.

Guns Around the Country: Tougher State Laws Linked to Fewer Shooting Deaths

After last week's Oregon community college campus shooting, President Obama gave a speech calling for more gun control. He said that stricter regulations lead to fewer gun deaths, a fact that probably came from a 2015 National Journal investigation.

The investigation concluded that there was a direct relationship between loose gun laws and more gun deaths. But not every state fits neatly into the paradigm. Let's take a look at the research and the data and see how deep the connection between the two goes.

Wildfires in California and hurricanes in South Carolina have forced authorities in both states to issue evacuation orders. While these orders are intended to save lives, not everyone complies with evacuation orders.

So what happens if you stick around? Could police arrest you for disobeying a mandatory evacuation order?

It's the largest one-time release of federal prisoners in history. In one weekend from October 30th to November 2nd, the Department of Justice will provide early release to about 6,000 prison inmates.

So who are these inmates, and why are they being released early?

Juvenile Killer: Is 11 Too Young for First Degree Murder?

McKayla Dwyer, 8, had a puppy. Her neighbor, 11, wanted to see it. Dwyer said no and the boy shot her with his father's shotgun from inside his home. He is now charged with first degree murder.

This incident happened on Saturday night in White Penn, Tennessee, according to the Associated Press. The boy's name is not being released because he is a juvenile. After his first hearing yesterday, Ed Miller, the 4th Judicial District Public Defender said the court has ordered the boy to remain detained. He is scheduled for a hearing on October 18, but the PD expects delays.

With drunk driving waning and drugged driving on the rise, it has become necessary for police to turn to some new technology to see if a driver is impaired. Blood tests can take too long and breath tests don’t work for drugs. Or do they?

There is new research suggesting that a breath test may be able to detect the presence of drugs like amphetamines, methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, and even heroin. So does that mean cops can breath test you for drugs? Not yet, perhaps, but soon.

Should I Tell My Lawyer I'm Guilty?

You should tell your lawyer your story. Criminal defense lawyers defend both the guilty and the innocent. Your lawyer's job is to resolve the charges against you, not to judge you morally.

If truth was obvious, we would't have such an elaborate process to uncover it. But we do have discovery, investigations, trials, and appeals. Why? Because things are not always what they seem.

Adjusting to civilian life is never easy for veterans, especially if they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans with PTSD can have difficulty securing benefits, keeping therapy ducks, and, sadly, staying out of trouble with the law.

So where can veterans turn if they need legal help? Fortunately there are criminal defense attorneys and courts that can help.

UCC Shooting Review: Oregon Gun Laws

Yesterday's shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon left 10 people dead, seven injured, and many wondering how such tragedies became commonplace. It was the 45th school shooting in the US this year.

"Somehow this has become routine," observed President Obama, speaking to reporters after the incident was announced. "We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months."

Almost a year after voting to legalize recreational marijuana, today is the first day that pot sales are legal in Oregon. (As if Portland needed to become more popular.)

But Oregon is still transitioning into a full-fledged marijuana industry, so here are a few things you should know about recreational marijuana sales in the state:

The web is celebrated for cultivating an increased sense of connection. But a new study shows that added online access leads to more fracturing in real life. Racially charged hate crimes go up as broadband access expands.

But there is a very important caveat. The correlation between increased internet access and spikes in hate crimes is much stronger in places that are already racially segregated, according to academics from NYU's Stern School of Business and the University of Minnesota. "Counties that have higher racial tendencies tend to have a higher effect," study co-author Jason Chan told Ars Technica.

Things are going from bad to worse for price gouging pharma bro Martin Shkreli. Just days after he gained Internet infamy for jacking up the price of life-saving drugs some 5,000 percent, it was revealed that federal prosecutors are investigating Shkreli on criminal charges related to his former biotech company.

Shkreli allegedly admitted to owing his former company profits from insider information stock trading and is accused of misappropriation of company funds and defrauding shareholders.