FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

May 2016 Archives

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) latest report shows that overall drunk driving fatalities were down from 2013 to 2014, alcohol-impaired-driving crashes still claimed almost 10,000 lives that year. And while drunk driving is a nation-wide problem, some states have it worse than others.

A deeper dive into the number of fatal crashes that involve alcohol, coupled with DUI arrests, penalties, and state laws on drunk driving shows that certain states may not be doing so well when it comes to reducing the risks associated with impaired driving. Here are the five most dangerous states for drunk driving.

Top 3 Legal Questions for Handling a Traffic Stop

Traffic stops are quite common and every driver needs to know how to handle them well. Even if you did not do anything wrong, you can end up with a criminal charge if your encounter with police goes awry. And your encounter will go awry if you give police officers a hard time.

Yes, it's true that you have rights and that the police work for you. But these authority figures do have reason to be wary when pulling people over, as they do face dangers. Make it easy for them to be cool by playing it cool. Also, know what an officer can and cannot do. Here are some questions that you may have when you're pulled over and the answers you need to handle a traffic stop appropriately.

Controversial Louisiana Law Makes Targeting Police a Hate Crime

A new law in Louisiana makes it a hate crime to target law enforcement and emergency personnel. The bill making these professions a protected class -- dubbed Blue Lives Matter -- was reportedly proposed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement criticizing police brutality in the black community. It is the first of its kind in the country.

Hate crime legislation makes punishments more severe when crimes target a protected class, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. Critics say that adding law enforcement to this list of protected classes dilutes the value of this type of legislation by basing it on a mutable or changing characteristic, such as a profession, rather than an unchangeable one like race or national origin.

Prior Bad Acts: Who Can Testify in Bill Cosby's Criminal Trial?

Bill Cosby is the elder statesman of American comedy whose life has turned into a bad drama, now including a criminal case. Next month, Cosby will return to criminal court in Pennsylvania for pretrial proceedings on three charges of felony indecent assault of Barbara Constand and faces ten years in prison if convicted.

Despite the dozens of accusations of abuse that have surfaced from women all over the country, this is Cosby's first criminal prosecution. The case was filed just two days before the 12-year statute of limitations on such claims in Pennsylvania expired, according to USA Today. It raises many interesting legal questions, all complex. Today, let's consider prior bad acts and whether Cosby's other accusers can testify against him.

Top 5 Reckless Driving Issues

The dangers of driving are many and you must pay close attention when you're on the road. Not only do you risk serious injury or even death when you're distracted, but there is also the possibility of being stopped by the cops and being charged with a traffic infraction or crime.

Aggressive driving and road rage are not crimes in and of themselves. But they do lead to reckless driving, which is an offense. Let's look at the top issues surrounding reckless driving.

Arresting Officer in Freddie Gray Case Found Not Guilty

Baltimore policeman Edward Nero, implicated in the death of Freddie Gray last year, was found not guilty of all criminal charges. Nero was tried before a judge and is the second officer of six charged to stand trial for Gray's death.

But Nero is the first to resolve his case, according to Slate. A trial last year for Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury and the case will be tried again. Perhaps informed by Porter's experience, Nero opted for a bench trial, meaning this case was argued before a judge only and not a jury. It was a good choice for him, considering he was found not guilty.

Oklahoma Bill Punishing Doctors for Abortions Vetoed

Last week, Oklahoma's governor vetoed a bill that would have made it a felony, punishable by three years in prison, for doctors to provide abortions. Republican Governor Mary Fallin said the bill would not survive constitutional challenges, Reuters reports, and abortion rights groups had already promised to fight it hard.

The Oklahoma bill would have revoked medical licenses for doctors who performed abortions, but did make allowances for the procedure under certain medical circumstances to save a mother's life. The governor, who is considered staunchly anti-abortion, complained in a statement that the bill was too vague and ambiguous.

Repo Gone Wrong Ends in Manslaughter Charges

Would you die to save your car from a repo agent? That is what happened this week when a woman in Pleasant Grove, Utah crashed her vehicle during a high speed chase — she was trying to get away from a man who came to her door to repossess the vehicle.

Now Ashleigh Best, 35, is dead, and Kenneth Drew, 49, is in jail on manslaughter charges. He denies driving Best to her death, reports the Daily Mail. Let’s consider this tragic accident and the legal limits on repossession.

It's welcome news to many criminal defendants that they can have their record expunged. While expungement might not be perfect -- most law enforcement agencies will still be able to see your arrest history and any convictions -- it means potential employers will have a harder time seeing your mistakes.

But which mistakes are eligible for expungement, and which will remain on your permanent record?

How to Choose a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you're accused of a crime, you need a good criminal defense lawyer. But good doesn't come in one style, and what you need will depend on you and the specifics of your case. There are all kinds of counselors with different effective approaches to defense.

People pick attorneys based on reputation, experience, word-of-mouth, price, advertising, the feeling they get when meeting counsel, and more. Here are some general principles to consider so you know what to look for when exchanging with defense counsel and deciding about representation.

Your Significant Privacy Interest in Your Phone Doesn't End at Border

Your phone now contains more information than ever before, more even than your home, and the courts recognize this. You do have a significant privacy interest in your phone and you can challenge a search of your tech just as you would a search of your car.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court acknowledged the significant role of technology in our lives in Riley v. California. A recent case out of the Eastern District of Virginia, US v. Kolsuz, illustrates this, saying specifically that search of a smartphone at a border requires reasonable suspicion, according to legal analyst Orin Kerr. Let's consider what it means for you.

Now that the FBI has been caught bugging two California courthouses, many people are wondering about the limits of police surveillance. Recording conversations falls under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures."

So what's considered unreasonable? It's been a long time since the Constitution was written, and society and technology have changed quite a bit since then. Here are some of the limits of police search and seizure today:

Making Matters Worse: An Illustrative DUI

Some news stories read like a small-time crime primer, an illustration of how not to handle legal problems. This case arising out of Orange, California is one of those, a suspected DUI involving a driver on a suspended license who failed to appear in court on a prior reckless driving charge.

Stephanie Marie De Rosas, 32, was arrested on suspicion of DUI last week, reports KTLA5, after she was involved in a three-car crash with one fatality. While DUI is relatively common, De Rosas’s checkered past, and most importantly her failure to face facts and resolve the prior matter, means more trouble for her.

Last week, the East Bay Express broke news that federal agents placed an array of audio and video surveillances devices in and around the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Alameda County, California. The extent of the surveillance was only revealed after evidence gleaned from recordings was used against a criminal defendant.

While it seems clear that the FBI did not have a warrant for the surveillance, what's less clear is how many people were recorded, how many conversations were taped, and whether any of this was legal.

Founder of For-Profit College Gets Prison Time

It turns out that the last stop on the FastTrain education is a federal prison for the founder. No, it's not for failure to put a space between Fast and Train, although that's criminal for a college name!

Last week, NPR reported that Alejandro Amor was sentenced to eight years in prison on fraud charges after his for-profit college in Miami, Florida was found to have obtained millions of dollars in federal funding based on false claims. The school enrolled ineligible students and hired strippers to work as recruiters, among other practices.

Is It a Crime to Impersonate a Lawyer?

You're not a lawyer and you don't even play one on TV, but sometimes you pretend to be one to get things done. Is impersonating a lawyer a crime?

Yes, most likely, although context is everything. You won't end up in jail if you strongly insinuate that you are an attorney to influence a store clerk to serve you (and it's unlikely to help anyway considering how little people care for lawyers). But if you actually practice law without a license and misrepresent yourself to clients, you face criminal and civil liability.

America considers itself to be a free market, and aside from some obvious things like drugs, bombs, and people, you can pretty much buy whatever you want. Even incredibly harmful products like cigarettes, Tasers, and, yes, cars are available for purchase with a few restrictions.

But there are a few products you'd probably be surprised to learn are illegal to buy in our fair country. (Or at least illegal to buy in certain states or on your own.) Here's a list of five things that are surprisingly illegal to buy in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Is It Illegal to Track People With an App?

Every move you make and every picture you take is posted online, so do you mind if people are tracking you? There are more than a dozen smartphone applications on the market that allow people to spy on you surreptitiously and many more with various tracking abilities requiring your consent.

The Government Accountability Office just reviewed 40 such tracking apps at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee, finding possible violations of federal wiretapping laws and stalking statutes when the apps are used as suggested. The authorities also discovered a sneaky way companies get around liability for the fact that their apps facilitate illegal activities, reports Consumerist. But that doesn't mean you can break the law.

We're always worried about what can end up on our permanent record, and criminal conviction once doomed college and job applicants. But that could be slowly changing. Some states are encouraging employers who hire felons, and some schools are no longer including criminal conviction questions on their applications.

Now the Obama administration is asking colleges to put off asking applicants about their criminal records until schools have made their admissions decisions. So does this mean it will be easier to get into college with a criminal conviction on your record?

Open Container Laws to Know: Penalties for Public Drinking

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, perfect for a beer in the park. So you and your friends spend the day drinking in the shade and everything is great until you get charged with open container. Are you in big trouble?

Probably not, unless you exacerbate the problem. Open container laws vary widely from state to state and place to place and the penalties for this offense also vary widely. The consequences of drinking in public can also depend on where in public you were drinking and the extent to which you were a nuisance. Let's consider open container laws and why they were created to get a sense of consequences.

Are Judges Becoming More Critical of Excessive Force?

Excessive force by police has gotten a lot of media attention in recent years and some legal analysts believe a changing national consciousness is starting to influence decisions on the bench. Judges are increasingly reluctant to let police escape liability with qualified immunity, according to Noah Feldman, a writer and professor of law at Harvard University.

The basis for this claim made in a Bloomberg editorial is extremely limited -- a single conservative judge's dissent on a motion to dismiss a civil suit against Texas officers who allegedly contributed to a man's death with excessive force. Still, let's consider. Is there a growing consciousness, inside and out of the criminal justice system, that police officers have a lot of power which is easily abused?

We're all on the Internet now, which means criminals are, too. And some unwitting Internet users can become criminals if they're not careful.

In many ways, law enforcement and the general public are still figuring out how to best utilize the Internet, what's out there, and what constitutes criminal behavior online. So here are some of the biggest Internet crime questions facing cops, hackers, and the rest of us:

New Orleans announced plans to relocate 600 inmates from its troubled city jail this week, sending them to prisons far from the city. For those inmates still awaiting trial or appealing their convictions, this means far from their legal counsel, not to mention family and support systems.

While the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to an attorney, does that mean your attorney has to be close by?

Miami Police Major's Son Arrested for Suspected Drug Dealing

Dealing drugs is a dangerous business and you can't count on not getting caught. Not even if you are the son of a Miami-Dade Police Department major and have other relatives on the force, and especially not if you leave evidence of your business lying around the house.

Last month in Florida, Tyler Palmer, 20, was arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs after a raid on his home yielded cocaine, marijuana, pills, and cash. The raid was initiated after an Internal Affairs investigation, reports the Miami Herald, but Palmer's dad and other relatives on the force are not considered involved for now.

Eulalio Tordil, a law enforcement officer with the Federal Protective Service, is in custody following three deadly shootings in Maryland over the last two days. Tordil allegedly shot and killed his wife Thursday evening, then killed two more at two separate mall shootings that also left two injured.

The Prince George's County Police Department is "investigating a possible link" between the shootings -- the first of which was in a high school parking lot and the others at a mall and supermarket -- but it was not immediately clear that the killings are related.

Actual Innocence and How It Differs From a Not Guilty Verdict

When a jury or judge reaches a verdict after a trial, they have two choices -- guilty or not guilty. Innocence doesn't really come up too much in the criminal justice system, which may seem strange to some.

Actual innocence is different from being found not guilty after trial. But to understand what actual innocence is, and why a new program focusing on that is important, we have to understand the prosecution process a little bit.

Ever since the advent of private property, we've had laws to keep uninvited people off that property. Trespassing statutes are some of the oldest, and most vigilantly defended, laws on the books, and they can also have their quirks. Do you have to know you're on someone else's land? Is it trespassing if there are no posted signs? Can you trespass in a store?

And if you've been charged with criminal trespassing, do you need a lawyer to defend the charge?

Feds Punish NY Corruption: Sheldon Silver Sentenced to 12 Years

Sheldon Silver, former New York Assembly Speaker, knows the legal system very well. But this week he became intimately familiar with an aspect of the law that was previously only an abstraction to him -- federal criminal sentencing statutes.

Silver, who was just one of many local politicians caught up in an anti-corruption sweep by the local US Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, was hit hard. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption and, reports The New York Times, the judge seemed particularly perturbed by Silver's determination to do wrong.

While a criminal case can go from crime to verdict in 30 minutes on television, in real life they often take months or years to resolve and have various stages from arrest to trial. For some states, that stage is a grand jury indictment.

So how do grand juries work, what does it mean when they return an indictment, and what happens after a grand jury indictment?

Top 5 Felony Questions

The criminal justice system generally breaks offenses into categories based on the seriousness of the crime -- drinking in public is a misdemeanor, while arson is a felony. But sometimes those distinctions are based not on the crime itself, but aggravating factors within the same crime.

So how are misdemeanors and felonies different? And how do courts distinguish between the two?

New Mexico Mom Convicted for Facebook Post Sparking Panic

If you are active on social media maybe you've developed a habit of just posting whatever pops into your head, or revealing the latest rumor you read. Don't do that. You could end up in front of a judge, charged, convicted, and with a criminal record, like a mother in New Mexico.

Jeanette Garza Alvarez posted on Facebook a few weeks back, according to Good Housekeeping. The problem with her post is that it was based on a rumor her 8th grade son told her that there would be a shootout at school, sparking a panic among parents and school administrators. The appropriate response would have been to call police and the school and let them know about the rumors, not change her status on social media.

Misdemeanors Are an Obstacle to Employment in Many States

A misdemeanor on your criminal record is not a bar to most types of employment, or it should not be, and many states have laws that govern how or if employers can consider these. Despite that, a new study reveals that in many states across the country a minor offense presents a major obstacle to licensing and certification for certain jobs.

Although 40 states have laws governing the consideration of criminal records in employment, the problem is reportedly widespread. According to the study by the National Employment Law Project, reported in The Wall Street Journal, the majority of state licensing boards do consider criminal records to deny people licenses to work in healthcare and education.