FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2016 Archives

When Do Police Need an Arrest Warrant?

It's easy to imagine after watching a few seasons of police procedurals on TV that you basically get criminal procedure, especially arrests. But you probably don't because even lawyers who practice in court every day have to check legal texts when preparing to challenge an arrest.

But understanding arrest is important for all because it can happen to anyone, even those of us who try hard to avoid trouble. So let's consider arrests generally and arrest warrants in particular. When do police need a warrant and what must it specify?

Just in case you needed a reminder about how to act on an airplane, here are a few: wear deodorant; keep your shoes on; don't lean your seat back; and, for God's sake, do not grope and kiss an unaccompanied minor who has fallen asleep in the seat next to you. And in case you require further edification, that last one is not mere etiquette. Your nonconsensual sexual advances are assault, possibly rape, and they will get you arrested and jailed.

Keep your elbows in, keep your carry-on stowed, and keep your hands to yourself.

Police Need Warrant to Take Blood, Not Breath, Says Supreme Court

If you are stopped by the cops for driving under the influence and they ask you to take a test, do you have to accept? According to a United States Supreme Court decision issued late last week, police need a warrant to take your blood, but not for your breath.

The case, Birchfield v. North Dakota, examines three different refusal cases in state courts. Let's consider the decision and some dissenting opinions.

Many of us will be out and about this July 4th weekend -- cookouts, pool parties, or ball games, all followed by a fireworks show. And some of us will be enjoying a few adult beverages during the festivities. The first rule of drinking is no driving afterwards. But if you do tip a few back before getting behind the wheel, there are a few more rules you should know about the drunk-driving checkpoints that are sure to be set out this weekend.

Here's our best DUI checkpoint advice, from our archives:

Independence Day weekend is upon us, which means aspiring pyrotechnicians will be hunting for the most colorful weapons-grade explosives with which to amaze and deafen their neighbors and children come the Fourth of July. And let's be honest, not all the sources for those amateur rocket shows are -- how should we put it? -- legit.

So what happens if you get caught with illegal fireworks? Here's a look at the possible penalties:

What Happens If I Refuse to Take a Breathalyzer?

It's a free country and you can do what you want, more or less. But if you are driving, that's a privilege and you must do what the state wants if you want to be able to stay on the road.

Refusing a breathalyzer has consequences for your life and your license, but people do it all the time. Let's consider the controversial tests and the critical concept linked to them, implied consent.

Police Use Mobile Cameras to Make Parks Safer This Summer

It is summertime but the livin' is not necessarily easy for police. In fact, the summer months can be particularly tough for cops because more people are out on the streets, kids are out of school, and everyone's just hanging around waiting for something to happen.

This summer, there are some law enforcement agencies who are enlisting the assistance of mobile electronic surveillance units that will allow them to keep an eye on everyone, even when officers are not around. If it sounds a little creepy, that's because it is. But actually the cameras are expected to make cities safer for people, and some residents are pleased, according to KRQE in New Mexico.

Can a Spiked Drink Prompt a Crime Spree?

When people are in custody they may say strange things to be released. But the defense presented at the bond hearing in a Georgia case this month really takes the cake. The accused says her drink was spiked at a Chick-fil-A and that this led to a crime spree ending in a murder charge, among others.

Kristie Renee Nesby, 43, was reportedly denied bond and will be held in custody awaiting resolution of the charges arising from her dramatic and deadly day. So watch what you drink and where, lest your beverage be spiked, as this is not a nice story and there is probably no happy ending written into Nesby's future.

3 Online Crimes That Can Land You in Prison

The web can feel like a world that is separate from real life, but electronic activity can have serious consequences, like landing you in jail or prison. You may rely on anonymity and hide behind avatars and accounts unassociated with you, but things you do online can be traced back to you and charged as a crime. If you're convicted, your cell will be hell -- very real, very small, very crowded and smelly -- and you'll have limited access to the web. So, here are three crimes not to commit online.

CA Lawmakers May Redefine Rape After Stanford Sex Assault Case

California's definition or rape could change thanks to the recent case of Brock Turner, sometimes referred to in the media as "The Stanford Rape Case." But that is technically a misnomer, as Turner was not charged with or convicted of rape.

Rather, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and what he did was not rape under California law. That's one reason why lawmakers are talking about changing the definition of rape in this state, according to CBS News in Sacramento. Let's consider the issue.

Sometimes talking to a police officer is a friendly chat. Other times you're a suspect in a criminal investigation and it's anything but. Knowing the difference, and what to say and what not to say to cops can mean the difference between going home and going to jail.

So here's some of our best advice for talking to the police, from our archives:

Another day, another hack. And while the target might not be as well-known as Sony or Anthem Blue Cross, the VerticalScope hack could have exposed personal information for an estimated 45 million users on 1,100 online forums.

What does this mean for the users involved, for VerticalScope, and the hackers? Let's take a look.

What Is Prosecutorial Misconduct?

Few people have the privilege of seeking truth for a living, but prosecutors do. They are, in theory and often in practice, the guardians of justice. If there is evidence that a person committed a crime, a prosecutor can pursue a case. If not, it is their job to drop it.

Once a case is filed, prosecutors must share relevant evidence with the defense. That's the law, not just a nice thing to do. But sometimes prosecutors want to win convictions rather than pursue justice, and a case at the US Supreme Court this month, Brown v. Louisiana, illustrates this callous approach to truth. Let's take a look at prosecutorial misconduct.

After mass shootings like last weekend's Fuse nightclub massacre in Orlando or last year's church slayings in Charleston, people are left wondering whether the shooting can be classified as a hate crime, an act of terrorism, or both. Mass shootings that target a certain group of people based on their status or affiliation can be a hate crime. And mass shootings intended to intimidate or make a political statement can be acts of terrorism.

There are obviously instances, like Orlando and Charleston, where these definitions can seem to overlap, but how are the two crimes distinguished? What differentiates hate crimes from terrorism?

The kind of websites a person visits can tell you a lot about them. For instance, if someone is visiting ISIL message boards or googling bomb recipes, that might indicate future criminal behavior. And of course federal law enforcement would like as much access as possible to information that might help them prevent or solve crimes. So does that mean they can access your internet browsing history?

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation needs a warrant to view your web activity, but the agency is pushing for an amendment that would allow it to access your internet browsing history without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases.

National Parks Art-Crime Spree Ends With Criminal Sentence

It's hard to make a mark on this crowded, busy world, and artists struggle to get noticed. But when your art is leaving marks on protected national park land, you will get attention. You just better be willing to pay a price.

This week, Casey Nocket, 23, pled guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of defacing national park property in a federal court in Fresno, California. She used acrylics and markers to draw on protected rock formations and will do 200 community service hours and spend two years on probation, with restitution to be determined at a later hearing. But that is not all the judge put on Nocket's docket, according to the Denver Post.

Tips for Avoiding Arrest When Dating a Drug Dealer

Love is hard to find and all the gurus tell you to keep an open mind -- don't decide who is right for you just based on what they do. So now you are dating a drug dealer and the dates are nice but you have some questions about what this means for your life. Will you go to jail for just hanging around with this person?

It is very hard to say what will happen to you when you date a drug dealer without more context. Is your true love selling heroin or weed? Are transactions happening around you or is it totally separate from your existence? How high-end (pun intended) is this dealer's business? No one can guess what the consequences for dating a drug dealer will be in your case specifically, but here are some things to keep in mind.

Why FBI Hate Crime Data Doesn't Reflect Reality

Local law enforcement is supposed to report hate crimes to the FBI so that it can get a handle on how many people nationally are targeted every year for who they are. What makes a hate crime special and deserving of this extra attention is that it's motivated by hate for the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

But according to the Associated Press, about 17 percent of local agencies have submitted no reports in six years, which makes it much more difficult to assess and address hate nationwide. It's not even clear how many incidents actually occur, much less what to do about them. The AP's investigation identified more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff's departments across the country that have not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI's annual crime tally in years.

Top 5 Terrorism Questions

Immediately following the heinous Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last weekend, many labeled the shooter, Omar Mateen, a terrorist. After all, he allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIL in a 911 call during the attack. It turns out Mateen's relationship to the club and the gay community in Orlando might be slightly more complex, but does that mean the massacre wasn't an act of terrorism?

The investigation of Mateen's motives and background is ongoing, but here are five common questions regarding terrorism crimes, here and abroad:

For some, the internet is a venue for people to air the thoughts they would never publicly say in real life. Others see social media as an escape from the bigotry they face on a day-to-day basis. Balancing the free speech interests of some with the safe space interests of others is often an impossible task.

But the European Commission thinks it has an answer. The EU announced it is working with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others, to create a code of conduct for social media posting in an effort to curb online hate speech in Europe. Europe has very different free speech protections than the United States, so could a similar ban on hate speech work in America?

Should You Ever Call the Cops on Your Kid?

Does your teenager scare you? That is unfortunately common. Kids go through many changes in their teenage years that can make them strangers to their parents, who just try to accept and redirect the kids.

But when defiance turns into criminal behavior, you feel compelled to do something to set your kid straight. Should you call the cops? Maybe you should -- certainly some teens do things that warrant involving the authorities. But think carefully. There are risks.

John Kasich, Ohio governor and former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, signed off on a plan to legalize medical marijuana in the state. But that doesn't mean state residents can spark one up in celebration just yet -- the plan won't take affect for at least a year and prohibits smoking weed or growing it at home.

So what, exactly, does the new law allow and how does it compare to medical marijuana laws in other states? Here's a look:

Everything's bigger in Texas. But that doesn't mean it's better. The Lone Star state is hitting some big numbers in a very bad category.

The Texas Education Agency revealed it has launched a whopping 162 investigations into alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships between September 1 and May 31. The agency had a total of 188 investigations all of last year, the most in the nation, and the number of incidents has been rising for five straight years. So what's going on down in the former Republic of Texas, and what can state officials do about it?

Gang Leader's Trial Highlights Perils of Criminal Justice Work

This week an already-imprisoned gang leader in North Carolina stands trial for the kidnapping of an assistant district attorney's father, among other crimes, like planning to kill his defense attorney. The chilling tale took place in 2014, when Kevin Melton ordered the hits from his prison cell.

But the story began when the victim's son prosecuted Melton in 2012, reports CBS News. Now Melton is facing a life-sentence for ordering his attorney and the prosecutor dead -- a plan that was botched by underlings who kidnapped the assistant district attorney's dad accidentally and are testifying against Melton in exchange for deals with the prosecution.

Are People Ever Arrested for No Reason?

Technically, no one ever gets arrested for nothing. An arrest must be based on probable cause, and cause can be based on a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and other evidence articulated by a police officer. But over-zealous officers do exist and the police can make mistakes.

Sometimes the mistakes are grave and result in serious injustices, even death. Sometimes the mistake is less extreme, but people still suffer unnecessarily. Innocent people suspected of committing a crime do end up doing jail time. Let's look at two alarming and instructive examples from The Huffington Post's collection of unnecessary arrest stories from around the country.

Not every criminal case goes to trial. In fact, the vast majority are settled by prosecutors offering defendants a lighter sentence in exchange for pleading guilty and avoiding a trial altogether. The plea bargaining process has its pros and cons, with prosecutors at best seeking an appropriate resolution and punishment and at worst intimidating defendants with harsh penalties to bully them into taking a deal.

Each criminal case is unique, but there are some general considerations to taking a plea deal that are common in most situations. Here's what you need to know about plea bargains and plea bargaining, from our archives:

Ex-Stanford Swimmer Gets Light Sex Assault Sentence

A Stanford University swimmer who was planning to compete in the Olympics will be spending the next few months in county jail, the next few years on probation, and the rest of his life on the sex offender registry. But as bad as that sounds, the defendant, Brock Turner, received a light sentence given the severity of his crimes.

Turner, 20, was convicted in March of three felony counts for his January, 2015 assault on a passed-out drunk woman on the Stanford campus outside of a frat party. This week he was sentenced for the charges, which were assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person and two counts of sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Three Minneapolis men have been convicted of conspiring to support the foreign terrorist organization Islamic State and to commit murder abroad under its command. A jury found Abdirahman Daud, Mohamed Farah, and Guled Omar guilty on multiple charges related to a plan to join ISIS in Syria and of making false statements to federal authorities.

The convictions were part of a far-ranging investigation into ISIS recruitment in Minnesota, and could be the first of many to follow.

Feds Fight to Define Protest at the Supreme Court

Wordsmiths and language lovers will delight in a fight federal prosecutors continued last week, appealing a federal judge's ruling against them, which turns on two words. The prosecutors tried to charge five people who protested at the Supreme Court by singing and yelling during proceedings with haranguing or making an oration, but were denied. They are now trying again in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

In their appeal, federal prosecutors say that neither word -- oration or harangue -- is unconstitutionally vague and that the charges are valid. US District Court Judge Christopher Cooper disagreed when he denied them last year, reports the National Law Journal.

NY Nurses Indicted for Endangering Disabled Patient

You don't usually think of nurses as criminals but sometimes their actions can be so cruel as to rise to a crime. That is what grand jurors in New York decided when they indicted two nurses this week for ignoring a bleeding disabled patient who fell, leaving him crawling around in distress for more than ten minutes.

The nurses are accused of having ignored the patient and failing to treat him, reports the New York Daily News. Each could face four years in prison if convicted on the charges.

Yes. Probably not. Maybe. Odds aren't good. In your case? Who knows? I'd say there's a 50-50 chance. Wanna bet?

As with most legal questions, whether you'll do hard time for playing a little online poker or daily fantasy sports will depend on a variety of factors, not the least of which is what state you live. Here's a quick look at federal and state online gambling laws, as well as which bets are (legally) safe to place.

Police Find UCLA Shooter's Kill List and Motive

Yesterday the UCLA campus was terrorized by the shooting of an engineering professor by a disgruntled former student who claimed his teacher and adviser stole his computer code. Mainak Sarkar, the gunman, killed himself and Professor William Klug.

Today police found a "kill list" in the shooter's Minnesota home with two names, Professor Klug of UCLA and a woman, found dead later in Minnesota, reports the Los Angeles Times. California lawmakers are already referring to this incident as another reason to pass gun control laws in the state. Let's look at what is known so far about the academic intrigue that led to this tragedy.

You may have heard recently that universities and the federal government are working to remove barriers for college hopefuls with criminal records. While this may be welcome news to those with youthful indiscretions in their past or those trying to turn lives around, there remains one crucial hurdle left: financial aid.

Even if someone with a criminal conviction on their record is accepted to college, he or she may not be able to afford it without help, and a drug conviction especially can make securing a student loan far more difficult.

How to Legally Intervene If You Suspect or See Date Rape

If you see something, do you say something? We are increasingly asked to be alert to our surroundings and report suspicious behavior that may indicate terrorist activity, so should we be doing that with everything else? And if so, what precisely do we do when we suspect someone is in danger and that person is a stranger?

Three women in California who caught a man in a restaurant spiking his date's drink with a roofie provide some guidance. They saw something and said something, according to the Huffington Post, and they may have prevented a rape.