FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

January 2017 Archives

Jamming someone's communications sounds like something straight out of science fiction. But with advancements in cellular and Wi-Fi technology, it's quickly becoming science fact. Before you go out trying to shut down your neighbor's cell service, though, you should understand that, according to the Federal Communications Commission, jamming cell phones and GPS equipment is against the law.

So what are the legal restrictions and how are they enforced?

Of course, if you were completely sober or you weren't in actual physical control of a vehicle, you're probably not guilty of driving under the influence. (And, of course, if either of those are the case, you're probably not going to be charged with a DUI in the first place.) But most DUIs aren't black and white cases of guilt or innocence. You may feel like the officer pulled you over for no reason, improperly obtained a blood or breath sample, or lied about your performance on the roadside sobriety tests.

There are many reasons to feel like drunk driving charges are unjust or unfair, but when are those reasons good enough to plead not guilty and challenge a DUI charge?

Two Burger King employees in Epping, New Hampshire, were discovered this past week selling marijuana through their employer's fast food drive-thru window. When the police went to visit the home of the Whopper, they were served marijuana alongside their food. One of the employees was charged with possession with intent to distribute, while the other was charged with conspiracy, as well as unlawful possession of alcohol (neither are over 21 years old).

Local police discovered that there was a special procedure for buying marijuana from the Burger King drive-thru which might surprise some. When a person reached the speaker to order, they could ask if "Nasty Boy" was working. If the answer was yes, then by ordering "extra crispy fries" a person would receive marijuana along with the order. After Nasty Boy handed over a cup filled with marijuana, both he and his assistant manager were arrested.

5 Most Common Cybercrimes

Whether it's the ability to hop online under an avatar or fake name or an imagined distinction between the internet and IRL, quite a few folks are surprised when their online crimes come with offline consequences. Cybercrime continues to evolve and grow, and as technology advances the opportunities for cybercriminals to strike will only increase.

So what are the most common internet crimes right now, and where is internet crime headed in the future?

The halls of higher learning are not the mean streets of the city, in more ways than one. But one of the important ways campus life differs from real life is the way schools treat drug offenses. The consequences for getting nabbed for drug possession in a dorm can be vastly different than if you're picked up in public for the same offense, for better or for worse.

Here's a look at how colleges and universities, as well as surrounding police departments, treat drug crimes.

When a person is caught by police doing illegal drugs, or in possession of illegal drugs, they may face charges for possession of drug paraphernalia in addition to drug charges. Drug paraphernalia, like illegal drugs, carry serious criminal penalties in many jurisdictions, simply for possession.

Drug paraphernalia includes such things as pipes, vaporizers, bongs, rolling papers, and other smoking implements meant to be used with illegal drugs. Additionally, syringes, spoons, measuring scales, razor blades, and other arguably common items can be considered paraphernalia as well, depending on the context. Basically, anything that is used to ingest illegal drugs can be considered paraphernalia.

No one wants a DUI. Beyond the physical danger in which the drunk driver places herself and others, the criminal penalties from a DUI conviction can be especially harsh. Yes, there are fines and possible jail time, but there are also some punishments that can stick with you for quite a long time.

Here are some of the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction.

At the start of the year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have relaxed the knife laws in New York. The current laws, which are outdated, according to critics, unfairly targets trade workers. If you carry a pocket knife in New York, and in many other states and cities across the country, you may be breaking the law without even knowing it.

In addition to the federal ban on switchblades, certain types of knives, including switchblades, gravity knives, and large or exceptionally dangerous knives, are illegal in New York, and other states as well.

Cliven Bundy, cattle rancher and man who believes "the Federal Government does not have any ownership interest in the Bundy Ranch," (a.k.a. federal property upon which Bundy was illegally grazing his cattle) is currently in federal custody, charged with sixteen felony offenses stemming from an armed standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management officers near said ranch in 2014. Bundy appealed his indictment on the grounds that "the land is not owned by the United States."

A federal magistrate judge denied Bundy's motion to dismiss his charges, so he appealed to the federal United States District Court. Unsurprisingly, that federal judge also denied his appeal.

Laser pointers are amazing, particularly for the easily amused. The limits to their uses are generally only limited by a person's imagination, and of course, state and federal law.

By now, most everyone knows that there are laws against shining laser pointers at planes, or shining them in peoples' eyes. However, most people don't realize how illegal it is to shine a laser pointer at an aircraft. It is very illegal (no, "very illegal" is not a technical term). Just last week, a 23-year-old Missouri man was sentenced in federal court to 3 years in prison for the federal crime of pointing his laser pointer at a police helicopter, which is a felony.

There was a time when the ignition interlock device, or IID, was the domain of habitual drunk drivers. The in-car breathalyzer that requires an alcohol-free breath sample in order to start a vehicle or keep it running was a punishment usually reserved for repeat DUI offenders. But more and more states are passing stricter drunk driving laws requiring IIDs for even first-time DUIs.

Here's what you need to know about IIDs, and if you're likely to get stuck with one:

Short answer: it depends. Generally, secretly purchasing a gun on someone else's behalf from a gun dealer, called a straw purchase, is illegal. If the end recipient is not disclosed to the gun dealer/seller, they cannot run the background check for the actual purchaser/owner. However, it is possible to legally purchase a gun for someone, or give a gun as a gift, but there are hoops to jump through. After all, it's a gun, and guns are very dangerous.

In most states, when giving or selling a gun, there are laws regarding registering the transfer, and some states even require the transfer be done through a licensed gun dealer. Furthermore, if you are aware, or have reason to believe, that the person receiving the gun is not legally allowed to own a gun, then it is illegal to give that person a gun. If you are planning on buying a gun for someone else, either as a favor or for a gift, you may want to take a moment to look up the laws in your state.

The police power to detain and arrest suspects is fairly broad, with a few general limitations. If police officers have a reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime, they may attempt to arrest you, and evading that arrest may be a crime in and of itself.

Depending on the circumstances and the state statute involved, the penalties for resisting or evading arrest can be severe. Here's a look at some general principles when it comes to running from police, and the possible consequences.

Finding out you have an outstanding warrant can be frightening and shocking. Frequently the discovery of an outstanding warrant happens to people when they are pulled over for something simple like speeding. When this happens, a person is likely to be arrested on the spot. However, if the warrant is from another state and for something trivial, you might not get extradited.

Other times, a person may find out they have an outstanding warrant through other means, such as by viewing the online court record for the criminal court hearing they missed. When this happens, there are several things a person can do to handle an outstanding warrant for their arrest (aside from fleeing to the equator to live out the rest of their days in anonymity).

Designated Driver Laws FAQ

You know that drunk driving is unsafe and illegal. You know your friends will be drinking, so you do the safe and responsible hero move and volunteer to be the designated driver. So can you still get in trouble for doing the right thing?

As good as your intentions may be, some bad behavior might still get you into trouble with the law. So here are the do's and don'ts of designated driving:

The Supreme Court for the state of New Jersey, in an opinion released last week, just changed the way judges in the state will sentence most juvenile offenders. The opinion, which actually decided two criminal conviction sentencing appeals, centered on whether a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide related crime.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that not only should juveniles not get life without parole, they ruled that sentences that are in essence, life without parole, (i.e. 75 year sentences) are functionally the same thing as a life sentence.

News broke last week that a Connecticut Republican politician, 71-year-old Christopher von Keyserling, was arrested and charged as a result of a sexual assault he allegedly committed a month prior. The incident, captured on a security camera, involved the politician pinching a woman's backside, who then admonished him. The politician, through his attorney, asserts that the action was a playful gesture and trivial.

Nevertheless, the politician was arrested last Wednesday for the assault which occurred on December 9, 2016. The victim stated that Keyserling allegedly said to her during an exchange prior to the incident that in "this new world," he "no longer [had] to be politically correct." Also, Keyserling allegedly threatened, after the incident, that if she complained, it would be his word against hers, implying his word carried more weight. Now, it really is, but unfortunately for Keyserling, police believe the video evidence backs up the victim's story.

In a scathing report, the Justice Department found that the Chicago Police Department "engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution," with little or no accountability for misconduct. Specifically, officers engaged in "tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits" that often ended with officers unreasonably shooting someone -- including unarmed individuals -- and used Tasers against or shot at individuals who posed no immediate threat. The report also found that officers' accounts of use-of-force incidents were later discredited by video evidence.

Additionally, the DOJ determined that there was a disproportionate effect on Chicago's black and Latino citizens. The city signed an agreement in principle to work to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the DOJ's investigation.

Facing charges for a DUI, DWI, OUI or any of the popular drunk driving acronyms is stressful, confusing, and possibly life changing. For many drunk driving defendants, it is their first experience with the criminal courts, or maybe even any court. It is natural to have questions, and it is smart to research the answers to those questions and even smarter to talk to a lawyer about your specific case.

Below, you’ll find the top 5 frequently asked questions about going to court for drunk driving charges.

There are some who consider cannabis to be a gift from god. But when it comes to legalization, the devil is in the details. As laws on marijuana cultivation, possession, and sale continue to evolve, they may still differ from state-to-state and they remain in conflict with federal law. So trying to figure what is and what isn't allowed can be its own challenge.

Take, for example, California's new marijuana laws, which allow for recreational use for the first time. So who gets to grow all the green the Golden State's residents will be toking? And are there limits on how much cannabis you can cultivate?

When someone overdoses on drugs, the most important thing a friend can do is call 9-1-1. Unfortunately, because of the drug laws in many jurisdictions across the country, the friendships of hard drug-users are put through life-or-death tests when one friend overdoses.

Because of the potential for being arrested for using or possessing drugs, fellow drug users often fear calling 9-1-1 to report overdoses. This, in turn, results in needless and preventable overdose deaths. However, a majority of the states give individuals, even drug users, limited immunity for calling to report a drug overdose. Even if your state doesn't provide immunity, it is not guaranteed that you will face charges if you do the right thing and call 9-1-1.

In a majority of states, you will not be arrested if you report a drug overdose while in possession or high on drugs yourself. However, in most, if not all, jurisdictions, a person that supplies the drugs to a person that overdoses is likely to face more than just drug charges. As one Portland man discovered last year, he was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter after a friend overdosed on heroin that he provided.

Homemade Drug Laws

The first thing that pops into most people's minds when they think about homemade drugs is Walter White, or some less glamorous meth lab in someone's kitchen. And it's true that quite a few folks are cooking up illegal drugs at home using completely legal ingredients they bought online or in stores.

But is it possible you could be making a homemade drug and not even know it?

Seven members of a non-profit organization in Tampa, Florida, with a mission of feeding the homeless were arrested last week for feeding the homeless, again. The organization, Food Not Bombs, has gotten in trouble regularly for this exact problem, like many other individuals and small groups that seek to make an immediate impact by feeding the homeless. In Tampa, in order to legally serve or share food in a public park, a group must obtain a special permit to do so. Technically, the group's members were arrested for not obtaining that special permit.

In Orlando, half a decade ago, the same group faced this exact same issue of a local ordinance requiring a permit to feed the homeless in a public park. The court reasoned that because the restriction imposed by the city was reasonable in time, place, and manner, that there was no constitutional violation.

States have been steadily cracking down on drunk drivers, in part by instituting harsher punishments for first-time DUIs. One of those punishments is requiring drivers to install an ignition interlock device -- a sort of breathalyzer for your car that requires drives to provide a clean breath sample before starting the car.

According to researchers, these efforts might be paying off. A new Johns Hopkins study found that states that passed mandatory interlock ignition laws saw a seven percent decrease in fatal drunk driving accidents. The numbers would suggest that more of these laws are on the way, and they will be enforced more often after first-time DUIs.

Three Miami police officers are probably wishing they had a better sense of humor after their poor attempts got them fired. Because of their bad jokes, the Miami police department is recovering from an embarrassing incident where the three young officers made offensive, racist statements in a text message group chat with other officers.

Although it is sadly not uncommon to hear about racism within the ranks of law enforcement, the context of this incident is both alarming and shocking. The officers involved were jokingly discussing using two predominantly African-American neighborhoods for shooting/target practice. While the officers insisted that they were joking, the department found the "jokes" in such poor taste that the officers were fired after an internal affairs investigation.

The governor of Vermont, who signed the bill into law in the state to decriminalize marijuana possession, has just issued 192 pardons to individuals convicted of marijuana crimes. The pardons, which were all for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, also required that the offenses not be in relation to a DUI charge or violent crime. However, the pro-pot governor decided that issuing pardons for these pot convictions would be one of the last things he did before leaving office.

With the populace's shifting mentality towards marijuana legalization across the country, these pardons make sense. After all, the state law in Vermont provides for decriminalization, which means that possession of marijuana should not even be a criminal matter anymore than a traffic ticket is. Unfortunately, many people still have criminal records for offenses that, today, would not even lead to a criminal record.

Just about everyone has a smartphone these days, and yet many of us still aren't smart enough to hand over the car keys after we've been drinking. So is it time for our GPS- and internet-enabled devices to do our drunk thinking for us?

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel think so, and think they've found out how to do it without requiring a breath sample or relying on users to enter in their gender, weight, and number of drinks into an app. So how does the smartphone in your pocket or purse know if you're too tipsy to drive?

There are few things worse than hate for a person to expend their energy and mental wherewithal on. One of those few things is live streaming you and your friends torturing an innocent person while yelling politically and racially charged statements. In what should be held out as an example of just sheer brazen stupidity, four 18-year-old teens have been arrested as a result of a Facebook Live video they posted of themselves torturing another teen.

While it is unclear what the motivation for the torture was, what is clear is that the victim was subjected to an awfully scary situation, was physically restrained, verbally and physically assaulted numerous times, and threatened with death, all while being video recorded.

Because of the young age of the perpetrators, despite the racial and political statements, law enforcement has been hesitant to actually call this a hate crime rather than just kids making stupid mistakes and saying things to get attention. Sadly, at one point during the video, the woman making the video asks why no one is watching her live stream.

It sounds pretty logical, right? With so many people using ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, fewer folks would be driving drunk. Only that doesn't seem to be the case. A new study shows that Uber's arrival has had no impact on drunk driving fatalities, undercutting the app's claims to the contrary.

So why has the uber-popular ride-sharing app failed to make a dent in drunk driving?

Despite the rigorous regulations designed to protect against fraud in the medical and drug treatment industry, greedy individuals will always find ways to perpetrate scams. In Palm Beach, Florida, operators of sober homes, also known as halfway homes, as well as drug treatment centers, have been swept up in a recent sting operation designed to target a dangerous unregulated nexus between the two types of facilities. Sober homes have operated largely unregulated in Florida, and as a result, have been ripe for criminals looking to take advantage of the system.

Over ten individuals have now been arrested thus far in the Florida sting. Most of the arrests are centered around the crime of patient brokering and insurance fraud. Patient brokering involves medical facilities, like drug treatment centers, paying other facilities, such as sober homes, kickbacks, or referral fees, for sending patients with good insurance their way.

Vaping is here to stay, apparently, and those seeking electronic means to get their nicotine fix have been running into a confusing, and at times conflicting, set of laws and regulations. It seems that e-cigarettes and vaporizers arrived on the scene at the exact moment lawmakers were cracking down on tobacco-based cigarettes, and legislators hadn't given much thought to regulating their electronic brethren.

This has left vapers with a lot of questions when it comes to puffing prohibitions, so here are a few answers:

The results of a recent study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health is creating high hopes for states with medical, and recreational, marijuana laws. The results explain that states with medical marijuana laws report fewer traffic fatalities than states without them. There is an across the board average reduction of 11 percent fewer traffic fatalities.

While the study could not reach this conclusion, a senior author on the study suggests that the lower fatality rate could be associated with the substitution of marijuana for alcohol among younger drivers. Additionally, researchers found that drivers in states with medical marijuana have lower rates of drivers who believe driving after drinking is okay. This study in no way suggests that driving under the influence of marijuana is safe, or even a safe alternative to driving drunk. Driving while high on marijuana can still lead to a DUI, or worse.

Drivers in California need to be aware of the new cell phone law that just recently took effect in 2017. The new cell phone law prohibits all drivers from simply holding a cell phone or other electronic device (such as a GPS) in their hand while driving. If an officer sees a driver holding an electronic device, they can be pulled over and issued a ticket. A first offense will be at least $20, with subsequent offenses being at least $50.

While many drivers may find these laws to be overbearing, the end goal is not to torture drivers, but rather to reduce distracted driving accidents. According to California's Office of Traffic Safety, cell phone use is the number one cause of distractions on the road, and nearly 80 percent of all crashes involve driver inattention.

Being arrested and charged for public intoxication, while not as serious as a DUI charge, can still have severe consequences. Depending on the state or locality, the charge for being drunk in public can be a misdemeanor or even simply an infraction, like a speeding ticket. But, unlike a speeding ticket, a public intoxication charge can result in being arrested and taken into custody by the police.

Typically, a first or second offense will not have severe consequences, unless a person already has a criminal history, or is being charged with many other drunken crimes. However, the facts surrounding the arrest might convince a judge to require some alternative penalties, such as requiring a drug or alcohol treatment program.

Penalties for being convicted of public intoxication will generally include fines and/or community service, and repeat offenders may have to spend a few days behind bars. Depending on the state and locality, the penalties may be harsher or more lenient.

During the 1990s and into the early 2000's, sections of Hollywood were more well-known for easy access to drugs than for clubs, bars, and music scenes. And while the neighborhood's recent renaissance into a lively nightlife scene has been a welcome sight for locals, it's also made visitors and patrons targets of crime both petty and serious.

With the former "nightlife wasteland" now booming with both business and crime, police are now trying to curb the criminal elements feeding off of Hollywood's revived nightlife.