FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

February 2017 Archives

Drones are awesome. But along with the awesomeness comes great responsibility. Like many other awesome things, drones are incredibly dangerous, and improper use can actually result in not just injuries, but also severe legal consequences, including jail time.

Recently, a Seattle man was sentenced to 30 days in jail as a result of injuring two individuals with his drone. While flying his drone in public, he lost control, crashed into a building, and the drone fell to the ground, striking two people. The man was charged and convicted of reckless endangerment. Reports state that an appeal is planned, particularly as this was the first prosecution of its kind in the state. However, as law enforcement and the law catch up to the widespread popularity of drones, more such prosecutions are expected.

We all know that shoplifting is simply illegal, but the lengths to which stores and police go to prosecute and punish shoplifters are far from simple. Prosecutors have multiple charges available that relate to shoplifting, and retailers will often go after shoplifters independently of law enforcement. So a basic case of shoplifting can turn into a complex array of civil and criminal charges and penalties.

Here's what you need to know

Do you know where your digital files sleep at night? In a pair of recent, hotly debated rulings, the court made an important distinction regarding when files stored in the cloud can be reached via a search warrant, and when the cloud cannot be reached by the US justice system.

The primary distinction lies in how and where a cloud storage service provider maintains the files in the cloud. Basically, if the files are permanently stored in one physical location that is outside the jurisdiction of the US courts, then the files will be safe from a US search warrant. However, if the service provider moves the stored data and files from location to location, then even if the files or data are not presently located in the US, a search warrant may compel the files to be moved onto a server located in the US to be included in the warrant.

The inherent tension in the recent trend to legalize recreational marijuana at the state level is that the drug remains an illegal substance at the federal level. Up until now, the Department of Justice has taken a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, trusting "state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws."

But that could all change under the new presidential administration. Last week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the Justice Department under President Trump may step up enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana use.

The bald eagle is the national bird, and due to this status, as well as its general majesty, receives much deference from patriots, bird-lovers, and even the law. One Texas teen is learning about the later the hard way.

Seventeen-year-old Orlando Delgado was recently charged with a misdemeanor for hunting on property without the landowner's consent, despite having admitted to shooting the bald eagle, not once, but several times. Perhaps being so brave and honest when law enforcement arrived on the scene may have garnered the youngster some leniency. The young man should consider himself rather fortunate, as the penalty for killing a bald eagle is certainly more severe than merely hunting without a landowner's consent.

This week, the United States Supreme Court denied hearing the case of an Alabama death row inmate fighting to be executed by firing squad. Yes, you read that correctly, and no, this isn't about a case from 1868. An Alabama inmate actually wants to be executed via firing squad, and the government is saying no, and the courts have agreed.

While the cost of actually going through with executions generally costs more than housing an inmate for life, state courts are still sentencing people to death, despite the fiscal implications. Over the last few decades, the vast majority of executions have been done via lethal injection, but that method has come under increasing scrutiny due to failed executions that resembled torture. To avoid being subjected to the risks involved with the lethal injection, the Alabama death row inmate was seeking a quick and guaranteed death by firing squad.

If you've been pulled over by police, you're probably already pretty worried. And if officers suspect you've been drinking and driving and ask you to perform some roadside sobriety tests, that anxiety can skyrocket. Whether you're sober and want to prove it to the police or if you've been drinking and are trying to convince them you're OK to drive, you'll want to be on your best behavior while performing the sobriety tests.

While the officers on the scene will give you instructions on what to do and how to perform the tests, we can give you a few tips on what not to do during roadside sobriety tests:

While sitting behind a computer screen is widely regarded as much safer than wandering the streets at night asking people for their opinions in 140 characters or less, computer crimes are becoming increasingly common. Additionally, in recent years, social media sites have even become hotbeds for crime, and police are getting wise to it.

Below you'll find five common crimes being committed on, or as a result of, social media.

While you might have the right to remain silent, you certainly don't have a right to lie to the police. State laws can vary when it comes to false statements, but lying during federal investigation is a felony carrying a potential five year prison sentence.

And that's just your standard, run-of-the-mill federal obstruction of justice charge. What about misleading the FBI regarding your alleged contact with the Russian ambassador?

Under normal circumstances, referring to a doctor's hands and surgical instruments as "deadly weapons" would sound like over-the-top hyperbole. But Christopher Duntsch is no normal surgeon. Nicknamed "Dr. Death," and referred to by colleagues as a "sociopath," the "worst surgeon I've ever seen," and "a clear and present danger to the citizens of Texas," Duntsch is responsible for a slew of botched surgeries resulting in serious injury, paralysis, and even death.

So when it came to Mary Efurd's spinal fusion surgery, saying what Duntsch "intentionally, knowingly and recklessly" harmed patients doesn't seem like exaggeration at all. Prosecutors said that, and more, at Duntsch's criminal trial and the doctor was found guilty of injury to an elderly person, for which he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Taking a DNA sample from a criminal suspect, after arrest or as part of an investigation, is pretty standard (and legal) stuff by now. But what about forcing someone who isn't a suspect to submit to a DNA swab in order to be released from police custody? And forcing minors to consent without parental notice?

As it turns out, state and city law can conflict on the matter, and the ACLU is suing San Diego to bring its city policy in line with state statutes.

Maybe you're not tired, so you can stay up and drink more. Or it could be that you feel clear-headed, and don't think you're drunk. Or perhaps with more energy comes more risk-taking behavior. Either way, scientists have linked the consumption of highly caffeinated energy drinks (EDs) with higher incidents of drunk driving.

So at this point, the why of the matter might not be as important as how to avoid a DUI associated with energy drinks. Because it turns out that just drinking more energy drinks, even without alcohol, can increase your risk of a DUI.

When a child, teen, or young adult is arrested, parents are often confused about what they can do to help. Although most parents are willing to do anything and everything for their children, unless they are licensed attorneys, parents cannot defend their children in court.

For minor children, parents may be legally responsible for providing a private defense attorney, or paying the public defender’s bill. Adult children may be able to qualify for a free public defender, depending on the jurisdiction. Regardless, the best thing a parent can do for their child facing criminal charges is retain a criminal defense attorney.

Below you’ll find three tips on how to select the right criminal defense attorney for your son or daughter.

Yesterday, Jerry Sandusky's adopted son Jeffrey was arrested and charged on a multitude of child sex charges. Although there was no physical sexual contact involved, Pennsylvania police say the younger Sandusky solicited nude photos from a then-16-year-old girl last year and sought oral sex in 2013 from her then-15-year-old sister, all via text messages.

Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012, and is currently serving a 30-year minimum sentence in prison. As of this morning, his son was charged with 14 felony and misdemeanor counts and remained in county jail on $200,000 bail.

Today, a child kidnapper and murderer was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a child back in 1979. Pedro Hernandez confessed to the crime in 2012, and after 5 years, two trials, and one hung jury, was finally convicted.

Hernandez's first trial resulted in a hung jury due to one lone holdout juror who just could not believe that Hernandez's confession was genuine. However, after the re-trial, the jury was able to unanimously convict on the kidnapping and murder charges. The verdict brought a much needed end for the young boy's parents who have waited nearly 40 years for justice to be done. However, Hernandez's counsel did mention a potential appeal.

Even though the customer will always be right, shoplifters, fraudsters and other retail criminals will usually be prosecuted, if caught. Shoppers have been trying to game the system ever since there was a system to game. However, many of these shoppers may be committing retail fraud without realizing that they are committing the serious criminal offense of fraud, which carries serious penalties.

One of the most common shopping frauds occurs when a person wears an item of clothing, then returns it. This practice, called 'wardrobing,' can be fraudulent depending on a store's policies. In extreme cases, individuals will re-buy an item they have worn in order to return the worn item with the new receipt. While stores struggle to detect these fraudsters, a former Mrs. America was arrested for doing that to Macy's last year.

Drunk driving charges all start somewhere, and it's usually the time the police officer pulls you over. There's the conversation, maybe some questions about your alcohol consumption, and a few roadside tests before a possible arrest and DUI charge.

But let's back up -- cops can't pull you over for no reason, right? And if officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop you, that could mean that everything that happens after you're pulled over is inadmissible in court. So here's a look at DUI traffic stops, and how they affect your case.

Those side-view mirrors that protrude out on either side of a car get knocked, bumped, broken, and vandalized more often than most people expect. If you’re driving around with a broken side mirror, you might be wondering whether law enforcement can pull you over, or ticket you, if you don’t get it fixed right away.

Unfortunately, the answer depends on what state you are driving in, as not only do the traffic laws vary from state to state, but what is considered as required safety equipment also varies. While there are federal guidelines that set requirements that specifically mandate side mirrors and a rear-view mirror, the federal guidelines apply more for manufacturers. The state traffic laws about side-view and rear-view mirrors will apply to drivers and govern when a driver can be pulled over and ticketed.

We all know that marijuana is illegal under federal law. (Or at least most of us know that.) And even with all these states passing recreational use laws, the feds aren't interested in legalizing it. But there was some disagreement about CBD oil and other cannabis-based extracts that lack the THC to get users high and are used primarily in medical cases.

Well, that confusion was put to rest recently when the DEA added an additional code to the Federal Register, clarifying that any extract of the marijuana plant falls under the Schedule I classification, and thus remains illegal.

In a series of executive orders issued this morning by the White House, President Trump is targeting criminals both at home and internationally. Each of the three orders has a different focus. One executive order focuses on the safety of law enforcement officials across the country, one focuses on the public’s general safety from crime, and the last focuses on fighting transnational criminal organizations.

This last executive order of the three passed today simply instructs federal agencies to strengthen the enforcement of federal law. This seems counter to what Trump’s platform has been pushing for when it comes to the elimination of federal regulations that result in white collar business, compliance, and financial crimes. The stated purpose of this executive order, which basically is just directing federal agencies to do what they are already tasked with doing, is to “thwart transnational criminal organizations.” But that order also asks federal agencies to make transnational criminal organizations a high priority.

When our finances and our freedom are on the line, we need our attorneys to be at their very best. Criminal defense attorneys are tasked with zealously advocating for their clients, making sure defendants receive the full protection of the law, and, in many cases, proving their innocence.

Obviously, criminal defense lawyers don't win every case, and a conviction doesn't mean the lawyer wasn't trying her best. But there are times when a defense attorney commits malpractice. So how can criminal defendants distinguish between a bad case and a bad lawyer? And what can they do about it?

This week a moderator for a major darkweb child pornography internet repository was sentenced to 20 years in prison, as well as lifetime monitoring upon release, for his involvement with the site, which is nothing less than shocking. David L. Browning, the convicted moderator, was required to delete anything from the site, Playpen, that did not relate to child pornography, including images, videos, and even discussions.

Browning is not the first Playpen-related conviction. A site administrator, Michael Fluckiger, was sentenced to 20 years just a few weeks ago, and another administrator, Steven Chase, is currently awaiting sentencing. In addition to these 3, there were 48 other individuals prosecuted as a result of their involvement with Playpen.

When you tell police that you threw packed suitcases of your belongings out of your burning home, after breaking the glass out of your bedroom window with a walking stick, and also tell them you have an artificial heart, they may be a little skeptical. In fact, they might ask to see some of the data from that electronic heart monitor, you know, just to check on your heart rate before, during, and after that fire.

And when a cardiologist tells cops that it was "highly improbable" that you could pull off such a feat considering the pacemaker and its data, they might go ahead and arrest you for arson.

With their close association with alcohol, it's hard to remember that DUI and DWI cover a lot more than just drunk driving. It's possible to be "driving under the influence" of any number of things, and "driving while intoxicated" doesn't specify the intoxicant. And between relaxed marijuana restrictions and the spike in prescription drug use, police need to be on the lookout for drivers who've consumed something other than "just a couple beers."

Here's what you need to know about DUI laws and drugged driving.

Last week, an attorney for the IRS, who also is a professor at Georgetown University, was arrested for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to sell methamphetamine. According to reports, the attorney had allegedly been involved with individuals in Long Island and Arizona, and has been distributing large quantities of methamphetamine since 2012.

The attorney is alleged to have used FedEx to deliver the drugs, which was how he got discovered. After police discovered the drugs in the FedEx package, the intended recipient of the FedEx'ed drugs, likely in exchange for a deal, assisted the police in gathering more evidence of the conspiracy. As part of their role, the IRS attorney was filmed smoking meth while on a video call, and also was caught sending two more packages of meth via FedEx.

The results of a three-day human trafficking sting across the state of California resulted in the arrest of 474 individuals, as well as the rescue of 55 human trafficking victims, including 28 child victims. The sting, dubbed Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, has been done for three consecutive years, with this year marking the largest operation to date.

Arrests were made for solicitation of prostitution, as well as pimping, and included both sex workers, pimps, and potential customers. Children and adult victims that were discovered were referred to social services and removed from their situations. California had the highest number of reported human trafficking victims last year with 1,323 cases in 2016.

The Super Bowl usually means cruising to a friend's house or sports bar, loading up on chili and chicken wings, and consuming one or two adult beverages over the course of the game. This leaves you with the prospect of driving home, which is a bad idea after a few cold ones, especially when cops are cracking down on Super Bowl weekend DUIs.

Police from New York to California have announced enhanced drunk driving enforcement programs to coincide with the game this Sunday. So make sure you're extra careful and don't drive drunk before, during, or after the Super Bowl.

Kids are going to be kids. Sometimes that means they're going to make a mess in the kitchen, and at other times, that means parents are going to get a call in the middle of the night from the police. Most of the time, when a kid commits a criminal act, the consequences will be theirs to face as very few states impose any sort of parental criminal liability.

However, when it is discovered that a child has been using drugs, a parent could face criminal liability depending on the situation. Generally, so long as the parent was not supplying those drugs, knowingly or otherwise, or did not know about the child's drug use, nor encourage it, a parent does not have to worry about being arrested or facing criminal liability. On the other hand, when children are exposed to drugs because of their parents, parents can be arrested and face criminal charges.

As the saying goes, "when it comes to human beings, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." But can pop psychology mantras be maxims of law in criminal courts? Can evidence of past crimes, even far off or juvenile offenses, be used against you in a new case?

It's a broad question, and one that can only be answered with a few specifics, additional circumstances, and, of course, some caveats. Here's what you need to know.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a party good. For some, a party requires music and dancing, some people demand party games, or party hats, and just as many think alcohol is the magic ingredient. But, when minors are going to be present at the party, there may be some legal concerns if alcohol is served.

Generally, there is no law that forbids adults from drinking in front of minors at a party. However, nearly every state prohibits serving, selling, or providing access to alcohol to minors. This holds true at parties and in practically any setting (excepting in limited situations in some states, such as with parental consent). If an adult is at a party where minors are getting intoxicated, or a parent's children are hosting a party where other children are getting intoxicated, there could be legal consequences for the adult.

Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about New York's status as a sanctuary city, under which it refuses to turn over undocumented immigrants to immigration officials over minor criminal offenses. De Blasio said he would define drunk driving as that kind of minor offense so long as it "doesn't lead to any other negative outcome."

While de Blasio's comments earned him the ire of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), they do raise the question of whether a DUI can be a deportable offense, and what factors would matter in that determination.

While stacking up cash is part of the American dream, carrying those stacks around could actually land you in legal trouble. Despite being the grease that keeps the wheel turning, large sums of money, in cash, will raise the ire of law enforcement. And while having stacks of cash is not illegal, it can result in unwanted police attention, seizure of the cash, and even arrest if evidence of a crime is found.

Generally, individuals do not carry around thousands of dollars in cash because that much cash is bulky and the modern banking and credit industry has made it much more simple to have access to that sort of money via credit cards and mobile banking.

However, because of the modern banking laws which require certain types of transactions be reported, criminals that receive large sums of cash, such as drug dealers, tend to avoid putting money in the bank. As such, when law enforcement officers find large stacks of cash on an individual, there is a presumption that the cash is meant for an illegal purpose, and can be used as the basis for a more in-depth search of your person, property, vehicle or home.