FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

March 2017 Archives

According to new research released by the PEW research center, federal criminal prosecutions are on the decline. The new numbers show that federal criminal prosecutions have been on a consistent decline since 2011, and have even fallen to a 20 year low. Much of this is credited to the visionary approach implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder to not prosecute every federal crime, but to focus on those where there is a substantial federal interest.

Since 2011, there has been an approximate 25 percent reduction in new federal criminal cases. Federal prosecutors have gone from charging over 100,000 new cases a year, to charging about 77,000. The most common type of federal crimes that get prosecuted involve drug charges. Despite the recent trend among states to legalize marijuana, there are many other types of illegal drugs, and federal drug charges still account for the majority of federal prosecutions. However, over the past 5 years, there has been nearly a 25 percent reduction in drug prosecutions alone.

The word "immunity" gets tossed around quite a bit, from smoothies designed to keep you from getting sick to a supposed Get Out of Jail Free card for foreign diplomats. It's being tossed around today because President Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn has told Congress he is willing to testify regarding the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. Flynn made the offer through his attorney, on the condition that he be granted immunity from future prosecution in exchange.

So what is immunity from prosecution? And how might it work in the case of Mr. Flynn?

The Department of Justice estimates that one in every ten seniors is abused each year, but only one out of every 23 cases of abuse is reported to the authorities. This could be a combination of the decline in cognitive abilities of the elderly and the lack of recognition for the signs of elder abuse.

But once they do get wind of elder abuse, law enforcement takes those allegations seriously. And state and federal statutes impose some serious penalties for elder abuse.

One of the tenets of our current capital punishment scheme is that subjecting mentally disabled defendants to the death penalty violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The question then becomes, however, how do we decide if someone is mentally disabled, and just how mentally impaired must a defendant be to avoid the death penalty?

The State of Texas had set out a seven-factor test for determining death penalty eligibility, but that was overturned by the Supreme Court yesterday, which ruled that such decisions must be "informed by the views of medical experts." So what is the new standard?

In a shocking turn of events, an 18-year-old high school girl's father reported his daughter to the authorities after discovering a detailed plan to commit a mass school shooting. Not only was a detailed plan discovered, a shotgun as well as other materials needed to make dangerous explosives were found.

Upon learning of the threat, the high-schooler was immediately pulled out of class and admitted into a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Law enforcement obtained arrest warrants in order to immediately arrest the teen upon her release from the hospital. The teen's diary and plan reveal that mental health may be an issue.

Is it a drug deal if there's no cash involved? Let's just say your friend has the same prescription medication as you, but just forgot her pills at home. Or your colleague is suffering from allergies, and your prescription-grade antihistamines can help. You're not trying to make money off the transaction -- you're just trying to help. Or someone is trying to help you.

Unfortunately, when it comes to prescription drugs, that might not matter. It turns out just giving away or sharing your prescription medication might get you into trouble.

A Louisiana jury convicted a "moonlighting" deputy marshal of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter after a shooting that left a 6-year-old autistic boy dead and his father hospitalized. Former Marksville police officer and part-time city marshal Derrick Stafford, along with another officer, opened fire on Christopher Few's vehicle after he refused to pull over, striking Few in the head and chest, and killing his son, Jeremy Mardis, who was buckled in the passenger seat.

The shooting was captured on police body cameras, described by Louisiana State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson as "the most disturbing thing I've seen," and revealed the seedy side of Marksville's city budget politics to the world.

Everyone’s heard the age old-saying: if you do the crime, you do the time. But what about if you don’t do the crime, can you still do time? And what exactly would that time be for? The fact is that simply planning to commit a crime can very well be a crime, but there’s got to be a bit more than just an idea, or fully fleshed out plan in some scenarios, before merely planning a crime will be a crime.

Depending on the criminal laws in each state, federal law, and, most importantly, whether a prosecutor can prove the intent to actually commit the crime, planning a crime may not be an offense at all. Generally, if it is charged, it will either be an attempt charge, or as part of a conspiracy charge.

In 2010, a large-scale burner and distributor of counterfeited music and movies fled the country after pleading guilty to conspiring to infringe copyright laws with a dozen others. Now he's finally been extradited and sentenced. Upon his extradition and return from Morocco, where he spent 9 months in "horrendous" conditions, he was given the maximum sentence of five years as an added punishment for fleeing.

The group of counterfeiters were found to have illegal copied and sold music and movies including Kung Fu Panda, Hancock, Dark Knight, and Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Usher. The operation was based in Atlanta, where the group would receive blank DVDs and CDs, and would burn the copies, print the packaging, and prepare for resale.

Being falsely accused of any crime, let alone a sex crime, can have serious ramifications for the accused. Because of the internet, a person’s arrest for a sex crime could follow them for the rest of their life, even if they are never convicted of the crime.

While the social stigma of sex crime charges is nearly impossible to prevent, below, you’ll find the top 5 legal tips on how to fight false accusations.

Self defense is a tricky legal concept, and it becomes even more nuanced when individuals assert self-defense claims against law enforcement officers or police dogs, especially if the officer or K-9 is killed. Generally, law enforcement officers and police dogs have similar rights when it comes to suspects and arrestees fighting back, but these rights vary from state to state. It should be noted that harming a police dog is almost sure to inflame, and provoke, officers, causing them to overreact and shoot to kill.

In nearly every state, there are specific laws that, for all intents and purposes, equate an attack on a police dog as the same as an attack on a regular officer. The penalties are incredible harsh. Recently, a man was sentenced to 45 years for killing a police dog. Generally, though, individuals do have the right to resist unlawful arrests, excessive force, and unprovoked attacks from officers and K-9s.

Undercover drug busts are more frequently run as controlled buys with officers buying drugs from suspected or known drug dealers, and having other officers watching, waiting to arrest the drug dealer after the sale. However, in some sting operations, cops pretend to be the drug dealers and sell actual drugs to users and/or other drug dealers in controlled sales. Generally, cops cannot physically force, or improperly coerce, a person to act, but cops can lie to suspects.

Officers set up controlled sales stings for a few different reasons, depending on who is being targeted. In areas where drug users are known to be looking to purchase drugs from street dealers, undercover officers will pretend to be drug dealers and arrest low level buyers. These stings are meant to make users more afraid of buying drugs on the street, hopefully curbing demand and crime in the area. Conversely, when cops are trying to arrest drug dealers, controlled sales of large quantities of drugs can help provide evidence of intent.

A federal district court has approved the settlement of a class action stemming from what was effectively the operation of a debtors' prison. In Alexander City, Alabama, the courts were jailing people for their inability to pay court imposed fines. That is, until the Southern Poverty Law Center got involved and was able to achieve a significant settlement.

In addition to changes in policy allowing court debtors to pay off fines through community service, the city will pay approximately $680,000 in settlement to those wrongfully incarcerated, $500 per day of incarceration per class member.

Law enforcement officers are tasked with the ever-so-important job of keeping the public safe from crime. However, a cop's job isn't easy, and can quickly escalate into situations where an officer's life is in real, immediate danger. But when a cop has been overtaken by a suspect, is the public allowed to return the favor and defend a cop? Can a private individual intervene with lethal force, such as by shooting a cop's attacker?

The answer to this question really is situational. Apart from the potential of pulling a Frank Drebin, the same standards that apply when defending a private individual are likely to apply. Depending on state law, stand your ground laws may or may not apply, or there may be a heightened standard for when deadly force is legally permissible in the defense of others.

Tragedy struck in the early evening hours on Thursday in NYC as a local EMT, Yadira Arroyo, was murdered with her own ambulance. As if the situation could not be any sadder, the fallen EMT was a mother of five and had served the public for nearly a decade and a half.

The suspect is being charged with three counts of murder, grand larceny, as well as operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. According to one source, the suspect has been arrested over 30 times over the past 13 years for crimes including assault, robbery, trespassing, and lewdness. Despite what appears to be clear evidence of guilt, the suspect asserted his innocence while being walked out of the police station, in cuffs, for transport.

It may just feel like a goofy photo app, but make no mistake about it: you can get arrested for your Snapchats. As with any other social media platform, Snapchat can be an innocuous, fun way to communicate in the right hands. But like all means of communication, it's what you say that matters, not where you say it.

Here are three ways posts on Snapchat might get you arrested:

Police deal with false criminal accusations with relative frequency. It is an unfortunately regular occurrence for people going through bitter divorces, particularly when it comes to child custody. However, the penalties for falsely accusing someone of a crime range from none at all to potentially decades behind bars. It all depends on how the accusation is made, the intent of the accuser, and what is being accused.

It should be clear that a person who accidentally makes a false accusation to police is unlikely to face any criminal penalty at all. A person will not face criminal prosecution if they, in good faith, report someone they believe has committed a crime. But if the accuser has no reasonable basis to believe a crime has been committed, then they may be wandering into the false accusations territory where criminal (and civil) liability could exist.

Breaking a window might not seem like a serious crime, until you remember an entire theory of policing was born out of enforcing exactly that offense. Police officers are now taking broken windows more seriously, and the penalties for breaking a window can be severe.

Those penalties will depend on the criminal charge, which can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Here's a look at criminal charges for breaking windows, along with some penalties.

While a far cry from a bat signal, the makers of a crime reduction app, called Citizen, are facing criticism for re-releasing their controversial smartphone app. The app promises to help create safer neighborhoods and cities, and keep people safe from crime, by notifying its users about crime happening in as close to real time as possible.

Currently, the app only works for New York City, but is expected to roll out to additional cities. It works by monitoring and analyzing publicly available data to display recent and current crime incidents on a map, so users can avoid those areas.

You want to give back to the community and make sure children get a great education. Teachers don't go into the profession for money or glamour, and generally have an interest in doing good. But can doing something bad in your past keep you from ever getting a teaching job?

A criminal record can be an impediment to any profession, and teachers are more carefully screened than most professionals. So here's how a criminal record may affect getting a teaching job.

While we're not quite living in the world where the Terminator or RoboCop are walking around, autonomous vehicles and other devices are starting to see daylight, which means that lawmakers need to kick it into high gear. When it comes to civil liability, it would seem that the owner, programmer, and/or maker of a robot is likely to wind up paying for any damages caused. But what about when a crime is committed?

When a robot commits a crime, criminal liability will depend on whether the robot was being controlled or programmed to take a specific action. If a robot utilized artificial intelligence to learn and act on its own, the question of criminal liability becomes more complicated.

In a bid to make Utah more like Europe, lawmakers in the state have passed two changes to the state's alcohol laws. One eases the "Zion Curtain" restriction and the other lowers the blood-alcohol content (BAC) requirement for being convicted for a DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

The pair of new laws are expected to be signed into law by Utah's Governor, Gary Herbert, who has stated his support. However, the new BAC level has created some controversy, as it will be the lowest in the country. Given Utah's current regulation of alcohol, along with their history of being strict on alcohol, it is not surprising to see the state take this step.

Way back in September in 2015, John Oliver dedicated a segment of his "Last Week Tonight" show to the nation's underfunded and understaffed public defender system. And like so many of Oliver's past topics, this one has also resulted in litigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis, and law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Missouri over its public defender system. The suit claims the system lacks the resources and attorneys to provide constitutionally mandated legal counsel for criminal defendants.

Grocery stores, and most retailers for that matter, suffer from large financial losses due to shoplifting. That’s why you can face serious criminal penalties if caught stealing food from a grocery store.

From time to time, news stories pop up about law enforcement officers taking pity on a shoplifting suspect trying to steal a carton of eggs to feed their children, and the cop or community then buys them groceries. However, more often, officers will arrest both parents for theft and send a child to CPS over an accidentally-forgotten about $5 sandwich that was eaten while shopping in a multinational grocery chain.

Criminal law varies from state to state, but there are some commonalities across the board when it comes to juvenile justice and juvenile detention. Minors have civil rights just like adults, and to that end, the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies. Alternatively, very young minors may be found to lack the mental capacity to even be held criminally liable at all.

While minors generally have the same protections as adults, the juvenile justice system was designed to provide a few additional rights to juveniles in order reduce the likelihood of reoffending. However, each state runs their juvenile incarceration system differently, and will have policies regarding what privileges juvenile inmates may partake in, such as visitation, phone calls, or entertainment (such as watching TV).

The NYPD celebrated International Women's Day yesterday by arresting thirteen women for blocking traffic outside the Trump International Hotel in New York City. Among those detained were female organizers of Women's March Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez.

While the women appeared to take their sit-in arrest in stride as it were, tweeting out photos from the police van, the detentions raised a few eyebrows as well as questions about protest rights.

When a criminal defendant is declared mentally incompetent, it is not the same thing as an insanity defense. When a defendant pleads a defense of insanity, they are asking a jury to render a verdict that attributes liability to their mental condition. When a defendant is declared incompetent, they never see a jury, and can have their trials delayed until they become competent.

A person who has been declared mentally incompetent does not escape liability, nor trial, but merely suffers a delay in being processed through the justice system. Usually, a person deemed mentally incompetent will be required to check in with the court, or their custodian will be required to check in, every few weeks or months. Also they'll need to notify the court when the individual regains competency. Once competency is regained, the individual will have to stand trial.

One of the primary rules of independent investigations is you can't investigate yourself. And when it came to investigating state and city police departments, that responsibility often fell to the feds -- the Department of Justice. Under the Obama administration, those investigations often resulted in determinations that local police departments were acting illegally, along with subsequent lawsuits settlements.

But that practice appears to be changing under President Trump. Trump's new Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week that the federal government should not be spending money on lawsuits against local police departments. So what does that mean for DOJ investigations in the future?

Shootings are an all-too-frequent occurrence in the USA. With the number unintentional shootings averaging about 2,000+ per year and continually on the rise, many folks might be wondering: what’s the criminal charge and penalty for accidentally shooting someone?

Whether a person was cleaning their gun, dropped their gun, or claiming the gun malfunctioned or just went off, if someone gets hit with the bullet, criminal charges are likely to follow. Not everyone gets so lucky as to have the shooting victim apologize to them. In fact, it is much more likely that an accidental shooting will result in serious criminal charges.

Generally speaking, jury deliberations are considered a "black box," into which courts are loathe to peer. The sanctity and secrecy of the jury room predates the Constitution itself, and courts have refused to review jury verdicts even in the face of claims of juror bias or drug or alcohol abuse in order to foster "full and vigorous discussion" of the case at hand.

But racist remarks, according to a new ruling from the Supreme Court, may violate a defendant's right to a fair trial and therefore require judicial review. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, "A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed -- including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered -- is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts."

In South Haven, Michigan, five high school students were arrested and are now facing charges for statutory rape as adults. The students are all aged 17 or 18, while the single victim is under 16 years old. Apart from the severity of these allegations, the fact that the five students charged with the felonies are on the school's varsity basketball team is making national headlines.

Currently, details on the incident are scant. However, it is believed that there is a sixth suspect, whom police have not arrested or charged, yet. Additionally, it is known that there have been a few encounters dating back to November of last year.

When it comes to pranks, the law does not joke around. While many pranks can be chalked up to kids being kids, when practical jokes cause damage to property, or worse, injuries, then police tend to get involved. However, property damage and injuries aren’t the only things that push pranks over the line of what’s legally permissible. In fact, most pranks minimally cause the prankster to be exposed to civil liability for damages, on top of the criminal liability.

All too often, pranks go horribly wrong, or cause unintended consequences. While police didn’t get involved in the notorious Lambo fake-poop prank, the fake pooper was literally shocked by the prank victim’s reaction (note to pranksters: beware of taser toting targets). While these pranksters certainly gained notoriety as a result of their video, prank videos, which abound all over the internet, are frequently used by law enforcement as evidence to support pressing charges.

Below, you’ll find 5 pranks that can actually get you arrested and charged with a crime.

It seems that children have always bullied other children, despite the best intentions of teachers and state anti-bullying laws. And now that many children have taken their social lives online, they've taken their bullying there as well.

Cyberbullying is a crime in many states, and Texas is trying to join that list. Let's see how the proposed Lone Star State statute compares to others already enacted.

Perjury and lying to the federal government are both crimes that could land a person in some serious legal trouble. If convicted of either crime, a person could be looking at up to five years in prison. This means that if a person is found to have lied during a congressional hearing or investigation, or simply lied to an FBI or other federal agent, actual jail time could result.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' faced allegations of lying to Congress. However, high profile prosecutions for lying to congress, feds, or even for perjury, don't happen very often.

Hopefully Angela Daywalt, of Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, has a World's Best Mom coffee mug at home, because she is unlikely to win the actual award any time soon. Daywalt was arrested and charged with DUI, endangering the welfare of a child, and assorted traffic and summary violations after she fled the scene of a drunk driving accident, allegedly after asking her 8-year-old daughter to blow into a breathalyzer device in her car.

And this all happened at 11 p.m. -- way after the little girl's bedtime.

Types of Violent Crime

There's crime, and then there's violent crime. For a crime to be considered a violent crime, generally there must be a victim who is either injured or killed as a result of the criminal act.

As a society, we have decided that violent crimes should be treated much more seriously than other types of crimes. Punishments for violent crimes are also much more severe than other non-violent crimes.