FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

May 2017 Archives

Tiger Woods has unfortunately found himself in the spotlight again due to poor choices behind the wheel. Tiger was arrested for allegedly being under the influence of prescription drugs while sleeping behind the wheel.

When the officer woke Tiger up, who was behind the wheel of his Mercedes, he was stopped in the right lane, with his car running, and had flat tires and other damages. The officer alleges that Tiger did not know where he was, and then failed to perform a series of field sobriety tests. However, the breathalyzer results showed no alcohol in his system.

While some might be sad to hear about Tiger's arrest, there are some valuable lessons that can be learned.

Thomas Arthur was first indicted of murdering Troy Wicker in 1982. Three convictions (two of which were overturned), seven stays of execution, and 35 years later, Arthur was executed by the state of Alabama, mere minutes before his latest execution warrant expired.

Arthur's eighth attempt at a stay was denied by the Supreme Court, despite the dissent of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who questioned the state's use of death penalty drug midazolam and its denial of phone service to Arthur's attorneys during the execution.

Being charged with a crime is scary. Even the most minor crimes, including traffic violations, can cause serious life disruption. Most defendants get some comfort from retaining an experienced defense attorney, though some may feel that they need a whole team of lawyers.

Generally, depending on the severity of the criminal charges, a person won't need a team of lawyers. However, in some circumstances, an individual may need more than one type of lawyer, or may actually need a team working round the clock.

It is generally understood that journalists and reporters are protected under the First Amendment. Unfortunately, the First Amendment does little to criminalize an attack or assault on members of the press. Generally, when members of the media are attacked, only the typical criminal assault charges will be brought.

A recent example of an attack on the press that has made national headlines involved Republican political candidate Greg Gianforte "body slamming" a reporter. This attack has resulted in paltry misdemeanor assault charges against the candidate. It has also caused an uproar surrounding the lack of stronger criminal protections for journalists and reporters.

Comic-Con gatherings give superhero and sci-fi fans the opportunity to dress as their favorite characters and celebrate comic book counterculture. And some of those costumed fans can be carrying impressively accurate portrayals of their characters' favored weapons, including swords and laser cannons.

But the weapons one fan carried to Phoenix Comicon yesterday got all too real. A 30-year-old man was arrested trying to enter the convention with three handguns, one shotgun, and a knife, all while clad in body armor. So how did cops know his firepower was real?

The penalty for criminal hit and run charges can be much more severe than many people expect. In some jurisdictions, serious jail time can be on the table. That's especially true if a defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or caused an injury.

However, in the heat of the moment, people are prone to make bad judgment calls. Frequently, people flee the scene of an accident because they are afraid of the consequences. Unfortunately for those people, fleeing the scene of an accident amplifies the consequences from potentially only financial to criminal. And because cars all have license plates on them, tracking down a hit and run driver is often simpler than expected.

If you've been charged with a hit and run, below you'll find three of the most effective defenses that may apply to your case.

Investigations, criminal and otherwise, need cooperative witnesses to supply evidence. In some cases, that assistance is forthcoming -- people report crimes, testify against defendants, or hand over DNA, documents, and other physical evidence. In other cases, witnesses are a little more reluctant.

Take the case of retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser and center of two investigations (one congressional and one criminal) into the Trump campaign's contact with Russia before and after the 2016 presidential election. Flynn is not eager to testify in front of Congress, so the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for his testimony and related documents. Flynn, through his lawyers, politely declined the request. So what happens now?

Nearly every state and the federal government has hate crime statutes that can increase penalties for crimes targeting specific individuals based on immutable characteristics like race, religion, or national origin. But the wording of hate crime laws, in terms what they prohibit and who they protect, can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

And different courts might interpret those statutes differently. Just this month, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state's hate crime law does not cover anti-gay assaults. The ruling runs contrary to what most federal and state courts have said on the matter, and leaves many wondering whether states and the federal government consider anti-gay attacks hate crimes.

When going to trial, particularly in cases that involve technical or scientific evidence, having the right experts on your side can make or break a case. Not only does the expert need to actually be a subject matter expert, but having presentation skills, or just charisma, can be just as important.

Since many types of criminal charges rely on scientific evidence, such as drug or DUI charges, a common defense strategy is to rebut the prosecution's scientific evidence. If the prosecution presents an expert witness, calling your own expert in the same area may be necessary to refute the prosecution's expert. When considering who to call as an expert, the first step is deciding what kind of expert(s) you need. To do so, a careful examination of the facts is necessary in order to figure out which facts can be supported or disproved through expert testimony.

Anthony Allen, of Portland, Oregon, is suing the city for nearly half a million dollars as a result of a wrongful arrest that happened in May 2015. While this may seem like a big number, keep in mind that not only was this man wrongfully arrested, criminal charges were actually pursued against him. Thankfully, a jury acquitted him on those charges.

Wrongful arrest cases can be rather difficult cases to prove. Generally, a person asserting that an arrest was wrongful must prove that an officer lacked justification to make the arrest. In Mr. Allen's case, it is alleged that the arresting officer racially profiled him and lacked any probable cause.

The answer to this question, with very little exception, is a resounding: No. If the conviction is on the record, then under both federal and state laws, a person will be prohibited from owning a firearm. Many people are surprised to find out that this even applies to individuals who have been convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence charges. This can be particularly difficult for individuals who accepted no-jail plea bargains to misdemeanor charges in order to avoid more serious risks and consequences associated with fighting felony charges, or just going to trial.

For almost 50 years now, federal law has been rather clear that individuals who have convictions for domestic violence charges cannot legally possess firearms. The Gun Control Act of 1968, as well as the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, explicitly state that individuals may not own a firearm after a conviction for domestic violence, domestic assault, or equivalent crime, as well as when a domestic violence or harassment restraining order has been awarded.

Hearsay, though technically a noun, is better understood as an adjective that gets used to describe certain pieces of evidence. Generally, hearsay evidence can be easily understood as secondhand evidence. For instance, if a person is testifying about what another person told them, or about something they read that was written by someone else, that testimony can be considered hearsay. In short, hearsay involves a person testifying about another person's statements.

A common issue surrounding hearsay is whether the secondhand statement is being presented as a true fact, or for some other reason. Lawyers refer to this issue as whether the statement is being used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Typically, the hearsay rules require excluding secondhand testimony presented as truth, unless it falls into one of the many exceptions.

In recent years, professional and amateur filmmakers alike have found much success in the "true crime" subgenre of reality TV, as well as just selling and profiting off crime footage. Whether it's capturing footage of a drug user using, a drug dealer dealing, a thief thieving, or the police policing, there are several important considerations for filmmakers.

Generally, a filmmaker will not be liable for filming a criminal admitting to a crime after the fact. Things can get murky however if a criminal begins talking about future crimes, or is being filmed during the actual commission of a crime.

Below, you'll find three essential legal tips for filming criminal acts in progress.

One of the primary principles of criminal investigations is that, in their quest for truth and justice, investigators must remain independent and free of interference or influence. Such meddling can take many forms, from bribery and witness intimidation, to evidence tampering and outright lying, and are generally referred to as "obstruction of justice."

In the wake of President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey last week, many are speculating that Comey's termination was an attempt to thwart investigations into Trump's campaigns and advisor's connections with Russia, and therefore amounts to obstruction of justice. But what federal statutes would cover Trump's actions, and what, specifically, do they prohibit?

In New York's Suffolk County, Thomas Demint has agreed to settle his wrongful arrest case against the local police department. The civil lawsuit, which made headlines back in late 2015, was resolved for only $50,000.

In May 2014, the 19-year-old Demint was standing a safe distance away from officers that were arresting two other individuals. Demint began video recording the incident, which was happening in public in plain view. After some time, police demanded Demint stop recording, then police arrested Demint for allegedly interfering with their other arrests, and an officer confiscated Demint's phone. When prosecutors determined Demint did nothing illegal, the charges were dropped. Demint, justifiably angry over the whole encounter, filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming he was falsely arrested.

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the end of a six week long, nationwide, transnational gang enforcement surge. The focus of the operation, eerily named "Project New Dawn," was to target gang members involved in drug, weapon, or human trafficking, as well as those implicated in murder and racketeering investigations.

The operation is being hailed as a success: 1,095 confirmed gang members were arrested in the sweep. Of the 1,378 people taken into custody, 933 were U.S. citizens, and 445 were foreign nationals from 21 different countries. Nearly 1,100 arrests were related to federal or state criminal charges, while just 280 were the result of violations of administrative immigration laws.

Undoing Obama era guidance advising federal prosecutors to pass on charging low-level drug offenders, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors in his Justice Department to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" under the law. What this shift means in practice is that federal defendants may now face "the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences," which were frowned upon during previous AG Eric Holder's tenure.

Sessions called his directive "moral and just" and advised that "[a]ny inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is rescinded, effective today." What will the new rules mean for prosecutors and defendants?

An awful social media game seems to have originated across the pond and made its way over to the US. Schools across the country are beginning to warn parents about a Snapchat "game" linked to cyberbullying. Schools are asking parents to caution their children against engaging in the game.

The game, called Letter X, is played on smartphones using the Snapchat app. The whole focus of the game, played by school kids, is to insult other kids by sending messages which can be photos and videos that include text or audio overlaid. One bully asks another to X a person, then multiple bullies gang up on the person who was X'ed. Then, the bullies compare and brag about which insults were the "best." This game essentially crowd-sources cyberbullying.

The New Hampshire State Senate voted 17-6 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana yesterday, following a 318-36 vote from the House in March. But the Senate version differed slightly from the House version, so there are a few more legal hoops to jump through before New Hampshire residents can safely carry weed with them.

So what regulations did the Senate sign off on, and what might a finalized decriminalization bill look like?

Mother's Day is one of the most revered secular holidays in the US and across the world. Everyone has a mother (even mothers), and most would agree that one day a year simply isn't enough to celebrate all that mothers do. But moms are more than just people ... even when they get arrested, you can see the love.

In the spirit of the holiday, below you'll find five of the top FindLaw blog posts about moms being arrested while just being moms, albeit to the extreme.

Few addicts maintain their addictions independently. Most have help, whether from active agents like drug dealers or passive enablers like friends and family. Enabling can take the form of one-time or continuing financial support, physical support by way of providing a place to live without seeking help, or even tacit emotional support by not confronting the addict or forcing them to get help.

Enabling an addict is certainly unhealthy behavior for both parties. And while enabling may not be strictly illegal, there are certain behaviors associated with enabling an addict that might get you into legal trouble.

Four Texans have been indicted by a grand jury and arrested as a result of alleged hate crimes the group planned and perpetrated. The young men, ranging in age from 18 to 21, created a profile on the Grindr app (the world's most popular same-sex dating app), "catfished" or lured other men into agreeing to meet at their homes, then attacked the victims when the group arrived.

The four men, Anthony Shelton, Nigel Garrett, Chancler Encalade, and Cameron Ajiduah, are alleged to have, between January and February of this year, completed four such hate crimes. The men would barge into a victim's home, threaten victims with a gun, restrain victims with tape, make anti-gay statements, and steal the victim's belongings. In one instance, it was reported that they took the victim's vehicle.

When facing a criminal prosecution, a common fear among defendants is that prior convictions will be raised during trial. Unfortunately, in many circumstances, a defendant may not be able to prevent evidence of prior convictions from being admitted.

Generally, whether a prior conviction can be used will depend largely on either a state's rules of evidence, or the federal rules of evidence. However, state rules generally correspond to the federal rules and closely follow the same parameters.

A recent federal court decision out of Tennessee is making headlines due to the impact it could have on inmates diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the state's correctional facilities. The decision grants class certification to the lawsuit, which means that the case can proceed to prove the allegations as a class action case and represent the class of over 3,000 inmates with the disease.

The case seeks an institution-wide change to the way inmates with Hepatitis C are treated while in custody. The case alleges that the denial of appropriate medical care is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment, including the denial of medical care or provision of inadequate medical care.

Gary Howard was arrested, charged, and convicted of marijuana possession with intent to distribute after he was found with 18 grams of pot. To put that amount into context, that's about enough for 18 joints. And, because Howard had a prior felony on his record, those 18 grams got Howard 18 years in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Howard appealed his harsh sentence, and was rebuffed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. But the court's Chief Justice Bernette Johnson slammed her colleagues' decision, calling it "outrageous," "ridiculous," and of "little societal value."

Last week, longtime Long Beach, California resident, Ray Webb, finally received justice. In October 2011, Mr. Webb was attacked by four officers, and hospitalized for two days. Mr. Webb, who's now 62 years old, has a heart condition, which was exacerbated by the attack -- particularly by the repeated use of a taser. He suffered a heart attack and has had vision problems since the attack.

After filing a civil rights lawsuit against the police as a result of a shocking police brutality and excessive force incident, and taking the case all the way through trial, he was awarded $620,000 by a jury. Even more shocking, of the four officers involved, three are still employed by the department and remain on active patrol duty, and one resigned last year.

Being a witness and giving testimony at a trial, or in a deposition, can be stressful. Generally, a witness only needs to answer the questions asked. However, it is rather common, especially in depositions, for witnesses to be asked questions they can’t answer.

Fortunately, there are three magic words that witnesses can use: “I don’t recall.” However, the catch is that your failure to recall must be truthful. Though, like most legal matters, a person’s recollection can be a nuanced thing that hinges upon semantics. If you think you don’t know something, saying you don’t recall is often preferable, as people frequently find that they know things without even being aware of having the knowledge.

While endemic sexual violence on college campus has justifiably garnered headlines over the past few years, a series of investigative reports from the Associated Press has revealed a shocking amount of sexual assaults in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide. The AP found around 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students in just a four-year period.

And the number of actual assaults could be even higher.

Unfortunately, when faced with the real life question of what you’re going to do when they come for you, you could end up facing additional charges for resisting arrest if you aren’t as cooperative and docile as a baby calf on tranquilizers.

When being arrested, individuals need to be cautious about what they do, as even minor aggressions and accidents can result in resisting arrest charges. 

The Animal Legal Defense Fund defines animal neglect as "the failure to provide basic care required for an animal to thrive." But what do state and federal laws have to say on the matter? Just about every state has animal cruelty statutes, but do those also cover cases of intentional or unintentional neglect? Does simply chaining a dog for long periods of time constitute neglect?

Here's a look at what might constitute animal neglect under the law.

In 2014, Wisconsin resident Tammy Loertscher went to a doctor looking for a pregnancy test, along with treatment for depression and a thyroid problem. But when blood tests found both a baby and drugs in Loerthscher's system, the results were reported to law enforcement and she was ordered to undergo mandatory inpatient drug treatment. Loertscher refused the treatment, and was promptly taken to jail where she did a total stint 18 days, 36 hours of which were spent in solitary confinement. She was finally released when she agreed to submit to urinalysis throughout the duration of her pregnancy

Just one of thousands of pregnant women investigated under Wisconsin's so-called "cocaine mom" statute, Loertscher sued. And a federal judge agreed with her, blocking the state from enforcing the statute.

If you've ever watched any of the countless popular legal television dramas with an attorney, you've likely heard all about how awfully sensationalized the law is portrayed on television. Whether it's misused legal concepts, or the failure to utilize a realistic (likely plot/attention crushing) timelines, people all too frequently confuse concepts from TV law for the real thing.

One of the more commonly misused legal concepts involves character evidence. The idea that a person's history can always be used against them in a court of law is misguided. Unless a person's past actions are relevant to the conduct in question in court, or to their credibility as a witness, generally, evidence of a person's character will only be of limited importance.

Nanakuli, Oahu beachgoers called police after a man appeared to be getting too close to a monk seal lying on the shore. The man, Jamie Kalani Rice, claims he was praying and chanting next to the seal. Honolulu Police Officer Ming Wang responded to the scene, and while the words exchanged between the two are unintelligible, video of the incident shows Rice walking away from the seal and retrieving his belongings as Wang follows and proceeds to pepper spray Rice and beat him to the ground with a baton.

Rice sued Wang and the HPD, and received a $30,000 settlement last week.

As the law seems to be changing in favor of marijuana legalization and decriminalization, many people often wonder where marijuana edibles, like pot brownies, or pot cookies, fall in regard to legality. In many states, the penalties for having or eating marijuana edibles can be much more severe than one might expect.

For instance, in states like Texas, possession of a single pot cookie could result in worse penalties than being found with up to a quarter pound of marijuana. This is due to the fact that marijuana edibles are frequently made using concentrates, like hash oil, the possession of which in Texas is deemed a felony, regardless of how little is possessed.