FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2017 Archives

California voters suffered a setback in the fight to make the state safer from gun violence. The ban on high capacity magazines, approved last year by a majority of voters, has been blocked by a federal judge pending the outcome of the case.

The new law, which was slated to take effect this weekend, would have required owners of high capacity magazines to risk fines and criminal penalties just for possessing the ammunition magazines that fit 10 or more bullets. Since 2000, California law has prohibited purchasing or selling these type of magazines. This lawsuit was filed in San Diego by the California arm of the National Rifle Association.

Getting away from the daily grind, dropping the regular routine, and just getting in some rest and relaxation is not just fantastic, it's necessary. However, just because you're on vacation, that doesn't mean the law doesn't apply. Get loose, get wild, but don't forget, crime has consequences and can end a vacation.

When you're travelling to a different state, or city, or even a national park a few miles from home, it can be helpful to know if there are any major differences in the law. After all, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. Though some of the wackier laws can just be ignored.

As if Millennials needed another reason to move to Colorado, reports are flowing in that the third highest state has just legalized texting while driving. However, before your thumbs start flying across your touchscreens while behind the wheel, like legal pot, there are a few hazy caveats drivers need to know.

First off, texting while actually driving is not legal in Colorado. The new law will allow drivers to text so long as they don't do it in a "careless and imprudent manner." Lawmakers noted that this includes anytime the vehicle is actually moving. Additionally, if a person is caught texting in a "careless or imprudent manner," they will be facing a much harsher penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court has firmly established that the Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to own guns, and at least possess those guns inside their homes with few exceptions. But what about taking a gun outside the home?

Whether a person can legally walk outside their home with a gun is a different issue entirely, and one that states can regulate more easily. At least, that's what SCOTUS seems to be saying by refusing to hear the appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision, in Peruta v. County of San Diego. The Ninth Circuit upheld California's "good cause" requirement and explained that "the Second Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public."

If you've watched just about any mob movie in the last 30 years or so, you've heard the phrase "witness protection program." It either involves a former gangster going in (like the end of Goodfellas) or comically navigating his new life (like My Blue Heaven). There are all kinds of conditions like changing names and moving to the suburbs, and always the risk of whomever the gangster is testifying against hunting them down.

But how does witness protection actually work? Here's a look.

Parents do their best to keep their kids out of trouble. Sadly, the best isn't always good enough. For a multitude of reasons, children can turn to rebellious, illegal activities during their teenage years, even going so far as to join gangs.

If those gangs are engaged in criminal activity, parents should rightly be concerned, not only for their teens' criminal liability but for their own. Here's what you need to know.

Drug addiction can be tragic, and can take a personal toll on addicts and their families. And when the addiction spills over into the criminal realm, it can impact their communities as well. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost a quarter of prisoners incarcerated on property and drug crimes say they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs.

Here are some of the most common crimes drug addicts commit, aside from the general, addiction-funding property crimes:

When it comes to the criminal justice system, most people accept the fact that a plea bargain is the only guaranteed way to avoid more serious consequences. Despite a person's innocence, accepting a deal is often the most expedient, and certainly the most certain, end to a scary situation. Trials are uncertain, and being found guilty at trial generally involves lengthier or harsher sentencing.

However, how good a plea bargain will be often depends on who's negotiating on a defendant's behalf. While some deals may be too good to pass up, others can have grave consequences that impact every facet of a person's life.

Getting sentenced to probation, or getting paroled, can be quite the relief for individuals convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, for some probationers and parolees, their assigned probation officer, or parole officer, can often make life miserable.

While probation officers are supposed to stick to just the court ordered monitoring, horror stories of corruption abound. Whether it's a probationer being coerced into sex, or a parolee being bribed to avoid a false report of a parole violation, the formerly incarcerated often don't know who to turn to for help, or what proof they need to show.

When Lester Packingham, Jr. pleaded guilty in 2002 to taking indecent liberties with a child following a sexual relationship he had with a 13-year-old girl while he was 21, social media didn't exist. Facebook wouldn't go online for another two years, and a North Carolina ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing any "commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages" wouldn't be enacted for another six.

Still, Packingham was convicted of violating that statute in 2010, when he took to Facebook to say that "God is Good!" after having a traffic ticket dismissed. Packingham challenged his conviction on First Amendment grounds and the Supreme Court agreed, ruling state laws banning registered sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook are unconstitutional.

After a criminal conviction, or being released from custody, a person usually must 'walk on thin ice' for a varied length of time. That's usually due to being on probation or parole.

Sadly, when probationers and parolees violate the terms of their parole or probation, they can end up facing time in custody. Probation, or parole, officers are tasked with regularly meeting with individuals and reporting violations to the courts. As such, individuals often wonder whether they can record their meetings with a parole or probation officer, as they would with a police officer conducting a traffic stop.

Every year, people in federal and state parks end up in cuffs because they didn't realize that park rangers, or park police, are real law enforcement officers. Park rangers, park police, and even game wardens and other officials, not only have the authority to arrest you themselves, but they can also refer your matter to local law enforcement as well.

However, it is important to note a distinction between official officers and security guards. Particularly during the peak times of camping season, or at private camp grounds, some parks may hire private security guards to help out. Security guards should be easily distinguishable from real officers, and, like the ones found on college campuses, may still have more authority than one might expect. Security guards are often authorized to detain a person until real officers arrive.

Nearly every local news station is always ready, willing, and able to help law enforcement locate a "person of interest" for a criminal investigation. After all, crime reporting, particularly unsolved mysteries, makes for good television and even better ratings. But what is a "person of interest" anyway?

The phrase is intentionally vague, but the common understanding is that it refers to a suspected criminal, especially when it is used in the context of a criminal investigation. Sometimes, the phrase can refer to a witness to a crime that has gone missing and needs to be located, but even then, individuals tend to associate the phrase with suspected criminals.

A Massachusetts judge found 18-year-old Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her friend, Conrad Roy III. Roy committed suicide in July 14, in part, as the court ruled, because of Carter's text messages encouraging him to kill himself.

The verdict stunned some legal experts and the case raised some thorny issues regarding criminal liability for suicide, free speech, and technology.

Going off to college can often be an overwhelming and scary experience for many young adults. For most freshman, it will be their first time living on their own, and often, college students spend a vast majority of their time on campus.

College students are likely to see, and maybe even have encounters with, campus police. After all, the institutions have a duty to keep their students safe, and providing actual police officers or, minimally, security guards is usually necessary to do so. Fortunately, when campus police encounters happen, it is good to know that, for the most part, a student's constitutional rights remain intact.

Below, you'll find the top three frequently asked legal questions college students have when it comes to dealing with campus police.

The police have a duty to investigate crime. However, individual are not legally required to participate in police questioning. A person can simply say "no", though police may be able to continue questioning until an affirmative request for a lawyer is made. A person not only has the right to remain silent, but can also request the presence of their lawyer during any questioning, even if they are not under arrest or a suspect.

Generally, the only questions and information a person must answer involve identifying themselves to law enforcement, or providing documents during a traffic stop. Beyond that, the Fifth Amendment provides the basis for a person to refuse to answer any further questions. However, when it comes to testifying in court, the Fifth Amendment has some limits. Additionally, individuals should be careful not to confuse questions with commands or orders, which must usually be followed.

Prison labor is nothing new. Inmates have jobs inside and out, at best to provide some reprieve from the boredom of incarceration and a few dollars in the commissary account, and at worst to provide free or barely-compensated labor to prisons or communities. Inmates, infamously, have even worked in governors' mansions. Much of the justification for prison labor comes from the fact that inmates have been found guilty of a crime and have the option to support their housing and repay their debt to society.

But what about immigration inmates who've not been convicted of a crime? And what about forced or extorted labor for which the inmates are not compensated? And what if all that labor goes to a private prison rather than the public?

Dear diary,

Today I learned that you could one day stab me in the back.

There's no doubt that writing about your problems, like talking about them, is therapeutic. However, you may want to think about drawing the line when it comes to confessing crimes to your diary.

While you don't have to worry about your diary calling the police to report you, if you are arrested and your diary is discovered during a valid search, it can be used against you as evidence in court. Also, as one teen recently learned, if you live with roommates, or family, there's likely to be no Fourth Amendment protection against your privacy being invaded if one of them reads your diary and reports you to law enforcement.

For many gun owners, the reason for purchasing a firearm is to keep your family and property safe. And trespassing is against the law. Still, police are pretty adamant that citizens not take the law into their own hands.

So what happens if you have a gun and you have a trespasser on your property? Are you allowed to point your gun at that trespasser?

Maybe it's because they get great gas mileage. Maybe it's because they're easier to access. Or maybe it's just because they look cool and thieves just want to feel the wind in their face.

For whatever reason, motorcycle thefts rose in 2016, up 2 percent over 2015. And while some of the numbers from the National Insurance Crime Bureau's latest report on motorcycle crime has some predictable numbers, like California leading the country in bike thefts, it also has some unexpected stats as well. Here's a look.

It is no shock that minors will land in jail for using, possessing or selling drugs, or for stealing. After all, these are criminal offenses that are not unique to minors. However, when a minor is arrested for possessing or drinking alcohol, it's a little bit different, because adults cannot be arrested just for possessing or drinking alcohol. This distinction is what is known as a "status offense."

There are many crimes that only apply to juveniles because the crime requires that the offender be a minor. And while many of these criminal offenses may not seem severe, or may have light consequences, oftentimes children will suffer severe consequences just from being placed into the juvenile justice system.

Below are three non-violent juvenile offenses that can surprisingly result in kids being taken to juvenile jail.

Faith healing involves individuals praying to God to fix their actual medical ailments. Sometimes this prayer is led, or administered, by a faith healer. Surprisingly, there are whole religious sects that actually believe faith healing is possible. While this sort of thing seems alright for television, in the real world, it's actually dangerous. People, and often children, die or face serious medical complications as a result of following the advice of faith healers.

Faith healing is minimally a violation of civil laws and government regulations. When it comes to children, there's even more likelihood of criminality. However, depending on the harm caused, it could also lead to injuries, death, and serious criminal charges. Not only can a practitioner face legal consequences, but parents can as well. The most common issue is that faith healers and believers will refuse necessary medical care, not just for themselves, but for their children and even adult dependents.

Reality Leigh Winner, a Georgia-based government contractor, was arrested on Monday and charged with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet." Winner is believed to be the source of a document leaked to the Intercept which purported to demonstrate the Russian government's efforts to hack the 2016 presidential election.

Winner has been charged under the Espionage Act for transmitting NSA intelligence to the press, the first criminal leak prosecution under President Donald Trump.

For better or worse, the presumption of innocence rests in large part on appearances. And the appearance of a defendant in court, shackled "like a bear on a chain," can undermine that presumption. Therefore, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that lower courts may no longer routinely of shackle all pretrial detainees in the courtroom, even if there is no jury present.

Instead, courts will need to make assessments on a case-by-case basis as to whether a defendant must be shackled. So what will that analysis entail? And what will that mean for criminal defendants?

The fire at the Ghost Ship artist collective in Oakland, California during a dance party last December killed 36 individuals. While the families of victims have filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against the building owner, the collective's management, party promoter, and even the city, until this week no criminal charges had been filed.

That changed yesterday when the manager of the collective, Derick Alamena, along with his assistant, Max Harris, were arrested. Both will be charged on 36 counts each of involuntary manslaughter as a result of the fire last year. Although authorities did not indicate whether the owner of the warehouse would also be facing criminal charges, the investigation has concluded.

Animal abuse is a serious crime, and not just for pet owners and animal enthusiasts. According to the Washington Post, research demonstrates that animal abusers are more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes against people and the FBI recently bumped animal cruelty up to a Class A felony.

The Post also reports that the FBI is tracking cases of animal abuse much in the same way they track homicides, while jurisdictions from Florida to New York are creating registries for animal abusers much in the same way they have registries for sex offenders. And the registries can affect everyone from pet stores to pet sitters.

With opioid addiction reaching epidemic levels in the United States, lawmakers and law enforcers are beginning to realize the problem can't be addressed like most drug crimes. Standard fines and incarceration are no replacement for rehabilitation and treatment and cops, courts, and congresspeople are looking for better alternatives.

While many jurisdictions already have specialized drug courts in place, New York took it one step further last month, instituting the nation's first-ever opiate court designed steer offenders towards addiction treatment rather than criminal prosecution.

The California legislature is considering a new law that would allow prosecutors in the state to bring enhanced aiding and abetting, or even enhanced felony charges, when a felony crime is video recorded. That means that a person who video records a felony could also be held liable for assisting in the crime for making a video.

While the new law is not intended to dissuade innocent bystanders and eyewitnesses from making videos, there is a fear that it will be misunderstood as such. The law is intended to target individuals who agreed to film criminal acts, particularly the individuals that are seeking viral notoriety.

A Florida man has been sentenced to 180 days in jail for failing to give police a working passcode to his iPhone. A judge had issued a warrant to search the phone as part of a child abuse investigation, and when the passcode provided by the man didn't work, the judge held him in contempt.

The case highlights privacy interests and search and seizure rules in the age of mobile device storage and access to digital files and data, and why defendants might be better off forgetting their passwords than refusing to give them over.

Yesterday, the Federal Second Circuit Court in Manhattan, New York, issued their decision denying the appeal of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the infamous, anonymous digital black market, Silk Road. Ulbricht, who went by the web alias Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison for founding and operating what has been described as the eBay for illegal drugs and other illegal items. At this point, he will continue to serve his sentence unless a Supreme Court appeal is filed and successful.

Ulbricht was not alleged to have sold anything himself using the platform he created. However, creating and continuing to maintain the site led to an FBI investigation, Ulbricht's eventual arrest, and Silk Road being shut down. During the investigation, it was discovered that Ulbricht hired two contract killers to murder 5 individuals that threatened his business. However, he was not convicted on the murders as there was no evidence they were ever completed.

The escalation of promposals -- elaborately staged settings for asking a high school sweetheart to the biggest dance of the year -- went a few steps too far at Sandstone Peak in Southern California. The highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, and part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, was defaced with one word in white paint: "Prom?"

Park rangers say this is the second year in the row they've discovered the same graffiti on the red rocks near the peak, so it apparently bears repeating: vandalize a national park, go to jail.