FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

July 2017 Archives

By now you should be pretty familiar with the penalties for texting while driving. Almost every state has distracted driving laws that penalize drivers for being on their smartphones while behind the wheel. And we see these laws as necessary for keeping other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians safe.

But what about those who are glued to their phones while walking, like zombies, oblivious to fellow pedestrians and cars alike? Well, Honolulu has a law for them, too. Hawaii's capital city just enacted a "Distracted Walking Law," and it covers a whole lot more than just texting while crossing the street.

A new report from the Idaho State Police paints a pretty bleak picture of the state's efforts to prosecute rape: just four percent of reported rapes in Idaho result in the accused being convicted of a sex crime. Only 24 percent of reported sex offenses statewide resulted in an arrest (compared to 50 percent of alleged other violent crimes), and rape charges were the most likely to be amended or modified to lesser offenses.

How do the Gem State's numbers compare to nationwide rape prosecution statistics? And what are the obstacles between rape reports and sex crime convictions?

When we normally think of drunk driving arrests, we get images of cars swerving on the highway, DUI checkpoints, or, worse, accidents. These are all instances out on the public's highways and byways where we expect police to be patrolling and where the danger to other drivers can be serious.

Some of us think that if you can make it home before getting pulled over, you can avoid a DUI. Or that you can't be charged with drunk driving if you never left your own property. But that might not be the case. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that prosecutors can proceed with DUI charges against a man found intoxicated behind the wheel in his own driveway.

Eight people were found dead in the back of a tractor trailer parked at a San Antonio Walmart last weekend, and two more died after being hospitalized. Now the driver of the truck is being charged with illegally transporting immigrants, a crime that, due to the fatalities involved, could earn him a life sentence or even the death penalty.

Almost 40 other passengers had to be treated for heat-related illnesses or injury at local hospitals after approximately 12 hours in the un-air conditioned, unventilated trailer.

A judge out of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an order to the state's prisons to cool down the institutions to 88 degrees. Quoting the great Russian social fiction author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Judge Keith Ellison explained: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Entering a Texas prison, especially during the Summer, might not be much different than entering a sauna. Temperatures, in the areas that do not have air conditioning, regularly soar over 100 degrees. For the inmates that have to suffer through the sweltering heat, the available relief is insufficient. To fight the department that has, for decades, refused to get the inmates out of the heat, a lawsuit had to be filed.

We all know our mobile devices can affect our attention spans, but what about our sobriety? Well, a new law in Washington State plans to treat cell phones as an intoxicating substance, banning the use of any electronic device while driving, even if you're stopped at a traffic light.

Referred to as a DUI-E, offenders can be nailed with a $136 fine for a first offense, and $234 for any subsequent offenses within five years. Here's a look at the latest effort to crack down on distracted driving.

The Department of Justice called it "one of the most advanced crimeware tools available in the underground market," malware that infected almost 11 million computers worldwide and caused over $500 million in losses. And its creator was just sentenced to five years in prison.

The "banking trojan" software, dubbed Citadel, targeted password managers and financial institutions, and Mark Vartanyan is the second Russian to be sentenced to prison over its use.

The Department of Justice just reinstated their policy to assist local law enforcement in civil asset seizures. What does this mean? Well, it means that law enforcement will now have more incentive to just take your stuff, even your home and cold hard cash, if they suspect any of it was purchased with illegally-earned money.

Civil asset forfeiture is real, and incredibly frightening. If police suspect your property is involved in a crime, or is the proceeds of a crime, then law enforcement can seize it. What makes this so controversial is that your property can be taken without even criminal charges being filed. The property owner is forced to go through an administrative process, and potentially even a court filing, in order to get their property returned. Fortunately, the Supreme Court recently limited the government's authority to seize assets, but their ruling may not provide much relief at all.

5 Common Camping Crimes

Summer often means a return to nature. Leaving our 9-to-5 routine behind, even for a few days, can be healthy and invigorating, but it's worth remembering that an escape from the city doesn't necessarily mean escaping criminal laws and the consequences for breaking them.

So as you're packing up your tents and trail shoes, here are five of the most common camping crimes and how to avoid spoiling your summer vacation:

In a hearing last April, Arkansas Department of Correction Deputy Director Rory Griffin admitted he deliberately avoided a paper trail when he ordered vecuronium bromide -- one of three drugs in the state's lethal injection cocktail -- from McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. That could be because he knew McKesson didn't want the drug used for executions.

While Griffin says he didn't keep the text messages he exchanged with McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins, Jenkins did, and he testified that Griffin never told him the drug would be used for lethal injections. McKesson is suing Arkansas to block the state from using the drug in future executions, and the state is now appealing a judge's ruling to allow the lawsuit to go forward.

In these modern times of planes, trains, and automobiles, crossing the border has never been easier. The U.S. border is crossed millions of times per year. However, the alarming new trend of customs and border agents demanding to search the contents of travelers' smartphones, has left many concerned about their privacy rights.

While the courts have ruled that border agents do not need a warrant to search a traveler's phone, there have been limits placed on the extent of the search. Another such limit was formally announced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, when it explained that only locally stored data, and not cloud data, is subject to search at the border.

After the fatal shooting of Quintec Locke by a Chicago police officer on July 1, his sister, Tamara Locke, filed a lawsuit to find out what went wrong. The complaint alleges that officers failed to follow proper procedure, and that the fatal shooting of Quintec was unnecessary.

While there has not been an official response to the lawsuit yet, police did report that a handgun and an assault rifle were recovered from the scene. Whether those belonged to Quintec, and whether the victim ever fired the weapon at all is currently unknown.

Technically, if you film police while they are performing their duties out in public, an officer could potentially be justified in taking your cell phone. However, that would be limited to situations where either you were personally being arrested for a crime, or where your video captured another person's crime. Fortunately, courts have consistently ruled that recording police performing their duties in public is completely legal, so long as you don't get in their way.

When investigating a crime, at the time of arrest, and immediately after an arrest, officers can seize evidence found at the scene. If your cell phone contains a video of an individual committing a crime, that video, and your cell phone, could very well be evidence. Barring these limited scenarios, and often in these scenarios, an officer cannot legally take your phone. Unfortunately, refusing to comply can be dangerous and result in arrest.

In six major airports across the country, a futuristic security feature is being rolled out for international travelers courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security: biometric face scanning. Simply put, this security feature digitally scans a person's face and can compare the live scan to official pictures, such as a passport photo, to ensure individuals are who they say they are.

Fortunately, the biometric face scan doesn't require you to do anything different. There's no dark hole you have to stick your face into or anything like that. The biometric scanner works pretty much like a camera. It captures an image of your face, but then uses special software to analyze your facial features, such as cheekbone height or pupillary distance, and compares your real life face to the photo for your official government identification. It can also check your scan against state and federal databases.

For criminal defendants found not guilty in California, the law just changed to make public defenders services free of charge. So long as a person is not convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, a court cannot order that individual to reimburse the public defender's office.

Before the change, a person who utilized the services of a public defender could be ordered to pay for those services regardless of the outcome. The old law required many low income, homeless, and other disadvantaged individuals to pay for a public defender even if they were falsely arrested.

Whether or not you can drive with a BB gun in your car will vary from state to state. For the most part, weapons of all types can be transported in a vehicle within a state, subject to certain state law restrictions. Usually, and according to gun safety experts, all firearms should be transported while unloaded and locked in a trunk or an out-of-reach lockbox. Transporting a firearm across state lines can often be a trickier matter.

When it comes to lower powered guns, like BB, pellet, paintball, and airsoft, some states don't even recognize them as firearms. That means they can be transported in the cabin of a car without a legal problem. However, a few states treat these exactly the same way as traditional firearms. Basically, if you are going to own a BB gun, or other non-traditional gun, you need to read up on your state's gun control laws.

Claims for excessive force can be brought by individuals who have been found guilty, and even those who have accepted plea deals. Just because a person commits a crime, their civil rights do not get thrown out the window. However, most civil rights attorneys will explain that a conviction will make an excessive force case much more difficult.

Keep in mind that even individuals who are incarcerated can win excessive force cases. Excessive force claims don't look at whether a crime was actually committed, but rather look at whether the use, and amount, of force was reasonable. If an arrestee is not resisting, nor posing any threat, there should not be any force used.

Unless you are installing keylogging software on your own computer, or as part of a legitimate business operation, there's a good chance you could face some serious criminal penalties. While there are some legitimate uses for keyloggers, most frequently, these are used by hackers to steal personal information, such as usernames and passwords, bank and financial information, or any other information that can be sold or used to extract money from a victim.

Keyloggers can be either software or hardware, and are used to record individual keystrokes on a keyboard. When keylogging software is installed, a hacker will be able to see everything that gets typed, and can use the data to figure out a person's most sensitive information.

Children are precious. There's no doubt about that. However, even the most precious children are capable of committing the most heinous crimes. And while parents may be willing to do nearly anything to protect their children, police do not necessarily have to allow parents to be present during an interrogation. The best thing a parent can do for a child facing a police investigation or criminal charges is hire a qualified juvenile justice attorney.

In fact, when conducting certain investigations, such as those involving abuse, or neglect, by a parent, officers may need to question a child privately to avoid parental coercion. While parents can tell their child to refuse to speak with police investigating a crime, refusing investigators from Child Protective Services might result in some serious consequences.

A judge in Florida ruled that the state's updated self-defense law, still known as the stand your ground law, violates individuals' constitutional rights. Surprisingly, it's not due to the principles behind the law, but rather the judicial procedures required by the update.

However, unlike the powers vested with a federal district court judge to block laws from being enforced state- or nation-wide, as recently seen in the travel ban cases, the Florida state court judge's ruling is not binding on other courts. That means that in a courtroom right next door, another judge could continue to enforce the updated stand your ground law.