FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

Recently in Legal Mischief Category

Halloween Night Has Most Vandalism of the Year

To get ready for Halloween this year, perhaps put more emphasis on protecting yourself than getting the best mix of candy for trick or treaters. Property crimes increase by around 24 percent on Halloween, according to one study. Of this, 19% is vandalism and malicious mischief, 21% is off-premises theft, and 60% is theft from the home. What can you do to protect yourself from vandalism? Plenty, according to the insurance industry.

For those trick-or-treaters in bigger neighborhoods or looking to cover more ground this Halloween, hopping on a bicycle rather than going door-to-door on foot might be a good plan. But is that plan a possibility if your costume includes a mask? Sure there are some general sartorial rules about what not to wear while cycling, but are there local laws against biking behind a mask?

Here's a look into that questions, as well as some other legal pointers regarding Halloween costumes this year.

As often happens as storms approach and residents and business owners evacuate, the signs get posted: "Looters Will Be Shot." Most people just chuckle, a few people get worried about armed vigilantes, and a few others think, "they'll get what they deserve." And while the First Amendment may protect your right to free speech (be careful -- threatening to kill someone can get you into trouble), do you actually have the legal right to shoot someone for looting?

Here's a look:

Sheriff's deputies and police officers have long been a presence in schools, in case things get out of hand. Recently, school administrators and resource officers have taken things a bit further, conducting so-called "scared straight" programs under which misbehaving students are exposed to jails or prisons as an effort to convince them to change their ways.

Beyond being ineffective and often backfiring, such tactics can be illegal or unconstitutional. Such was the case when a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy arrested seven middle school girls for being uncooperative during a bullying investigation to "prove a point" and "make (them) mature a lot faster."

It's Now Legal to Open-Carry a Sword in Texas

The Uber's here? Hold on, let me grab my machete.

As of September 1, 2017, it is legal to carry a knife with a blade longer than 5.5 inches in many places in Texas. Though there are exceptions carved out, Texans are now allowed to openly carry Jim Bowie knives, Rambo knives, daggers, swords, and yes, even machetes. It's curious for those folks with an open carry license for guns: how will they decide which to bring? After all, a person only has so many pockets and a man-purse isn't exactly Texas-chic. And it's never wise to bring a knife to a gun fight. It's always OK to lug around a shotgun in Texas. So what's the need for this knife law, or lack thereof?

What's the Penalty for a Parent Giving Drugs to Kids?

It may seem harmless at first. Your kid wants a sip of your margarita. Then a few years later, wants a beer at a barbecue. Later, he wants a 40-ouncer for his own personal consumption at a high school party. What about opening up your stash of marijuana to him, even in a state where adult consumption is legal? It's tempting to give in. Maybe you want to be "the cool parent." Maybe you are worried he'd obtain it illegally anyway? Is this legal? And if not, what sort of penalty might a parent face?

Even if you're not a criminal defense attorney, watching a couple episodes of "Law and Order" will probably introduce you to the concept of police and prosecutors going after "small fish" in order to get the "big fish," criminally speaking. This process involves lower level suspects or defendants exchanging testimony against higher level targets for lighter sentences or immunity.

The practice of flipping has become especially prominent in the investigation headed Robert Mueller looking into possible collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump presidential campaign. In fact, in the wake of news that Trump longtime lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen would be cooperating with federal prosecutors, the president decried the practice of witness flipping, claimed it encourages criminal defendants to unfairly "make up stories," and asserted that "it almost ought to be illegal."

Flipping may have its issues, but should it be outlawed?

What's the Penalty for Vandalism of School Property?

Vandalizing school property can take many forms and many names. Sometimes called "malicious mischief," "criminal mischief," or "property damage," vandalism can range from tagging the sides of buildings and bathroom stalls, to smashing windows on school buses and classrooms.

Vandals may see it as a form of entertainment or gang status, but it can be a serious crime. Depending on the state in which the offense was committed, and the value of the property damage, the act can be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with penalties ranging from fines to prison time, or both.

Last month, we told you about Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano, who, along with two other officers, was charged with framing an innocent teenager in order to keep their clearance rate for burglaries at 100 percent. This month's story of Florida cop frame-ups involves an officer in the same department, allegedly acting at the direction of Atesiano.

Guillermo Ravelo pleaded guilty last week to charges that he falsely accused two black men of crimes: one with a pair of home break-ins in 2013, and the other with five vehicle burglaries in 2014. Atesiano had once boasted clearing 29 of 30 burglary cases during his tenure as chief. At least 11 of those were based on false arrest reports.

The Fourth Amendment applies a pretty fuzzy standard to constitutional police conduct, protecting people from "unreasonable searches and seizures." Over the last 200 or so years, courts have attempted to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable searches, trying to provide rules that balance police and public safety with a person's privacy interests. And one of those battleground areas in recent years has been so-called stop-and-frisk policies and public pat-downs.

Police are allowed to stop people if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed, and can conduct a reasonable search for weapons or contraband. But there are some instances that go too far. And accusations that an officer "reached immediately between [a person's] legs, grabbed his scrotum, felt around with his hand, and stuck his thumb in [the person's] anus" would certainly qualify as one of those times.