(844) 815-9632

Monthly Archives: April 2014

White House Shooter Sentenced to 25 Years

The White House shooter was sentenced to 25 years in prison for weapons charges and for placing lives in jeopardy. Although Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 23, of Idaho Falls, Idaho was originally charged with attempting to assassinate the president, but the charges were reduced pursuant to a plea bargain, according to Reuters. Ortega-Hernandez's criminal charges are considered terrorism-related acts. Ortega-Hernandez's Defense Ortega-Hernandez fired shots at the White House back in 2011 because he was convinced that he was on a mission from God to assassinate President Obama. While it was speculated that the White House shooter would offer up an insanity defense, his attorney stated that at the time of the shooting, Ortega-Hernandez was under extreme depression and mental duress, according to Politico. Authorities state that Ortega-Hernandez believed President Obama was the "anti-Christ" and traveled to Washington, D.C. to kill him. However, Ortega-Hernandez's attorney said that his client was convinced that Armageddon was imminent and wanted to warn people about it. Perhaps evidence of Ortega-Hernandez's mental condition is what convinced a judge to give a slightly lighter sentence than the 27.5 years offered by prosecutors. Sentencing If Ortega-Hernandez had been charged with an attempted presidential assassination, he may have faced life in prison. However, the White House shooter pled guilty last year to weapons and terrorism charges. Under federal law, terrorism is defined as calculated actions seeking to influence or affect the conduct of government through intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. The federal criminal statute includes attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon -- like Ortega-Hernandez's White House shooting. At the same time, if a person willfully and maliciously destroys or injures a U.S. dwelling or places another person's life in jeopardy, that person may be imprisoned for 20 years. Some of the White House shooter's bullets struck the presidential abode -- a bullet was also lodged in a window on the south side of the White House, according to Politico. Secret Service officers were stationed outside the building at the time of the shooting and were also susceptible to being shot. Considering these facts and other factors about the defendant, the judge sentenced Ortega-Hernandez to 25 years in prison. Although the case may seem closed for the 23-year-old, Ortega-Hernandez still has the option to appeal the federal judge's sentence, according to Reuters. Related Resources: Idaho Man Who Fired at White House in 2011 Sentenced to 25 Years (Roll Call) Man's Call to Shoot Obama is Free Speech, Not a Crime (FindLaw's Decided) Ted Nugent Gets Secret Service Attention Over Obama Remarks (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Secret Service Do Anything Illegal in Colombia? (FindLaw's Blotter)
continue reading

Top 10 Tips for Distracted Driving Awareness Month

The National Safety Council has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the Council, thousands of people die each year in crashes caused by cell phone use while driving. But phone calls and text messages aren't the only distractions drivers should try to avoid while behind the wheel. Here are 10 tips and facts to keep in mind for Distracted Driving Awareness Month: New teen drivers are distracted more easily. Drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 make up only 6.4 percent of drivers on the road, but account for 11.4 percent of traffic fatalities. So parents, please teach your kids responsible driving habits. Every distracted second counts. Keep in mind that if you're looking down at your cell phone for only 4 seconds while driving, you could be driving the entire length of a football field without looking at the road. Eating while driving can be considered distracting. Although Distracted Driving Awareness Month focuses more on cell phone use, eating while driving can get you pulled over if cops think your snack time is taking your attention off the road. Cell phone records can be used in court. Think you can keep your cell phone use while driving a secret? Think again. Text-message and call records from cell-phone companies can be used in court to prove that you were distracted when the accident occurred. Texting and driving can lead to child endangerment charges. A California mom was arrested when she was caught texting and driving while she had her 1-year-old baby in her lap without any child restraints. Distracted driving can lead to public shaming. A local project in San Francisco called "TWIT Spotting" encourages bystanders to snap pictures of distracted drivers and turn them in. The photos are then posted on the "TWIT Spotting" website or placed on billboards in an effort to publicly shame the driver for his dangerous behavior. Texting crash videos will make you think twice. While they may be hard to watch, texting crash videos serve as a somber reminder of what can happen when you take your attention away from the road, even for a split second. Hands-free cell phone use can still be distracting. Although hands-free cell phone use while driving is generally legal in many places, it can still be a distraction for drivers who get wrapped up in their conversations and forget about the road. Use an app to curb your bad habits. There are smartphone apps out there that automatically shut off your messaging apps and temporarily stop incoming calls and text messages when you're driving. You could land in some deep doo-doo. Finally, there's a lesson to be learned from the driver who was texting while driving a rented convertible when he crashed into a truck hauling liquid manure. So don't be a doo-doo head and steer clear of all distractions while you're driving. Although Distracted Driving Awareness Month only lasts until the end of April, you should hang up all bad habits that lead to distracted driving year-round. To learn more about distracted driving laws and potential consequences, check out FindLaw's article on Distracted Driving. Related Resources: Cell Phone Crash Data (National Safety Council) Texting and Driving: 3 Ways to Prove It (FindLaw's Blotter) Texting a Driver May Make You Liable: N.J. Court (FindLaw's Injured) Driver's Google Glass Ticket Dismissed; Judge Sees No Proof (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
continue reading

Is ‘Just Kidding’ a Valid Legal Defense?

Can "just kidding" be an effective legal defense? As we observe the prankiest of "holidays," April Fools' Day, there will be more than one jokester who invokes "JK" as a defense. While "just kidding" may placate coworkers and friends in social situations, it may have mixed success in court. 'Just Kidding' = No Intent For example, many crimes require a specific mental state or intent in order to find a defendant (even a joking one) guilty. So it's possible you may be able to pull the following pranks but lack the necessary specific intent for a crime: Hiding or "stealing" things. It may be hilarious to take your co-worker's phone and encase it in Jell-O, but not if he or she calls the cops. Luckily for the prankster, theft requires an intent to permanently deprive the owner of his or her property, and unless you accidentally destroyed something during a joke, you probably lack that intent. Messing with food. There are already various YouTube videos describing how to transform mundane office foods into prank fodder -- like filling donuts with mayo. But you can potentially avoid poisoning charges (even if someone is allergic to your prank) as long as you didn't knowingly try to harm anyone. A fatal prank. If popping out from behind a fern while wearing a Richard Nixon mask causes your boss to have a heart attack and die, it's unlikely you would be charged with murder. You would lack the malice necessary since you were really "just kidding." "JK" isn't a perfect defense, though. Torts, Crimes Even When 'JK' Even if you're "just kidding," a prank can still get you jailed and/or sued in civil court. Many crimes and torts do not require a specific intent: Some only require a general desire to do something illegal or a willingness to act negligently. For example, any "Home Alone"-style pranks that scare or somehow touch your intended victim might be considered criminal assault and battery. These pranks can also create liability in civil court for battery or assault, as even unintended victims would have a case against the jokester. And even if you were "just kidding" when you hijacked your friend's Facebook or Twitter account to post humorous messages in their name, you could still be hauled in front of a judge to answer for alleged computer crimes. Legal defense fees are no joke, and it won't work to say "just kidding" to a judge or jury. So on this April Fools' Day, and on any other day for that matter, try to be careful with your pranks. Related Resources: Harmless Horseplay is not a Harassment Defense (Auto Dealer Monthly) Sarcastic Facebook Threat Lands Teen in Jail (FindLaw's Blotter) Use iPhone for Attempted Robbery? Robber Says He's Just Kidding (FindLaw's Technologist) Yes, Bad Twitter Jokes Can Get You Fired (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
continue reading

5 Legal Tips for Sexual Assault Victims

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an effort to educate the public about the crime, its consequences, and how to prevent it. Sexual assault occurs when a person forces you to participate in sexual contact without your consent. It can have devastating and long-lasting effects on a victim, but victims should try to remember that legal protections are in place to help them on their road to recovery. Here are five tips for sexual assault victims to keep in mind when seeking help from the legal system: Report your attack to the police. You are encouraged to report any sexual assault, rape, dating/partner violence, domestic violence, stalking and/or hate crimes. Authorities will investigate your complaint and help you move forward with criminal charges. That being said, filing a police report does not necessarily mean that you have to press criminal charges. You may need a restraining order. A restraining order is a court-ordered tool used to stop someone from engaging in threatening behavior. When you decide you want to request a restraining order, you should make a list of all of the threatening or intimidating behaviors you want to stop. Specific examples are important. Know your rights as a victim. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you have the right to make your own choices about how to respond to what has happened to you. Don't be afraid to tell your attorney how you want to approach your situation. What to do at trial. A trial can be an overwhelming experience and cause you to re-live memories of your assault. But there are certain steps you can take to ease the painful and emotionally exhausting process of coming face-to-face with your attacker. A lawyer may be a big help. Through direct legal services, a sexual assault attorney can not only help you in your case, but also help protect your mental health, medical, and education records. Your attorney can also help restore the necessities of your life -- housing, employment, education, public benefits, privacy, safety, and, in some cases, citizenship and immigration. To learn more about sex-related offenses, you may want to explore FindLaw's section on Sex Crimes. Related Resources: State Sexual Assault Laws (FindLaw) Military Sex-Assault Reform Bill Fails in Senate (FindLaw's Blotter) Ex-Teacher Andrea Cardosa Charged in Sex Abuse Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Man in Beer Pong League Charged With Sex Abuse (FindLaw's Blotter)
continue reading

Legal How-To: Omitting Relatives From Your Will

If you don't have the best relationship with some of your relatives, omitting those family members from your will is one option to consider. One example comes from late fashion designer L'Wren Scott. She left her entire estate to her boyfriend, Rolling Stone lead singer Mick Jagger. Noticeably absent from her will are her two siblings. So if you don't want your relatives to inherit your estate upon your death, here's a general overview of how to omit them from your will: 1. Make Your Intentions Clear. The first step to omitting relatives from your will is to simply make a valid will. This is important because if you die without a will, your state's intestate succession laws will govern who's in line to inherit from you. So make a will that clearly identifies who should inherit your property after you die. It's also wise to explicitly state that you're purposely omitting certain people from your will, to show your omission was not a mistake. For example, a clause that states, "I've intentionally omitted to provide herein for any of my heirs and relatives living at the time of my death" may be sufficient. 2. Revoke All Prior Wills. Suppose things were still great with your brother when you made your first will, but now family drama is driving you to want to disinherit him from your estate. You'll need to revoke or update that prior will. State laws govern how you can revoke a will, but for the most part, you can revoke a will by: Destroying the old will, Creating a new will, or Making changes to the existing will. However, if you're creating a new will, you must properly execute it and include language that states your intention to revoke all prior wills. 3. Understand Your State's Inheritance Laws. Depending on the inheritance laws in your state, even if you choose to omit your spouse from your will, he or she may still be able to claim an inheritance. The laws will vary if you're in a community property or separate property state. Similarly for children, state laws generally allow inheritance claims by those who were omitted from wills by accident and those who were born after a will went into effect. For other relatives like siblings, aunts, and uncles, it's unlikely that they'll have an inheritance claim under the law if you've explicitly written them out of your will. Need More Help? Again, laws about inheritance and omitting heirs from your will vary by state. To make sure your wishes are validly expressed in a will, consider hiring an experienced estate planning attorney for professional guidance. Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo. Related Resources: Should You Scrap Your Will and Start Over? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Top 5 Reasons to Update Your Will (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 5 Questions to Ask Your Estate Planning Lawyer (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Sign Up for Our Free Legal Planning Newsletter (FindLaw's Legal Heads-Up)
continue reading

If You’re Injured at the Gym, Can You Sue?

Injuries at the gym are fairly common. Whether it's pulling a muscle from doing too many reps or slipping in the locker because an overflowing shower made the floor wet, you may be wondering if your gym membership allows you to recover damages. So can you sue your gym if you're injured on the premises? Here are a few factors to consider before you file a lawsuit: What Does Your Liability Waiver Say? Most gyms require members to sign some type of liability waiver before joining. It's very possible that heavy lifting or exercise will lead to injuries, so gym owners are rightfully protecting themselves from lawsuits by enforcing liability waivers. However, depending on the type of liability waiver found in your contract, you may still be able to sue if you're injured at the gym. Some common liability waivers found in gym contracts include: A total waiver of liability. This means that the gym is free of all liability for any injury that occurs there. However, these types of agreements can be held unenforceable in court if they're overly broad. A waiver for negligence. This prevents gym members from suing for injuries caused by the gym or its employees' own negligence (i.e., accidents). These waivers are usually enforceable in court. A waiver of liability for intentional acts. In general, it's unconscionable or against public policy for courts to enforce waivers for intentional or reckless conduct that injures someone. So depending on the type of liability waiver that's found in your gym contract, you may be able to sue if you get injured at the gym. For example, if a gym owner knew that a weight machine was broken and could collapse if someone uses it, but doesn't warn members or fix it, then it could be considered reckless behavior that warrants a lawsuit. Potential Premises Liability Claims Like all other businesses, gym owners have a duty to ensure that the facility is reasonably safe for members and anyone conducting business there. Under premises liability laws, gym owners are responsible for inspecting the facility for defects and potential dangers. Even the gym employees or owner didn't know about a dangerous condition, they may be liable if a proper inspection would've revealed it. So if you're injured at the gym, check your membership contract and consult a personal injury attorney in your area about your potential legal claims. Related Resources: Does Your Gym's Liability Waiver Mean Squat? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can I Sue to Cancel My Gym Membership? (FindLaw's Injured) Top 3 Secrets of Gym Membership Contracts (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Is Tough Mudder's Death Waiver Legal? (FindLaw's Injured)
continue reading