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What Counts as Criminal Mischief?

Although many criminal charges are very specific, others, such as criminal mischief, can encompass a wide variety of criminal behavior. Criminal mischief generally includes what is commonly known as vandalism, dealing mainly with crimes committed against property such as defacing someone's building with graffiti or breaking the windows of a business. Although vandalism may be included under state criminal statutes forbidding "criminal damage" or "malicious trespass," in many states, vandalism may be charged as criminal mischief. What typically counts as criminal mischief? Here are a few examples of criminal mischief laws in different states: Texas. Under the Texas Penal Code, criminal mischief includes knowingly damaging or destroying another person's property or tampering with the property of a person if that tampering causes loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or another individual. Texas' criminal mischief statute also forbids intentionally or knowingly making markings "including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings" on another person's property. In Texas, criminal mischief is a felony if it causes a loss of more than $1,500 or involves fencing used for livestock or game animals. Alabama. Under Alabama law, criminal mischief is considered intentionally inflicting damage to property, when you have no right (or reasonable grounds to believe that you have a right) to do so. Criminal mischief is a felony in Alabama if the damages exceed $2,500 or are inflicted by means of an explosion. Otherwise, criminal mischief is either a Class A or Class B misdemeanor. New York. New York also charges criminal mischief as a felony when a person intentionally damages another person's property (without right or reasonable grounds to believe he has a right) in an amount exceeding $1,500 or by means of an explosion. Misdemeanor criminal mischief in New York includes a number of different acts such as breaking into a locked vehicle to steal property or intentionally participating in the destruction of an abandoned building. If you've been charged with criminal mischief or another crime, a criminal defense attorney can explain your legal options and represent you in court. You can learn more about criminal charges, criminal court procedure, and your constitutional rights at FindLaw's section on Criminal Law. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw) Man Bulldozes Home Without Telling Wife; Gets Arrested (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Doughnut Vandalism Leaves Ore. Town Glazed and Confused (FindLaw's Legal Grounds) Woman Arrested for Vandalizing Florida Satanic Display (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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What’s the Difference Between Support Animals, Service Animals?

You may think that "support animals" are just another name from "service animals," but there's a fine legal distinction. A recent federal court decision put a fine point on the difference in a man's legal battle with a Florida homeowner's association. His HOA's "no pet" policy couldn't be applied to the man's service animal because service animals are not pets -- especially when they are trained to address a condition like PTSD. So when is an animal a "service animal" and when is it a "support animal"? ADA Definition of 'Service Animal' The legal foundation for allowing animals where pets aren't normally allowed is via accommodation for persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers accommodation for disabled persons in employment, transportation, and in government, with similar statutes covering housing and public accommodations. The U.S. Department of Justice has clarified its position on when ADA protections apply to animals or whether they are just pets. According to its guidance, "service animals" are: Only dogs Which are individually trained to do work or perform tasks For a person with a disability. Not every impairment is considered a disability under the ADA, but if it is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a person from participating in "major life activities," it probably qualifies. This includes psychological impairments like PTSD. Dogs or other animals which are not trained to do work or perform tasks for persons with these disabilities are essentially just pets. Support Animals Certainly it would be hard to deny that many untrained animals can give enormous support to those in pain. But these "support animals," regardless of their calming effects on their owners, are not necessarily ADA-compliant "service animals." Ask an Oklahoma woman who decided to get a "therapy kangaroo" -- not a service animal under the ADA. Since the ADA provides no rights or protections for animals outside the service animal mold, extra protections for "support" animals may be left to states, cities, or even individual businesses. Airlines have been somewhat looser in allowing support animals of all shapes and sizes onboard, much to the frustration of some passengers and crew. A cottage industry has also sprung up around service or support animal vests and tags, none of which are regulated by the ADA and many of which are misleading. But here's the bottom line: Service dogs are not pets, they work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Related Resources: Blind Man's Dog Blamed for Flight Cancellation (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) School to Pay $10K for Denying Disabled Student's Service Dog (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal to Ban a Customer's Service Animal? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) Can My Dog be a Service Animal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Legal How-To: Getting Back Pay That’s Owed to You

If your employer has violated federal or state employment laws, you may be owed back pay. Back pay is typically the remedy for wage or hour violations, making up the difference between what an employee was actually paid and what he or she should have been paid. How can you get your hands on back pay that may be owed to you? Here are a few general considerations: Fair Labor Standards Act Violations One common source of back pay awards are violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA sets federal rules for working conditions and generally also set the minimum standard for states' own employment guidelines. According to the Department of Labor, back pay can be recovered for violations of the FLSA by way of Wage and Hour Division enforcement, a lawsuit, an injunction brought by the Secretary of Labor, or a private lawsuit. In one recent example, the social networking company LinkedIn agreed pay almost $6 million in back pay and damages to employees to 359 employees who were allegedly denied overtime pay in violation of FLSA. In that case, the company agreed to a settlement after an investigation by the Department of Labor discovered the violations. Workers who have a complaint about possible wage and hour violations can submit confidential reports to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division by phone or online. State Law Claims Back pay may also be awarded for violations of state employment laws, which like federal employment law, may typically be enforced by filing a complaint with state labor authorities or pursuing a private lawsuit. Case in point: a cheerleader for the NFL's Oakland Raiders who filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging violations of California's minimum wage law and a California employment law that requires workers be paid at least twice a month. The lawsuit claimed that cheerleaders were paid less than $5 an hour for work they were contractually obligated to perform in addition to their game-day duties --such as appearances and photo shoots -- and weren't paid at all until after the season was over. If successful, the disgruntled Raiderette could recover damages including both penalties and back pay for the difference between her wage and California's minimum wage as well as any unpaid overtime she was obligated to work. Need More Help? If you believe that you are entitled to back pay, an employment attorney can help ensure that you get everything you're owed. 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: Who Has the Highest Minimum Wage? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Second Raiderette Joins Wage and Hour Lawsuit (FindLaw's California Case Law Blog) Walmart Sued by Temporary Workers for Wage and Hour Violations (FindLaw's Courtside) Chickie's & Pete's Settlements: $8.5M for Wage, Tip Violations (FindLaw's Decided)
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La.’s Gay Marriage Ban Upheld by Federal Judge

Louisiana's gay marriage ban has been upheld in a federal court, bucking a year-long trend of federal rulings against same-sex marriage bans. In Robicheaux v. Caldwell, U.S. District Court Judge Martin L. C. Feldman ruled Wednesday that Louisiana's prohibition on gay marriage did not violate same-sex couples' constitutional rights because the law implicates no fundamental rights and has a rational basis. As noted by The Huffington Post, Judge Feldman is the first federal judge to uphold a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Windsor in 2013. Why did Louisiana's gay marriage ban get upheld when so many others have been struck down? Judge Finds Rational Basis for Ban Although the result may be surprising, Judge Feldman is not the first judge to apply rational basis review to state gay marriage laws. This lowest level of constitutional scrutiny only asks that the challenged law have a rational basis -- meaning a rational link between a legitimate interest and the law. Unlike other levels of judicial scrutiny, the burden is on those challenging the law to prove that it lacks any rational basis in order for it to be found unconstitutional. Other federal courts have used this low level of scrutiny but with opposite effect, finding that a state's law barring gays from marrying lacked any rational basis. However, this trend has been based on these courts rejecting arguments which had been successful in court one decade prior: that opposite-sex couples are better at child-rearing. And while a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently gave a public tongue-lashing to those who espouse those views, it was crucial in this Louisiana decision. Judge Feldman wrote, "This Court is persuaded that Louisiana has a legitimate interest... whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others... in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents." Although this kind of social rationale has often been dismissed as crockery since California's Prop 8 case, there is no controlling federal ruling that prevents it from being accepted as a rational basis. Appeal to 5th Circuit This decision doesn't change much for Louisiana's same-sex couples, but it is still likely to be appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review. The 5th Circuit is also scheduled to review Texas' gay marriage decision, which struck down the law as unconstitutional in February. Related Resources: Federal judge upholds La. gay-marriage ban (The Associated Press) Utah's Gay Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional: Federal Judge (FindLaw's Decided) Tenn. Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban: Is 'Pro-Gay' Trend Over? (FindLaw's Decided) Oregon's Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down, Effective Immediately (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Is It Legal to Crop a Dog’s Ears?

For many pet owners, "cropping" or surgically snipping a dog's ears can be a big decision. Opponents of the practice argue that it's unnecessary and inhumane, but is cropping a dog's ears illegal? No Nationwide Ban on Cropping Unlike many other countries, the U.S. government has not passed any law regulating the practice of cropping a dog's ears. Most laws regulating the treatment of animals as pets (i.e., not as livestock or research subjects) are left to the states. Notably, ear cropping is illegal in some parts of Canada, and all of Australia, New Zealand, and in Scandinavian countries, according to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Despite the international disagreement over the practice, both the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs encourage and may even require cropping for show dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not support claims that cropping ears serves to prevent medical issues in dogs, and the practice seems mostly to be for aesthetic purposes in certain pedigree breeds. State Laws on Cropping While a handful of U.S. states do have rules about ear cropping, there are no states that have an outright ban. So while it may be legal to crop your dog's ears anywhere in the United States, you may need to follow a specific procedure. The AVMA reports that there are only eight states where cropping has been regulated. Here are a few examples of those states' laws: Pennsylvania. In 2009, Pennsylvania passed a law making it evidence of animal cruelty for persons other than vets to crop a dog's ears. This law requires dogs to be anesthetized during a cropping procedure. Washington state. Cropping is exempted from animal cruelty laws as long as it's in line with "accepted husbandry practices." Since the American Kennel Club requires cropping for many breeds to show, cropping may be legal if performed by licensed breeders for certain pedigrees in addition to vets. Massachusetts. Non-vets who crop dogs' ears can be slapped with a $250 fine. Even if your state is not among those that have specifically regulated cropping, it is highly recommended to take your dog to a vet for the procedure. The AVMA reports that like any incision, cropping increases the chances for infection. Bottom line: Going to a vet for cropping can reduce your dog's risk of infection and give you the option of anesthesia -- which may be required in a handful of states. Related Resources: Ear-Cropping and Tail-Docking (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Dog Tattoos Controversial, but Are They Legal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Cat Piercing for Goth Look is Animal Cruelty (FindLaw's Blotter) 5 Animals You Can't Keep as Pets (With Some Exceptions) (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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Are There Defenses to Criminal Trespassing?

You can be charged with criminal trespassing when you enter someone else's land or use someone else's chattel without permission or authorization. Police officers, sheriffs, and even park rangers typically enforce criminal trespass law. But there are a few situations in which trespassing charges may be dropped against a defendant. Here are a few common defenses to trespassing: Consent. If the alleged trespasser obtained consent to enter the property or use the chattel, then the trespass was legal. Consent can be given through words, actions, or written permission (for example, a license). The property owner's silence or inaction may also count, if a reasonable person would have spoken up. But the consent isn't valid if you obtained it through fraud (namely, by tricking or coercing the owner). You also can't get valid consent from children, people who aren't legally competent, and folks who are intoxicated. Reclaiming your own property. Under certain circumstances, you're allowed to trespass if you're in the process of recovering property or chattel that rightfully belongs to you. The initial deprivation of your property must either have been the property/chattel owner's fault or an "act of God" such as a storm or wind. Public necessity. A complete defense exists when you have to commit a trespass in order to protect the public during an emergency. There must be an immediate necessity for the trespass and you must have trespassed in genuine good faith that it was to protect public safety. You lose the protection of this complete defense when your trespass becomes unreasonable under the circumstances. Private necessity. Although not a complete defense, private necessity lets you trespass if it's to protect someone (including yourself) from death or serious bodily injury or to protect any land or chattel from serious destruction or injury (if they're animals). Though not guilty of trespass in a private necessity situation, you could still be held civilly liable for any damages that you cause during your trespass -- for example, damage to a property owner's fence if you swerved onto his property to avoid a crash. If you've been charged with trespassing, you'll want to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer to explore any defenses that may apply to your situation. Related Resources: Is It Ever Legal to Shoot Trespassers? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Is it Ever Legal to Loot? (FindLaw's Blotter) Can Sneaking Into Movies Get You Arrested? (FindLaw's Blotter) 10 States With the Highest Rates of Property Crime (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Top 9 Legal Tips for Your Oscars Party

The Oscars are a great excuse to get your friends together and throw a fabulous party. But social hosts will want to take a few precautions to avoid potential legal drama. We know you're probably busy with party preps, so here are nine legal tips to make sure your Oscars party doesn't involve any unexpected legal plot twists. And the "Best Legal Tips for an Oscars Party" are...: Make sure your Oscars pool is lawful. You should be in the clear if your state allows social gambling. When it comes to Oscars pools at work, you may still want to double-check with your employee handbook or HR department to make sure it won't get you fired. Is that apple cider or champagne, young lady? Teens love the glamour of the Academy Awards as much as adults, and may want to sip their beverages out of classy glass flutes like the stars. However, make sure they're drinking apple cider, not champagne, because if the teens or their friends get drunk, parents can potentially pay the price. Keep the adults in check, too. Many states hold social hosts who serve alcohol responsible for the drunken actions of their guests, regardless of whether or not the guests are old enough to drink. No one likes babysitting grownups, but perhaps hand your friends water instead of vodka if they're getting rowdy. Consider confiscating the keys. And speaking of keeping adults in check, if you have a feeling some guests may have a problem controlling their booze, here's a party tip: Collect their car keys as they come in and call cabs at the end of the night. This could help them avoid a DUI. Provide a hazard-free environment. When hosting an Oscars party, be sure to survey the premises for blatant hazards that could hurt guests, because homeowners can be held responsible for injuries that occur on their property. Be prepared for party crashers. Uninvited guests are so not chic. If they show up and refuse to leave, try to avoid a physical confrontation. You may even want to call the cops to get the trespasser removed from your property. Practice safe food-handling techniques. If you aren't careful when preparing appetizers for your guests and one of them gets food poisoning, a personal injury lawsuit could potentially be served on you. Avoid tagging your friends in embarrassing photos. Even if your friend is only mimicking the drug bender scenes in "The Wolf of Wall Street," you may want to resist the urge to post pics online because it's possible not everyone will understand that it's a joke. Keep the noise down. It's fine to cheer if your Oscar nominee wins, but avoid throwing an over-the-top celebration that could annoy your neighbors. Loud party animals can get cited by the cops. An Academy Awards party is usually good, harmless fun, but mix it with too much booze and you could win the prize for "Most Negligent Host at an Oscars Party." If anything goes wrong, don't panic -- finding legal help for your particular issue is just a click away. Related Resources: Oscars: How we ended up with 9 best picture noms (The Associated Press) 2014 Oscars: 7 Legal Issues Depicted in 'Best Picture' Nominees (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) 'Wolf of Wall Street' Lawsuit: Lawyer Wants $25M for Defamation (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) 31 'Dallas Buyers Club' Torrent Downloaders Sued for Piracy (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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Is It Legal to Drive With Pets in Your Lap?

Happy "Love Your Pet" Day! To mark this special occasion, pet lovers and annoyed drivers alike may be wondering: Is it legal to drive with pets in your lap? The answer depends on your state's traffic laws. At least one state has an explicit statute that prohibits you from holding your pet while driving; in other states, drivers with animals in their laps can potentially be ticketed under distracted driving laws, according to USA Today. Bottom line: Those with furry passengers on their person could be in for a bumpy ride. Here's what you need to know about driving with pets in your lap: Driving With Pets Can Be Distracting At least one state -- Hawaii -- makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while holding an animal in your lap (or even allowing an animal to be "in the driver's immediate area") if it interferes with the driver's ability to control the car. New Jersey offers a slightly different example. Police in the Garden State can stop drivers who are improperly transporting animals, which can include dogs sitting in a driver's lap, according to the state's Motor Vehicle Commission. If caught, drivers could face up to $1,000 in fines, and can even be charged with animal cruelty if the offense is particularly bad. In other states with general distracted driving laws, officers may still be able to ticket you for holding a pet on your lap if it affects your driving. Distracted driving can include any activity that prevents you from driving safely -- even eating while driving can suffice. Because the definition of distracted driving is so vague, cops may be able to pull you over if cuddling your kitty is causing you to swerve all over the road. For example, Connecticut's general distracted driving law allows drivers to be charged for driving with pets in their laps, according to the state's Office of Legislative Research. Protecting Pets as Passengers Not only can it be illegal to drive with pets in your lap in certain situations, but it can also be very dangerous for Fido and friends. Think about it: You wouldn't let a child sit in the car without a seat belt because they could go flying if there's an accident. The same applies to pets. Animals can act like "flying missiles" in an impact and can get severely injured -- or even hurt your other (human) passengers, according to USA Today. So if your pet is in the car, consider purchasing a restraint. For example, there are dog harnesses which can fit around a dog's body and clip into a seat belt buckle. Securing your pets when you're on the road not only keeps them safe, but can potentially prevent you from getting a ticket. If you're still wondering if it's legal to drive in your state with a pet on your lap -- or if you've been cited for driving with pets and want to fight your ticket -- check with an experienced traffic law attorney in your area for more guidance. Related Resources: N.J., Other States Turn Focus to Pets in Fight Against Distracted Driving (ABC News) Traveling With Pets? 5 Laws You Should Know (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Illegal to Drive Barefoot?(FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Google Glass Wearer Ticketed for Distracted Driving (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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