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cyberbullying

Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online?

Since the assimilation of social media into everyday life became nearly unavoidable, lawmakers have been working to strengthen the laws prohibiting cyberbullying, cybercrime, and online threats. Potentially in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that reversed the conviction of a man who posted his own original rap lyrics about his fantasy of killing his wife on social media, state's around the country continue to embrace new laws that create for a safer, less hostile online environment. The Supreme Court's stance on online threats seems to land more in favor of characterizing even the most despicable speech as protected under the first amendment. Despite the Supreme Court's stance that the online harasser's intent matters, states can still regulate and prosecute people they believe have made credible online threats. Context Matters When it comes to evaluating whether an online threat is illegal or not, the context is highly relevant. If the threat is clearly made in a way that makes it appear to be a joke, satirical, or sarcastic, then it probably won't be considered a threat. However, if the language appears to be serious, then it must be looked at more closely to determine whether it is legal or not. Also, context changes with the times. When a recent school shooting is still fresh in the news, making a joke about it, while you may think it's just in poor taste, could very well be viewed by others as a threat, and that can get you arrested. What Makes an Online Threat Illegal? While some states don't have specific laws about online threats, all have laws against making criminal threats and bullying. Determining which online threats are illegal requires looking at the individual characteristics of each threat. If an online threat would rise to the same level as an in-person, or telephonic, criminal threat, then the online threat will likely be considered illegal. Usual considerations include: Who the threat is directed to? What is being threatened? Who is making the threat? Is the threat credible? What did the speaker really mean or intend? If the threat is directed at a specific person, with a specific threat of harm, from an easily identifiable source, and appears credible, it is likely the threat will be considered illegal. When the threat does not target an easily identifiable person or group, or does not specify a type of harm, or is just terminally vague (i.e. "Chicago Cubs fans are going to get it"), this is not likely to rise to the level of a criminal threat. However, as the 2014 Supreme Court decision advised, a speaker's intent can make all the difference in determining whether a post is considered a threat or protected expression. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Is Cyberbullying? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Top 7 Internet Crime Questions (FindLaw's Blotter) Specific State Laws Against Bullying (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Facebook Password Lawsuit: School Settles for $70K

A Minnesota school has agreed to fork over $70,000 for demanding a sixth-grader reveal her Facebook password. Riley Stratton, now 15, painfully remembers when Minnewaska school officials cornered her over a Facebook post and threatened her with suspension, reports the Star Tribune. The confrontation ended with Stratton relinquishing her password, but thanks to the ACLU's intervention, its ultimate end was the school cutting a check. What were the legal reasons behind the school's Facebook password settlement? Right to Students' Facebook Passwords? According to an ACLU press release, the American Civil Liberties Union branch in Minnesota filed a lawsuit on Stratton's behalf in 2012 claiming that a number of her civil rights had been violated by the school demanding access to her Facebook account. The suit centered on the treatment of Stratton for conduct via Facebook performed outside of school, some of which was alleged to have been of "a sexual nature," reports the Star Tribune. Employers have been treading a legal line in asking for employees' Facebook passwords, but with the threat of cyberbullying, it seems all the more important in schools. Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt told the Star Tribune that the school just wanted "to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental." Wallace Hilke, the ACLU attorney for Stratton's case, believes that "[k]ids' use of social media is the family's business" -- not the school's. Stratton's school didn't admit any liability in the settlement, but there will be some changes in its Facebook policies. Settlement Order Promises Change Under the terms of the settlement, the Strattons agreed to drop their claims, as long as the school makes some changes regarding how it handles social media incidents. Minnewaska schools have agreed to: Require students to give up their passwords or account info to school administrators only when there is "reasonable suspicion" they will uncover a violation of school rules; Amend the student handbook to note that students are free to withhold consent to search backpacks or other items, including their Facebook accounts, without the threat of additional discipline; and Train faculty and staff on the policy changes. These changes may be a bit late for Stratton, but they may prevent other students from feeling unduly harassed by school officials about their Facebook passwords. Related Resources: ACLU wins settlement over student's Facebook post (The Associated Press) Can Schools Monitor Students on Social Media? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Asking for Passwords? You May Be Asking for Trouble (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) Daughter's Facebook 'SUCK IT' Post Nixes Dad's $80K Settlement (FindLaw's Decided)
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After a Truck Accident, 5 Questions to Ask a Lawyer

After you're involved in a truck accident, choosing the right lawyer to handle your case is important. So what questions should you ask a truck accident attorney to make sure he or she is the right one for you? Truck accident injuries and fatalities are on the rise, according to the latest government data. But unlike "regular" car crashes, pursuing a truck accident lawsuit often requires particular knowledge in areas such as vehicle codes, individual and employer liability issues, and how to deal with the trucking company's lawyers and insurance agents. There are many factors to consider in a truck accident case, so here are five questions you may want to ask your prospective lawyer: Where are you licensed to practice law? In order to legally practice law in the state where your truck accident occurred, attorneys must be licensed by that state's bar association. So be sure to find an attorney who's licensed in the state where you live in or the state where the accident occurred. Keep in mind that national law firms will often have local attorneys who can help. What are your legal fees? Depending on the complexity of your case, attorneys will either charge a contingency fee, a flat fee, or an hourly rate. Contingency fees are based on a percentage of the amount awarded in the case, so if you don't win, the lawyer doesn't collect the fee -- but you'll still have to pay some expenses. Flat fees are usually offered in more simple cases, while hourly fees will accrue as the case goes on. You should find an attorney whose fees work with your budget and expectations. Have you handled truck accident cases before? Finding an attorney who's experienced in dealing with truck accident claims is essential because these claims often involve multiple parties including the truck driver and the trucking company. Truck accident cases can also require a lot of technical evidence such as truck maintenance reports, training records, and employment handbooks. So make sure your attorney knows the ins and outs of successfully litigating a truck accident case. Is a truck accident lawsuit worth the effort? One question to ask a truck accident attorney is you even have a case that's worth pursuing. For example, in states that have pure contributory negligence laws, injured parties may not be able to collect any damages even if they're found to be just 1 percent at fault. So if you live in one of those states and may have contributed to the accident (for example, by following the truck too closely), you may have a hard time winning your case. Your lawyer will be able to help you analyze your situation from both a legal and a practical standpoint. What documents should I bring to my initial consultation? You should bring all documents relevant to your accident to your initial consultation. This may include medical records, pictures of the damage, and any details you may have collected from other drivers and witnesses at the scene. If you're ready to meet with an attorney to discuss your potential truck accident case, head over to FindLaw's Truck Accident Lawyer Directory to connect with one today. Related Resources: Top 10 States for Fatal Truck Crashes (FindLaw's Injured) Interviewing a Lawyer (FindLaw) Truck Accidents: 3 Potential Ways to Sue (FindLaw's Injured) Dump Truck Hits, Kills Mom Putting Kid in Van (FindLaw's Injured)
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Joran Van Der Sloot’s U.S. Extradition Set for 2038

Joran van der Sloot is set to be extradited to the United States to stand trial for a crime he allegedly commited in the wake of Natalee Holloway's disappearance. But his extradition won't happen until 2038. Van der Sloot, the main suspect in Holloway's disappearance in Aruba in 2005, will first have to complete his 28-year prison sentence in Peru for killing a 21-year-old woman there in 2010, The Associated Press reports. What's waiting for van der Sloot in 24 years? Extradition for Alleged Extortion, Fraud Van der Sloot was indicted in federal court in Alabama on allegations that he "extorted and defrauded" the mother of Natalee Holloway -- an 18-year-old Alabama girl who went missing in Aruba and whose body has never been found. Extortion, also more commonly known as blackmail, occurs when a defendant extracts money or property from a victim by threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation, or unfavorable government action. But in van der Sloot's case, he allegedly accepted $25,000 in cash from the Holloways, promising to lead them to their daughter's body -- just before he was arrested for murder in Peru. The Peruvian courts initially approved van der Sloot's extradition to the United States in order to face prosecution for these charges, but Peru's highest court determined that he must serve his sentence for murder first. Van der Sloot confessed to murdering Stephany Flores, 21, a Peruvian student, and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Van der Sloot has been in custody since 2010 for Flores' murder, so with credit for time served, his 28-year sentence should be completed by 2038. Why Not Extradite Now? Extradition works based on the diplomatic and treaty relations between two nations. There are several countries which have traditionally refused to extradite criminals to the United States, but many of them generally aren't friendly with the United States. Peru isn't one of those countries, and actually has an extradition treaty with the United States. The AP reported in 2012 that Peru's Supreme Court wanted van der Sloot to serve out his sentence before facing justice in the States. Without further diplomatic pressure from U.S. officials, it appears that Joran van der Sloot won't be on trial for allegedly extorting the Holloways for another two decades. Related Resources: Peru agrees to extradite van der Sloot to U.S. ... in 26 years (CNN) Joran van der Sloot's Extradition to US Not a Done Deal (FindLaw's Blotter) Will Amanda Knox Be Extradited? Lawyers Disagree (FindLaw's Blotter) Brit Extradited Over TV Linking Website (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Facebook Posts New Rules for Gun Sales

Facebook is cracking down on posts for illegal gun sales, and other social media outlets may soon follow suit. On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it would step up its enforcement efforts regarding gun sales on its social network -- especially when the seller is trying to evade the law. What are Facebook's new rules for gun sales? Stopping 'No Background Check' Gun Sales Facebook's head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, laid out several "educational and enforcement efforts" that Facebook and Instagram would be implementing as part of a shift in policy. Among those efforts is a prohibition against posting offers to sell firearms with "no background check required." Although there are some loopholes that allow private sales of guns without a background check, Bickert stated that Facebook will encourage users to follow the law. Since there are no laws requiring background checks in these "loophole" private gun sales in most states -- more than 30 states to be exact, according to Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence -- Facebook may be requiring more of sellers than their states' laws might. Facebook will also be cracking down on offers that support gun sales across state lines. These federal regulations on interstate gun transfers won out over challenges in federal court in February, and Facebook seems happy to side with them. Not Just Guns, 'Regulated' Items Covered Too Although Facebook's new rules are aimed at curtailing questionable gun sales, the new rules technically cover private sales of any "regulated items." Surprisingly, some drug dealers have taken to social media to sell their illegal wares, and Facebook and Instagram have been popular venues. Despite the sale of pot being illegal (outside of a state-licensed retail center or medical marijuana distributor) in every state in the nation, Facebook's ad policy doesn't allow advertising for any "recreational" or illegal drugs. While that may sound provincial to some, Facebook is a private company and can determine what types of content it chooses to host. When Facebook tackled hate speech last spring, it faced claims of First Amendment and free speech violations, and no doubt gun advocates will not be far behind. Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said he was not deterred by Facebook's new rules. Cox noted the NRA and its members "will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms," reports Reuters. Related Resources: Facebook to delete posts for illegal gun sales (The Associated Press) NY Passes 1st New Gun Laws Since Sandy Hook (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Is It Legal to Mail Marijuana? (FindLaw's Blotter) Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs Online? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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$7M Shoplifting Spree: Ill. Family Arrested

A family from the suburbs of Chicago has been arrested and charged with operating a $7 million shoplifting ring over the last decade. Branko Bogdanov, 58, along with his wife Lela, 52, and daughter Julia, 34, ran a system of stealing baby toys, baby supplies, and household items from retail stores and selling them on eBay, Reuters reports. So what's in store for the family of alleged bandits? Shoplifting Spree Allegedly Spans Several States The trio from Northbrook, Illinois, allegedly stole items such as American Girl dolls, Furby toys, Lego blocks, baby monitors, and steak knives from a variety of retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Dillard's, and Toys"R"Us over the last decade, Reuters reports. The family's $7.1 million shoplifting spree spanned several states including Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Lela Bogdanov allegedly stuffed items up a long black skirt that was outfitted with a lining capable of holding multiple objects, while her husband and daughter would serve as a diversion. The family members, with the help from an outside person who acted as a fence, sold the items through merchant accounts on eBay, prosecutors allege. Bogdanovs Get Busted The Bogdanovs allegedly raked in a staggering $4.2 million over the last 10 years, but law enforcement finally caught up to them. The three were arrested this week at their upscale, five-bedroom $1.4 million home. Authorities seized the alleged smoking gun: the black dress. The family of accused bandits was charged with interstate transportation of stolen property. You can be charged with that crime when you enter into commerce goods worth $5,000 or more that you know were stolen. Because it appears the Bogdanovs knew the goods were stolen and sold them on eBay (albeit through someone else), the odds of them getting convicted under this statute are pretty strong. If convicted, the trio could potentially be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 10 years. The fence -- described as a person over 70 with no criminal convictions -- admitted to having purchased at least $6 million worth of merchandise over the last decade from "Franko Kalath," an alleged alias for Branko Bogdanov, the Chicago Tribune reports. While news reports don't indicate if the fence is facing charges, that person could potentially be in trouble for receiving and selling stolen goods worth $5,000 or more. Related Resources: Feds seek to detain family accused of running shoplifting ring (Chicago Tribune) Woman Jailed on 22-Year-Old Shoplifting Warrant (FindLaw's Blotter) 3 Ways to Challenge a Shoplifting Charge (FindLaw's Blotter) What to Expect if You're Accused of Shoplifting (FindLaw's Blotter)
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5 Common Legal Problems With Subleasing

Subleasing might be a good option if you need to move before your lease is up, but a few legal problems can potentially arise. Subleasing, or subletting, allows the current tenant to lease the property to another person, rather than having the subtenant lease directly with the landlord. But as the original tenant, you need to be careful. Here are five legal problems that commonly occur in subleasing situations: Subletting may be illegal where you live. Before you think about subletting, you may want to check to see if it's even legal to sublet in your city or state. Some states don't allow subleases under certain conditions. For example, it's illegal in New York to rent out a single-family home, apartment, or room for less than 30 days if you aren't living there. Your lease may not allow it. Besides complying with the law, another legal problem when subleasing is whether your rental agreement allows it. Some rental agreements include a clause that limits the renter's ability to sublet or allow guests to stay for an extended period of time without the landlord's approval. So review your agreement or talk to your landlord before you sublet, otherwise you could be breaching your lease. The subtenant doesn't pay rent. Even though the subtenant is responsible for paying rent and complying with lease terms, the original tenant still ultimately responsible for the terms of the lease. So if the subtenant doesn't pay the rent, the landlord could sue you for payment. The subtenant destroys property. Just as the original tenant is still responsible for the rent if the subtenant doesn't pay, the original tenant will likely be held liabile if the subtenant damages the rental property and doesn't fix it. Security deposit issues. You may want to ask the subtenant to pay a security deposit for the property in case they don't show up or if they damage the property. Having a bad subtenant could cause you to lose your own security deposit with the landlord, so the security deposit from the subtenant could help ensure you get your deposit back from the landlord at the end of the lease. Need more legal help with subleasing your place? Consult an experienced landlord-tenant attorney for a better understanding of your legal rights. Related Resources: Legal How-To: Subletting Your Apartment (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Top 5 Airbnb Home-Rental Horror Stories (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Co-Signing a Lease? 5 Legal Considerations (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Find all of your Landlord/Tenant needs at LegalStreet (LegalStreet.com)(Disclosure: LegalStreet and FindLaw.com are owned by the same company.)
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Flushable Wipes Lawsuit Seeks Class-Action Status

The makers of Cottonelle and Costco-brand "flushable" wipes are facing a federal lawsuit that seeks class-action status. Dr. Joseph Kurtz, a New York dentist, is spearheading the flushable wipes lawsuit effort, claiming the wipes caused major plumbing and clogging issues in his home, ABC News reports. But what's the whole class action stink about? Flushable Wipes Lawsuit Kurtz claims the makers of Cottonelle and Costco-brand wipes should have known that the wipes' "flushable" claims were false and misleading, ABC News reports. In the suit, Kurtz claims consumers across the country have suffered clogged pipes, flooding, jammed sewers and issues with septic tanks due to the use of flushable wipes. The suit claims to represent 100 people who've faced those problems. But before Kurtz's lawsuit becomes a class action, there must be a hearing on class certification. Class Action Status A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. The flushable wipes lawsuit asserts that people across the country have faced the same or similar plumbing problems after flushing the wipes. If a court agrees, then it will issue an order that defines the class and appoints a class counsel to lead litigation efforts. However, the defendants -- in this case, the flushable wipe manufacturers -- can try to argue that the alleged class should not be certified. People often seek justice in class action lawsuits when their injuries have been caused by defective products. This case involves a marketing defect claim that the wipes don't degrade as advertised. It's possible many of the individuals' economic injuries (namely, plumbing and repair costs) were relatively minor. For them, pursuing a solo lawsuit would not have been worth the time and money of litigation. But as a class action, their claims can be thrown into the same pot, adding up to an alleged $5 million in damages. Suing as a class also cuts down on each class member's time and expense because the class consolidates the attorneys and court costs and the group files with a representative plaintiff, called a "named plaintiff" or "lead plaintiff." In this case, Dr. Kurtz hopes to be the named plaintiff. In response to the flushable wipes lawsuit, a spokesman for Kimberly Clark, the maker of Cottonelle, told ABC News that "extensive testing" has proven its product is flushable. A reprsentative for Costco declined to comment. Related Resources: Man sues moistened-wipes makers over plumbing bills; defendant stands by product's 'flushability' (ABA Journal) How Much Is Your Personal Injury Case Worth? (FindLaw's Injured) Class Action Suits: To Join or Opt Out? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Browse Class Actions Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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D.C. Council Passes Pot Decriminalization Bill

The D.C. Council voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use on Tuesday, leaving the mayor to sign the bill into law. If approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, the pot bill will have to weather a congressional review period before going into effect. But according to Washington's WRC-TV, Congress has "rarely used" its powers to veto D.C. laws. But with legal pot possession on the line, the odds seem hardly relevant. Status of Marijuana in D.C. The bill approved by the D.C. Council on Tuesday would make the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil fine or infraction. Like a traffic ticket, under the new bill, the punishment for possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use would be a $25 fine. This is in stark contrast to the current law, under which pot possessors can spend up to a year in jail and be fined up to $1,000 for personal possession of marijuana under an ounce. Sale and possession for sale of any amount are still illegal under both D.C. and federal law -- even if this bill becomes law. Both Philadelphia and California have made similar decriminalization efforts in the last four years. In fact, the AP reports that 17 states have effected some form of marijuana decriminalization. Congressional Review The District of Columbia has the authority to pass laws to govern itself (granted by Congress) under the Home Rule Act of 1973. The D.C. Council and mayor can pass and enact laws much like a state legislature and governor, but U.S. Congress retains the power to veto. If this pot decriminalization bill is signed by Mayor Gray, it must then be sent to Congress -- which would then have 60 days to veto the bill. This period is 60 Congressional days, which is often closer to three calendar months. In 2007, opponents of this waiting period discussed a Congressional bill to do away it, noting that Congress has only used its power to change D.C. laws three times out of 4,000, The Washington Post reported. Meantime, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign has called on Mayor Gray to halt arrests for possession during the 60-day period in which Congress is set to consider the new law. Those interested in the proposed law's impact on past, present, or future marijuana charges in Washington, D.C., will want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Washington, D.C., city council passes pot decriminalization vote (Reuters) Recreational Marijuana Laws OK'd in CO, WA (FindLaw's Blotter) As WA's Pot Law Takes Effect, What's Next? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) WA, CO Marijuana Laws: Will DOJ Really Back Off? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Can Lead to Arrest

Laser pointers can be fun, useful gadgets, but pointing them at helicopters can land you in handcuffs. Laser pointer pranksters may think these helicopter hijinks are funny, but state and federal law enforcement aren't laughing. Multiple Arrests for Laser-Pointing Helicopters In recent months, laser pointer pranksters from coast to coast have been arrested for incidents involving laser pointers and helicopters. Here are just a few examples: In California, 19-year-old Jenny Gutierrez of San Bernardino County was arrested Thursday for allegedly shining her green laser pointer at a sheriff's helicopter -- which then followed the car she was riding in and relayed her location to deputies on the ground. If Gutierrez is convicted, she could face up to five years in federal prison, Los Angeles' KCBS-TV reports. In Ohio, 46-year-old Nicholas Vecchiarelli of Hubbard is currently under court order to "stay away from lasers" after allegedly pointing one at a TV news helicopter in October, reports Youngstown's WFMJ-TV. In Nevada, a man with a prior record of aiming lasers at police helicopters in Phoenix is accused of doing the same with Las Vegas police copters. James Zipf, 30, of Henderson, is now facing six federal felony counts, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. In Oklahoma, 42-year-old Carl Don Floyd of Tulsa has been charged in federal court with allegedly shining a green laser at a Tulsa police copter, striking the tactical flight officer in the eyes, reports the Tulsa World. And in Texas, San Antonio's WOAI-TV reports that Don Ray Dorsett, 28, of El Paso, was charged in federal court with pointing a laser a helicopter owned by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Each of these laser-pointer offenders may have particular state or local dimensions to their cases, but they've all allegedly run afoul of federal law. Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Is a Federal Offense For those who didn't get the memo in February, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are cracking down on laser pointing when it involves aircraft. While this strict enforcement effort is somewhat new, the federal law against pointing lasers at aircraft has been on the books since 2012. Federal law prohibits knowingly pointing the beam of a laser at an aircraft or "at the flight path of such an aircraft." ("Aircraft" is defined by federal law as "a civil, military, or public contrivance invented, used, or designated to navigate, fly, or travel in the air" -- which includes helicopters.) Violators can face up to five years in federal prison. Accidentally flashing a helicopter while using a laser pointer for stargazing isn't prohibited. But if you're worried about your potential criminal liability for laser-pointing, or if you've been charged with such a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney today. Related Resources: Laser pointer damages eye of air ambulance medic (Dallas' WFAA-TV) Are Laser Pointers Illegal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Clark Gable's Grandson Gets 10 Days in Jail for Laser Pointing (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) FAA: Laser Strikes on Airplanes a Growing Issue (FindLaw's Blotter)
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