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federal crime

Federal Criminal Prosecutions Fall to 20 Year Low

According to new research released by the PEW research center, federal criminal prosecutions are on the decline. The new numbers show that federal criminal prosecutions have been on a consistent decline since 2011, and have even fallen to a 20 year low. Much of this is credited to the visionary approach implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder to not prosecute every federal crime, but to focus on those where there is a substantial federal interest. Since 2011, there has been an approximate 25 percent reduction in new federal criminal cases. Federal prosecutors have gone from charging over 100,000 new cases a year, to charging about 77,000. The most common type of federal crimes that get prosecuted involve drug charges. Despite the recent trend among states to legalize marijuana, there are many other types of illegal drugs, and federal drug charges still account for the majority of federal prosecutions. However, over the past 5 years, there has been nearly a 25 percent reduction in drug prosecutions alone. Federal Crimes Prosecuted Less Most criminal prosecutions are handled by state and local prosecutors. However, when an individual violates federal criminal laws, such as those related to drugs, guns, or financial crimes, federal prosecutors can bring criminal charges in the federal court system. Also, deportation cases are also considered to be federal criminal prosecutions. Although violent crimes make up only a very small percentage of federal criminal prosecutions, that does not mean violent criminals get a pass. Typically, violent crimes are prosecuted by the states. According to the PEW research center, over half of all state prisoners have been sentenced due to violent crimes, compared to less than 10% of federal inmates. The only area where federal prosecutions were noted to have increased involved a small increase in prosecutions for gun and violent crimes. Looking Forward Although the newly appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is taking a strong stance and wants to increase federal criminal prosecutions for drug and gun crimes, he will have to do so with a shrinking budget as the DOJ is one of the many agencies that has impending budget cuts. Related Resources: Daylight Savings Time Could Reduce Crime Rates (FindLaw Blotter) 10 States With the Highest Rates of Violent Crime (FindLaw Blotter) Gang Membership Up, Violent Crime Rate Down (FindLaw Blotter) What Is a Special Prosecutor? How Does It Relate to Recusal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Are There Limits to Presidential Pardons?

President Obama commuted prison sentences for 46 drug offenders on Monday, noting that their long sentences (lifelong in 14 cases) didn't fit their crimes. The commutations reflect a trend at federal, state, and local levels of relaxing harsh minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. These commutations also reflect Mr. Obama's view of America, which he called "a nation of second chances." As The New York Times pointed out, this brings the President's commutation total to 89, the most by any president since Lyndon Johnson, and more than the last four presidents combined. So what are the differences between commutations and pardons, and what are the limits to the presidential pardon? Commutations vs. Pardons A commutation is a form of clemency whereby an official lessens an offender's punishment after he or she has been convicted. Whereas a pardon removes the conviction and any civil disabilities that come from it (like restricted voting rights), a commutation just removes the remaining sentence. So while these 46 drug offenders will be released from prison, their criminal convictions will remain on their records. This is compared to the pardon that new President Gerald Ford gave to former President Richard Nixon regarding the Watergate scandal, which was a "full, free, and absolute" pardon, precluding any potential criminal trial and conviction. The Pardoning Power The power to pardon comes from Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the president "Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States." While the Supreme Court has interpreted the power broadly -- "It extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment" -- it is limited to those offenses falling under the jurisdiction of the pardoning official. Therefore, Mr. Obama has the authority to issue pardons for federal crimes. There are no statutory or judicial limits on the number of pardons or commutations a president can grant. (Lyndon Johnson commuted 226 sentences.) And while some commutations are often reserved for political allies, these 46 seem representative of larger criminal justice reforms. Related Resources: Pardons Aren't Just for Turkeys (FindLaw Blotter) Obama Commutes Sentences in 8 Crack Cocaine Cases (FindLaw Blotter) Obama Pardons Humans, Not Turkeys (FindLaw Blotter) Post-Conviction Proceedings (FindLaw)
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National Park Drug Laws

We go to national parks to commune with nature, but if your communion includes more than sacramental wafers and wine, you may want to leave it at home. Park rangers are cracking down on drugs in national parks, especially Yosemite National Park, whose visitors are four times as likely to be arrested for drug possession. Party in the Park The majority of the drug busts are for marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and ecstasy, and occur in Yosemite's crowded Valley area, where the majority of the park's three million visitors camp within seven square miles. Many believe that this high concentration of visitors into a relatively small area accounts for Yosemite's abnormally high drug arrest rate. Arrests for drug possession far outstrip those for other crimes in Yosemite, whereas disorderly conduct, liquor violations are the most common in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, respectively. In fact, drug arrests in Yosemite accounted for almost a quarter of all arrests made in national parks nationwide from 2010 to 2012. Party Like a Park Star While some states may be relaxing their drug possession laws, and a few have legalized recreational marijuana possession and use, possession of any controlled substance remains illegal under federal law. As national parks, Yosemite and others fall under federal jurisdiction, and federal law trumps state law if there is a conflict. And, under federal law, a National Park System officer doesn't even need a warrant to arrest someone if the officer "has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing" a federal crime. The best policy when visiting a national park is probably to leave the drugs at home (provided of, course, that you're allowed to have them there). It's far better (and safer) to get high on El Capitan than El Cannabis. If you find yourself facing criminal charges because a park ranger found some drugs in your camping bag, you'll probably want to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney near you. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Drug Busts Going Up in Yosemite (NBC Bay Area) Buzzkills: 3 Places You Can't Picnic With Beer (Law and Daily Life) Vandalize a National Park, Go to Jail (FindLaw Blotter)
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Fleeing From Justice: What Can Happen?

Fleeing from justice is an overall bad idea. Not only will you be considered a fugitive, but there are no legal benefits for trying to escape criminal prosecution. Of course, that hasn't stopped criminals from trying to hide from law enforcement. But even some of the most notorious fugitives like mob boss Whitey Bulger eventually get caught. Same with lesser-known folks who try to get away with things like being a deadbeat parent. So while each situation is different, here are a few examples of what can happen to criminals who try to flee from justice: The statute of limitations for the crime won't apply. For federal crimes, the statute of limitations for the crime committed doesn't run out just because the criminal is on the run. For example, if the statute of limitations for a crime is five years, but the criminal intentionally hides out in another country for 10 years to avoid prosecution, he can still be prosecuted for the crime if he's caught even though the five-year limitations period has passed. A warrant will be issued for your arrest. If a criminal has an upcoming court date but doesn't show up, a bench warrant will be issued for his arrest because he's in contempt of court. For fugitives who flee from one state to another to avoid arrest, a fugitive from justice warrant will be issued in one jurisdiction for someone who's a fugitive in another jurisdiction. Your mugshot may make you (in)famous. Criminals attempting to escape the law are not only facing legal problems, but could also face reputational issues. Law enforcement frequently shares mugshots of wanted criminals on its social media pages and with the media, so everyone will know you're fleeing from justice. Bounty hunters can potentially track you down. Bounty hunters are authorized by the law to track down criminal defendants who skip out on their bail and fail to appear for their court dates. Bounty hunters have a monetary incentive to track down criminals on the run, so even if law enforcement officers don't catch you, a bounty hunter might. You may face extradition. Criminals who flee to another state or country can face extradition back to the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. For criminals who've fled to other states, the state seeking extradition must file the proper documents, show that you've been charged with a crime in that state, and show that you're a fugitive. This means that you intentionally went to another jurisdiction to avoid getting caught. If you need more help understanding how the law applies to criminals fleeing from justice, consult a criminal defense attorney in your area. Related Resources: Fugitive sought since 1977 found in California (MSN News) Fleeing Police by Car is a Violent Felony (FindLaw's Blotter) Joran Van Der Sloot's U.S. Extradition Set for 2038 (FindLaw's Blotter) 5 Countries With No U.S. Extradition Treaty (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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FBI: $10K Reward for Lasers Pointed at Planes

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that sheds light on the identity of pranksters who point lasers at planes. The new incentive intends to deter people with laser pointers from pointing them at aircraft -- which is a felony -- and encourage informants to come forward. An FBI press release reminds the public that this criminal activity is "dangerous" and has "potentially deadly" repercussions. So how can tipsters get their rewards for ratting out laser-pointer perpetrators? Pointing Lasers at Aircraft Is a Felony Laser pointers may have started out as a presentation aid for high-powered business meetings, but they mostly ended up in the hands of middle school jokesters who delight in shining them on just about anything. And while owning a laser pointer isn't illegal, using it in certain ways can be incredibly illegal. Shining one on a uniformed officer can get you shipped off to federal prison, and shining them on any aircraft has similar consequences. The Federal Aviation Administration took particular notice in 2010 to an increase in "laser strikes" on airplanes. The FAA's worries are well grounded, as shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can blind the pilots and crew, placing the aircraft and its passengers in real danger. This risk of blinding pilots was one of many reasons that President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law, which made pointing lasers at planes a federal felony. A person who knowingly points a laser pointer at an aircraft can spend up to five years in federal prison. FBI Reward Aimed at 12 Major Cities In order to really cement this crackdown on laser pointers and airplanes, the FBI has offered a $10,000 reward for tips in prosecuting these laser pointer perps. But in order to collect the ten grand, tipsters must provide information that leads to an arrest under the federal laser pointer law. As of Tuesday's press release, the FBI has offices in 12 major cities which are participating in the laser-pointer reward program: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Chicago; Cleveland; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Sacramento, California; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C. If you have a tip and would like to report a laser-pointer offense, contact your local FBI office or simply call 911. Related Resources: FBI offers reward for tips on lasers shone into aircraft cockpits (Reuters) 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) Are Radar Jammers Illegal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Gays Get Spousal, Marital Privileges in Fed. Court: DOJ

Married gay couples can claim spousal and marital privileges in federal court, with the Department of Justice planning to uphold these rights. In a memo released by the DOJ on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder espoused the belief that same-sex married couples should be treated the same as their opposite-sex counterparts. And part of that includes being able to claim certain privileges in federal criminal court. How can the spousal and marital privileges be used by gay spouses? Same-Sex Spouses Can Refuse to Testify The spousal privilege has historically allowed husbands and wives to refuse to testify against one another in court. Contrary to popular perception, in federal court, one spouse cannot prevent the other spouse from testifying; rather, the other spouse can choose not to testify if he or she so desires. In the past, this has meant that the wives or husbands of defendants accused of federal crimes have had the right to decline to testify against their spouse. This privilege does not apply in domestic violence cases or cases where the spouse may have been involved in the alleged crimes, and the privilege only lasts as long as the marriage does. This was a problem for a Kentucky woman and her lesbian partner in 2013. A state court determined that since the couple was not technically married under Kentucky law, there could be no spousal privilege, the ABA Journal reported. According to the new DOJ memo, legally married same-sex spouses can now refuse to testify against one another in federal criminal court, even in states where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. Protecting Communications Within Marriage The marital privilege -- also called the marital communications privilege -- differs from the spousal privilege because it can last even if the couple is no longer married. In federal criminal (and civil) court, married couples can object to confidential martial communication being introduced at trial. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Windsor, this privilege in federal courts only applied to private communication between a husband and wife. Now, regardless of the views of the couple's home state, a legally married gay couple can object to evidence of secrets shared between the two spouses. Just like church confessions, these confidential communications become allowable in court if a third party overhears them. This shift in policy may give gay-married defendants a new line of criminal defenses. Related Resources: More Federal Privileges to Extend to Same-Sex Couples (The New York Times) Gay Marriage to Get More Federal Benefits (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Anti-Gay Attacks Mar Labor Day Weekend: Reports (FindLaw's Blotter) NYC Shooting Was Anti-Gay Hate Crime: Cops (FindLaw's Blotter)
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