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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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Arrested for Vaping?

There aren't many places left for the cigarette smokers of the world. Pushed out of offices, airplanes, bars, and even some sidewalks, the choice is either to quit or to smoke at home. Or, find something that isn't "smoking." Many new and long-time smokers are turning to vaping instead, in the hopes of circumventing anti-cigarette ordinances. The question then becomes, what's the difference between smoking and vaping, and can you get in trouble for vaping the same way you can get in trouble for smoking cigarettes? Burning vs. Vaping A recent New York case seemed to go in vapers' favor earlier this year when a New York judge ruled that vaping and puffing on e-cigarettes does not constitute "smoking" under the state's anti-smoking law: "Smoking" means the burning of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or any other matter or substance which contains tobacco. An electronic cigarette neither burns nor contains tobacco. Instead, the use of such a device, which is commonly referred to as "'vaping,' involves "the inhalation of vapourized e-cigarette liquid consisting of water, nicotine, a base of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin and occasionally, flavouring." This does not fit within the definition of "smoking" under the law. It's lucky for this defendant that he was charged under the state's anti-smoking statute, rather than New York City's Smoke Free Air Act, which also bans e-cigarettes. When it comes to vaping and e-cigarette legislation, cities are generally ahead of states, which have themselves been ahead of federal regulations on vaping. Dora Explores Vaping in the Girls' Room Another place where anti-vaping rules may differ is in schools. Fatima Ptacek, the 15-year-old voice of the eponymous lead character in the Dora the Explorer cartoon, was suspended for three days from her NYC private school after being caught vaping in the girls' bathroom. Ptacek was caught with another girl, puffing caramel-flavored water from a vaporizer that she claims contained no tobacco or drugs. "At first, we didn't know how to turn it on, but then we figured it out," she said. "We both sucked in from the vaporizer, but I was a little scared, so I didn't inhale into my lungs but kept it in my mouth." Regardless of the general differences between smoking and vaping, or what was in this particular vaporizer, schools are generally allowed to set their own regulations when it comes to on-campus behavior, especially private schools. The other girl's parents are suing the school, but because they believe their daughter was unfairly expelled as the "scapegoat" in the incident and Ptacek received special treatment based on her celebrity status. Laws and regulations on vaping can vary from city to city, state to state, and school to school. So before your puff your way into an arrest, check with a local criminal defense attorney about smoking and vaping laws in your area. Related Resources: Facing criminal charges? Get your case reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury - Criminal) Vape: Oxford's Word of the Year Spells Legal Trouble (FindLaw's Legal Grounds) CA Congressman Puffs E-cig at Legislative Debate (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Is It Legal to Ban E-Cigarettes at Work? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
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DUI and Immigration Status

The last thing you want to do if you are applying for citizenship is get a DUI. Even if you're in the country legally on a visa or green card, immigration officials may deport you or downgrade your status on the basis of a criminal conviction, especially for a felony. Here's what you need to know about a how a DUI conviction could affect your immigration status. DUI and Deportation If you are a foreign national, a DUI might not necessarily lead to deportation. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) generally considers a number of factors with regard to the penalties faced by an immigrant to the U.S., and deportation is generally reserved for aggravated felonies like battery, theft, filing a fraudulent tax return, and failure to appear in court. Of course, if your DUI is charged as a felony, you could run the risk of deportation. A DUI could become a felony if you have had prior DUI convictions, had an extremely elevated blood alcohol concentration, had children in the car, were driving on a suspended or revoked license, or caused death or injury in a car accident. Status Update Even if you do not get deported, your immigration status could be altered after a DUI conviction. If you're a legal permanent resident, you could be deported or detained during removal proceedings, or be barred from becoming a naturalized citizen in the future. Refugees and asylees could be deported after a criminal conviction, even if they would be in grave danger in their home country, and a conviction may result in the inability to obtain legal permanent resident status.Non-citizens with temporary lawful status (including individuals with nonimmigrant visas and those with temporary protected status) could lose that status and be removed from the country for any felony conviction or two or more misdemeanor convictions. And because undocumented immigrants are not authorized to be in the U.S., any criminal offense can result in deportation. In some legal proceedings, like immigration or deportation proceedings, even an expungement of a DUI may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction. To know for sure how a DUI will affect your immigration status, contact a local DUI attorney today. Related Resources: Don't face a DUI alone. Get your case reviewed by a lawyer for free now. (Consumer Injury) Can Your U.S. Citizenship Be Revoked? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Can a Guilty Plea Affect My Immigration Status? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Which Crimes Can Get Legal Immigrants Deported? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Juvenile Carjacker Arrested Twice in 48 Hours

Last week, a juvenile carjacker in New Jersey made headlines for being arrested twice within 48 hours for two separate carjacking incidents. Police released the minor into the custody of a relative after his arrest on a Friday for carjacking, and on Sunday, the teen was rearrested for another carjacking. The juvenile carjacker, surprisingly, is only 13 years old. Fortunately, there were no injuries as a result of his actions, however, police have linked an additional two to three car thefts from surrounding communities to the young suspect. Penalties for Juvenile Carjacking While criminal laws vary from state to state, juveniles can face very serious penalties for carjacking. The penalties can become exponentially worse if a weapon, or gun, is involved. Additionally, older juveniles may be charged as adults. While some juvenile offenses may be summarily dealt with if they are minor, or offenses that relate to the minor's age (such as possession of alcohol or tobacco), carjacking, especially when a weapon is involved, is not one of these. Unlike a joyriding charge, which can be charged as a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions, when a carjacker physically removes the driver of a vehicle by force and takes the keys and car, the likelihood is that even a juvenile will be charged with a felony. When a carjacker does not intend to permanently deprive the vehicle owner of possession, a joyriding charge may still apply, however, the act of stealing the car directly from the victim's possession will likely impose additional charges. Recent Trends Over the past few months, there have been several news stories across the country involving juvenile carjackings. The story out of New Jersey comes after a brutal story out of Oakland, California, where four juveniles punched an old lady and stole her vehicle. A month prior to that, a nearby city saw not only a juvenile carjacking, but it led to a high-speed pursuit, ending in a crash and arrest. In Denver, a juvenile carjacker that was fleeing from police was shot in the leg. Carjacking is a serious criminal offense that can land a juvenile in adult prison. Due to the fact that it involves more than simply taking the car, but potentially assault and/or battery (with or without a weapon), the charges tend to more serious than simply joyriding. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Juveniles and Age ("Status") Offenses (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw Blotter) BB Guns Are Not Firearms, Minnesota Supreme Court Rules (FindLaw Blotter)
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Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns

George Zimmerman, the garbage human infamously acquitted in the homicide of Trayvon Martin, became the victim of a shooting himself last year, in an apparent road rage incident. The man who shot at Zimmerman, Matthew Apperson, was convicted of attempted second-degree murder last month, and last week was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The irony is that Zimmerman himself was charged with second-degree murder in Martin's death, and was perhaps fortunate his victim wasn't around to testify at his trial. Road Rage For his part, Zimmerman testified that Apperson was following him in May 2015, flashing his lights and honking his horn. Apperson then pulled up alongside Zimmerman's car and opened fire, bullet shattering his window and narrowly missing its intended victim. Apperson disputed that account, saying it was Zimmerman who threatened him, and he was acting in self-defense. "Mr. Apperson pulled that trigger and didn't care. In fact, he joyfully bragged about killing me and said, 'I got him. I shot George Zimmerman,'" Zimmerman told the jury during sentencing. "He thought he had killed me, and he was happy about it." Zimmerman thanked jurors for convicting Apperson, adding, he "showed absolutely no care for human life." Outrage It's not hard to see why someone might have wanted to take a shot at Zimmerman. Aside from the Martin shooting, Zimmerman was charged with resisting arrest and battering a police officer, accused of domestic violence by an ex-fiancé, accused of molesting his cousin, pulled over speeding through Texas with a firearm, accused of domestic violence by his then wife, charged with aggravated assault for pointing a shotgun at his then girlfriend, and arrested and charged with aggravated assault for throwing a bottle at his then girlfriend. He has had multiple restraining orders issued against him, and had a defamation suit he filed against NBC thrown out. His latest brush with the law may have others believing that justice takes many forms. Related Resources: George Zimmerman Shot In Face (FindLaw Blotter) Zimmerman's Wife Shellie Files for Divorce: Reports (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Zimmerman a 'Manipulator,' But Out of Jail Again (FindLaw Blotter) Zimmerman Trial: Opening Statements Shouldn't Be Stand-Up Comedy (FindLaw's Strategist)
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5 Reasons Criminal Trials Are Often Delayed

Although an accused criminal is often arrested immediately following an alleged crime, that person's criminal trial may take years to complete because of delays in the proceedings. The ongoing trial of accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, for example, was delayed several times before jury selection began earlier this week. According to Yahoo! News, the trial has been delayed for two and a half years, more than three times the timetable recommended by the Supreme Court of Colorado for felony criminal cases. The case has already had five trial dates and two judges, with a request for a third denied. In addition, more than 1,700 motions, notices, orders, and other court documents have been filed in the case. What are some of the more common reasons for delays in a criminal trial? Here are five: Psychiatric evaluations. Criminal trials may be delayed while the defendant undergoes psychiatric evaluation to determine whether or not he is fit to stand trial. The trial of another accused gunman, Jared Loughner -- who was convicted of killing six people in a shooting in which former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was also injured -- was delayed for more than a year after Loughner was found mentally unfit. Loughner eventually plead guilty. Change of venue. In high-profile cases like Holmes', defense attorneys often ask for a change of venue, arguing that it'd be impossible for their client to get a fair trial in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. This may lead to delays, even if the request is eventually denied, as it was in Holmes' case. More time needed to prepare. Trial delays may also be granted if attorneys can show they have not had adequate time to prepare. Judges generally have wide discretion to grant delays in order to allow attorneys to prepare or review evidence. But these requests may also be denied, as it was in the trial of George Zimmerman when his attorneys requested a six-month delay to ready their case. Scheduling conflicts. If an attorney involved in the case has a scheduling conflict with another case, a judge may agree to delay a trial in order to accommodate the attorney. In some instances, a judge may even agree to delay a trial for more personal reasons, such as the birth of a lawyer's grandchild. Emergencies. Personal emergencies, such as medical issues or family issues, may also delay a trial. But criminal trials are generally bound by a defendant's constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial (though this can potentially be waived). The need for a speedy trial may compel a judge to deny a request for a continuance, even if it means an attorney is obligated to appear in court along with her newborn baby. Find more information about criminal proceedings, criminal procedure, and a defendant's constitutional rights at FindLaw's section on Criminal Trial. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw) Zimmerman Seeks 6-Month Trial Delay (FindLaw's Blotter) Why Do DUI Cases Take So Long to Resolve? (FindLaw's Blotter) Judge Urged to Reject Rod Blagojevich Trial Delay (FindLaw Blotter)
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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)
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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)
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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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3 Ways Unsecured Home Wi-Fi Can Link You to Crime

Unsecured home Wi-Fi is a terrible idea. Not only does participating in an unsecured network leave you wide open to potential cyberattacks, but it can also get you mixed up in a serious criminal case. Here are three reasons to avoid criminal investigation by securing your home Wi-Fi: 1. Pedophiles Can Use Your Wi-Fi, You Get Arrested. Think that title is a bit far-fetched? Just imagine how one New York resident felt in 2011 when federal agents raided his home, leveled assault weapons at him, and accused him of being a child pornographer. What actually happened? A neighbor had used the man's unsecured Wi-Fi to download child porn; agents had incorrectly assumed that the online activity emanated from the Wi-Fi owner's house. Still, the unsuspecting homeowner watched FBI agents search and confiscate his and his wife's computer and mobile devices -- only to be cleared of the charges three days later, reports The Associated Press. The lesson: Protect your home Wi-Fi so that you don't get blamed for criminal activity of your Internet-mooching neighbors. 2. Neighbors Downloading Illegally, but You Get Charged. It may be a long time since the days of Napster piracy suits, but lawsuits over Internet piracy are still alive and well. Ask the 31 Internet users (who have yet to be identified) who are being sued for illegally downloading copies of "Dallas Buyers Club." Not alright, alright, alright. Production companies seek out the IP addresses of downloaders from their Internet service providers (ISPs) -- companies like Comcast and AT&T. These IP addresses, even with unsecured Wi-Fi, are tied to a physical location, typically your router's location. This means that legal demands for copyright infringement will probably be sent to your house. College students often get nabbed by their colleges for using school Internet for piracy because they have a system for tracking down individual users. But without any protection on home Wi-Fi, most homeowners will be stuck defending themselves against piracy charges. 3. Like Hackers? They Love Your Wi-Fi. Although there are some ways to identify unwelcome strangers on an unsecured Wi-Fi network, sophisticated criminals can potentially use homeowners as a shield to mask their illegal activities. There are some ways to protect yourself while surfing public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, but your home network shouldn't be unsecured. If it is, you leave yourself open to being the target of a state or federal investigation you'll wish you never knew about. Like the hapless New Yorker with unsecured Wi-Fi, you may eventually untangle your innocent self from a legal mess, but why invite the hassle? Secure your home Wi-Fi today. Related Resources: Pa. man sentenced for porn using neighbor's Wi-Fi (The Associated Press) The 10 Most Pirated TV Shows of 2013 (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Illegal Downloads: What Are the Penalties? (FindLaw's Blotter) Apple Security Flaw: Update Software to Thwart Wi-Fi Hackers (FindLaw's Common Law)
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