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Man Framed for Murder by N.Y. Cop Gets $6.4M

A man framed for murder by an NYPD detective has settled a complaint with the City of New York for $6.4 million. David Ranta, 58, spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit based on the machinations of a rogue detective, Louis Scarcella, The New York Times reports. Although Ranta can't get back his 23 years, he may still have a legal bone to pick with those who put him away. Flawed Murder Case Ends in Release Ranta was convicted of the 1990 murder of a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn. According to the Times, Ranta claims his confession to the murder was fabricated by former detective Scarcella. Scarcella had been under investigation by the district attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit, which discovered that Scarcella had used two career criminals as witnesses. They admitted to lying in order to "obtain get-out-of-jail excursions provided by Mr. Scarcella." Even more disturbing, according to the Times, prosecutors discovered that a potential suspect had been dropped by Scarcella -- one whose widow later confessed that her husband was the real killer. Any one of these issues would have violated a defendant's constitutional right to exculpatory evidence under Brady, and may explain why the Brooklyn District Attorney asked for Ranta's indictment to be dismissed in 2013. Settlement Without Civil Rights Suit Once out of prison, Ranta filed a $150 million claim against the City of New York which, according to the Times, was settled for $6.4 million "without involving the city's legal department." In New York City, like many other metro areas, those injured by the government must first file an administrative tort claim with that government before being allowed to file a civil lawsuit. This process gives the city, state, or federal government a chance to respond and remedy the problem without involving the court system. In Ranta's case, his claim was settled for less than 5 percent of his initial demand -- but without seeing the inside of a courtroom. According to the Times, Ranta plans to file a separate wrongful conviction claim against the state of New York. Such claims can also lead to large payouts for victims: For example, another wrongly convicted man, Alan Newton, served 20 years in prison for rape and received an $18.5 million settlement from NYC after being exonerated by DNA evidence. Related Resources: Man did 23 years for NYC murder he didn't commit, gets $6.4M (CBS News) When Can I Sue Police for False Arrest? (FindLaw's Injured) Can You Sue for False Imprisonment? (FindLaw's Injured) Chicago Man Gets Record $25M for Wrongful Conviction (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Crimes on Cruise Ships: 3 Things to Know

Cruise ships are often a focal point of criminal activity, with unsuspecting passengers often turning into unwitting victims. This concept doesn't need to be explained to a 31-year-old Holland America passenger who was allegedly beaten and raped by a cruise ship attendant on Valentine's Day, Reuters reports. Holland America claims this incident is the first in its 140-year history, but is this sort of crime that uncommon on cruise ships? Here's an overview of what cruise passengers need to know about onboard crimes: 1. Crimes on the High Seas. Hearing "crimes on the high seas" may sound like the tagline of the newest pirate flick, but this typically refers to crimes which occur out of the territorial waters of any particular state. High seas crimes outside of U.S. territorial waters may fall under various countries' laws depending on: Whether the ship is in another state's territorial waters, The nationality of the ship, The nationality of the victim, and The nationality of the defendant. Cruise ships have the nationality of the country whose flag they fly and where they are registered. According to USA Today, only one major cruise ship is registered in the United States, while the rest are registered in the Bahamas, Panama, Bermuda, Italy, Malta, or the Netherlands. Many of these ships are registered in foreign countries to avoid U.S. regulations or more restrictive laws, but crimes against Americans on cruise ships which either depart or arrive in America are under U.S. jurisdiction. 2. What Happens to Suspects at Sea? When criminals are apprehended for committing a crime while on a cruise ship, the captain of the ship has several options: Detain them in the ship's jail or "brig," Allow them to pay a fine (if it is a finable offense), or Restrict them from leaving the ship until the proper authorities arrive. The authority and discretion of the captain is protected by admiralty law. 3. Reporting Crimes on Cruise Ships. According to the Sun-Sentinel, your chance of being assaulted on a cruise ship are about as likely as on any given city street. Like crimes which happen on dry land, you should make a report as soon as possible. Although some doubt federal investigators will take your cruise ship case, you may want to make a report to cruise personnel and the FBI. If you've been the victim of a cruise ship crime, contact your local FBI office. Related Resources: Cruise ship crimes, passenger-overboards draw public focus (The Times-Picayune) New legislation provides stronger protections for cruise ship passengers (FindLaw's KnowledgeBase) Wife's Cruise Ship Death: Murder on the High Seas? (FindLaw's Blotter) Cruise Ship Sickness: Can Passengers Sue? (FindLaw's Injured)
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How Do Cell Phone AMBER Alerts Work?

Cell phone AMBER alerts are becoming more common, but they're still catching many mobile users off guard. How exactly do they work? Sending AMBER alerts to cell phones in a particular area is relatively new, but the system has been in place for more than a year now. Just this week, smartphone users in parts of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma received such an alert, many for the first time, Wichita's KAKE-TV reports. Here is a brief overview of the laws and programs which undergird cell phone AMBER alerts: Wireless Emergency Alerts The AMBER alert system is regulated by the federal government -- specifically the Department of Justice -- to disseminate information about abducted children. These alerts appear on electronic highway signs, in radio and television announcements, and as many cell phone users are now aware, on mobile phones as well. Sending AMBER Alerts to mobile phones is made possible by the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program. This program allows public warnings to be sent to WEA-enabled phones across the country and is also utilized by agencies like FEMA to warn of dangerous weather or national emergencies. According to the DOJ, beginning in January 2013, all AMBER alerts are sent automatically through the WEA system to WEA-ready mobile phones. However, this service does not cover all wireless users. According to the Federal Communications Commission, participation in the WEA program is voluntary for wireless carriers, and it is possible that your carrier or even your cell phone may not support receiving WEAs -- including AMBER alerts. Those who are able to receive these alerts can receive government-approved alerts sent directly to their mobile devices. Cell phone AMBER alerts appear just like text messages, but they do not impact a mobile user's text message plan and are entirely free. Can You Turn AMBER Alerts Off? AMBER alerts and some weather-related alerts may be turned off on many cell phones. Each phone may be slightly different in its settings, but only a few taps are necessary to disable AMBER alerts on iPhones and Android devices. Although AMBER alerts can be disabled, not all WEAs can. Under the WARN Act passed in 2006, the FCC does not allow mobile users to disable messages issued by the President of the United States. While these messages may be jarring or unexpected, take a moment to consider leaving them on. Californians received their first real test of the cell phone AMBER alert in August, and it eventually led to an abducted 16-year-old girl's rescue. These AMBER alerts may be annoying, but for a culture that perpetually endures online ads and spam on our cell phones, it's a small irritation for a powerful tool. Related Resources: Amber Alert message caught many off guard (Wichita, Kansas' KSN-TV) AMBER Alerts Now Showing Up on Google Maps (FindLaw's Blotter) Kidnapper Thwarted by Amber Alert, Driver (FindLaw's Blotter) AMBER Alerts (FindLaw)
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Woman Jailed for Recording Deputy Plans to Sue

A Florida woman plans to sue the Broward County Sheriff's Office after she was forced to spend a night in jail for recording a deputy during a traffic stop. Brandy Berning, 33, began recording Lt. William O'Brien when she was pulled over for driving alone in a carpool lane. After a dispute over the recording, in which O'Brien told Berning she'd "just committed a felony," Berning was arrested and spent one night in jail, the Sun-Sentinel reports. She was never charged with any crime. The case highlights an issue people often wonder about: Is it legal to record law-enforcement officers during traffic stops? And if so, can you sue when that right is violated? Recording Police at Traffic Stops Generally speaking, you have a First Amendment right to film an officer during a traffic stop. However, you can't stall or interfere with an officer's investigation. Shoving a camera or an iPhone in a cop's face during a traffic stop may be enough to get you arrested for obstructing an officer. In addition, Florida is a "two-consent" state, the Sun-Sentinel explains. That means both parties are required to know about the recording. In Berning's case, she recorded about 15 seconds of her conversation with O'Brien before informing him that she was filming their encounter. If you find yourself in a similar situation and wish to record an officer at a traffic stop, make sure you're in the legal clear and consider these tips: Before you hit the record button, tell the police you are recording them; Keep your camera out of the way (low and close to your body); and If necessary, calmly remind the officers of your right to film them. Again, if you're not interfering with the officers' investigation, you have a right to record police performing their duties. Suing Police Over Recording If officers confiscate your phone or camera, or if they arrest you for lawfully recording your traffic stop, it's best not to get combative (which can lead to charges if things get out of hand). Instead, remember the details of what the officers did, as you could potentially sue the police for violating your constitutional rights. (Note, however, that there is a legal process in place for suing law-enforcement officers and agencies.) In this case, Berning plans to file a lawsuit against the sheriff's office because O'Brien allegedly told her she was committing a felony, demanded she hand over her phone, grabbed and sprained her wrist, and placed her under arrest. The most extreme issue is her spending the night in jail. Berning could potentially claim a host of civil rights violations, including false arrest, false imprisonment, and excessive force. A spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to comment about the incident, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Related Resources: Woman who recorded traffic stop spends night in jail (Miami's WPLG-TV) Deaf Man Sues Over Police Beating, Taser Use (FindLaw's Injured) NYPD Interrogated Boy, 7, for 10 Hours: $250M Claim (FindLaw's Injured) Browse Civil Rights Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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‘Dirty DUI’ Sentencing: Ex-Cop Gets Prison Time

An ex-cop involved in the infamous "dirty DUI" scandal was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Wednesday, nearly three years after his 2011 arrest. Stephen Tanabe, 50, spoke contritely before a judge about his part in the scheme, the Contra Costa Times reports. Prosecutors say Tanabe received a Glock handgun in exchange for arresting men who were "baited" into driving drunk. Tanabe, who previously worked as a police officer in suburbs east of San Francisco, resigned from his job as a sheriff's deputy after his arrest. How did the court arrive at Tanabe's punishment? Convicted of 6 Felonies In federal court in September, Tanabe was convicted of six felonies including conspiracy, wire fraud, and extortion, the Times reports. These charges all stemmed from Tanabe's involvement in the "dirty DUI" busts orchestrated by former private investigator Christopher Butler. Butler's scheme involved hiring women to "date" men involved in divorce or custody battles, getting them drunk, and then tipping off authorities to arrest the sauced spouses for drunken driving when they climbed into their cars. The DUI charges would then significantly impact any pending divorce or custody matter in which the scam's victims were embroiled. For his part, Tanabe was one of Butler's law-enforcement contacts who agreed to arrest the men for the "dirty DUIs." Tanabe explained to a federal judge on Wednesday that he "felt justified in arresting drunken drivers," the Times reports. He claimed he did not know the extent of Butler's "dirty DUI" scheme. Although California is more open than most states about hiring felons, these six felony convictions most likely have ended Tanabe's future as a law enforcement officer. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Federal courts have a very exacting system for determining punishments for various federal crimes, which are governed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The calculation of a criminal sentence under these guidelines is often very difficult, but free calculators exist to estimate a probable punishment. In Tanabe's case, his six felonies called for 21 to 27 months in prison under the Guidelines, but Judge Charles R. Breyer reduced that number to 15 months. According to the Contra Costa Times, Judge Breyer gave no reasoning why he opted to go easy on Tanabe, but judges sometimes reduce a sentence where the defendant is genuinely remorseful. Tanabe has until April 15 to turn himself in. Related Resources: Ex-Contra Costa Co. Deputy Sentenced in "Dirty DUI" Case (The San Francisco Bay Area's KNTV) Dirty DUI: Sexy Women Tricked Men into Drinking (FindLaw's Blotter) Not All DUI Arrests Are Legal: 5 Notable Cases (FindLaw's Blotter) 'Katrina Killings': 5 Cops' Convictions Overturned (FindLaw's Blotter)
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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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Trampoline Park Sued Over Teen’s Head Injury

A Texas family is suing an indoor trampoline park after their teenage son was seriously hurt while using its trampolines. Cosmic Jump, a business in Houston, is being sued over a head injury suffered by then 16-year-old Max Menchaca, who allegedly "fell through a hole or a rip in the trampoline canvas" and hit the concrete floor below, his lawyer told Houston's KRIV-TV. Trampolines are often magnets for injuries, but what are the specifics of Menchaca's lawsuit? Victim Suffered Traumatic Brain Injury Charlie Gustin, the Menchacas' attorney, says the teenager suffered "bleeding on his brain" and "skull fractures." Menchaca's traumatic brain injuries are not uncommon from victims of forceful falls, and this kind of serious injury can often cause paralysis or even death. Though Max wasn't paralyzed, his mother Traci told KRIV that her son wanted to be an astronaut, and now he struggles with simple tasks like writing and keeping his balance. In a premises liability suit against Cosmic Jump, the Menchacas could seek compensation for the unsafe conditions which led to Max's brain injuries. Their suit may allow the Menchacas to receive money for Max's past and future medical expenses as well as pain and suffering for his potentially permanent loss of faculties. And while trampoline parks often require patrons to sign liability waivers, such waivers don't apply when business owners "[allow] a dangerous condition to exist on their premises," attorney Gustin told KRIV. Trampoline Tips for Parents Trampolines may be appealing to many children and teens, but parents should be aware of the safety and legal risks that these amusements pose. For example: Trampoline parks are often less regulated by the city or state than other amusement parks because they require no moving parts or machinery. Parks may rely on a child's assumption of risk to defend against lawsuits -- claiming a child was assuming risky behavior by "double bouncing" or going outside a designated area. And as mentioned already, most parks require entrants to sign a liability waiver protecting the owner from many of the injuries incurred by children on trampolines. But again, not all types of situations are covered by such waivers. If your child or someone you love has been injured at a trampoline park like Cosmic Jump, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss how best to move forward. Related Resources: Family sues indoor trampoline park after 17-year-old suffers serious head injury (Houston's KHOU) Chicago Trampoline Centers Sued Over Injuries (FindLaw's Injured) Playboy Sued: Model Injured in Trampoline Fall (FindLaw's Injured) Bounce House Injuries Jump to 11K Per Year (FindLaw's Injured)
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Leaving Kids in a Cold Car Can Get You Arrested

A New York father was arrested this week for leaving his children in a cold car -- a legal lesson that other parents won't want to learn the hard way this winter. It was around 7 degrees below freezing when police found Luis Fajardo's two children parked inside a vehicle outside a shopping center on Long Island. Fajardo, 32, was arrested when he returned to the car. How is it that parents like Fajardo get arrested for leaving kids in a cold car? Some States Prohibit Leaving Children Unattended According to WCBS-TV, witnesses say Fajardo's children were left unattended in his 1999 Mazda sedan for at least 15 minutes before police arrived on the scene. It doesn't seem like much time at all for children to be left unsupervised, but there are more than a dozen states where doing so is its own crime. KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy group focused on non-traffic car risks for children, cites 19 states which specifically criminalize leaving children unattended in a car. So had Fajardo left his children alone in a cold car in California, he could potentially be facing a separate $100 fine and/or community education class on the risks of leaving children unattended. In Michigan, a state slightly more prone to cold temperatures, a parent like Fajardo could face jail time for leaving kids unattended in a vehicle -- even if his or her children were unharmed. Other Charges Are Possible New York is not one of the 19 states with "child-in-car" laws, but Fajardo is still facing criminal charges of child endangerment. He's due back in court next month, WCBS-TV reports. Leaving your young children alone in a freezing car -- even if only to run a few errands -- may leave them at risk for hypothermia, which would likely qualify as child endangerment. Endangering the welfare of a child by putting them in a potentially risky situation is a misdemeanor in New York. In most states, it can lead to jail time if you're convicted. And though it didn't happen in this case, if a child in your care dies as a result of being left unattended in a car, you may be charged with manslaughter. Children die every year from being left in cars during lethal summer heat, and the same result can potentially happen when the temperature swings down low. This threat is real for law enforcement -- in hot or cold temperatures -- and parents may face arrest for leaving the kids in a cold car. Related Resources: Police: Dad left baby, small child in car (Newsday) Mom Guilty of Murder After Son Dies in Hot Car (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad, 32, Charged in Toddler's Hot Car Death (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad Left Baby in Car to Go Gambling (FindLaw's Blotter)
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5 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

You don't want to hire a divorce attorney without asking a few questions first. After all, depending on your issues, you may not even need a divorce attorney. Because divorce litigation can be expensive and exhausting, you'll want an advocate by your side who is worth every penny. With that in mind, consider asking your potential divorce attorney these five questions: 1. Can You Give Me a Timeline of My Divorce? You may end up seeking a divorce with your potential attorney, but you need to know that he or she has a good sense of how your case will go. Ask for a timeline of your divorce if you chose to pursue it. This will give your attorney a chance to give you a step-by-step overview of the divorce process in your state, as well as cue you into any deadlines or waiting periods. 2. What Is Your Experience With Divorce Cases? A family law attorney may be experienced in various types of family disputes, but not necessarily divorces. Be direct. It's not rude to ask your attorney how many divorce cases he or she has handled, or what percentage of the firm's time is devoted to divorces. This will give your attorney a chance to discuss his or her legal experience -- hopefully in a way that impresses you to hire him or her. 3. Are You Also Experienced in Child Custody/Visitation? If you have kids, child custody problems are likely to pop up as a result of your pending divorce. The same goes for visitation issues. You'll want an attorney who won't hand you off to other counsel once the divorce is wrapped up but your kids are still in the mix. Ask about your lawyer's experience in handling child custody and visitation cases -- especially with clients in situations similar to yours. 4. What Can I Reasonably Expect From My Divorce? You need to ask your attorney, if you hire him or her, what you can reasonably expect out of litigating or mediating your divorce. Your attorney should be able to paint you a range of likely outcomes based on your case, giving you a good basis for what to expect. 5. How Much Will My Divorce Cost? Your attorney should be able to provide a rough estimate, all told, of what your divorce may end up costing. This should include court fees, attorney's fees, and potential costs of mediation. Of course, each divorce case -- and each lawyer -- is different. To find one who's the best fit for you, browse our lawyer directory for divorce attorneys in your area. Related Resources: The FindLaw Guide to How to Hire a Divorce Attorney (FindLaw - Free Download) Hiring an Injury Lawyer? 5 Questions to Ask (FindLaw's Injured) 5 Questions to Ask During a DUI Consultation (FindLaw's Blotter) 5 Questions to Ask Your Estate Planning Lawyer (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Valuable Resources for Women in Law and in Business

It seems that women’s issues are receiving more media attention every day. No matter what you think of Sheryl Sandberg and her book Lean In, it certainly started a revolution and established a platform to focus on women’s issues that was sorely lacking.  I am a huge fan and applaud her courage to speak out so honestly about her own self-doubt, not an easy thing for anyone that has reached the top and has to pretend they are full of confidence.  If you have not read her book I recommend that you do. Many have criticized her message because it is delivered by a voice of privilege, but that is why the message is so powerful, not a reason why it should be discounted. First, she didn’t need to take up this cause and she did it nonetheless. Second, privileged voices are the ones that reach the farthest because more people will listen, and that is why they have a responsibility to speak up for everybody.  Sandberg took this responsibility to heart and deserves enthusiastic praise for it, not criticism. Now that I got that off my chest, let me tell you about LeanIn.org, which is a tremendous resource for women. You can find a collection of inspiring Lean In stories of women from all walks of life and across a full spectrum of professions who share their struggles and triumphs.  There is the “What would you do if you weren’t afraid” campaign, then the Lean In Collection of photos, the formation of Lean In Circles,  and Lean In on college campuses aimed at inspiring the next generation of women. If you haven’t visited the site please do, it is packed full of news and inspiration. If that wasn’t enough, Maria Shriver has started the Shriver Report which is a “multi-platform nonprofit media initiative led by Maria Shriver that seeks to modernize America’s relationship to women.” Read the About page to get an idea of how powerful an undertaking this project is for women. Shriver creates special reports such as “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink” which is a study about the rate of financial insecurity among American working women and what to do to change this. There are many stories of inspiration, but also the cold hard facts about where women are in our society today. I loved reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice to women: Get Out of Your Own Way… it is a must read.  Check out the entire site if you haven’t already. And keep going back to Makers, which I highlighted previously, for new video clips of women sharing their stories. It is a wonderful historical collection of women telling stories of struggle and success from their own mouths. Women face real disadvantages in law and in business. But it is encouraging to see momentum building for real change and a level playing field. The resources highlighted in this post provide inspiration, encouragement, and practical guidance. So be sure to take advantage.
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