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Criminal Defense

Do You Need to Actually Drive a Car to Be Guilty of Theft?

It's a question that only raises more questions: Can a person who locks himself in another person's car without permission be convicted of vehicle theft? Who is this person? How'd they get into the car? Isn't the whole point of stealing a car, you know, to drive it away? But the Minnesota Supreme Court has an answer: Yes. To Drive or to Take? According to prosecutors, the owner of the vehicle left it idling in his driveway one winter morning to warm up, when Somsalao Thonesavanh knocked on his front door. The owner called 911, but by the time an officer arrived, Thonesavanh had locked himself in the car, still in the driveway. Police eventually persuaded him to leave the car, placed him under arrest, and charged him with motor vehicle theft. Under Minnesota's vehicle theft statute, someone is guilty of theft if he or she "takes or drives a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or an authorized agent of the owner, knowing or having reason to know that the owner or an authorized agent of the owner did not give consent." Clearly Thonesavanh didn't "drive" the car; but did he "take" it? One Too Many Words The Minnesota Supreme Court admitted that the word "takes" in the statute is ambiguous, but decided it could clear up that ambiguity, agreeing with prosecutors that "all that is required to 'take' a motor vehicle is to adversely possess it." How does one adversely possess a car? The court cited the state's simple robbery statute, which requires only temporary control over property to count as theft. The court also pointed to a perhaps esoteric aspect of judicial decision-making: canons of interpretation. One such canon -- the one against "surplusage" -- "favors giving each word or phrase in a statute a distinct, not an identical, meaning." If the justices held that "takes" has the same meaning as "drives," one of those words would be extraneous, so lawmakers must have intended one of those words to have a different meaning. So yeah, lock yourself in someone else's car in Minnesota? You can be guilty of vehicle theft. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) MN Supreme Court: Car Doesn't Have to Move to Be Stolen (Minnesota Public Radio) Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding: Which Crime Depends on Time (FindLaw Blotter) When Does Borrowing Become Stealing? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Burglar Who Targeted Senior Citizens Gets 327 Year Sentence

A burglar in San Francisco has just been sentenced to 327 years to life for a string of home invasion robberies against local senior citizens. The convicted burglar, 60 year old German Woods, targeted vulnerable seniors, many of whom didn't speak English, or did so poorly. Woods' modus operandi included lying in wait for seniors that lived alone to return home, then as they were entering their homes, he would attack, forcing them into and ransacking their homes. The charges against Woods go back to 2014. Between then and 2016, he committed numerous burglaries, and was ultimately convicted in July 2016 on 17 different counts, including some charges for elder abuse. Penalties for Burglary While burglary is often equated with theft or robbery, it is a little bit different. Burglary is actually just the unlawful entry into any structure with the intent to commit a crime. As such, when it comes to a burglary conviction, the penalties will generally depend upon the severity of the crimes associated with the entry into another's home or business. For instance, a burglary with the intent just to trespass is going to be punished much more leniently than a burglary with the intent to attack another person or steal valuable property. Additionally, the intended crime does not have to be completed for a person to be charged with burglary. Consecutive or Concurrent Sentencing When a defendant is convicted on multiple counts or charges, judges often have several options when it comes to sentencing (though sentencing guidelines, statutes, and case law often limit those options somewhat).However, one of the primary decisions a judge can make is whether a convict will serve multiple count sentences consecutively or concurrently. For instance, if a defendant is convicted on 4 counts, and is sentenced to 25 years for each count, a consecutive sentence means he must serve 100 years behind bars, while concurrent sentencing means he would be out in 25. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) 5 Tips to Prevent Daytime Burglaries (FindLaw Blotter) What is Looting? (FindLaw Blotter) Penalty for Gun Store Robbery (FindLaw Blotter)
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Is Police Body Cam Footage Public Record?

Over the past few years, more and more police departments have adopted the use of officer body cams. The devices attach to an officer's uniform and record what the officers do while on duty. However, there is no uniform law of the land when it comes to the public's right to access the footage from the body cams. Depending on the local jurisdiction, or state, different standards are used for the release of the footage. Some will only allow the footage to be released publicly as part of a criminal or civil trial (as the law requires the disclosure then), while others allow the recordings to be released on YouTube (after private and identifying information is edited out). Video for the People, Not of the People The purpose of police body cams is to engender the public's trust. The idea is essentially that officers will be less likely to not follow the rules, and will be more likely to do everything exactly by the book, if there is a video record of all their actions. These cams can also provide evidence of corrupt police practices, at least when the corrupt officers are not selectively recording with their body cams. The recordings are not just of public civil servants (police officers), but the individuals they encounter are, naturally, caught on camera too. This complicates public disclosure as private individuals have privacy rights, even when they are out in public. Those privacy rights can be violated by allowing the public unfettered access to the footage. A simple example involves a traffic stop. If an officer is not careful when handling a pulled over driver's documents, or the footage is not redacted/edited before it is released publicly, a person's driver's license number, address, height, birth date, and (alleged) weight, could all be captured by a body cam. Who's Watching? Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of police body cam footage, it would likely be impractical, or a drain on police resources, for all of it to be reviewed. Instead, generally, departments review the footage when necessary to review high profile incidents, arrests that lead to prosecutions, or sometimes when officers need help to remember what happened for their reports. Also, when complaints against officers are made by the public, or other officers, the body cam footage can be reviewed. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Police Body Cameras: What Defendants, Victims Need to Know (FindLaw Blotter) Body Cams Embraced, But Who Will Have Access to Footage? (FindLaw's California Case Law) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Nurse Arrested for Not Drawing Coma Patient’s Blood for Police

National news outlets have been reporting the sensational story of a Salt Lake City, Utah nurse who was arrested after refusing the command of a police officer to draw the blood of a comatose patient for an investigation. Fortunately for Alex Wubbels, the nurse involved in the incident, police body cameras recorded the entire event. The nurse cited the hospital policy of requiring a patient's consent, a warrant, or an intent to arrest, before drawing blood for police. When the officer insisted on getting the blood draw done despite not satisfying any of these conditions, Wubbels refused and was then arrested on the spot. What Happened Here? Surprisingly, the coma patient, a truck driver, whom the police were seeking a blood draw from is an innocent victim. Police were chasing a fleeing suspect, when that suspecting crashed head on into the truck driver's big rig, resulting in a fiery crash. The suspect died at the scene, while the truck driver survived, but fell into a coma. The police, in conducting a thorough investigation, were seeking a blood sample from the truck driver to rule out any liability on his end (note: police may not have a legal right to this sample thanks to the Fourth Amendment's protections). The body camera footage clearly shows nurse Wubbels explaining the policy to the officer in charge, and then the officer losing his cool, grabbing her, cuffing her, and forcefully pulling her out of the hospital. During the ordeal, Wubbels can be heard yelling that she did nothing wrong, and that the officer is hurting her. Fortunately, when the superior officer arrived at the scene, she was released. It was explained to the officer that the hospital already took a blood draw, but that they would not release it without proper legal authorization. The city's administration has been extraordinarily embarrassed, issued apologies, and has stated that it is committed to changing policies to prevent this from happening again. The arresting officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation into his actions (though the report he filed asserts his superior instructed him to arrest Wubbels). What's the Claim? When officers of law cross the line in performing their duties, both the officers, individually, and the municipality, state, or other government entity can be held liable. Generally, under federal law, 42 USC 1983 protects individuals from police misconduct, including false arrest or excessive force. There may also be claims under state laws, depending on the state where the incident occurred. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter) NY DMV Busts 4k Fraudsters With Facial Recognition Tech (FindLaw Blotter) Criminal Charges Following Violence, Death in Charlottesville (FindLaw Blotter)
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How Does the iPhone’s New ‘Cop Button’ Work?

Cell phones have been the new frontier in search and seizure law, and for a while they've been giving fits to law enforcement and the courts. Can customs search your cloud data at the border? Can the feds force tech companies to provide access to phone data? Can a warrant give police access to everyone's phone at a given location? Can police 3-D print a finger to unlock a phone? Wait, what? It may seem weird, but courts actually treat passcodes and fingerprints differently when it comes to unlocking phones, and more and more people are becoming aware that their phones are actually less secure (from law enforcement anyway) with fingerprint access. So, naturally, Apple came up with a fix for that -- the "cop button." Physical Evidence and Metaphysical Contents More accurately, as the Verge describes, it's like a cop sequence of taps. Apple's upcoming iOS11 for the iPhone will let users tap the power button five times for emergencies. This then allows someone to dial 911 while also disabling the phone's Touch ID feature until they enter a passcode. Essentially, Apple is giving iPhone users "a far more discreet way of locking out a phone." Those who haven't been following recent search and seizure case law may be asking themselves why locking out a phone would be useful, or having a passcode accessible phone would be any more secure from police searches than a fingerprint accessible phone. As we mentioned above, courts, and thus law enforcement, treat them very differently. Combinations and codes, to an individual, have generally been considered the "contents of his own mind," and therefore beyond the government's power to compel production. Whereas keys and fingerprints are physical evidence, which "may be extracted from a defendant against his will." FaceTime? There's another reason this distinction may matter, and why the "cop button" may be necessary in the near feature. Apparently, iOS 11 will also introduce face unlocking on the next iPhone. Giving law enforcement another piece of physical evidence that grants them access phone, and giving users another reason to have a way to disable that access. Different jurisdictions have been treating cell phones -- and the ways in which law enforcement may force people to unlock them -- in different ways. To find out the law where you live, contact a local criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Can the Feds Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Fingerprint? (FindLaw Blotter) Florida Judge: Give Up Your Smartphone Passcode or Go to Jail (FindLaw Blotter) Are Warrantless Cell Phone Searches Legal? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Top 5 Domestic Violence Questions

At one point in the not-too-distant past, a fight between spouses -- even a physical one -- was thought to be a personal matter, not the purview of police, prosecutors, or judges. More recently, law enforcement has taken domestic abuse more seriously, although juries were liable to take a he said/she said approach to accusations of violence in the home. Nowadays, thankfully, it seems like everyone is taking domestic violence seriously, from the expansion of definitions to include other members of the family or household, to the increase in convictions and penalties for domestic abuse. But questions remain. Here are five of them from our archives: 1. How Long Do You Have to File a Police Report for Domestic Violence? Victims of domestic abuse can often struggle with the decision to report violence in the home. Ignorance of domestic violence laws or fear of abandonment or increased abuse keeps many victims from going to the police at all. But statutes of limitation put a cap on how long you can wait before reporting domestic violence. 2. Should You Call the Police If Your Neighbors Are Fighting? Getting involved in a domestic dispute or intervening on another's behalf, especially if that person is a stranger, can keep many witnesses of domestic abuse from contacting law enforcement. However, if a situation has escalated to the point you can hear it, it is seldom a bad thing to get the police involved. You may be afraid of meddling, but you may also save a life. 3. Victim of Stalking? Know Your Legal Options Domestic abuse is not limited to acts of physical violence, and can include emotional and psychological abuse. At the same time, it is not just limited to behavior in the home -- abuse can often spill out into a person's public life. 4. When Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Dismissed? Criminal charges get dropped for all kinds of reasons. But with the common misconceptions regarding who presses charges and how, dismissing charges in a domestic violence case may be a little different than you might expect. 5. Can I Still Own a Gun After a Domestic Violence Conviction? Most jurisdictions are taking domestic violence more seriously, and the penalties for a conviction can be severe. Domestic violence convictions especially are those that after which cities, counties, or states would want to limit gun ownership or possession. And, thanks to federal gun control regulations, that's often the case. If you are or have been the victim of domestic violence, get help. And if you've been charged with domestic violence, get an experienced attorney. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How to Get a Domestic Violence Charge Dismissed (FindLaw Blotter) 5 Potential Defenses to Domestic Violence (FindLaw Blotter) Types of Violent Crime (FindLaw Blotter)
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New Law Makes Drug Possession a Misdemeanor in Oregon

Oregon legalized recreational marijuana back in 2015. But what about other Schedule 1 narcotics like cocaine, meth, or LSD? While the Beaver State isn't planning on legalizing those any time soon, it is rolling back the penalties for their possession. A new state law will downgrade first-time drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, so long as the amount is under a certain limit. So to which drugs does the new law apply? What are the limits? And how does that change the possible criminal penalties? Possession, Priors, and Penalties Oregon's HB 2355 applies only to first-time offenders, so those with prior felony convictions or with two or more prior convictions for drug possession can still be charged with a felony. The new law also does not change penalties for possession of large, commercial amounts of illegal drugs. Here are the drugs, and amounts addressed by the new statute: Cocaine under two grams Methamphetamine under two grams Heroin under one gram Oxycodone under 40 pills MDMA/Ecstasy under one gram or five pills LSD under 40 units Instead of looking at five to ten years in prison, those charged with first-time drug possession are instead facing a maximum penalty of just one year in prison and/or a $6,250 fine. Police, Policy, and Profiling Both the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association supported the measure, saying convictions include unintended consequences like barriers to housing and employment. But the groups also had some reservations. "Reducing penalties without aggressively addressing underlying addiction is unlikely to help those who need it most," the groups warned in a letter to a state senator who backed the bill, adding the law "will only produce positive results if additional drug treatment resources accompany this change in policy." Another bill appropriated $7 million that can be used to pay for drug treatment. The new law also attempts to address police profiling by directing a state commission to develop methods for recording data concerning police-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Drug Possession Is No Longer A Felony Offense In Oregon (Huffington Post) Recreational Marijuana Sales Now Legal in Oregon (FindLaw Blotter) Oregon Looking to Legalize Pot (FindLaw Blotter)
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Criminal Charges Following Violence, Death in Charlottesville

Much of the country was shocked to see white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, and horrified at the images of one of those men driving a car through a crowd, killing one woman and wounding 19 others. There were clashes throughout the city between protestors (ostensibly there in defense of a statue of Robert E. Lee) and counter-protestors, and surely there will be criminal charges and repercussions as well. Here's a roundup of the criminal charges that have been filed so far in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, and a few that may yet be. James Fields, Jr. The worst of the violence was James Fields, Jr.'s attack on a group of counter-protestors, when he drove his car through a peaceful crowd. Fields injured 19 people and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The incident was caught on video and Fields was quickly arrested and initially charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop after a crash that resulted in a death. Late last week, the Charlottesville Police Department announced it would be adding five more felonies to Fields' ticket: three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, and two of malicious wounding. Thus far, Fields has not been charged with a hate crime or terrorism. Deandre Harris The other high-profile attack was the beating of 20-year-old Deandre Harris, whose assault at the hands of white supremacists was also caught on camera. "The beating happened right beside the police department," Harris said, "and no police were there to help me at all." No charges or arrest warrants have been filed in the case, despite concerted efforts -- some successful -- to identify his attackers. Other Charges Along with Fields, six other people were arrested following the violence, most charged with misdemeanors ranging from assault and battery to carrying a concealed weapon. Jacob Leigh Smith was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after allegedly hitting a reporter; Troy Dunigan was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, for throwing objects at "Nazi protesters"; James M. O'Brien was charged with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon; David Parrot was charged with failure to disperse a riot; Steven C. Balcaitis was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery; and Robert K. Litzenberger was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after a Virginia State Trooper allegedly saw him spit on rally organizer Jason Kessler. Additional charges could be filed as investigations progress. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Increased Access to Hate Content Online Leads to More Crime in Real Life, Study Says (FindLaw Blotter) Top Legal Questions on Hate Crimes (FindLaw Blotter) 5 More Tips for Protesting (Legally) (FindLaw Blotter)
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Women Lead Counsel Needed

There is growing focus on the disparity between women and men in lead counsel roles.  A new study was released by the New York State Bar Association that affirms this fact but also found that the rate of inequality increases as the complexity of the cases increase. This is important because generally these cases are the most lucrative cases.  The study is entitled If Not Now, When? Achieving Equality for Women Attorneys in the Courtroom and in the ADR.  The report found that women hold lead counsel roles only around 25% of the time but in cases with five or more parties it drops to 19.5%. The survey conducted by the task force found the following: Female attorneys represented just 25.2% of the attorneys appearing in commercial and criminal cases in courtrooms across New York. Female attorneys accounted for 24.9% of lead counsel roles and 27.6% of additional counsel roles. The most striking disparity in women’s participation appeared in complex commercial cases: women’s representation as lead counsel shrank from 31.6% in one-party cases to 26.4% in two-party cases to 24.8% in three-to-four-party cases and to 19.5% in cases involving five or more parties. In short, the more complex the case, the less likely that a woman appeared as lead counsel. The report went on to say the “[o]ne bright spot is public interest law (mainly criminal matters), where female lawyers accounted for 38.2% of lead counsel and 30.9% of attorneys overall.  However, in private practice (including both civil and criminal matters), female lawyers only accounted for 19.4% of lead counsel. This task force report is not the first time that the gender gap between women and men in lead counsel roles has been reported. In 2015 the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession issued a report titled First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table.  We had posted about the ABA report here. The New York State Bar Association recommended many ways for the judiciary and legal community to focus on the gender gap and encourage change.  Although I agree that it is important for the legal community to become more cognizant about this disparity, I don’t believe simply encouraging change is the real solution to the problem. I believe a significant factor in the gender gap is reflected in the drop of women in lead counsel roles in public interest cases from 38.2% to 19.4% in private cases.  This highlights the blaring problem that women face in the private sector relating to getting business. If we continue to rely on others to provide us lead counsel roles, from the judiciary to male partners, these stats will remain stagnant like they have for years. The general rule in private practice is that the lawyer who originates the business controls lead counsel and first chair roles.  The answer to equalizing this disparity is women focusing on business development.   This is the real solution to turning these stats on their head. The post Women Lead Counsel Needed appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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How Long Do You Have to File a Police Report for Domestic Violence?

A victim of domestic violence should generally try to involve law enforcement at the earliest possible time after an incident, assuming police didn't arrive during the incident. The sooner a victim can file a police report, the higher the likelihood that police will investigate, which increases the chances of a city, or state, district attorney prosecuting the matter criminally. Most states provide that criminal offenses of varying severity can only be prosecuted within a certain window of time, known as a statute of limitations. Although, in some states, certain serious offenses like rape or muder will not be subject to a statute of limitations. In New York, for example, a domestic violence case could have a statute of limitations ranging from one to three years (depending on the severity of the charges). What Does It Mean to "Press Charges"? While individuals often mimic television and the big screen and insist on "pressing charges," this is a misnomer. Individuals do not file or press charges. Only the state, or government, that is prosecuting the case has the authority to file, or press, criminal charges against a person. However, in the domestic violence context, and when filing a police report against an individual, officers will sometimes ask a victim if they want to "press charges." While it may sound like the victim holds the power, the actual decision to bring a criminal case is not held by the victim. Officers tend to ask this question in order to find out if the victim will be cooperative with a district attorney. In many situations, even if a victim asks the prosecutor to drop the charges, or even recants their statement, it may not impact a prosecutor's decision to proceed. Civil Remedies Are Available In contrast to criminal charges, which a person cannot control whether or not those get filed beyond filing a report with law enforcement, an individual holds the decision on whether to bring a civil suit against an abuser. Domestic violence victims can sue their abusers for monetary damages, as well as seek out civil restraining orders to keep their abusers away from them. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What If the Police Won't Investigate my Case? (FindLaw's Blotter) Can You Sue for Injury Without a Police Report? (FindLaw's Injured) 5 Things a Domestic Violence Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't) (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Domestic Violence Trials: 5 Tips for Victims (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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