Felonies ARCHIVES

When social media can lead to cyberstalking charges

Modern technology and social media networks make it very easy to stay in contact with more people than ever. There are times, however, when staying in contact with a former romantic partner may result in criminal charges.

Drug possession charges filling jails and prisons

A report that looked at drug charges in New York, Texas, Florida and Louisiana is disturbing and points to the need for considering decriminalization of drug possession. It was released on Oct. 12 by the Human Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Grand jury indicts fifth suspect in Cuomo aide murder

One year after a legal aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was shot and killed in Brooklyn, a fifth suspect has been indicted by a grand jury. The 31-year-old accused gang member was taken into custody in California and then extradited to New York on Sept. 10. He now faces charges of second-degree murder and a sentence of 25 years to life if convicted.

Animal abuse and violent crime in New York

In January 2016, the National Incident-based Reporting System, or NIBRS, began tracking instances of animal cruelty. The database monitors incidents such as gross neglect, torture and sexual abuse. Previously, instances of animal cruelty were classified under all other crimes in the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report. There are several reasons why the decision was made to keep tabs on animal abuse in the same way arson, burglary and other felonies are tracked.

Federal terrorism charges

There may be New York residents who can benefit from understanding more about the charges associated with accusations of terrorism. According to applicable federal statutes, terrorism may be described as dangerous or violent acts that endanger human lives and violate laws with the intent to coerce or intimate a civilian population, influence government policy or disrupt government through destructive means, including kidnapping and assassination. Terrorism may be international or domestic, depending on the jurisdiction where the offense occurred.

When is it a crime to withdraw money from the bank?

Dennis Hastert has not been indicted on a single charge of sexual abuse. He has also not been charged with any bribery scheme or for illegally paying money that he was not allowed to pay. Instead, the indictment of Mr. Hastert, who is the former Republican Speaker of the House, lays out two different counts: taking money out of the bank the wrong way, and then lying to the FBI about what he did with the money.

New York man claims robbers stole bitcoins

A New York man was reportedly robbed at gunpoint on May 27 at approximately 11:30 a.m. The 28-year-old man stated that he had traveled to a street corner in the Crown Heights section in order to meet a person who had answered his Craigslist.com ad.

Thought Crimes, True Threats & the Cannibal Cop

In 2012, after the wife of NYPD cop Gilberto Valle installed spyware software on his computer, she found dozens of disturbing chat logs from a website called DarkFetishNet. The chats contained Officer Valle's schemes and fantasies to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat women, including his wife. Although he never took any actions and his desires never resulted in any actual crimes, he was arrested, nicknamed the "Cannibal Cop," and ultimately convicted in federal court on conspiracy charges. He faced life in prison.

New York office manager arrested for posing as dentist

In 2012, after the wife of NYPD cop Gilberto Valle installed spyware software on his computer, she found dozens of disturbing chat logs from a website called DarkFetishNet. The chats contained Officer Valle's schemes and fantasies to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat women, including his wife. Although he never took any actions and his desires never resulted in any actual crimes, he was arrested, nicknamed the "Cannibal Cop," and ultimately convicted in federal court on conspiracy charges. He faced life in prison.

In 2014, his conviction was overturned on appeal. A new documentary, "Thought Crimes," which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, explores the moral and legal gray area that was exhibited in the stunning reversal of his conviction.

The prosecution argued that Valle's search history was evidence that his sexual fantasies about torturing and eating women were likely to result in the manifestation of physical crimes. Still, mere idea or fantasies - no matter how disturbing - do not always lead to action. Regardless, the legal system can still use those ideas against people.

This past week, the U.S. Supreme Court released its highly anticipated decision in Elonis v. United States. In it, many lawyers were hoping that they would clarify, once and for all, the line between "protected speech," and "true threats." Simply put, does a true threat require a guilty mind?

What every first year law student learns is that a crime requires not only the "actus reus," but also the requisite "mens rea," or intent to commit the crime. While a person does not have to know that their actions are against the law, the prosecution must prove that they were aware of the act that they committed. In Elonis, a Pennsylvania man was arrested after he began posting on Facebook that he was thinking of killing his wife. Elonis claimed that he was posting under his "rap" name "Tone Dougie" and that his words were just artistic expression and emotional therapy. He argued that the 1st Amendment protected his posts as free speech because there was no "specific threat" to carry out any of the threats.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the 1st Amendment does not protect "true threats," which does not mean that the defendant will actually do what he says, but that his words simply mean what they say. Confused? So was Tone Dougie.

However, the Court ruled in favor of the defendant, but skirted the First Amendment issue, choosing instead to decide the case on statutory grounds. The Court ruled that a conviction for violating the federal threat statute cannot stand if it is based only on the finding that a "reasonable person" would have foreseen that the statements would be perceived as threatening. Instead, the speaker's subjective intent in making the statements has to be taken into consideration.

So, while this ruling - as well as the Cannibal Cop reversal - seem to stand for the general principle that, without some physical or other manifestation of intent, someone cannot be convicted on their words or thoughts alone, there are sure to be future conspiracy and harassment cases built on mere "words" or "thoughts."

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of Aidala Bertuna & Kamins posted in Felonies on Monday April 20, 2015.

A 45-year-old White Plains woman is facing charges for allegedly posing as a dentist and performing medical procedures on unsuspecting patients. She was arraigned in a New York court on April 16.

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