Recently in Criminal Law Category
A 14-year-old Florida girl has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse by the Polk County Sheriff's Office after allegedly choking her newborn baby to death. According to the Sheriff's Office, authorities were called to Lakeland Regional Medical Center on September 19 after receiving reports of a teen girl being treated for a miscarriage. Three days later, the Sheriff's Office received a call reporting that a full-term baby had been found inside a shoebox at the girl's residence.
A 14-year-old Florida girl has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse after officials said she choked her newborn baby to death earlier this month. According to the Sheriff's Office, authorities were called to Lakeland Regional Medical Center on September 19 after receiving reports of a teen girl being treated for a miscarriage. Three days later, the Sheriff's Office received a call reporting that a full-term baby had been found inside a shoebox at the girl's residence.
Given the defendant's age, the big issue in this case is criminal intent and whether she was capable of forming the requisite level of criminal intent to support a murder conviction. Tune in to HLN tonight at 8 PM and 10 PM to hear me chime in with Nancy Grace!
Police in Georgia are looking for answers to the violent and tragic murder of 16-year-old Hannah Truelove. Hall County Police say they've narrowed down the case to several persons of interest, but they're not all cooperating. How should we interpret their failure to cooperate with police?
According to Dallas police, Larry Dunn, Jr. stabbed his girlfriend to death after learning that she was HIV positive. The victim's body was discovered by her son and daughter, ages 7 and 9, when they came home from school.
Following the stabbing, Dunn told police, "she killed me, so I killed her." The big question now is whether his girlfriend's revelation constitutes "legally adequate provocation" sufficient to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter.
Texas man stabs girlfriend to death after learning she was HIV+. Following the stabbing, he burned his bloodied clothes and the kitchen knife used to commit the crime. When questioned by police, he stated, "she killed me, so I killed her." Was it murder? Or should the victim's revelation of her HIV status serve to mitigate the crime to manslaughter?
I'll weigh in with Nancy Grace tonight at 8 PM and 10 PM on HLN!
The Miami Herald is reporting this morning that a South Florida cardiologist charged in the beating death of a dog has bonded out of jail for $5,000. Click here to read the report. Apparently, the defendant beat the dog to death with a hammer and stabbed it in the throat and head with a screwdriver. According to the Miami Herald, the defendant admitted striking the dog on the head with a hammer during police questioning.
To put this into perspective, a defendant is required to post 10% of his or her own money if a bail bondsman is used. In other words, this doctor, who has clearly shown a propensity for violence, could have secured release from jail for only $500. I've seen bail set significantly higher in misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.
The defendant has been charged with one count of animal cruelty with intent to kill. Intent to kill? He did kill the dog! Seriously, what is wrong with our criminal justice system?
Topic: 17-year-old Destiny Coulson shot her 21-year-old boyfriend point blank in the face. A Michigan court has ruled that she will be tried as adult based upon the seriousness of the crime and past behavioral problems in school. The defendant is looking at second-degree murder charges, and the big question is whether this defendant was legally insane at the time of the shooting. In this clip, Brianne comments on the importance of distinguishing between medical insanity and legal insanity.
17-year-old Destiny Coulson shoots her 21-year-old boyfriend point blank in the face. A Michigan court ruled this week that she will be tried as adult. The defendant is looking at second-degree murder charges, and the big question is whether this defendant was legally insane at the time of the shooting.
I'll chime in with Nancy Grace tonight at 8 PM on HLN. Be sure to tune in!
Teresa Mayes, wife of the late Adam Mayes, has admitted to authorities that she was present for the gruesome killings of thirty-one-year-old Jo Ann Bain and fourteen-year-old Adrienne Bain. In addition, she has admitted to assisting with the removal of the two bodies and the transportation of the two kidnapped girls across state lines. She has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two-counts of aggravated kidnapping for her admitted role in these crimes.
Despite the egregious nature of these crimes, Teresa Mayes likely has a fairly solid defense.
In an interview with Nancy Grace, Teresa Mayes' mother revealed that her daughter, Teresa, suffers from various learning disabilities. The exact nature of these disabilities remains unclear at this time, but according to Teresa Mayes' mother, doctors did not expect that Teresa Mayes would be able to successfully graduate high school. With that being said, an insanity defense may be appropriate in this case.
Under Tennessee law, Teresa Mayes will be excused on grounds of insanity if she proves by clear and convincing evidence that, at the time of the offense: (1) she was suffering from a severe mental disease or defect; and (2) as a result of that mental disease or defect, she was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of her conduct; or the wrongfulness of her conduct.
Insanity, if proven at trial, operates as a complete defense to the charged crime. That is, successful assertion of the insanity defense results in an acquittal on grounds of insanity.
Battered Woman Syndrome
In her interview with Nancy Grace, Teresa Mayes' mother also revealed that Teresa was a victim of domestic violence. According to Teresa's mother, Adam Mayes was controlling and physically abusive.
In the case of a battered woman, a cycle of violence induces a state of "learned helplessness" which keeps the battered woman in the relationship. The cycle begins with an initial building of tension and violence, culminates in an explosion, and ends with a "honeymoon." The battered woman is captive. She begins to believe her husband is omnipotent, and resistance will be futile at best. And, of course, given Teresa Mayes' learning disabilities, she was likely more susceptible to fall victim to Adam Mayes' controlling and abusive ways than an average woman.
To be clear, the battered woman syndrome defense is generally asserted in self-defense cases where an abused woman attacks her abuser. However, the theory underlying the traditional battered woman syndrome defense may, nevertheless, prove helpful to Teresa Mayes' defense. If anything, her status as a battered woman demonstrates an inability to appreciate the nature and qualify of her conduct due to her captor's control over her.
The trial of Florida developer Adam Kaufman who is charged with the murder of his wife begins tomorrow. The primary defense theory is that his wife collapsed onto the magazine rack where Mr. Kaufman discovered her body after experiencing an allergic reaction to a spray tan. The defense has been ridiculed by prosecutors and commentators as offensive and ridiculous, but the defense theory may not be as farfetched as the prosecution is making it out to be.
To be clear, the medical examiner has ruled the death as a homicide. But homicide is simply a cause of death. It's not the crime in and of itself. So the fact that the medical examiner has ruled the death as a homicide does not necessarily speak to the prosecution's ability to prove the crime of murder at trial.
The primary ingredient in the self-tanning spray used in spray tan booths is dihydroxyacetones (commonly referred to as DHA). DHA is a colorless chemical which causes a browning effect when applied to the skin. It has been FDA approved for topical application to the skin. Significantly, however, the FDA has not approved the spray application or the incidental inhalation that can occur during the spray application process. It is certainly plausible that accidental inhalation of this chemical could cause a person to react adversely. In this respect, it is certainly plausible that any adverse reaction to chemical inhalation could include fainting. With that being said, Adam Kaufman's wife could have fainted as a reaction to DHA inhalation earlier that day and fallen onto the magazine rack where her husband discovered her body. In this respect, it should be noted that the medical examiner's determination of homicide was largely based on bruising and trauma in the neck area which could be consistent with strangulation. But this type of neck trauma could also be consistent with falling onto the magazine rack. Moreover, the manner of death (i.e. suffocation) could still be accurate based on pressure placed on the victim's neck by the magazine rack.
The bottom line is this: the level of proof required in a criminal trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt." In light of the foregoing, I think it is unclear whether the prosecution will be able to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is especially true when you consider that the victim's own family believes the defense theory. Indeed, some of the victim's family members are expected to testify as defense witnesses at trial.
As a final note, consider what I consider to be the three most ridiculous legal defense theories to have been successfully asserted in a court of law.
1. The PMS Defense
Geraldine Richter was stopped for erratic driving and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A breathalyzer test administered at the scene revealed a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. During the course of the traffic stop, the defendant directed offensive language toward the state trooper and attempted to kick him in the groin. She was acquitted on all charges after her lawyer successfully argued that her violent behavior at the scene of the traffic stop was due to PMS rather than intoxication and that the breathalyzer result was skewed because she was holding her breath in her fit of rage.
2. The Gay Panic Defense
In 2009, Joseph Biederman was acquitted on murder charges after stabbing Terrance Hauser 61 times with a medieval sword after his defense attorney asserted what is known as the gay panic defense. In essence, this is a legal defense in which a person claims temporary insanity as a result of having been at the receiving end of a homosexual advance.
3. The Twinkie Defense
In Dan White's 1979 trial for the murders of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone, defense counsel was able to obtain a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter by arguing diminished capacity due, in part, to defendant's poor diet which was high in sugary junk foods.
Is the spray tan murder defense up there with these three or does it have legitimate merit? Personally, I think that supporting facts and evidence are present in what has been dubbed the spray tan murder case which were lacking in these other cases. With that being said, I think that the defense theory has a reasonable chance of success at trial.
Governor Rick Scott's task force will meet today for the first time to examine Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law. The seventeen-member task force will receive public testimony throughout the state. After hearing this testimony and evaluating the statute, the task force will make recommendations to Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature.
So what should be done about this law: repeal or reform? Despite high emotions for an all-out repeal of the "stand your ground" right in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, reform is probably the more appropriate route.
It remains important that the people of Florida feel confident in their right to defend themselves under the appropriate circumstances. At the same time, it is crucial that the people of Florida understand that deadly force must be used only as a last resort. I think that a return to the common law duty to retreat could be the best way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable goals.
Like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the common law duty of retreat recognizes every man's right of self-defense. However, the common law of self-defense requires a person to make a reasonable effort to retreat before employing deadly force. Under the common law, a person may not resort to deadly force without first exhausting every reasonable non-deadly means to avoid the danger.
To be clear, I believe that a "stand your ground" right should continue to exist in cases where a person is attacked in his or her home. But this is not inconsistent with the common law's "castle doctrine," which abrogates the duty to retreat when a person is attacked in his or her home.
But moving the "castle doctrine" out of the castle and into the streets clearly appears to have been a mistake. Trayvon Martin in Florida and Daniel Adkins, Jr. in Arizona are only the most recent victims of this mistake.