Category Archives: Federal

Babcock Ranch Ordered by Feds to Stop Using Autonomous School Bus

Transdev AV School Shuttle

Transdev shuttle in Babcock Ranch

TheĀ U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shut down an experimiental student shuttle program that had gotten underway in the new town of Babcock Ranch, in southern Charlotte County, Florida. The town had been advertising the autonomous student shuttle, which picked up students and transported them to school one day per week. While Transdev, the company that operates the shuttle had gotten permission from NHTSA to utilize the shuttles for a demo project, using the project as a school bus requires substantially more oversight from regulators. And even though they are calling it a shuttle, it ferries multiple children to school, so it certainly qualifies as a school bus.

I guess the good news is, I have not heard any complaints about the shuttle experiment in Babcock Ranch, and more importantly, no indications of any injuries. Perhaps they can continue the autonomous shuttle project in the town, just not as a school shuttle until it complies with the safety regulations. They are trying a lot of new things in Babcock Ranch, ‘America’s First Solar Town’, and there are going to be hiccups and growing pains… so it’s probably not best to try it out on the kids.

Advertisements

Zoekeeper named “Joe Exotic” Indicted for Murder-for-Hire Plot against ‘Rival’ Zookeeper in Florida

 

joe exotic

Joe Exotic

An Oklahoma zookeeper, who ran a big-cat shelter and billed himself as “Joe Exotic“, has been indicted and arrested for attempted murder-for-hire for attempting to hire multiple hitmen to kill the CEO of a an animal sanctuary in Florida. Joe “Exotic” Maldanado-Passage, 55, who ran a tiger petting zoo in Oklahoma, had a years-long feud with Carole Baskin, the CEO of Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue, regarding the efforts of animal sanctuaries to effectively boycott Exotic’s travelling zoo for what it claimed were harsh treatment of young tigers. Exotic had retaliated, which led to Baskin suing him, and being awarded judgment against him in excess of $1 million dollars. Exotic has allegedly offered to pay two different people to murder Baskin, but authorities were able to foil his efforts. He has previously made threats to Baskin, and even broadcast them himself on Youtube. The case is in the Federal system, presumably due to the interstate issues of his scheme.

Exotic has garnered some notoriety for his ill-fated campaigns for President and Governor of Oklahoma. Take a few minutes to watch, it’s indescribable…

Punta Gorda Lawyer Suspended due to Incarceration

steven burch

Steven Burch

Attorney Steven Burch, who had about 44 cases pending, primarily in Charlotte County, has been suspended indefinitely by the Florida Bar. Burch was indicted on federal drug trafficking charges in 2016, but continued to practice until recently. He was incarcerated after new charges were added, and his bond was revoked for violation of pretrial release conditions. Burch had arranged for a client to send the drugs, allegedly to then try to cooperate with law enforcement to get out of his own DUI charge. He had his client arrange to ship heroin, which he then disclosed to law enforcement. Unbeknownst to him, his client’s wife recorded the arrangement, and Burch ended up going down. He entered a plea to conspiracy to distribute, and faces up to 20 years in prison on that charge.

I’m going to tag this “reverse entrapment”, as it wasn’t law enforcement that set a guy up… it was his own attorney. And this will almost certainly, hopefully, be the only time I use that tag! Though, it is kind of similar to the Easter case from California

What’s going on in the To Make a Murderer Cases

Steven Avery, whose case was documented on “Making a Murderer” had filed a motion for new trial, alleging new evidence that would support granting him a new trial. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing, indicating that Avery’s attorney Katherine Zellner, had not met the legal standard for that type of motion in Wisconsin. Currently, that ruling is being appealed, but it’s fairly early in the appellate process: Zellner has not filed her brief yet.

Brendan Dassey, the young cousin of Avery, is still fighting to get his verdict overturned. He had gone through the State appeals process, when he then got a positive ruling from a Federal judge, finding his confession was illegally obtained and dismissing the trial result. However, a Federal Appellate court overturned that ruling, reinstating his conviction. He is now petitioning to the U.S. Supreme Court. The SCOTUS only takes a relatively few cases each year, and Wisconsin will likely be filing a brief arguing that there is no issue that needs to be addressed by SCOTUS. If the Supreme Court does not hear the case, Dassey could end up filing for a new trial as Avery has done.

If You Think You Have a Secret, You’re Probably Wrong

Thanks to the omnipresence of electronic devices in our lives today, somebody probably knows everything you do. You have a cell phone in your pocket, which is essentially a listening device, your computer might have a camera on it that is potentially watching your every move, HAL 9000 style, and you might even be wearing a smart watch that is literally following you every step. All of those are able to collect data, store it, and potentially share it with others… perhaps even authorities. It’s potentially an avenue for the government to get in your homes and bedrooms.

Much of this technology is new, and the courts are still trying to determine what the limitations are on privacy, and what the government can access and use. The latest test case is actually in Germany, where prosecutors are using data compiled by Apple iPhone’s Health App: an app that is standard and pre-installed on the last several versions of iPhone. The Defendant refused to give up his passcode, by a cyber-forensics firm was able to crack it and give the data to prosecutors.

There are a lot of issues related to this, particularly here in the United States where different Constitutional rights come in to play. Obviously, the rights to privacy, unreasonable search and seizure, and due process are involved, but a major case last year even involved First Amendment aspects. In Arkansas, James Bates was accused of killing his friend Victor Collins, who was found drowned in Bates’ hot tub. In order to strengthen their case, prosecutors sought info from his iPhone to track his phone calls, and even his smart utility meter to demonstrate his water use (they planned to argue that he had hosed down his deck).

The prosecution also went after Alexa- the digital assistant program that works with his Amazon Echo device. Alexa listens and potentially records everything within the range of its microphone, so there’s a major question whether people would have an expectation of privacy around one. The prosecutors sought to obtain the data, when Amazon itself entered the fray with another claim: that they should not have to turn over the data because it would violate the First Amendment… that it could have a chilling effect on protected expression.

Ultimately, the Bates case did not decide the matters. Kathleen Zellner, the attorney who is handling Making a Murderer’s Steven Avery’s post-conviction claims, took over the case and since her defense was not dependent on the Amazon data, waived any objection and it was turned over. Ultimately, it probably did not play a role, as additional medical and forensic reviews apparently convinced the prosecutors that there was not a murder, at least not one that could be proven, and the charges were dropped without the case having to go to trial.

In the meantime, be aware that there is the potential that the government can find out a lot about you, from your computer, your social media, your phone, your watch, your car, your video game, your pacemaker, and in this case, they didn’t just go after Alexa, they used Bates’ hot water heater to charge him with a murder.

George Papadapolous Pleads Guilty

Oh no- George, say it isn’t so!

george papadapalous

Also, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was an unregistered foreign agent who, along with associate Rick Gates, laundered millions and millions of dollars through foreign accounts to avoid paying taxes. Real life Papadapolous has apparently cooperated with authorities leading to their indictment.

Fort Myers Pays Nate Allen $440,000 for Wrongful Arrest

nate allen

Nate Allen

The city council yesterday finalized a settlement of nearly a half-a-million dollars for NFL player Nate Allen for his wrongful arrest. (While he was detained, and ultimately released without a formal arrest, it was easily a ‘de facto arrest’ due to time and totality of the circumstances.) It was enough to make the news, especially since he is a professional football player. Even though he was released that day, the suit was worth a lot more because of the demonstrable negative effects it had on his NFL contract situation. Worse, the FMPD chief at the time, Doug Baker, was caught lying in the investigation into the cover-up, leading ultimately to his termination. The entire incident was a black eye on the city. To the council’s credit, they recognized the wrongdoing, and have repeatedly apologized. Neither the chief, nor the detective on the case are still with the city. Sawyer Smith handled the case for Allen, and tells me he is as nice a guy you could ever meet.

Sadly, the lessons are still being learned. Just a few months ago I encountered a case where the FMPD utilized the same faulty show-up procedure to identify someone, in spite of the pending lawsuit. The state ended up dropping the case. Meanwhile, the 2-year anniversary of Zombie-con has passed with no arrests, charges, or even named suspects. And just last week, more details have come out about the officers suspended after the Freeh Report. FMPD has a long way to go…