Should You Blog About Your Crimes?

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my friend Joe Manna. He wanted to write a blog pot about his experience driving a Prius and he had concerns about disclosing the fact that he was speeding – not just a little over the limit, but driving over 100 mph.

Luckily under the law the burden is on the prosecution to build a case against you. As far as we know, no one from law enforcement saw him speeding and we really don’t know which city/county he was in when this occurred, or even if he was in California or Arizona. Frankly all we have is his claim that he was speeding and anyone who’s ever heard a fishing story knows how much someone’s word can be taken at face value. As far as I know there’s no physical evidence of what actually happened.

Joe’s question brought up a good point – be careful about what you post online and aware of what others post about you. If you disclose that you committed a crime and post videos or pictures from it, that could be evidence that could be used against you.

Think about all the stories you’ve heard about burglars that were caught after they took pictures of themselves with their loot and high school pranksters who took pictures of themselves doing their senior prank or stealing their rival’s mascot.  They were busted in part due to their own stupidity.

This is one of the risks we take in the flash mob world. After each event, we post the blog, photos, and video from the flash mob so people can enjoy our shenanigans. If we did anything illegal during the flash mob, we just admitted it and probably gave law enforcement the evidence they need to prosecute us.

So does Joe have anything to worry about? Probably not. The worst thing he probably has to worry about is he’s put the police on notice that he speeds so maybe the cops in his neighborhood might pay a bit more attention to him when they see him out and about.

Can you blog about your crimes? Of course! Should you? That’s a different question. Think hard about the potential consequences of the post before you tell the internet-accessible world about your wrongdoings. You never know where that information will end up and what those people will do with it.

If you want more information on this topic, please check out my books The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Prankk Bros vs Providence Police Officer

 

Alien Invasion Prank by the Freaky the Snowman Guys

Alien Invasion Prank by the Freaky the Snowman Guys

Jay Lichtenberger of Prankk Bros and RipFilms, best known for the Freaky the Scary Snowman pranks and videos asked me for my take on their latest Alien Invasion Prank and their run-in with the police. I’m a fan of Freaky the Scary Snowman and the guys seem to be pretty mindful about what they’re doing to make sure that everyone has a good time.

In their latest stunt, they have one of their guys dressed up as a giant alien who surprises people coming around the corner in Providence, Rhode Island.  They surprised a lot of people (but wouldn’t you be if you encountered a seven-foot tall person?) but everyone on the video seemed to enjoy it. I really appreciated that the alien was careful not to touch anyone initially. Look when he comes around the corner – his palms are open and his hands are up and away from the people.

The alien took a lot of pictures with people, including with someone’s baby at the request of the mother. He gave high fives and hugs, danced with people, and played with someone’s puppy. When the police rolled up, they acknowledged their risk of liability and that they were being careful to which the officer said, “Have fun.”

For at least one of their locations, they had permission from the business owner to carry on with their prank outside the place of business. Despite this permission, a different police officer ordered them to leave. Apparently this is the same officer who gave them a hard time about Freaky. I love how the Providence cop kicked them out but the Newport police officer thought it was hilarious and just watched from down the street.

What about the cop on the alien video who said he told them to stop twice in two days, but from two different locations? I think it’s reasonable for the guys to think that maybe they couldn’t be on public property doing a prank one day but think it might be ok to get permission from the business owner to do the same stunt a different day at the business’ location. If anything, it shows a desire to comply with the law.

The video shows the officer threatening to arrest the guys for failure to move, which sounds like failure to comply with an order from law enforcement, which is a crime. It was interesting that the officer did not cite any other laws that the guys could be accused of breaking. The video also didn’t show the officer say anything about receiving complaints. I wonder if the guys are acting completely within the laws and this officer just doesn’t like them.

I appreciate the other officer who suggested that the guys file a complaint against the officer with internal affairs at the police station, especially when he said, “Don’t let them knock you down either.” What these guys are doing is definitely a violation of social norms; but if it’s not a violation of any laws, leave them alone. If there is a violation, tell them so they know what not to do next time.

The RipFilm guys may want to give up on doing pranks in Providence if filing the complaint against the police officer doesn’t work out. But at least they know that Newport will welcome them with open arms.

If you want more information about how to stay out of troule while doing pranks, please check out my book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Go Topless Day 2013

scar web by istolethetv from Flickr

scar web by istolethetv from Flickr

International Go Topless Day is coming up on Sunday, August 25th. I’m not kidding; it’s a real holiday aimed at bringing awareness to gender inequality when it comes to how much of your torso you have to have covered when you walk out of the house.

In every state in the U.S., men can walk around in public without wearing a shirt. The same is generally not true for women. Every state has a law against showing at least part of the female breast in public. In Arizona, women must keep their areolas covered so women can go shirtless in public as long as their wearing at least a pair of pasties, band-aids, or pieces of electrical tape. Other states, like California, are weird and require women to cover not only their areolas but also the bottom half of their breasts at all times. (Who would have thought that California would be more closed-minded than Arizona on this issue?)

There are a handful of cities that have passed local laws that allow men and women to be topless in public – like New York, Washington D.C., and Austin. (I wish I knew that when I was at SXSW.) These laws are technically unconstitutional but the states have bigger fish to fry than to go after a handful of topless women.

Wherez all da love ppl? by TheeErin from Flickr

Wherez all da love ppl? by TheeErin from Flickr

To bring awareness to the inequality between men and women under these indecent exposure laws, Go Topless protests have been organized in a handful of cities. At these events, if it’s illegal for women to be topless in public in that city, men and women are encouraged to dress within the limits of the law for women by wearing pasties, body paint, bikini tops, or the like. If the city law allows both genders to be topless in public, it’s more of a celebration and everyone’s encouraged to bare their chest. (If you want to wear pasties, I strongly recommend Nippies – they’re high quality and have an excellent adhesive.)

Please check out this map to see if there is a Go Topless event being organized in your community on August 25th. If you go, please make sure you act within in the limits of your state and city’s laws and wear sunblock! For my Phoenix people, there will be a Go Topless protest in Tempe starting at 10 a.m. where people will be walking down Mill Ave. sans shirts but with their areolas covered.

If you want more information about decency laws and these types of events, I talk about indecent exposure in relationship to the annual No Pants Ride in my new book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans or contact a First Amendment attorney in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Get a Free Consultation with Ruth Carter

Photo by Don McPhee

Photo by Don McPhee

I’m excited to share that I’ve teamed up with Gangplank in Chandler to offer free legal mentoring services on the first Monday of the month from 1pm until 4pm. I can see 3 people for 45-minutes each every month at no charge.

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

My legal mentoring hours are a great opportunity to informally bat around your ideas and questions about your projects and business. Coming to my mentoring hours does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. We won’t have any ongoing obligations to each other unless we decide to create a formal working relationship.

Gangplank provides free collaborative workspaces in Arizona, Virginia, and Canada. They provide the physical and social infrastructure for creative people to launch their startups. These are wonderful places for freelancers and new business owners to work. In Arizona, Gangplank has locations on Chandler, Avondale, and Tucson.

I love working with Gangplank. They have a fantastic group of dynamic people who have an enormous amount of creativity and drive. They have a very informal environment and they do incredible work. It fits brilliantly with my desire to be the approachable lawyer who wears t-shirts.

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Gangplank in Chandler is located at 260 South Arizona Avenue. Their events calendar shows their mentors’ availability and also all their other events like their weekly brown bag presentations, hacknights, and workshops. They have a wealth of other mentors too who provide assistance in the areas of business, leadership, marketing, design, finance, and technology.

Gangplank is in charge of scheduling the mentoring hours so please check their event calendar for my availability. You can book a mentoring appointment with me by emailing them at chandler@gangplankhq.com.

Please note: my mentoring hours at Gangplank are not for my ongoing clients with whom I’ve created an attorney-client relationship. These appointments are for people who think they might need a lawyer, people who just want some general legal information, law students, anyone else who wants to chat for an hour.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal – Christmas Flash Mobs

Coventry Carolers by moonlightbulb from Flickr

Coventry Carolers by moonlightbulb from Flickr

It’s the holiday season and with it comes a usual slew of holiday inspired flash mobs. I’ve seen videos this year of groups of bell ringers standing outside stores and carolers in shopping malls. These groups seem to have the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is permissible.

So When is a Group probably OK?
If a group is on public property (i.e. a public sidewalk or park), not obstructing a thoroughfare or blocking the public’s access to businesses, and not making so much noise that they’re disturbing the peace or violating the city’s noise ordinance, they’re probably ok. Most flash mobs don’t last very long so by the time a scrooge complains to the police, the group will have dispersed before they show up.

'Tis the Season . . . for Shopping by Vince Alongi from Flickr

‘Tis the Season . . . for Shopping by Vince Alongi from Flickr

What about Malls?
Shopping malls are private property, including open air malls. The mall is open to the public to shop; however, they get to decide what other activities get to occur at their properties. When patrons are watching a flash mob, they’re not shopping. Some owners don’t like that. I think some malls don’t want to worry about drawing the line between permissible performances and impermissible ones so they don’t allow any of them in the mall.

Scottsdale Fashion Square has put all flash mob groups on notice that flash mobs are not allowed on their property and that we’ll be arrested for trespassing if we do a flash mob there. They have real police officers on site so that is a threat they can easily carry out. A group did a dance there in 2010 and they were stopped by police and banned from the mall for a year.

What else should you know about Flash Mobs in Malls?
Every mall has a set of rules, but they can be hard to find. They might be on an obscure wall or on the mall’s website. When Improv AZ was stopped by mall cops during the Coroner Prank #2, they gave us a list of rules on cards when they banned us from the mall for 3 months. I didn’t see the rules anywhere in the mall and I couldn’t find them on their website. It might be hard to figure out what the rules are and asking for them may arouse suspicion.

There was one Christmas flash mob in a mall that turned into a safety hazard in 2010. So many people showed up to participate in the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” that there was fears that the floor would buckle. Malls also have limits on capacity set by the fire marshall that you can’t violate with your flash mob.

Some malls don’t allow videotaping, which is a common component of doing flash mobs. There’s a possibility that what you’re doing in the mall is permissible but you can’t tape it. Given that when a flash mob starts, a bunch of people are going to whip out their phones and start taping it, so the chances that a mall cop will stop you versus an unsuspecting audience member is pretty low.

Are there Copyright Issues with Singing Christmas Carols in Public?
It depends. Some holiday songs may not be in the public domain yet. A copyright holder has rights in their work, including control over where their work is performed, for 70 years after the artist dies for all works created after January 1, 1978. Fortunately, I suspect most artists would be happy that you’re promoting their work so they’re unlikely to come after you for copyright infringement even if they could.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal – The Zombathalon

Zombathalon - Zombies shamble forth! by Moriartys from Flickr

Zombathalon – Zombies shamble forth! by Moriartys from Flickr

Around Halloween there are a lot of organized zombie walks and zombie races, but we wanted to see what would happen if we created a zombie outbreak in an unexpected location.

Zombathalon - Zombie Outbreak Warning! by Moriartys from Flickr

Zombathalon – Zombie Outbreak Warning! by Moriartys from Flickr

Improv AZ organized a group of 13 zombies that invaded the Arizona Canal, a popular running/walking/biking path in Phoenix over the weekend. For about 30 minutes we stumbled and groaned up and down a section of the canal while covered in fake blood, ripped clothes, and with pasty white makeup covering our skin. We warned people that they were coming upon a gaggle of zombies by posting yellow signs covered in fake blood that said, “Warning: Zombie Outbreak.”

We had an awesome time entertaining, surprising, and scaring our unsuspecting audience, but was it legal?

Did We Commit Trespassing?
No. It was a public path. Everyone’s welcome to use it.

Did We Commit Assault?
No. Assault requires intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing a physical injury or putting someone in reasonable fear of physical injury. Most of the time we were moving too slowly to get close enough to anyone to even touch them. I doubt anyone thought we were trying to injure anyone. I think they figured out that it was all in good fun.

The only time we had physical contact with any runners was when they initiated contact with us with high fives, fist bumps, and one person jokingly threw water at one of us.

What About Intimidation? Unlawful Imprisonment?
No. That would require us threatening to cause physical injury, serious damage to property, or serious public inconvenience. Public inconvenience is things like forcing the evacuation of a building. Putting people in a situation where they have to run around us – an extra 5 steps to their run – hardly counts as a public inconvenience. Imprisonment requires restraining a person. We may have been in the way, temporarily, but we didn’t prohibit anyone from moving down the path.

It’s probably not a public inconvenience if the people are laughing about it while they’re doing it.

We did this flash mob to entertain our unsuspecting audience and everyone seemed to have a good time. We had a lot of people laugh and make jokes when they saw us.

We had to be more careful than zombies in an organized zombie race because at those events the racers know they will be navigating a course where there are zombies who try to attack them. They know and consent in advance to being approached and touched by those zombies so there’s little risk that those zombies will be accused of wrongdoing either.

You can check out the video from The Zombathalon here.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Police Arrest Would-Be Prankster for Conspiracy

Jumping Jacks by Flabber DeGasky

Jumping Jacks by Flabber DeGasky

I recently read a news story out of Buffalo, NY about a 17 year-old being charged for conspiracy, criminal nuisance, and disorderly conduct for posting an event on Facebook that invited people to assemble at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga, NY. The reporter called the planned event a “flash mob,” but given that the article said that organizer’s “intent was to cause damage and create chaos,” I doubt that this was a plan constituted a real flash mob. It sounds like an invitation to commit a crime such as disorderly conduct or rioting. I could not find the event on Facebook, so I can’t say for certain what the planned activity was.

Either way the lesson is the same: If you plan an event which involves a crime, you’re asking to be charged with conspiracy and solicitation. Even if you only meant to do something fun, you could still be charged. Even if you cancel the event and nothing bad happens, you could still be charged. Let’s look at what it takes to get charged with each crime.

Conspiracy
In Arizona, you need three things to be commit conspiracy:

  1. Two or more people,
  2. A plan between them that involves committing a crime, and
  3. One overt action in furtherance of that crime, even if that act is not a crime.

So if you and your friend planned to kill someone and one of you bought a shovel to bury the body, you could be charged with conspiracy. Likewise, if your plan was more innocent, like planning a pillow fight where the rules say you can hit anyone in the vicinity with your pillow whether they have a pillow or not and you buy a new pillow for the event, that could also be conspiracy.

Solicitation
It’s also very easy to commit solicitation in Arizona. All you have to do is ask or encourage someone to commit a crime. Even if the person declines the invitation, it’s still solicitation. Asking someone to kill your spouse, regardless of their answer, is solicitation. Likewise, inviting people to participate in a prank that involves touching people in any way without their consent might be solicitation to commit assault. Putting up a Facebook event and making it public could be enough for a solicitation charge.

These types of crimes are easy to commit, especially if you don’t realize that what you’re planning to do is illegal. Your ignorance of the law will generally not protect you from the consequences of your actions. It’s because of this that it’s imperative that you contact a flash mob attorney (like me) when you are beginning to plan your event. Even if the illegality of your event is brought to your attention and you cancel it before anything bad happens, you could still face serious criminal charges.

If you want to know more about committing conspiracy and solicitation by planning a flash mob, I made a video about it. You can also view it here.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

I’m an ABA Legal Rebel!

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

I’m excited to share the news that I’ve been named a 2012 American Bar Association Legal Rebel! The ABA acknowledges 10 members of the legal community each year for being innovative leaders. I am humbled and honored to be added to this illustrious group.

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

I learned about the Legal Rebels when I was in law school at Arizona State University. Every year they invite a panel of Legal Rebels to the school to talk to students about non-traditional career paths. I’m so grateful they hold this event for people like me who need role models who embody the idea that there’s more than one way to be a successful lawyer. I really admire people like Stephanie Kimbro, Niki Black, and Jeffrey Hughes who created some of the roads less traveled in the legal profession.

I had a wonderful conversation with Legal Rebel Mark Britton at the ABA TechShow this year. I met him the year before when he visited my law school when I was a 3L. In one year, I had gone from sitting in the audience listening to him speak to sharing the stage with him at LexThink.1. At the end of the event he was very encouraging of me and my firm and said I was “doing everything right” with my career.

The ABA selected me to be a Legal Rebel for my work in flash mob law. Even though I’ve been a lawyer for less than a year, I’ve examined the legal issues surrounding flash mobs since 2009 when I participated in my first flash mob – the No Pants Light Rail Ride. A group of us from that event decided we wanted to keep doing these events so we co-founded Improv AZ. Before  every event, I think through the criminal, First Amendment, tort, property, and intellectual property issues and try to ensure that we aren’t setting ourselves or our participants up to get arrested or sued.

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

I’m also an advocate for the real flash mob community. I try to correct the media when they call group criminal activities or any protest or demonstration organized through social media a “flash mob.” I want to maintain our reputation for organizing surprise events that entertain an unsuspecting audience.

I never would have pursued flash mob law without the support of some very special people.  I especially want to thank Ari Kaplan who encouraged me to pursue this niche, my fellow Improv AZ co-founders, and my family and friends who encouraged me to follow my dream of being a flash mob lawyer. Thank you again to the ABA for bestowing this honor upon me and for my awesome Legal Rebel Converse sneakers!

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal: International Pillow Fight Day

 

AZ Pillow Fight by Sheila Dee

International Pillow Fight Day is always on the first Saturday in April. Over 100 pillow fights will be taking place all over the world this year. Public pillow fights are lots of fun, but of course, there is always the question of whether they are legal.

Doesn’t a Pillow Fight Count as Assault and Battery?
Probably not. Most state laws regarding assault and battery require offensive touching or an imminent threat of offensive touching. Some laws require physical injury or at least intentionally touching someone with the intent to provoke or insult them. As long as you’re hitting other pillow fighters, you’re probably not committing assault and battery.

There was an incident at a pillow fight in New York a few years ago where a woman was arrested for hitting a cop with her pillow. Don’t do that.

Be sure to check your state laws for laws against fighting or mutual combat. It might be hiding in a catch-all law like disorderly conduct.

What If My Pillow Explodes?
I don’t think pillows explode. I think people cut their pillows so the feathers fly everywhere.

Regardless of the cause of your pillow’s explosion, clean it up. There are laws against littering. If the feathers from your pillow cause any damage, you might be responsible for that too. There was a pillow fight on a rainy Valentine’s Day in San Francisco in 2009. Wet feathers clogged drains and caused ~$20,000 in damage due to flooding and clean-up costs.

Where’s a Good Place to Hold a Public Pillow Fight?
If I were to organize a public pillow fight, I’d look for a big public park. If you’re not on private property (like a mall), it’s harder to be arrested for trespassing. I’d pick a place that does not interfering with other’s enjoyment of the park and wouldn’t block any sidewalks or thoroughfares.

What If the Cops Find Out about the Pillow Fight – Can They Stop It Before It Happens?
I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try. In 2009, the Detroit police confiscated pillows at a park before the fight was scheduled to occur. Carrying a pillow in public is not illegal, so I don’t think the cops had the authority to prevent the fight was happening. I think the better course of action was to warn people about what laws they might break if they strike someone with their pillows and to warn them that they would be cited or arrested if they broke any laws.

The laws that apply to public pillow fights are mainly state criminal laws so be sure to consult your state’s statutes before having a pillow fight. When in doubt, consult an attorney who specializes in flash mob law.

Flash Mobs Are Not Crimes

Improv AZ Apple Mob by Devon Christopher Adams

Improv AZ Apple Mob by Devon Christopher Adams

This post was originally published on The Undeniable Ruth in August 2011. 

It appears the term “flash mob” is being used inappropriately and its meaning is being overly broadened to include any group activity that is coordinated using social media. This year, there have been several robberies and assaults perpetrated by a group of people that appear (at least on the surface) to have been orchestrated via social media sites. The media has called them “flash mob crimes.” They make it sound like someone created a Facebook event that said, “Meet at Broadway and Main at 10pm. At exactly 10:03, we’re all going to run into the minimart, grab whatever we want, and run out.” That’s not a flash mob. That’s solicitation and possibly conspiracy. If the event actually occurs, it’s larceny and perhaps inciting a riot.

flash mob is defined as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.” Flash mobs have been occurring at least since the 1970’s. In recent years, they have been orchestrated via email and social media websites; however, that does not mean that every public group activity that is coordinated via social media is a flash mob.

Where's Waldo Flash Mob by Jeff Moriarty

Where's Waldo Flash Mob by Jeff Moriarty

Flash mobs are generally light-hearted innocuous fun.  People who participate in flash mobs ride public transportation without their pants; they welcome back strangers at the airport; they have fake battles between heroes and villains; and they stand frozen in place for short periods of time. Some protests and promotional events are referred to as “flash mobs,” but technically they’re not. And any event that has a criminal intent is definitely not a flash mob.

I give the media some leeway when it comes to coining terms; however, I was deeply disturbed when I saw a legal website refer to flash mobs as including criminal behavior. It suggests the writer did not do their research on this topic.

I love flash mobs. I have been participating in them and organizing them since 2009. When Improv AZ organizes a flash mob, we do thorough research on the potential legal implications of our event. I have attended an event with pages of statutes in my back pocket to ensure that we’re acting within the confines of the law. We are diligent to inform our participants in advance of their do’s and don’ts. We may push the envelope, but we never intend to cross the line. Most of our encounters with police involve them smiling or laughing at us. At the 2010 No Pants Ride after party, a Tempe police car stopped near us and an officer yelled out, “We had a briefing about you!” And then he went about his merry way, knowing we were harmless. A bit odd and rather goofy, but harmless.

Flash mobs are harmless, playful, and unexpected events. They are not criminal acts by design. Flash mobs and crimes are two completely different phenomena.  They do not exist on the same continuum.

In other news, the flash mob community needs to send a big “thank you” to Mayor Jackson and the city of Cleveland. Mayor Jackson recently vetoed a proposed law that would have made it illegal to use social media to coordinate a flash mob.  Thank you for protecting our First Amendment rights!