Drunk Driving vs Cell Phones

July 20, 2009

A lot of things impair a driver in his driving.  Only a few are against the law.  Imbibation of alcohol to a certain measured level is one.  Ingesting many listed drugs to any uncertainly-measured level is another.  Reading a book, texting, or talking on a cell phone are not unlawful -per se- unlawful activities to carry on while driving.

What’s the difference?    Any criminal defense lawyer can tell you:  Since Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol is a misdemeanor crime, and Manslaughter First Degree is, among other things, a death caused while in the commission of a misdemeanor, a driver who, while Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, causes an accident resulting in a death, must answer to a charge of Manslaughter First Degree, punishable up to life imprisonment.  Contrast that with a driver who causes a death by simple negligence, i.e., not in the commission of a misdemeanor, faces only a charge of Negligent Homicide, punishable up to one year in the County Jail.

Should cell-phone users face the same penalty?  Certainly not now, since the legislature has enacted no such a law.  Should the legislature treat the use of cell phones the same as alcohol or drugs?

Most drivers think they are not affected by their own use of cell phones, but these same drivers believe other drivers are definitely distracted by the use of cell phones while driving.  Research shows drivers all overestimate their own ability to dominate the distractions of cell phone use while driving.  Five states and the District of Columbia require drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on a cellphone, but this could only cover up the real problem.

A survey of 1,506 people by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 81 % of cellphone owners acknowledged they talk on phones while driving with 98% who considered themselves safe drivers.  However, 45 % of them said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone.  “When we ask people to identify the most dangerous distraction on the highway today, about half identify cellphones,”said Bill Windsor , associate vice president for safety at Nationwide.  “But they think others are dangerous, not themselves.”

Extensive research shows drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a wreck as other drivers, the same likelihood as drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% Blood Alcohol Content (right on the number of the illegal limit for alcohol consumption).   Moreover, hands-free devices do not lessen the risk and may even worsen the risk by suggesting it is no longer present.

A Harvard study in 2003 estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths annually and caused 330,000 accidents with moderate or sever injuries.   Nevertheless, state legislatures, while after introducing 170 bills last year to address distracted driving passed fewer than 10 such bills.  Oklahoma is one of the states who has rejected any effort to limit distracted driving.  Legislators from Oklahoma themselves use cellphones while driving, some “from when I leave the Capitol to when I get home, and that’s a two-hour driver,” said Tad Jones, the majority floor leader of the Oklahoma House.  He helped block legislation restricting cellphone use while driving.

The cellphone industry argues that from 1997 to 2007, the number of reported accidents fell to 6 million from 6.7 million.  “There are more drivers, more talking drivers, “ said John Walls, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. “If it’s so risky, then logically one would think there would be more accidents.”  David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and a leading researcher in the field of distracted driving, counters: “We’ve spent billions on air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cards and roads, but the number of fatalities has remained constant.  Our return on investment for those billions is zero,” he said.  “And that’s because we’re using devises in our cars.”

Better data could tell us more.  But 21 states do not even include a box on accident forms for accident investigators to mark electronic devices as a cause.  Moreover, such forms require the driver to confess his own cellphone use in the accident. This is not the most forthcoming method but a better one is lacking at the present time.

Professor Strayer has spent a decade studying driver distraction.  He uses a driving simulator, operated by a volunteer.  The task is to follow closely a white car that often slows abruptly.  Meanwhile, a voice on speaker talks to the driver, asking questions like, “When you do a pull-up, do your palms face toward you? and”Can you touch your elbow to your ear?”  Little problem usually, the driver sometimes took her hands from the wheel when trying to answer a question like, “True of false: A peanut butter jar opens clockwise,” She was so focused on her call that she seemed to miss surprises, like a body by the side of the road.

Texting while driving was worse.  The driver soon slammed into the rear of virtual car in front of her.  (Fourteen states ban texting while driving).   Strayer’s research uses a small camera to track eye movements, and it shows texting drivers regularly focus on their screens for more than 5 seconds at a time.

This research shows multitasking drivers are four times as likely to crash as those focused on their driving, and studies in Canada and Australia agree.  The highway safety administration estimates that drivers using a hand-held device are at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near-crash.  Scientists, such as Steve Yantis, professor psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University, note that the brain has trouble assessing separate streams of information, even if one is visual and the other aural.

Cellphones are the most common cause of driver distraction.  Conversation with fellow passengers do not present the same danger.  Scientists say listening on the phone requires more than listening.  The words bring up images in the mind’s eye. That is not a problem, but when a car swerves unexpectedly or a pedestrian comes near, the brain lacks the processing power to react in time.

Title 21. Crimes and Punishments
Chapter 24 – Homicide
Manslaughter
Section 711 – First Degree Manslaughter
Cite as: O.S. §, __ __When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.

Title 21. Crimes and Punishments
Chapter 24 – Homicide
Section 701.8 – Second Degree Murder
Cite as: O.S. §, __ __

Homicide is murder in the second degree in the following cases:

1. When perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual; or

2. When perpetrated by a person engaged in the commission of any felony other than the unlawful acts set out in Section 1, subsection B, of this act.


Injustice for sale — Judges jail children for money

February 24, 2009

Two judges pled guilty in Pennsylvania last week to putting children in jail for money. The Judges accepted more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers to unnecessarily long sentences.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, pled guilty in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pursuant to plea bargains with the United States Attorney’s office. They admitted that they had accepted payoffs from PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare between 2003 and 2006. They are each facing up to seven years in prison.

The scam worked like this: The judges sent juveniles to the detention center so the company running the facility received money from the county government to pay costs of the incarceration. Thus, as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government.

The judges sentenced the children to more severe sentences that required incarceration in order to generate more money. Teenagers who were sentenced by Judge Ciavarella in juvenile court were sentenced to detention centers for minor offenses that ordinarily would have been classified as misdemeanors, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group. One seventeen-year-old boy was sentenced to three month’s detention for being in the company of another minor who was caught shoplifting. Others were given similar sentences for simple assault in which the charges stemmed form a scuffle in the school yard, and these would ordinarily merit only a warning.

Although the juveniles were guaranteed the right to a lawyer in court, many of them appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney because the probation service personnel told them that their charges were so minor that they didn’t need an attorney.

The chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick, estimated that of approximately 5,000 juveniles who appeared before Judge Ciavarella from 2003 and 2006, between 1,000 and 2,000 received excessively harsh detention sentences. She said the center intends to sue the judges, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare to obtain money damages for their juveniles victims.

Prosecutors were quoted as saying “That judges would allow their greed to trump the rights of defendants is just obscene.” That is always so, but it is especially so here where the defendants were so young and vulnerable. This is an extremely vicious crime because it strikes at the integrity of the system, but it appears even more vicious when considering how young lives may have been damaged so severely, taken from school and parents, put into a detention center where there are likely young predators waiting for someone to prey on.

The judges tried to hide their ill-gotten income from this scheme by creating false records and rouging payments through intermediaries. “Your statement that I have disgraced my judgship is true,” Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. “My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Conahan had no comment to make.

Ciavarella and Conahan were removed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as judges when the charges were filed in federal court, and the Supreme Court appointed a judge to review all the cases involved.

Again, we have an instance where innocent people are falsely persecuted. It certainly indicates the need for a defense lawyer who can be the legal advocate in protecting the rights of the accused, even for something that seems minor, at first blush. It’s very possible that many of these children sentenced did not have an attorney because it seemed their situation was such a minor offense but that just made it easier for the judges to get away with this injustice.

Consequently, it’s always advisable to seek advice from a competent criminal attorney, when you or your child is charged with any kind of criminal, even petty, act. Get educated on how to choose the best lawyer and discover how to avoid common mistakes by going to my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com


Big Brother is collecting your DNA in the name of fighting Crime

February 19, 2009

The state of Washington is considering a bill that will require the collection of DNA samples from every person arrested of a felony or gross misdemeanor, before a conviction for anything, that is. The state of Washington joins more than twelve other states who have similar laws, while Indiana, Vermont and Texas are now considering such provisions. New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has made the same proposal for that city. In Texas, under a new proposal, which faces an uncertain future in the current budget-cutting climate, DNA would be taken from everyone who is arrested on suspicion of committing Class B misdemeanors up to the most serious felonies.

Currently in the state of Washington, DNA samples can be taken from anyone convicted of a felony and from those arrested for particularly violent crimes such as aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping and murder. This is typical of most states, like Maryland.

Washington’s law provides that police would have to obtain a search warrant before forcing the arrested person to give a DNA sample via mouth swab, or the police could obtain a sample of they could obtain a person’s “voluntary permission” to do so. The law provides that the DNA information would be destroyed if the arrested person were found not guilty or not charged.

Where would the DNA information be sent before the state authorities destroyed it? Perhaps the FBI records? Of course, no one expects the federal authorities ever to disgorge any information, they have acquired. They never do.

The executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs, Don Pierce, says the DNA information is “good technology. It solves crimes. We take fingerprints at the time of arrest, which in many ways is more intrusive.” This may not be so, since DNA evidence is more easily tampered with, however, in that it may be more easily placed at a crime scene. Regardless, there is no doubt the more information about it citizens which the government possesses, the better it can fight crime. If the government could just put video cameras into every single household in the U.S.A., it could put a huge dent in crime. There would be no privacy whatsoever, but the police would be so happy to finally get their chance to really fight crime.

Jack King, staff attorney for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C., said his organization has been fighting similar DNA-collection proposals since 2004. King said he believes that seizing biological evidence before conviction violates constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, said the proposal pending in Washington “takes the presumption of innocence and turns it on its head.”

A Chicago study found that requiring DNA upon arrest could have prevented dozens of murders and rapes. In one case, a man who was arrested for felony theft went on to commit a murder and left DNA evidence at the scene six months later. If his DNA had been taken at the time of his theft arrest, Chris Asplen, a DNA consultant from Pennsylvania , said the man would have been caught after the first murder. Instead, he went on to kill 10 women.

So the perpetual ying and yang tension of crime fighting efficiency versus the privacy of the individual continues. Do Americans want their governments to have a storehouse of personal information on every citizen? Great Britain has this. Wouldn’t a national identity card make the job of the police easier? Wouldn’t implants in every citizen make monitoring of citizens easier for the police, like in the science fiction movies, like in 1984 dictatorships?

Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear, we are often told. The police are only going after the bad guys. This is comforting to those who have complete faith in police discretion and fidelity, to those who have not witnessed the short cuts taken, mistakes made, mistakes covered up, rules bent, oaths violated, and lies told by police for various reasons and with various intentions, including “getting the bad guys,” but including many more personal and self-promoting motivations as well.

Great Britain already has the world’s largest DNA database. Anyone arrested in England and Wales is compelled to submit to a DNA swab and the record is kept whether he is convicted or not. In Scotland this rule is restricted to violent and sex offenders, and then for only three years unless an extension is applied for. According the Daily Mail, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty is right to be cautious before treating the entire population as suspects. He and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith should take the same view of equally worrying plans for ID cards, and for intrusive surveillance on travelers to Europe. As the Daily Mail pointed out, “We are not all guilty, and we will lose much more than we gain if we submit ourselves to Big Brother.”

In these days of abuse of power, individuals who are charged with a crime or held as a suspect need to seek expert criminal legal advice. That’s why I urge anyone in that situation to visit my site at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to learn how to choose the right lawyer to protect their rights.