Articles Posted in Of Interest

In an article in the NY Times on October 14, 2014, a study published in Law and Human Behavior concludes that teenagers ages 13-17 frequently do not exercise their legal rights to remain silent in police interrogations across the country. The study analyzed 57 videotaped interrogations. None of the subjects had an attorney, and were permitted to leave the room without making any statements if they chose.

The average age of the subjects was 15, and in half of the cases, the interrogator had a weapon. In 16% of the cases, the teenager was in shackles or handcuffed. 12 subjects were accompanied by their parents. The interviews ranged from six minutes to five hours, with the average interview lasting 45 minutes. 37% of the teens gave complete confessions and 31% made statements which were incriminating. It appears that none of the teenagers recognized that they had constitutional rights which they could exercise to terminate the interrogation. Some seemed unconcerned, slept, paced or made light of the circumstances.

Federal statistics reveal that 1.5 million teenagers were arrested in 2011, the last year for which data is available. Confessions can be very persuasive to jurors, yet how reliable is a teenager’s confession when he or she has not been advised of his or her rights and is feeling pressure to respond to questions by an authority figure? Studies show that adolescents tend to think more about the present, and less about long term consequences than adults. Additionally, teenagers may not realize that police officers sometimes lie during interrogations, including suggesting “facts” which they claim to know, which may not be true.

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There are various types of distractions which can lead to a distracted driving accident, and traffic charges which could result in the loss of driving privileges. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of occupants of vehicles killed in distraction related crashes decreased slightly from 3360 in 2011 to 3,328 in 2012. However, there was an estimated increase in injuries from distracted driving crashes from 387,000 in 2011 to 421,000 in 2012. Distracted driving can be as a result of:

Texting;
Use of a cell phone or smart phone for a call or email;
Using a navigation system in the vehicle;
Adjusting a radio, CD player or other stereo equipment such as an Ipod;
Speaking with passengers in the vehicle;
Attempting to discipline children in the car;
Reading a map or other material;
Personal grooming;

Eating or drinking.

Texting is considered the most substantial distraction, as it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the operator. 10% of drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal accidents were distracted at the time of the crash according to the NHTSA. Operators under the age of 20 have the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. Drivers in their 20’s comprise slightly more than 25% of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.

In New York State, under the Vehicle & Traffic Law, texting while driving is now a primary violation, which means that an officer can issue a ticket for this infraction without first determining that the operator has also committed another violation, such as speeding, following too closely, or changing lanes unsafely. Additionally, texting infractions have been increased from an original 2 points on the driver’s license to 5 points, which is almost half way to a suspended license, which occurs when the driver is assessed points in an 18 month period.

Here is an alarming statistic for those who test while driving: The average period of time the driver’s eyes leave the road to text is 5 seconds. If the vehicle is travelling at 55 m.p.h., it would cover an entire football field, 300 feet, with the driver not looking at the road! In a study conducted by the NHTSA in 2006, using in vehicle instrumentation, approximately 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes occurred with the operator of the car looking away from the road just prior to the event. The Safe Transportation Research Education Center at UC Berkeley found that the percentage of distracted driving by electronic devices increased from 4.2% in 2011 to 6.2 % in 2012. Drivers ages 16-24 were significantly more likely than other age groups to drive while distracted at 11.4%.

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In 1961, 51 year old Charles Gideon was charged with stealing wine and money from vending machines at a Panama City, Florida pool hall. At his arraignment, Mr. Gideon asked the judge to appoint him an attorney, as he was not able to afford one. However, in 1961, the State of Florida, as with other states in the nation, only provided criminal defendants with a Court appointed attorney in “capital” cases such as rape or murder charges.

Mr. Gideon was convicted of the larceny charges and sentenced to jail. The Florida Supreme Court upheld his conviction. While Mr. Gideon was incarcerated, he wrote out an appeal himself in pencil using prison stationery, and sent the appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which decided to hear the case. Upon receiving Mr. Gideon’s “pro se” appeal in 1962, the Court appointed Abe Fortas, who would become a U.S. Supreme Court justice two years later, to represent him. Gideon’s’ timing was excellent, as at the time of his appeal, the Supreme Court was seeking to address the issue of indigent defense.

Two months after hearing arguments in the case, entitled Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court and ruled that all criminal defendants are entitled to be represented by counsel, even in non-capital cases, based upon the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process. Judge Black, writing for the Court, stated: “In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into Court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.” Judge Black also quoted from an earlier Supreme Court opinion, in Powell v. Alabama, in which Justice Sutherland stated: “The right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law…He requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, through he may be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”

The case was sent back to the Florida state Court five months later. Mr. Gideon was assigned a new lawyer, who was able to dismantle the prosecution’s case. The jury’s verdict: Not guilty. And history was made.

50 years later, although Gideon is a landmark case and was conceived with tremendous optimism, it is an unfortunate truth that many defendants who cannot afford to pay for an attorney are provided counsel by overworked and underfunded Legal Aid offices and public defenders who do not have the staff and resources to match the budgets of the prosecution. This is due to major budget cuts across the U.S. This often leads to plea bargains in cases where if there were sufficient staff and resources available to the defense, the prosecutors might be forced to meet their burden to prove each and every aspect of the case beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial. So the promise of Gideon back in 1963 has been hindered by budgetary considerations in 2013.

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In a study conducted by the child protection advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide and American Baby magazine, there were some very alarming results. 2,396 new mothers participated in a survey which revealed that 78% of mothers with children younger than 2 years of age admitted to speaking on a hand held cell phone while their babies were in the car, and 26% acknowledged that they had texted or checked their email while they were driving!

These distracted driving results are similar to percentages seen in teenage drivers. Although the mothers note that they have become more cautious since giving birth, 63% also stated that they had turned around while driving their vehicles to attend to their children in the back seat while driving, rather than pulling over to do so.

The survey also found that 10% of new mothers who were driving approximately 150 miles per week had been in accidents while driving with their children in the car. This accident rate is almost 3 times that of the general driving population and again approximates the accident frequency of teenage drivers, which is quite astonishing. Teenage drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are involved in car crashes four times as often as drivers 20 or older. The president of Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the common sense measures of drivers leaving their cell phones in the back seat and pulling over if their children need to be attended to. Without question, there are emergencies which might require the use of a cell phone while in the car, (sudden health issue, for example). However, there can’t be any explanation for either texting or checking e-mails while driving, and this appears to be a prevalent issue in 2013.

The executive editor of American Baby, Laura Kalehoff, described that the idea for the survey was derived from her own experience in 2007, when she was driving with her 9 month old baby in the car. Kalehoff drove through a stop sign and stropped several feet later, when she was rear ended by another vehicle. She recognized that she was too tired and distracted to be driving, and decided to conduct a study to determine how common this issue was among new mothers. Apparently, it is a widespread problem.

One solution which has been mentioned recently is for the implementation of technology which would render cell phones inoperable while a vehicle is in motion. I have noticed that even with Bluetooth, having a serious conversation with a family member, friend or client while driving can cause a loss of focus on road conditions, traffic controls, and location, and have decided that if the conversation is important enough, I pull over or wait until at my destination to complete the call.

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Since October of 2010, 37 red light cameras have been installed in the City of Yonkers at 16 intersections. These cameras are also known as “Intersection Safety Cameras.” The question I am addressing in this article is, do red light cameras actually improve safety by deterring red light violations, or is the true motivation behind these cameras to obtain revenue for the municipality?

As background, New York City has utilized red light cameras since 1993, (garnering close to 100 million dollars in revenue for the City in that 18 year period), and they are now installed throughout New York’s five boroughs, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and Rochester. Across the United States, big cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C, are now deploying these cameras.

Red light cameras automatically photograph vehicles as they pass through red lights. The camera is connected to the traffic signal and follows the vehicle before, during, and as it passes through the red light, purportedly getting a clear photo of the rear license plate when the transgression is complete. The photographs are reviewed by police officers to confirm that the infraction was committed. If so, the owner of the vehicle (which of course may not be the motorist who actually committed the violation) is sent a notice demanding payment of $50.00 by a certain date, with an additional $25.00 penalty for late response.

Only emergency vehicles including police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances are exempted from red light violations.

Back in May of 2009, the New York Times published an article entitled “Revenue Low, Yonkers Dreams Of Green From Red Light Cameras”, which made the motivation behind the cameras fairly apparent. In the article, a Yonkers City spokesman noted that Yonkers expected to have a budget shortfall of 100 million dollars in 2010, and was hoping to reap millions of dollars in revenue from the fines generated by the cameras. The revenue was to be split with a company called “American Traffic Solutions” (ATS), which was allegedly selected after a competitive bidding process to furnish, install, operate and maintain the cameras. In two recent articles by Phil Reisman of the Journal News, the first of which is entitled “Money Is The Motive For City’s Red-Light Cameras” on January 5, 2012, Mr. Reisman explores the relationship between Yonkers officials such as Mike Spano and Mayor Phil Amicone, and ATS. He points out that Spano was part of a lobbying firm, Patricia Lynch Associates, that was paid a whopping $400,000 to push the red light camera plan, and that ATS also made campaign contributions to both Spano and Amicone.

So the question remains, do the cameras increase safety or is this simply all about the money?

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I read a very interesting article by John Schwartz in the September 14, 2010 edition of the New York Times. In a study by a Brandon Garrett, a Virgina Law School professor, Mr. Garrett found that since 1976, more than 40 innocent defendants have confessed to crimes they did not commit due to intensive questioning by police using their mental impairments, or youth against them. The highlighted story in the article was that of Eddie Lowery, who confessed to a rape that he did not commit and served a ten year sentence before he was paroled in 1991. The police used a tactic known as contamination in which they introduce important facts about the case to the defendant during the interrogation, which could only be known by someone who committed the crime–in order to make the confession seem more reliable.

In Mr. Lowery’s case, the jury heard the fact that the rapist struck the victim in the head with the handle of a silver knife he found in the house, which the prosecution asserted was a detail Lowery never would have known if he was not the right defendant. The police would correct Mr. Lowery when questioning him, such as telling him that he came through the back door when Lowery first informed them that he “kicked in the front door.” According to Mr. Lowery, “they fed me the answers.”

Mr. Lowery was questioned for seven hours, with the police claiming from the beginning that he had committed the rape. He even took and passed a lie detector test, but the police lied to him and stated that he had failed the test.The study showed that of the exonerated defendants, more than half of them were mentally disabled, under the age of 18, or both. None of the defendants had a lawyer present while they were being questioned, almost all were subjected to high pressure interrogations, and many were taken to the crime scene.

Amazingly, eight of the defendants in the study were cleared by DNA evidence prior to trial, but were still convicted. In the case of Jeffry Deskovic, who languished for 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit in Poughkeepsie, prosecutors convinced a jury to overlook DNA evidence by getting the jury to focus on Mr. Deskovic’s detailed confession in order to convict him.

Fortunately, Mr. Lowery is now a free man and lives in suburban Kansas City. He received a $7.5 million settlement and apologies from the Riley County, Kansas officials who interrogated him.

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