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Archive for the tag “car”

SCOTUS Weighs in on Police Shooting

By now almost everyone knows about the police shooting that is the subject of controversy in Ferguson, Missouri. By coincidence, the Supreme Court of the United States has recently weighed in on a different police shooting in the matter of Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861 (2014).

In Tolan, a police officer patrolling a neighborhood decided to look up a particular car’s license plate number in the state’s database to determine whether it was stolen. At the time the car was being driven by Plaintiff. The officer accidentally entered the wrong license plate number when he searched the database by mistyping a single number. The incorrect number happened to be that of an actual stolen car, which the officer therefore mistakenly believed was the car being driven by Plaintiff. As a result, the police officer pursued Plaintiff to his destination.

Plaintiff was going home, where he lived with his parents, to spend time with his cousin who was also in the car. Plaintiff and his cousin were sitting on the porch of his house when the police officer approached them with his gun drawn. Plaintiff complied with the officer’s commands. Not long after, Plaintiff’s mother and father exited the house because of all of the commotion outside and were also commanded to take a specific posture by the police officer at gunpoint. At all times all of the parties denied stealing the car.

During their interaction with the police officer, Plaintiff and his mother claimed that the officer grabbed the mother’s arm and slammed her against the garage door and caused her to fall. The officer denies having done this. Due to the officer’s alleged interaction with his mother, Plaintiff said “[g]et your [f—ing] hands off my mom” and rose from the ground, contrary to the commands given to him by the officer (Plaintiff claims he rose to his knees while the officer claims he got to his feet). Plaintiff’s rising led to the officer, without a verbal warning, shooting Plaintiff in his lung and liver from a distance of about 15 to 20 feet away.

Aside from those mentioned above, there were some facts in dispute between the parties, including whether the garage was dimly lit, the exact volume and tenor of the mother’s words to the officer, whether Plaintiff shouted at and/or threatened the officer, and whether Plaintiff approached the officer when the officer engaged with the mother.

Plaintiff brought suit against the officer for violating his Fourth Amendment rights on the basis that the officer used excessive force when he shot Plaintiff. The District Court ruled against Plaintiff and granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. Plaintiff appealed the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court.

The legal issue presented for the Court’s review is the appropriate standard for summary judgment. The long established standard for summary judgment is to view all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, in this case the Plaintiff. It is not the judge’s role, when ruling upon a motion for summary judgment, to weigh the evidence available or determine its truth, just to determine whether a reading of the facts presented, viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, could result in a ruling in favor of Plaintiff.

The Court determined that the Fifth Circuit did not appropriately view the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, but, instead, made factual determinations as to lighting, the words stated by the parties, and the actions taken by the parties, among other things, that were not in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. Instead, the Fifth Circuit specifically determined these facts to weigh against Plaintiff. As a result, the Court remanded the motion for summary judgment back to the Fifth Circuit in order for it to render a decision using the appropriate legal standard.

Through this case, the Supreme Court of the United States has reaffirmed the importance of using the required evaluation standard when courts rule on motions, and, perhaps more importantly, is sending the message that it is willing to enforce those standards where appropriate.

Originally published in Upon Further Review on December 16, 2014 and can be found here.

Red Light Camera Dust Up in Des Moines

It’s been a few months since I have written about red light cameras, but a new issue has arisen in the great state of Iowa that is worth noting here in this blog.  As my readers know, I have been writing about red light cameras for some time now and vocally opposing them.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribute, two women in Des Moines, Iowa are attempting to initiate a class action law suit against the City of Des Moines for its use of red light cameras.  Their claims appear to be constitutional as they claim that the cameras inhibit their freedom of travel and cannot be shown to have any positive impact on road safety.  The suit seeks to have the red light camera program shut down and the fines assessed due to the cameras refunded.

Notably, the Iowa Department of Transportation has recommended that ten of Iowa’s thirty-four red light cameras ought to be shut down as they have not had any impact on road safety.  Probably not coincidentally, the plaintiffs in the above-mentioned law suit received tickets on one of the ten to be shut down.

I will be following this case and I will post any updates to this blog.

Red Light Cameras to Go Dark in NJ

As my readers know, I have been writing about red light cameras for some time now and vocally opposing them.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

The latest news is that the Red Light Camera program in New Jersey came to an end on December 16, 2014.  Now, technically speaking, the cameras will still be taking pictures, for the time being, but no fines or tickets will be issued.  The suspicion is that Red Light Camera advocates will use the data of the ticket-less-cameras (which they presume will reveal the rise in traffic scofflaws due to the elimination of a ticket threat) to justify requesting Trenton to revive the program in the near future.

At this point, however, the program will more or less cease and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems disinclined to renew it despite the support for it shown by local municipalities.  It is worth noting that the local municipalities’ support for it is really due to the revenues that flow from the program which, in turn I would argue, reveal why the program must come to an end.  Traffic tickets are designed to help deter traffic scofflaws, they are not designed to be a revenue source, and as soon as they become a revenue source, the abuses found in red light camera programs across the country rear their ugly heads.

To read more on this, you can find a good article on the New Jersey program’s future here.  You can also read other articles on the New Jersey program here and here as well.


Running Red Light Cameras: the Next Contest

This post is part of my ongoing series on my opposition to red light cameras.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

It seems as the weeks and months go by, more and more stories and reports are presented demonstrating the significant and deep issues and concerns surrounding red light cameras.  The links above describe many of them but as recently as last week (11/5/14) The Today Show presented the latest development: a law suit in Florida.  You can see The Today Show segment on this matter here.

The segment above highlights a lot of the issues I have written on previously (e.g.: this is a money grab, tickets are sent in error, and so on), but evidently in Florida the tickets are reviewed by a for-profit private company before they are reviewed by law enforcement and the for-profit private company has authority to eliminate some photographs before passing them along to law enforcement.  The law suit in Florida claims that it is unlawful, if not unconstitutional, to have non-law enforcement functioning as de facto law enforcement.

Although there was little opposition when red light and other traffic cameras were initially installed, it seems cases like the one on The Today Show above (and the other ones I have written about linked above) are becoming increasingly common across the country as more and more motorists are finding themselves on the wrong end of a potentially unlawful and/or unconstitutional effort to separate them from their money via a traffic camera ticket.  Hopefully, as efforts like the ones described above gain steam, the era of the traffic camera will soon come to an end.

As an interesting and coincidental side note, as I was writing this blog post, I came across this article regarding someone’s experience contesting a red light camera ticket from Washington D.C.  It provides an interesting and insightful perspective from someone’s first hand experience.

More Reasons to Put the Brakes on Red Light Cameras

This post is part of my ongoing series on my opposition to red light cameras.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

It seems, of late, every time red light cameras appear in the news, more is revealed that makes them a terrible idea and, true to form, two more reports have appeared in the last week or so which continue to indict red light cameras as bad public policy.

The first report is out of Chicago which you can see here.  As predicted here, reports now confirm that tickets can be issued if the time duration of yellow caution lights is shorter than the three seconds required by law by as little as .1 seconds.  You may not think .1 seconds is very significant, but, as it turns out, shaving off that little bit of time, allowing for only 2.9 seconds for a yellow caution light, led to 77,000 more red light tickets and an additional $8,000,000 more to government coffers.

The second report regards a judge presiding over a case dealing with red light cameras in Miami who has declared the red light program there illegal as it is currently enforced.  You can read more about that case here.  Under the law applicable in Miami, a private company is empowered to take and examine the red light camera photographs to discern whether a violation occurred.  If this private company believes a violation occurred it then issues the driver a citation.  The judge in this case ruled that only government entities are empowered to issue citations, not private companies.  As an aside, the fact that a private company is conducting so many government functions, to me, smacks of clear political patronage, which is yet another reason to oppose the red light programs.

Finally, as noted above, I have written on this subject many times.  I am starting to run out of puns and plays on words to title these posts.  So, if you have any suggestions for the titles of future pieces, leave a comment and let me know!

Even More Caution in Using Red Light Cameras

More data has been revealed that, in my mind, ought to persuade lawmakers to discontinue the use of red light cameras.  My opposition to red light cameras is no secret as I have written about it, both in publications and this blog, many times before: here, here, here, here, and here.

If it was not bad enough, as stated in my previous pieces linked above, that red light cameras are potentially unconstitutional, a violation of our civil rights, and making driving more dangerous, it now turns out that what we all suspected may be true, namely: regardless of the pretense of “safety” or keeping people driving appropriately (or whatever else lawmakers say), red light cameras are merely an attempt at making money for the state/commonwealth/government at the expense of motorists.

A new study has now shown that the time duration for an illuminated yellow/caution light on many traffic lights outfitted with red light cameras may have been shortened (shorter than typically expected by an average motorist), presumably in order to cause more drivers to run red lights, get caught by the red light cameras, and drive up the number of tickets issued (and the fines associated with the same).

To make matters worse, there are reports that the red light cameras in Chicago have increased red light tickets by the thousands under, according to the report, “questionable circumstances.”  As a result, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering additional time to appeal tickets and issuing refunds of fines and penalties.

So, not only do these red light cameras have questionable constitutionality, they are now a rather overt money grab on unsuspecting drivers who are, more or less, being entrapped by local law enforcement.

As the months pass, more and more reasons to discontinue the red light camera program are revealed.  When will our legislators do something?  I, for one, will pass this along to State Rep. Brian Sims (out of Center City Philadelphia) who is my friend and former co-worker at my law office, as part of my effort to end the red light camera program.

The Grounds for the Famous McDonald’s Coffee Case

Most people have heard of the 1994 case of the old woman spilling McDonald’s coffee in her lap, being severely burned in the process, suing McDonald’s over it, and securing millions of dollars after a verdict in her favor.  My law school career began in 1999 and, I must say, when non-lawyers speak to me about the law, this McDonald’s coffee case, often to the exclusion of all the famous, important, and significant cases that the Courts have heard over the years, decades, and centuries, is routinely mentioned, especially as some sort of lament over the perceived abuse of the legal system, and using tort law as a substitute for playing the lottery.

There is just so much misconception over this case that any conversation about it becomes a sort of deconstruction of previously held misconceptions – generally thanks to the media and widespread public perception – more than it is about the legal significance of the case.

Before reading this post and/or watching the video below, did you know:
(1) the coffee was heated 30 degrees hotter than a home brewer can heat coffee?

(2) the woman burned was not driving and her car had no available cup holders?

(3) the woman did not make millions but only about $600,000, much of which went to pay her very large medical bills?

(4) the woman suffered third degree burns?

(5) McDonald’s was aware of the fact that literally hundreds of people had been similarly burned by their coffee over the 10 year period prior to the famous 1994 case and took no action to make their coffee safer?

Once all of the facts are known, it becomes clear that this case is far from being the poster child of the abuse of the legal process and is hardly an example of people looking to “frivolous” tort cases to become overnight millionaires.

For a great look at the details of this case – and some photographs of the burns themselves – check out this video posted on upworthy.com:

You can find it here as well: http://www.upworthy.com/ever-hear-about-the-lady-that-spilled-coffee-on-herself-at-mcdonalds-then-sued-for-millions?g=2&c=ufb1

Also, here is the wiki page for the case which includes the official caption and citation and other details which may be interesting:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Liebeck

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