Criss & Rousseau Legal Issues Blog

Study finds more people detained, convicted

Texas residents who are detained and convicted of even minor crimes may find a reduction in their earnings over a lifetime. According to a study that appeared in Crime and Delinquency, even though overall crime is on the decline, young people today are more likely to be taken into custody and convicted than in previous generations.

One reason for this rise is an increase in the number of people detained and convicted for minor offenses. More than 10% of women detained and 16% of men are charged with underage drinking. Furthermore, while black men remain the demographic most likely to be charged, convicted and incarcerated, women and white men are catching up to them. Rates for women being taken into custody have risen from one in 100 to one in seven. The rate for white man is three times higher than in the past.

Felony convictions can accompany excessively broad laws

Many people in Texas and across the United States are concerned about excessive criminalization and the involvement of too many people in the criminal justice system. Some have drawn attention to absurd or overreaching laws that remain on the books that can lead to a felony conviction. For example, an athlete who went for a snowmobile ride was then lost in a blizzard, racking up costs to the government to find and rescue him. However, he wasn't just hit with a large bill; instead, he was convicted of a federal criminal offense and sentenced to six months in prison.

In another case, a security contractor was convicted for telling customers of a company that he previously worked for about a breach in the company's security system. He was convicted and served a 16-month sentence for "impairing the integrity" of the system for exposing the security hole. While his conviction was later abandoned by the Justice Department following high-profile outrage, it continues to serve as an example of the potential for overzealous felony prosecutions. People convicted of felonies can be subject to heavy fines and jail or prison time. Even more, they can lose opportunities for housing, work and education, and in some cases, they are denied the right to vote.

Difficulties faced by the executors of loved ones' estates

If a financially comfortable loved one has died, then there will be some time-consuming tasks for the executor to take on. Residents of Texas who decide to administer the estate rather than hire a professional executor should be aware of what some of these tasks are. The basic steps are identifying assets, paying off debts and distributing the estate to the rightful heirs and beneficiaries. There are also taxes to deal with.

Executors must, first of all, determine if the estate will have to go through probate. The court costs and attorney fees will be taken from the estate, and the court may distribute the estate in ways that the heirs may not have desired. This is why many place their most valuable assets in trusts.

3 good reasons for an estate to go through probate

When most people plan their estate, the primary concern is often avoiding probate court. However, for heirs and beneficiaries, as well as people planning their estate, it's important to understand that probate court can have some benefits.

Probate involves a professional, experienced judge reviewing the case and ensuring that the allocation of assets and debts complies with Texas law and follows the wishes of the testator. There are three distinct benefits to going through probate instead of avoiding it, particularly with a complicated estate with a variety of valuable assets.

How medical malpractice may occur

The type of medical malpractice many people in Texas may be most familiar errors is surgical errors. Such mistakes as surgery on the wrong person or part of the body are rare but tend to get a lot of attention when they happen. However, there are many other types of medical malpractice that are more common.

A misdiagnosis or a lack of a diagnosis is one common type of medical malpractice. For this to rise to the level of malpractice, it must be demonstrated that the patient did not receive a reasonable standard of care from the doctor, meaning that misdiagnoses may happen that are not necessarily malpractice. Medication errors are another common mistake. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 million people in the United States are harmed each year by medication mistakes. These are most common when a person has several health care providers or because of communication issues. Mistakes can happen at any point, including during ordering, preparing or prescribing. They may involve the wrong dosage or the wrong medication altogether.

Study reveals police tunnel vision in high-profile cases

A pair of criminologists from Texas State University believe that people who are accused of committing highly publicized crimes are often wrongly convicted because some police officers develop tunnel vision when they decide they have identified the perpetrator. The researchers came to this conclusion after studying the investigative missteps that led to 50 wrongful convictions. Several of the cases were investigated by detectives who either coerced confessions or changed their theory of the crime after being presented with exculpatory evidence.

One such case involved a man who was released from prison after spending 16 years behind bars when DNA evidence proved his innocence. Police investigating the murder of a 15-year-old girl quickly focused their investigation on obtaining a confession from one of the slain girl's classmates, and they changed their theory of the crime instead of pursuing other leads when forensic evidence exonerated him. The man was eventually convicted based largely on a confession that he claimed was coerced and he later retracted.

Even confident eyewitness testimony may be unreliable

Juries in Texas and around the country generally find eyewitness testimony extremely convincing, and witnesses who identify a criminal suspect with a great deal of confidence are especially compelling. However, questions about the way police officers conduct suspect lineups and research into the workings of the human brain have raised doubts about the validity of even confident eyewitness identifications.

Research into the area suggests that accuracy is closely correlated to the speed with which an eyewitness identification is made and the confidence of the identifier. The problem is that witnesses tend to become more confident after making their choices due to confirmation bias and the encouragement they receive from police officers. This means that a witness who was hesitant or unsure during a lineup may appear far more confident when testifying in court.

Trusts can be a key estate tool for parents

Having children may prompt many people in Texas to think more about planning for the future, especially because they want to ensure that their kids will be taken care of in case of a tragedy. However, this can also be a reason to do more with an estate plan than simply creating a will. Simple wills are appealing to many because they are straightforward and can be completed quickly. However, they are less appropriate for passing on assets to minor children. People who want to make a bequest to their young children may wish to consider a trust in addition to a will.

Trusts can enable people to create a mechanism to provide for their children under the age of 18. In addition, many people do not want their children to inherit their entire estate as soon as they become legal adults. A trust can help to make sure that the children are provided for and that they receive the full benefit of the estate when they are better able to manage their finances. By having a trustee manage the funds, parents can make sure that a responsible person is looking out for the future interests of their children.

Are Breathalyzer test results always accurate?

Building a defense against drunk driving charges requires examining all the evidence against a suspected drunk driver, typically including the results of a Breathalyzer test. Many people assume that failing a Breathalyzer test is a one-way-ticket to a drunk driving conviction, but this is not always true.

Breathalyzers and other similar devices may produce inaccurate results in many circumstances, depending on the calibration and condition of the device used, as well as the conduct of the officer who administers the test. If you recently failed a Breathalyzer test and received drunk driving charges, it is wise to look at any factors that may have affected the device your arresting officer used. You may find that the case against you is not as airtight as you expect, and you may even find valid reasons for dismissing the charges altogether.

Bill expands benefits for Navy veterans of Vietnam War

Texas veterans of the Blue Water Navy can now receive veterans' disability benefits for illnesses caused by Agent Orange exposure after a bill was signed into law. On June 25, President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The bill allows veteran of the U.S. Navy who served off the Vietnamese coast during the Vietnam War to receive disability benefits for these types of medical problems. While veterans who directly served inside Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to need coverage for illnesses linked to the use of the toxic herbicide, Navy veterans who served off the coast were previously often denied benefits.

Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, Navy veterans who served in the waterways of Vietnam were covered for cancer treatment, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other illnesses and disabilities tied to Agent Orange. This bill, H.R. 299, extends those benefits to all members of the military who served at sea within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnamese coast. These veterans will be eligible for disability benefits for conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to herbicide. The adoption of the law will help veterans whose benefits had been denied or placed into a pending status.

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