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Criss & Rousseau Legal Issues Blog

Even police cars may not be enough to deter distracted driving

Many drivers in Texas and around the country are so focused on their smartphones that they refuse to put the devices down even when they see a police car according to the results of a study released by an auto insurance company. Root Insurance, which offers its customers a 10 percent discount if they agree not to use their phones while behind the wheel, commissioned a Virginia-based market research company to conduct the distracted driving survey.

An alarming 38 percent of the motorists surveyed said that a law enforcement vehicle did not deter them from using their cellphones despite laws banning the practice. The results of the study suggest that American drivers spend about 13 minutes every day looking at smartphone screens instead of watching the road. More than half of the respondents admitted to using the devices to engage in email or text message conversations with multiple people.

Lack of standards raises concerns about facial ID technology

An increasing number of business owners in Texas and other states are using facial recognition technology to deter shoplifting. Some shop owners are also creating digital records of people entering their places of business based on collected visual data. Other stores are going a step further and using such data to share captured facial images with other businesses within the same network once someone is identified as a security risk.

While some shopkeepers may welcome facial recognition technology, privacy advocates are concerned about possible overreach. The American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed privacy violation concerns. Furthermore, there are no standard regulations in place governing how accurate this technology has to be or how captured data may be used and shared. Since there are no limits, companies may also capture facial images without letting customers know about this practice.

Misdiagnosis behind majority of malpractice claims

Many hospitalized patients in Texas and across the U.S. die from diagnostic errors. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine stated in 2015 that these errors may be the third leading cause of death among such patients. Now, two separate reports have found that diagnosis-related allegations are behind most malpractice claims whether the patients are inpatient or outpatient.

The reports were issued by Coverys and The Doctors Company, two malpractice insurers. Coverys analyzed some 1,800 closed claims against physicians between 2013 and 2017, finding that 46 percent were diagnosis-related. Forty-five percent of the patients involved in these claims died. Sixty-eight percent of all indemnity costs paid out were due to these claims.

Arrests more common for young Americans

A growing number of people in Texas and across the country are being exposed to the criminal justice system at an earlier age, researchers found while examining national data. According to the report by the RAND Corporation, younger Americans are 3.6 times more likely to have been arrested as a youth than older Americans. The researchers noted that this large disparity was found when comparing arrest rates before the age of 26 for people 26 to 35 years of age and those over 66. They also noted that the increase in arrest rates may be linked to lower wages, less access to work and lower likelihood of marriage.

The researchers found that white males saw some of the largest increases in arrest rates. While black young men had long been subject to high arrest rates, statistics are showing greater parity over time across racial lines. However, rather than reaching this outcome through a reduction in the arrest rate of black men, it is being reached because more white young people are being arrested. Still, black men were 10 percent more likely than white men to have been arrested by the age of 26.

Veterans report severe hearing damage due to earplugs

Military members risk their lives when they start their job every morning. They rely on the proper equipment to keep them safe and ensure they make it home at the end of the day. Unfortunately, it does not always happen.

According to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than a million veterans suffer from hearing loss with an additional 1.5 million service members diagnosed with tinnitus. Hearing impairments continue to grow among military members and are one of the most prevalent service-connected injuries.

Court says jurors can bring opinions into the courtroom

Juries convene on a daily basis throughout Texas. Prior to being selected, jurors are asked questions to determine if they have beliefs regarding the criminal justice system and whether they can reach a verdict based purely on the evidence given. Many times, a prospective juror who admits to preconceived opinions of the justice system is dismissed for cause.

However, a Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice has ruled a different analysis must be taken before dismissal of a juror. In the case of an African American defendant, a prospective juror was asked if she had an opinion regarding the criminal justice system. She responded that she felt the system was "rigged against young African Americans accused of drug crimes." She based her opinion on her experiences in working with at-risk black males. The court granted the prosecution's motion to dismiss her for cause.

Colonel (Retired) Rousseau Presents at Veterans Justice Conference

53180470_10161474714465646_1755240644386750464_n.jpgColonel (Retired) Rick Rousseau recently presented information on VA disability at the Veterans Justice Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in Austin hosted by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association & the State Bar of Texas Military & Veterans Law Section. His presentation focused on the impact of the types of military discharges and criminal convictions on VA benefits and how to better assists Veterans.

Agent Orange and veterans benefits

For Texas naval personnel who served in Vietnamese territorial waters during the conflict, additional benefits are now possible. A recent federal court decision opened up a possibility for disability benefits and medical care due to Agent Orange-related sickness.

For many years the Department of Veterans Affairs denied benefits related to Agent Orange exposure unless the vet served on land or in waterways inland. Agent Orange was the main vegetation-destroying chemical used during the war. Since the end of the conflict, thousands of veterans experienced various illnesses that were eventually traced to Agent Orange exposure. Since that time, more than 650,000 vets have received disability benefits for these illnesses. That figure stands to grow substantially due to the court ruling.

Sentencing alternatives proposed for certain violent offenders

Jails and prisons in Texas and across the United States are overflowing with inmates. In fact, there are currently around 830 prisoners for every 100,000 adults living in the country.

It used to be worse. In 2008, there were 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. adults. However, many federal, state and local jurisdictions chose to decriminalize certain minor offenses, explore incarceration alternatives for low-level offenders, and reform law enforcement practices to drive inmate numbers down. Further, in 2018, Congress passed the FIRST STEP Act, which reduces sentences for certain non-violent federal crimes. This law is expected to lower the inmate population in federal prisons, but it won't do anything to lower inmate populations on a state and local level.

Know when you may have to challenge a loved one's estate plan

In the wake of the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to do is focus on frivolous issues, such as finances. However, failing to stand up for your rights and assert yourself during estate administration is a major mistake that can haunt you for years to come.

Whether you worry about someone influencing the last will left behind by your loved one or believe they were not in a proper frame of mind during the creation of their estate plan, you may have reason to contest the last will in court.

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