Reston, VA

Since Virginia’s new law barring the use of mobile phones while driving went into effect on Jan. 1, local police have written hundreds of citations.

The Fairfax County Police Department has issued “over 415 tickets” related to violations of the hands-free law since the new year.

The Herndon Police Department tells Reston Now that its officers initially issued warnings but did not ticket motorists for violating the law, which prohibits people from holding a handheld communications device while driving a moving vehicle on Virginia highways.

“The first two months of 2021 saw our patrol officers issuing warnings to motorists that were observed in violation of the law,” a Herndon Police spokesperson wrote. “Our goal was to inform as many people as possible of the change in laws.”

However, Herndon Police began issuing citations on March 1, and since then, they have written 43 citations for motorists violating the law.

The state law notes that violations are punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses.

The law was technically enacted on July 1, 2020, but was not effective until six months later so that a public messaging campaign could be established and law enforcement could be trained on how to enforce it.

There are few notable expectations to the rule, including emergency vehicle operators performing official duties, drivers who are lawfully parked, and someone using their phone to report an emergency.

While it is illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving, it remains legal to talk on a phone provided it is not in the driver’s hand.

According to Drive Smart Virginia, nearly 15% of all fatal crashes in 2020 involved distracted driving.

Preliminary Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data indicates that Fairfax County had the most fatalities related to distracted driving in the state last year, as well as the most injuries resulting from distracted driving.

Photo via Alexandre Boucher/Unsplash

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The Herndon Town Council is considering adopting a new law that would prohibit the possession of firearms and ammunition on town property.

At its work session tomorrow (April 6), the town council will discuss creating a law that would prohibit “the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property, in Town buildings or on certain other areas owned by the Town.”

As noted in a staff report, council members will have three potential outcomes to vote on at next week’s meeting on April 13, a town spokesperson confirms.

The council could vote to adopt the ordinance as written, defer consideration until budgetary impacts are determined, or advertise a public hearing to get public input.

This is the second time that the council has discussed a firearms ban as part of a work session after an initial conversation took place in September in response to Virginia General Assembly legislation that took effect last summer.

The state bill permitted localities to adopt their own ordinances prohibiting firearms in public facilities.

Herndon is a bit behind other local jurisdictions in considering a ban.

Arlington County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church have already instituted a ban on firearms on locality-owned property, including courthouses, public parks, and community centers, and at public events. Fairfax County also adopted a similar ordinance for all county-owned spaces in September.

The staff report notes that Herndon’s ordinance is similar to the county’s, but “tailored to Herndon.”

The proposed ordinance calls for “increased security measures” like metal detectors to prevent access to these areas while possessing a firearm. It also mandates that a written notice about the ordinance be posted at entrances to the areas where the prohibition is in effect.

The staff report says that, so far, there has been no opportunity to determine the fiscal impacts of the law, including installation of metal detectors and posting signage.

The ordinance would have some exemptions. For instance, law enforcement, security personnel hired by the town or the state, active duty military personnel would be allowed to have firearms on public property, and educational activities like static displays and historical reenactments would be permitted.

The ordinance could also potentially allow for lawfully possessed firearms stored in a locked, private motor vehicle that is lawfully parked on town property or a public street.

A violation of the ordinance would be punishable as a class one misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Back in September, nearly all of Herndon’s councilmembers reached a consensus that more public input was needed, along with further research into how the ban was being enacted in neighboring localities.

Several councilmembers noted that a ban on firearms on town-owned property would need to clearly communicate that all guns are not going to be confiscated individual owners. Councilmembers also raised concerns about whether the ban would hold up legally, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individual gun owners in the past.

However, more recently, the Supreme Court has declined to rule on such cases.

Photo via Thomas Def/Unsplash

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Reston Town Center manager Boston Properties and security contractor MaxSent may have to face trial over a women’s 2018 lawsuit alleging she tripped, fell, and got hurt walking from the parking garage to the shopping center.

Camille Sedar fell down a short flight of stairs, landed face first, and lost consciousness. She was later diagnosed to have a concussion. The suit alleges she tripped due to loose, uneven bricks and “sagging” caulk at the top of the stairs causing the fall.

Sedar says she doesn’t remember the fall. Though witnesses didn’t actually see her fall, they saw her on the ground, hurt, and called for help, according to court documents.

Sedar won the appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit earlier this week, as first reported by Bloomberg Law.

The appeal centered on if there was enough “material” facts and evidence that lack of upkeep and maintenance could have caused the loose bricks and her fall.

Sedar provided photographic evidence, scuffed shoes, and an expert engineer witness saying large gaps due to loose bricks create tripping hazards.

The defense argued that it wasn’t on their clients to fix small “sidewalk irregularities,” which are visible to all and known to be avoided. Plus, it was “mere speculation” that these irregularities caused her fall in the first place.

However, a loose brick may not be immediately obvious and visible, argued the plaintiff, and therefore created a hazard.

Sedar also offered evidence that the shopping owners and property manager had knowledge of the hazard.

The court agreed there was enough evidence that the loose brick and sagging caulk could have created a tripping hazard and, therefore, the case could go to trial.

“We make no comment on which parties’ evidence is more persuasive. We only ask whether Sedar has provided ‘evidence beyond speculation’ that provides a sufficient basis for a reasonable inference of causation,” reads the court’s opinion. “We conclude that she has.”

Reston Now has reached out to each side’s attorneys but have yet to hear back as of publication.

Photo by R. Dawson/Flickr

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The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the “public charge” rule, allowing it to take effect nationwide in February. This decision follows injunctions by multiple appeal courts in states across the country that attempted to block the policy from being implemented back in October of 2019, as originally planned.

The policy in question falls under the scope of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and would enact new standards on those seeking permanent residency in the United States.

“These new measures can make it easier for the government to deny green cards and visas to immigrants who are considered ‘burdens’ to the American taxpayer,” Immigration Attorney Natalia Segermeister explains. “This policy will disproportionately impact low-income immigrants and immigrants of color that are seeking to gain legal residency in the United States.”

Legal History of the Public Charge Rule

The concept of public charge has long been a part of American immigration policies since codified into law by Congress in 1882, and has been commonly used to deny American citizenship to legal immigrants. The original public charge rule referred to any immigrant that is classified as “likely to become a public charge,” meaning they primarily depended on the government for support at any time. However, it failed to define exactly what constitutes a public charge.

Under the Trump administration’s new regulation, the term “public charge” includes any immigrant that relies on the government for public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing, and puts a much greater emphasis on a person’s financial well-being and self-reliance.

States across the country attempted to halt the policy from going into effect, and were temporarily successful after a federal judge in New York imposed a nationwide injunction in January. Yet later the same month, the Supreme Court heard the case and ultimately ruled 5-4 in favor of the policy, thus lifting the nationwide injunction.

Response to the New Policy

The Trump Administration’s goal for the new policy and its public charge regulation is to ensure that the country’s immigration system grants permanent residency only to legal immigrants who can provide for themselves and to promote self-sufficiency among immigrant communities. This goal further promotes the administration’s belief that legal immigration should be merit based.

Yet the change to what constitutes a person as a public charge has been questioned and strongly criticized by opponents to the administration’s legislation. In response to this backlash, the administration argued that a person’s dependence on the government is already a factor considered in their status and in determining whether or not to grant legal residence in the United States.

The administration claims that large numbers of non-citizen immigrants have taken advantage of our country’s generous public benefit, but critics are pointing to statistics that say otherwise. It is reported that non-citizen immigrants makeup only 6.5% of Medicaid participants and 8.8% of food stamp recipients. In addition, there has been a recent increase in immigrant families, even those who are already U.S. citizens, withdrawing from essential welfare programs in response to the proposed changes.

Future Impact of the New Policy

While the policy only recently went into effect in February of 2020, it is expected to have the deepest and widest impact on legal immigrants for decades to come. This public charge regulation is just one of several proposals that the administration originally unveiled in regards to severely restricting legal immigration.

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The D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, has filed three lawsuits against seven real estate companies and professionals for alleged housing discrimination. The parties named in the suit primarily operate properties in Wards 4 and 8, with six of the parties registered in D.C. and one of the parties registered in Maryland.

“The alleged behavior noted in these lawsuits violates the Human Rights Act,” says Attorney Seth Price of Price Benowitz LLP. ” This act strictly prohibits landlords from denying individuals equal access to housing on the grounds of 21 protected traits, which include race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability and source of income.” Two of the lawsuits came as direct referrals from the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which has recently made efforts to follow a stricter enforcement of the Human Rights Act across the city.

Denying Housing Based on Race

In one of the lawsuits, the District Attorney’s Office (DAO) alleges that a D.C. landlord of a rowhouse unit located at 3929 13th Street NW in Ward 4 discriminated against a prospective Black tenant on the basis of race. The lawsuit accuses the landlord of indicating that they had a preference for white tenants and making discriminatory statements against the individual.

The prospective tenant, who participates in the housing choice voucher program, stated that the landlord refused to provide an approval letter that the individual needed in order to receive payment assistance for their security deposit.

Rejecting Section 8 Applicants

In another lawsuit, District Attorney Racine alleges that a real estate agent of Porter House International Realty Group engaged in source of income discrimination against a prospective tenant. The rental property, located at 615 Galveston Street, SE in Ward 8, is owned by Porter House and included the statement “No Section 8,” in its description for the rental property that was listed on Craigslist. Section 8 concerns housing vouchers that meant to assist low-income families, the elderly, and those who are disabled.

The lawsuit is looking to hold both the real estate agent and the company responsible for the alleged income discriminatory advertisement.

Dismissing Accommodation Requests

Lastly, the third lawsuit alleges that KEM Associates and two employees of property management company Delwin Realty discriminated against a current tenant of Hillcrest House in Ward 8 due to their disability. The rental property is owned by KEM Associates but managed by Delwin Realty.

The tenant, who suffers from a mobility issue, stated that they had requested a designated disability parking spot that was located within 200 feet of their apartment entrance, but the Delwin Realty employees denied their request and allegedly urged the tenant to instead move to a different living community. This denial of request violates the reasonable accommodation clause in the Human Rights Act.

Seeking a Court Decision

In these three lawsuits, the Office of the Attorney General is seeking a court order to hold the defendants responsible for not adhering to the Human Rights Act. Additionally, Attorney General Racine is requesting restitution for the alleged victims of these discriminatory acts.

During his tenure, Attorney General Racine has been historically strict against landlords who have violated the Human Rights Act and denied housing to individuals as a result. Earlier this year, Racine had filed lawsuits against 16 property owners and landlords largely concerning advertisements that stated they would not rent to individuals who participated in the housing voucher program.

Impact of COVID-19 on Housing

This has only exacerbated the current housing crisis that has come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The District is currently seeing increased rates of individuals in need of housing assistance in order to afford rising rent prices, amidst the current housing shortage and stagnant economy.

A bill aimed at increasing the penalties that landlords would face for refusing to rent to tenants solely due to their participation in rental assistance programs is currently under review by the D.C. Council.

Since Donald Trump became President in 2016, the number of immigrants applying to become U.S. citizens has greatly increased. While the increase in applicants might suggest the process to become a U.S. citizen might be easier, the opposite is true. Under Trump’s presidency it has become much more difficult to become a U.S. citizen as applicants are facing longer processing times and the vetting process is much more extensive.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency responsible for processing applications and the agency has suffered from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The USCIS had to temporarily close field offices due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while they have now reopened with limited capacity restrictions, there is a backlog of applications waiting adjudication, which slows down processing times. In addition to facing a backlog of applications, the agency is also facing a budget crisis which is also causing a slowdown.

Trump’s Immigration Policy

Trump tried to depict himself as favoring immigration when campaigning, but his policies have targeted immigrants. Instead, these policies were designed to keep immigrants out of the United States. From placing bans on worker visas to increasing the restriction of Green Cards, Trump has not only made the process of becoming a U.S. citizen difficult but entering the United States as an immigrant as well.

Naturalization

It has become harder to be naturalized, and the process can take from 8 months to a year to become a citizen from the time of application. However, in populous states, the wait can sometimes exceed over two years. Those eligible for naturalization are people over 18 years old, have been a permanent resident for a minimum of 5 years, or 3 years if they married an U.S. citizen. This delay is because the USCIS is now entering a process of extreme vetting trying to ensure that the applications being approved are not fraudulent.

Denaturalization Section

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the denaturalization section in February 2020 which means there is now a  section specifically dedicated to investigating and revoking citizenship. This section allows the DOJ to strip a person of their citizenship rights.

The denaturalization section aims to hold those who unlawfully gained citizenship accountable for their actions. However, while this section might have been created with good intentions, the concern is that denaturalization proceedings will be initiated against immigrants who have not committed serious or heinous crimes. This also means that immigrants still have to worry about removal  even after they gain U.S. citizenship.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

While it is more difficult to become a U.S. citizen, it is still possible. There are a number of contributing factors that have made the process more difficult, but it is not impossible. An experienced immigration attorney can help you mitigate these factors and walk you through the application process.

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Amid a year where national policing reforms were brought into the spotlight, Fairfax County is reviewing a suite of changes at a local level to improve police accountability.

At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, Chairman Rodney Lusk presented an overview of proposed changes in what was described as possible changes rather than new policies set into stone.

Near term considerations included improved data collection to improve accuracy, with ethnicity and a breakdown of arrest data included in documentation. Data would be released quarterly.

One of the other practices that’s come under fire nationally is the firing and immediate re-hiring of police officers across jurisdictions. One proposed change would crack down on that as part of a statewide push to make decertification easier.

“Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct and the request and disclosure of information for prospective law-enforcement hires,” the input matrix said.

While many of the items items being considered focused on more transparency and restrictions on police, another item being considered was a review of how to boost morale in the police department, which Lusk said was at an all time low.

The committee also considered some mid-term options, like reviewing regulations around school resource officers and a review of Fairfax County Police Department use of force policies. with more data about the racial distribution of arrests, another mid-term goal was reviewing racial disparities in use of force and arrests.

“These are public suggestions… not approved by the board,” said Fairfax County Board chair Jeff McKay. “This is a parking lot of ideas that have come through your office and now must be adjudicated by this board based on data and conversations… Some of these will go off to other committees.”

Image via Fairfax County

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The Virginia State Bar president-elect for 2020-2021 is Jay B. Myerson of Reston.

Myerson is set to serve as president in 2021-2022, and is succeeding Brian L. Buvia, the current president of the VSB. Myerson will assume the president-elect position on July 1 and is the first attorney whose law firm is based in Reston to serve in this statewide capacity, according to a statement from The Myerson Law Group. 

The VSB is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and the president regulates and supports more than 50,000 Virginia lawyers, according to the statement. 

“It will be a real privilege to work with the many talented attorneys across the Commonwealth,” said Myerson. 

Myerson graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown University Law Center. From there, he founded The Myerson Law Group, P.C. where he supervises a six-attorney domestic, criminal and civil litigation practice, said the statement. The practice is located in Fairfax County.

Myerson is a five-time recipient of the Fairfax Bar Association’s President’s Award and was the 2018 recipient of the Local Bar Leader Award. He was past president of the FBA, where he led efforts for judicial funding, according to the statement.

The attorney was also elected to the state Bar Council in 2014, just completing his second term. He has also served for the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates.

Myerson and his family are longtime Reston residents. 

“I’m especially looking forward to working with the wonderful VSB staff, the Chief Justice and other justices on Virginia’s Supreme Court,” said Myerson.

Photo courtesy of The Myerson Law Group, P.C.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Amy Gaiennie of Gaiennie Law Office

The inclusion of high school students in an existing federal safety program is the latest proposal introduced by U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

The proposed legislation adds to the existing Safe Routes to School Program, which promotes students walking and bicycling to school, and provides safety education, incentives for active school commutes and improved infrastructure.

Unfortunately, commute-related injuries occur daily across the nation. For example, over the past year in Nevada’s Washoe County School District alone, over 20 students have been injured by cars during their commute to school.

Ensuring student safety amongst the nation’s elementary and middle schools — no matter the type of commute — is at the heart of the Safe Routes to School Program. The proposed legislation seeks to offer high school students the same umbrella of protection and benefits offered by the Safe Routes to School Program to elementary, middle, and high schools alike.

As research shows — and common-sense dictates — walking and bicycling to and from school offer students health benefits. Furthermore, offering the added protection of federally-funded safety education and infrastructure improvements to high schools expands not only those health benefits of an active commute, but also a safer commute as well. If approved, high schools would be eligible for funding from the Department of Transportation for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects.

The proposed legislation — the result of bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate — takes great strides in promoting safer commutes for all students. While the proposed legislation is pending regarding the inclusion of high schools in the program, safety precautions can be put in place by each individual on the road — adult or child.

For example, it is helpful for drivers who know they will be on the roads during school commute hours to allow a little more time for their own commute. Students walking to school can help practice safety by using sidewalks when available, and if no sidewalks are available, using the edge of the road while facing traffic.

Similarly, using crosswalks, where available, and always being cognizant to stop and look both ways before crossing. Bicyclists can help practice safety by wearing proper safety gear, including helmets, adhering to traffic signs and signals, and cycling in the same direction as the flow of traffic, but utilizing bike lanes where available.

For all, taking the time to be alert and pay attention may help curb the number of incidents during school commute hours — and also encourage growth in a more active commute for school students.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Davis Haines of Haines Law, P.C.

To questions of “are we there yet?” regarding highway safety, Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), says no.

Tens of thousands of people are killed in car accidents each year. That amounts to approximately 100 deaths each day, and nearly 7,500 personal injuries. AHAS and Chase have made it their mission to put an end to these injuries and fatalities by pressing state legislatures to take action and improve their highway safety laws.

AHAS recently released its 2020 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws which includes within it Safe Roads Report Cards that grade each state, as well as the District of Columbia (D.C.), on the quality of their automobile safety laws. The timing of the release intentionally coincides with the start of many state legislative sessions. It is meant to prompt a discussion of what each respective jurisdiction can do to improve its road safety laws.

The roadmap says that in 2019, 10 jurisdictions (9 states and D.C.) passed 12 laws into effect, improving road safety in the areas of texting and cell phone bans, child seating safety requirements, and drunk driving regulations. Nevertheless, the roadmap argues, much remains to be done.

The report cards issued grades according to color: green (good), yellow (caution), and red (danger). Just eight jurisdictions (7 states and D.C.) received a green grade, while 31 were labeled as yellow. AHAS determined that the remaining 12 were in a red predicament, wherein they had enacted few meaningful road safety laws.

To give some perspective, the state of Rhode Island has enacted 13 AHAS “approved” laws, the most of any state in the nation. South Dakota, on the other hand, has enacted just two laws, the least of any jurisdiction.

These personal injuries, deemed preventable, continue to happen on a large scale. Roughly half of all car accident fatalities occur because a motorist is improperly buckled into their seat. However, according to AHAS, 31 states lack sufficient laws to address this problem.

AHAS is especially worried about inadequate legislation concerning placing children in size and age-appropriate car seats, the issuance of graduated drivers licenses for teen and novice drivers, as well as an across-the-board ban on texting while driving.

The roadmap acknowledges that vehicle technology can play a role in this, and that some measures – such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detectors, and lane departure warnings – can be effective at minimizing the frequency of car crashes. However, AHAS cautions that these innovations are often priced out of reach for many consumers.

Furthermore, they state that they can, at times, be confusing, thus creating their own dangers for motorists across the country.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Tim Miley of The Miley Legal Group

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been under review by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. While issuing recalls involving products of Britax and Fisher-Price, the way in which these recalls played out came under question and, as a result, into the hands of the Senate Review Committee.

What is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission? Formed under the Consumer Product Safety Act, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is a regulatory agency that has the purposes of:

  • Protecting the public against unreasonable risk of injury related to consumer products
  • Assisting consumers in evaluating the safety of products
  • Developing uniform safety standards for products and minimizing conflicts between State and local regulations
  • Promoting research and investigation into the causes of product-related injuries, illnesses and deaths, and the prevention of harm due to consumer products

The Safety Commission administers five acts, which include the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, the Flammable Fabrics Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and the Refrigerator Safety Act. The Commission offers the public a hotline for recall inquiries and also makes product recall information available to the public through its website.

The current review of the Safety Commission’s conduct pertains primarily to its administering of the Consumer Product Safety Act. In its report, the Senate Review Committee expressed concern that the Safety Commission handled recalls to allow companies to benefit from future sales. By offering relief in the form of discount coupons, for example, consumers purchased new products and the companies reaped additional revenue as a result of the recall.

Additionally, the timeliness of recalls by the Safety Commission came into question by the Review Committee. One such instance under review involved the Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play infant sleeper, a product that was related to more than 30 infant deaths. The infant sleeper was not recalled when the number of deaths reported at ten; instead, a warning was issued, and a recall was not released until the reported deaths reached over 30 and at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ urging for an immediate recall.

The recent scrutiny under which the Safety Commission has fallen is a reason for consumers to pause and address what products have been subject to recall and what remedies are available.

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By Personal Injury Attorney William Colarulo of Grungo Colarulo

Historically, members of the military were unable to file a medical malpractice claim against the federal government when they were a victim of negligence. This is largely due to the fact that nearly all governments have immunity from civil lawsuits. More specifically, it has to do with the Feres Doctrine.

The Feres Doctrine is named after three different cases of military medical malpractice heard by the Supreme Court in 1950. Once the case was decided on, it was determined that any service member was barred from filing a medical malpractice claim against the federal government.

Now, however, a new proposal to the 2020 defense budget bill might allow service members or their families to take action by filing a claim with the Secretary of Defense. If accepted, these claims would allow service members to collect compensation for their injuries.

In mid-December, the House of Representatives approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Under this bill, military members can file a claim for review if they believe they were the victims of medical malpractice. Of course, like any civil action, it does not necessarily mean that they will be successful in their claim. Currently, only medical malpractice claims are included in the National Defense Authorization Act, although that does cover not only medical treatment, but also dental treatment and other related healthcare.

The National Defense Authorization Act also states that an attorney’s fees cannot exceed 20 percent of any compensation awarded. The Department of Defense is also not liable for those fees, meaning that anyone filing a claim would be responsible for paying the associated expenses.

This National Defense Authorization Act might prove to be helpful for service members that are victims of medical malpractice in the future, as well as for any member that was a victim after January, 2017.

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By Criminal Defense Attorney Floyd Oliver of Floyd Oliver Attorney at Law

In the world of criminal law, words matter. Cases are often lost and won based on the prevailing interpretation of the relevant statutory and regulatory language. This is also the case for federal firearm enforcement.

For decades, federal prosecutors and regulators at the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have relied on what some call an archaic definition of the word “gun.” This agency defines the frame (or receiver) of a firearm as a gun.

However, with AR-15-style weapons, a frame is made of two separate parts: the upper and lower receivers. Neither of these parts could fire a bullet on their own, but ATF and federal prosecutors have treated these individual parts as guns in order to regulate who can obtain them.

A significant part of ATF’s mission is to prevent certain people — those legally prohibited from possessing a gun — from being able to legally obtain the separate parts they could use to make a firearm. However, the discrepancy between the law as it is written and the construction of AR-15-style weapons is starting to cause panic within the federal gun enforcement community.

Defense attorneys are making a “plain reading of the law” argument in efforts to invalidate assertions that their clients are guilty of having possessed or sought to possess a gun. They argue that one part of the receiver does not make a gun and should therefore not be treated as a firearm.

The courts are starting to listen. Since 2016, at least five defendants have seen their cases or charges dropped or have avoided prison. Recently, an Ohio federal judge sided with the defense’s argument that a plain reading of the law necessitated a dismissal and said that the legal definition of the word “gun” is something ATF has a duty to fix.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Mac Hester of Mac Hester Law

A recent proposal by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) calls for significant changes to truck driving rules, sparking a debate on whether the changes will benefit all drivers and the safety of the roadways.

According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, they believe changes need to be made as the number of truck-involved incidents has increased alongside an increase in the regulations on truck drivers.

Current rules on Hours of Service restrict the amount of time truck drivers spend on the roads, the frequency and length of their breaks, and their sleeping hours while on duty. For example, truck drivers cannot drive for more than eight hours without taking a break. Long-haul drivers cannot drive more than 11 hours in 14 hours of driving time, which must be followed by a ten-hour consecutive off-duty break.

The proposed changes address the consecutive ten-hour sleeping requirement. As opposed to ten consecutive hours, the proposal allows the driver to split up the ten-hour consecutive sleeping requirement into two segments, a seven-hour consecutive segment in the sleeping berth, followed by a period of at least two hours in the sleeping berth or off-duty.

Additionally, the proposed changes speak to challenges that truck drivers face in situations such as lengthy traffic jams, which can account for a considerable amount of on-duty driving time.

For example, with the proposed changes, a truck driver who finds themselves in a traffic jam would be able to take the requisite 30-minute break within an eight-hour driving period, by taking the break while in an on-duty, non-driving status — as opposed to an off-duty status.

A recent North Carolina Department of Transportation report showed an increase of 900 crashes involving tractor-trailers from the year 2017 to 2018. Reports such as these shed light on a need to revisit rules and regulations, as well as other factors affecting safety on the roads.

Where cell phone usage by all drivers is reported as a threat to driver safety in general, officials of NCDOT predict that truck driver fatigue is an underreported factor in truck-related accidents.

Whether the proposed changes will help address the truck driving industry’s concern for safe and efficient transportation, as well as lessen the number of truck-involved incidents, is yet to be seen as the proposed changes are mere proposals at this point.

For the proposed changes to go into effect it will not require the approval of Congress, but, instead only the approval of the FMSCA and the Office of Management and Budget.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Gary Christmas of Christmas Injury Lawyers

Each year, approximately 6,000 pedestrian lives are lost to traffic accidents.

These deaths account for 16% of all traffic deaths, and the majority of these accidents happen after dark when visibility is low. Sadly, the number of pedestrian deaths is on the rise.

As a result, automakers have attempted to combat the issue of pedestrian-related crashes by introducing new safety technology, such as an automatic emergency braking system that engages when a sensor detects a pedestrian in front of the car. In theory, this emergency braking system could be extremely helpful for keeping people safe on the road.

Drivers are ultimately responsible for the safe driving of their vehicles, no matter how advanced their safety technology is. Although these safety systems have the potential to significantly reduce vehicle crashes when properly functioning, this technology is only meant to enhance the driver’s awareness, not to take the driver’s place.

Even if a vehicle is equipped with advanced technology to assist a driver in navigating in a safer manner, this technology can never be relied on to take the place of the driver, and ultimately, a driver who causes a traffic accident despite the use of this safety technology is liable and responsible for the damage they have caused.

Unfortunately, according to tests done by AAA, this technology has a long way to go before it is effective. AAA challenged this technology in simulated real-world scenarios and found that this technology was largely ineffective. These tests revealed that the sensors had the highest success rate while the vehicle was traveling slowly at 20 miles per hour during daylight, avoiding collision approximately 40% of the time.

However, when the vehicle speed was increased to 30 miles per hour in the same scenario, the majority of detection systems failed to detect the pedestrian and was unable to avoid the collision.

Additionally, the safety system failed to detect pedestrians during nighttime simulations, illustrating that this technology requires further testing and work to become more effective before it can be relied on to aid drivers in identifying and avoiding pedestrians.

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