Thursday, May 29, 2014

How will Google's driverless cars impact vehicle crime?

Google has unveiled it's completely driverless car and plans to test a hundred prototypes in California over the next few years. Unlike previous versions which featured steering wheels and the ability of the human driver to assume control, these vehicles are completely autonomous and have no way for passenger intervention.

This could have major implications for vehicular crime. As the human driver is in no way controlling the vehicle crimes such as DUI would be meaningless. Driver licenses would be no more required to ride in a driverless car than they would be to ride in the back of a taxi. The income small municipalities receive from speeding offenses and red light cameras would dry up, as presumably the cars would be programmed to obey all rules of the road.

There would need to be significant changes in auto-insurance laws (currently mandatory in all 50 states) which could render that industry bankrupt. What about people who have lost their license due to a medical issue such as epilepsy? What about blind people "driving" these driverless cars?

It is an exciting development and I expect it will have a big impact on the current climate of vehicle crime.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Are prior criminal convictions relevant in a criminal case?

Generally, Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 404(b) prohibits the introduction of a defendant's prior bad acts including criminal convictions. This means that the government may not introduce such evidence in order to convict someone of a crime. There are several reasons behind this prohibition; including to prevent a confusion of the issues and to ensure a defendant is not convicted of the current crime based on past behaviour to which there may be no connection.

There are certain exceptions to this rule, however. Crimes of crimen falsi are sometimes permitted, for example. A crime of crimen falsi is a crime of lying such as fraud or theft. Such crimes go to the credibility of the defendant to tell the truth. Also, if the prior crime has some relationship to the current crime it may be admitted.

It is important for any criminal defendant to be aware of his/her prior record and to discuss it with the attorney prior to trial to ensure there are no surprises.

Monday, May 19, 2014

How to dress a client for court.

Although tangential to the actual determination of the issues at play in a case, it is still important to consider how the client will present him/herself in front of the Judge or Jury. The most important consideration is that whatever the client wears, it should show the proper respect to the Court.

Gone are the days when everyone wore suits to Court. Watching 12 Angry Men now, with the juror room full of men in suits and ties is not the norm anymore. This represents a relaxing of sartorial attitudes of society in general, not anything particular to Court proceedings. Now polo shirts, jeans, sneakers, and the like are the standard.

When clients ask what they should wear to court I always tell them to be respectful but comfortable. If a client can wear a nice conservative suit, that's great, but many clients are incredibly uncomfortable in a suit and tie and if he or she fidgets or sweats or otherwise looks out of place that may have a poor impact on the jury. If the client is more comfortable in chinos and a button-down shirt that is acceptable.

Of course it can go the other way as well, if a client projects an image of arrogance by wearing too-expensive tailored suits in front a of generally rural or suburban jury they may draw another adverse inference.

Clothing to be avoided:

Jean shorts
Cut-off jean shorts
Adidas workout pants
Budweiser branded T-shirts
NWA concert T-shirts
NAZI regalia

Footwear to be avoided
Thigh high leather boots

Face tattoos, if applicable, should be covered in makeup concealer prior to entry to the courthouse.