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What You Should Know About Texting and Driving

Distracted driving is something that many of us have found ourselves guilty of at one point in time. There are numerous sources of distraction that can take our attention away from the road, such as talking on the phone, texting, adjusting the radio, using a GPS, applying makeup, eating, dealing with unruly kids in the backseat, etc. Regardless of the type of distraction, anything that takes our focus away from driving increases our chances of being involved in an accident. This article will take a look at the effects of distracted driving and analyze Louisiana’s laws regarding cell phone use.

The latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows there were 3,477 people killed and an estimated additional 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.[1] This means that 10% of all fatal crashes in 2015 were related to distracted driving. Additionally, 15% of crashes resulted in injuries and 14% of all crashes reported to police involved distracted drivers. And 9% of drivers, ages 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a fatal crash.

The subset of distracted driving that has received the most attention in recent years is cell phone usage; as a result, you’ll find many ad campaigns trying to bring awareness to fatal accidents caused by someone in the middle of sending a text message. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers texting the most dangerous distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds; at 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.[2]  More than one-third of people surveyed admit to reading a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, and more than one-quarter admit to sending a text or email.[3]

Although texting while driving has been getting the most attention recently, studies show that people talking on a cell phone are involved in more crashes than those texting. In 2010, an estimated minimum of 160,000 crashes involved texting or emailing, compared to 1.1 million crashes involving talking on cell phones.[4]  

One study indicated crash risk was two to six times greater when drivers were using a cell phone compared to when they were not distracted.[5] The NHTSA estimates that at any point during the day, 9% of drivers are using cell phones.[6] In 2016, the National Occupant Protection Use Survey found that handheld cell phone use continued to be higher among female drivers than male drivers; it also found that handheld cell phone use continued to be highest among 16- to 24-year-old drivers, and lowest among drivers 70 and older.[7] However, one study showed a bit of good news, a sign that awareness campaigns about cell phone use may be working: the percentage of passenger vehicle driver handheld cell phone use decreased from 3.8 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent in 2016.[8]

Now that you know the extent of the danger involving cell phone usage while driving, here are the laws the state of Louisiana has enacted to combat this distraction:

  1. Anyone with a learner’s permit may not talk on the phone at any time unless its use is for emergency purposes.[9]  
  2. For all other drivers, you may legally talk on your cell phone even if you are not using a hands-free device unless you are in a school zone.[10]  If you are driving in a school zone, you may not engage in a call.
  3. It is illegal for any driver in Louisiana to write, read, or send a text message while driving; it is also illegal to access, read, or post to a social networking site.[11]  Under this statute, you will not be found in violation if you are reading, selecting, or entering a phone number or name in your phone; it is also not a violation if you are navigating using a GPS.
  4. In addition to being considered a moving violation, the penalties for texting/using social media or using a phone while in a school zone are the following:
    1. Up to $500 for a first offense
    2. Up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense
    3. If involved in a crash at the time, double the standard offense

In today’s world, distractions are all too common while driving. However, no matter how good of a driver or multitasker you think you are, it’s smart to minimize distractions as much as possible and devote your attention to the road so that you (or someone else) don’t become one of these statistics.

 


[1] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812381

[2] https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

[3] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[4] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[5] https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/distracted-driving/qanda

[6] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[7] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812426

[8] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812426

[9] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=630882

[10] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=918939

[11] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=630881


The Future of Blockchain

Since the world embraced computers, connected via the internet, and converted mass amounts of sensitive data into digital form, several problems have arisen.  Hacking, identity theft, and manipulation of digital data plague businesses, consumers, and governments daily. It’s very difficult to trust and verify the identity of someone you’re conducting business with on another continent, that you’ll receive what they claim to be selling, and that your payment will get there securely and quickly.  

These problems slow commerce down and create costs, usually in the form of lawyers or other middle men doing the verification leg-work.  Blockchain technology helps eliminate concerns about hacking and trust, greatly reducing transaction costs and processing times.

Even if Bitcoin fizzles out tomorrow, the underlying blockchain technology is not only here to stay, but primed to grow exponentially…and soon.  You can look at Bitcoin like Myspace, one of the first social media platforms. Even though Myspace failed, the concept of social media lives on in countless other manifestations.  Many pundits believe blockchain technology will be “the next Internet.”

Smart Contracts

A “smart contract” is a commonly discussed application for blockchain technology.  A smart contract is automatically executed when certain predefined conditions occur (if X does Y, then execute Z).  Smart contracts theoretically allow individuals or companies to craft contracts with highly detailed conditions, but without the need for a legal document written by a lawyer.

Currently, if parties to a contract either don’t perform or don’t pay, the aggrieved party must sue the breaching party to get paid or get their money back.  This all costs time and money, even if the contract is honored.

The blockchain replaces lawyers and courts in a smart contract.  Let’s say I create a smart contract with the following conditions: I want 5 bushels of apples at a price of $200 delivered in 5 days.  Johnny Appleseed accepts and our smart contract becomes part of the blockchain, with its precise terms fixed and recorded across thousands of other computers.  Upon acceptance, $200 would automatically be deducted from my account, but not yet given to Johnny. If the apples arrive on the 5th day, that $200 automatically transfers to Johnny.  If Johnny fails to deliver on the 5th day, I automatically get my $200 back.

Additional conditions could also be built in, such as automatically giving me $10 from Johnny’s account if he fails to deliver by Day 5, charging either party $5 for backing out before Day 5, automatically refunding my account the price of however many apples he shorts me, etc.

The bitcoin blockchain does not have the capability to incorporate smart contracts; bitcoin was designed to only process payment transactions.  The second-most valuable cryptocurrency is called Ethereum; its blockchain was designed for monetary transactions, as well as smart contracts. Ethereum’s added functionality may give it an edge in the long run over bitcoin.

Research by Accenture estimates that investment banks alone could save up to $12 billion per year using blockchain and smart contracts for financial transactions.[1]  There will be many practical and legal kinks to work out before smart contracts gain widespread use, but businesses and consumers will certainly jump at the opportunity to avoid dealing with contract lawyers and the judicial system once a viable alternative presents itself.

Other Uses

Major players in the global food supply chain are poised to adopt blockchain, with IBM announcing a collaboration with several grocery chains and food suppliers such as Walmart, Kroger, Dole, and Tyson Foods.[2]  The goal is to streamline the entire process by securely and transparently tracking goods at every step, from the farmer to the store shelf.  Blockchain will reduce inefficiencies with ordering, shipping, and billing; most importantly, it will increase food safety by tracing sources of contamination, helping to quickly stem the spread of illness.

Coca Cola and the U.S. State Department are launching a project using blockchain’s digital ledger technology to create a secure registry for workers that will help fight the use of forced labor worldwide.[3]

Practically every industry is now analyzing how blockchain technology can reduce inefficiencies and establish trust through verification in a secure and transparent manner.  Blockchain has the potential to revamp even historically bureaucratic fields, such as healthcare, real estate, automotive/land title work, insurance, and the judicial system.

 

 

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken/2017/11/21/smart-contracts-on-the-blockchain-can-businesses-reap-the-benefits/#6d23a8461074

[2] http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/53013.wss

[3] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-blockchain-coca-cola-labor/coca-cola-u-s-state-dept-to-use-blockchain-to-combat-forced-labor-idUSKCN1GS2PY

 


Steps You Should Take if You’re Involved in an Uber Accident

Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services have become widely used in recent years. As a cheaper and more user-friendly alternative to taxi cabs, Uber has become the go-to service for a trip to the airport or a ride home when you’ve had a few drinks. The vast majority of Uber rides will result in arriving at your destination without incident. But what happens if your Uber driver gets into a wreck and you suffer an injury?

Uber and Lyft provide its drivers with third-party liability coverage up to at least $1 million per accident.¹ This means that if your Uber/Lyft driver is at fault, this insurance will cover liability for any damages to a third party such as the passenger. Uber also provides uninsured or underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage to its drivers. This covers any passenger in the vehicle when another driver is at fault, but that driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance coverage for your injuries. This coverage also applies to hit-and-runs where the at-fault driver is never identified.

So, if you are injured during an accident where your driver is at fault in Louisiana, both Uber and Lyft have a policy through the James River Insurance Company that covers your injuries for up to $1 million.² It is important that you contact a lawyer to ensure the proper party is sued.³ You don’t necessarily sue just the at-fault driver. Your lawyer would also send a letter to Uber and your driver instructing them to preserve evidence, requiring them to save all data or information related to your ride.

When another driver is at fault, you would first determine if the other driver’s insurance policy can cover your damages. If your injuries are serious and the other driver’s policy cannot cover the medical costs, then Uber and Lyft both have policies through the James River Insurance Company that could cover you up to $1 million.

If you get into a wreck while in an Uber, here are some recommended steps to follow that will assist your injury claims:

  •     Call 911 and take pictures of the wreck, including the license plates of all vehicles involved.
  •     Take down the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of any potential witnesses to the              crash.
  •     Write down the name of your Uber driver and the other driver.
  •     Take screenshots on your phone of the Uber ride and receipt.
  •     Finally, if you are injured or incur any medical bills, hire an attorney to handle your personal injury        claims.

We understand it might be intimidating to take legal action against a large corporate entity like Uber, but you are not alone. With the help of legal assistance, people hurt by negligent drivers have been successful in recovering damages from Uber and other rideshare companies.

 


[1]https://www.uber.com/drive/insurance/

[2]https://www.uber.com/newsroom/an-update-on-insurance/

[3]http://time.com/money/4851877/my-uber-got-into-a-wreck-can-i-sue/


The Downside of Bitcoin

Black Market + Money Laundering

An attractive feature of bitcoin is that while every transaction is transparent and public, the parties involved are anonymous.  If Party A transfers 3 bitcoin to Party B, they would only be identified by their bitcoin address or “public key.” A user’s “private key” serves as their signature or password and remains hidden.  However, no personally identifying information is necessary to complete the transaction.

Bitcoin was initially adopted by true believers of blockchain technology’s potential, but also by a less savory bunch.  Bitcoin’s anonymity and lack of regulation was enticing for criminals and those looking to fly under government radar.  Thus, bitcoin’s early days saw it become the lifeblood of the digital black market.  For several years, a criminal marketplace known as the Silk Road flourished on the “dark web.”  Before it was shut down in 2013, one could purchase illegal drugs, guns, child pornography, and even hire hit men.  During this time, 30% of all bitcoin transactions took place on the dark web, but now that number is down to 1%. Bitcoin was initially cheap and relatively stable, but this past year’s catapult to nearly $20,000 and subsequent volatility has led the criminal element to adopt other cryptocurrencies.  When the FBI shut down the Silk Road, they seized what is now worth $1.2 billion worth of bitcoin.

Increased government regulation is also making bitcoin less appealing for criminal transactions.  Most popular bitcoin exchanges now require identifying information to create accounts in order to comply with IRS regulations.  Although the public key may just be numbers without personal information, law enforcement has now developed methods of identifying users if necessary.

While criminal transactions using bitcoin have dropped, it is still an attractive option for money launderers.  New research shows bitcoin has led to a large upswing in money laundering.  Now that bitcoin is more mainstream, a growing number of real estate purchases are being made with bitcoin, offering ripe opportunities to convert illicit funds into legitimate assets and cash.  However, the law surrounding money laundering and bitcoin is still being settled, including whether it is subject to the same federal banking regulations as traditional currency.

 

Valuation 

Numerous factors make bitcoin an extremely risky investment.  Bitcoin was created out of thin air by computer code. Bitcoin has no underlying value, other than what people are willing to pay for it.  Its valuation isn’t tied to performance like a company’s stock price, but simply by the whims of market demand.

 Bitcoin’s recent roller coaster price changes have caught the attention of government regulators.  The wild west of bitcoin will likely soon be tamed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The uncertainty about future regulation and its effects will continue to fuel bitcoin’s volatility.

Another major issue for volatility are the exchanges where bitcoin is bought and sold.  One of the most popular, Coinbase, has experienced severe growing pains since demand ballooned so quickly.  At the height of the recent bitcoin boom, the Coinbase exchange crashed several times due to the volume of trading occurring.  With huge price swings occurring by the minute, the inability to sell for hours at a time caused many to lose thousands of dollars.

 

Competition

Bitcoin was the trailblazer of the cryptocurrency world, but there are now thousands of other cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms.  Bitcoin also only serves a specific function – transferring money. Bitcoin cannot be rewritten now to include added functionality that other cryptocurrencies have added, like “smart contracts.”  This inflexibility may hurt bitcoin in the long run.

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2018/03/21/how-new-ruling-will-curb-crypto-bitcoin-bubble/#699f9e42ae2b

http://fortune.com/2017/12/22/coinbase-bitcoin-crash/


Family Alleges University and Frat Ignored Known Hazing Traditions that Resulted in Son’s Death

Baton Rouge, La.,  August 16, 2018 – Today, the parents of Maxwell (Max) Gruver, the Louisiana State University (LSU) freshman who tragically died from alcohol poisoning as a result of hazing in 2017, filed a federal lawsuit against LSU, the local and national chapters of Phi Delta Theta, the housing corporation that owns Phi Delta Theta’s fraternity house at LSU, and members of the fraternity.  Max’s parents allege the hazing ritual that caused his death would never have taken place if LSU or Phi Delta Theta had responded appropriately to numerous complaints of hazing at Phi Delta Theta’s chapter at LSU in the years before Max’s death.

The Gruver family alleges in their lawsuit that LSU’s and Phi Delta Theta’s failure to end the tradition of hazing at the chapter was driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage — in direct violation of Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination.  According to the family’s Complaint, because of LSU’s policy and practice of treating the hazing of male students less seriously than the hazing of female students, males participating in Greek Life face serious and substantial risks of injury and death, while female students pledging sororities do not.  LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given “Total Probation” by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority – while Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” said Mr. and Mrs. Gruver in a statement.  “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist.  We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max’s siblings, family, friends, and all who knew him.  Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue.  And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

“Every year, and for decades, young men have died or suffered traumatic injuries pledging fraternities that are dangerous, yet glowingly promoted with false and misleading information by the partnerships between fraternities and universities,” said Douglas Fierberg, legal counsel for the Gruver family.  “A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men, and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives.”

To learn more about this case and the Gruver’s fight to stop hazing, please visit The Max Gruver Foundation.


What is Bitcoin Anyway?

You’ve likely heard Bitcoin discussed on the news recently.  At one point, Bitcoin skyrocketed to $19,000 in a matter of weeks, only to plummet in value shortly thereafter (it’s valued around $8,000 as of 4/18/18).  It’s not unheard of for its value to fluctuate 20-30% daily. Bitcoin will likely remain a highly volatile investment as the general public, Wall Street, and world governments come to terms with it.  So what exactly is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin was invented in 2009 to be a new, purely digital currency (known as a cryptocurrency).  Satoshi Nakamoto developed bitcoin as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system allowing online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.[1]  Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity is a mystery, as this name is widely believed to be a pseudonym.  Whoever Nakamoto is, he or she is a billionaire. When bitcoin’s value surged to $19,000, this anonymous owner of 980,000 bitcoins was worth $19.4 billion.[2]

What differentiates bitcoin from traditional currency is its decentralized design.  It is not created and distributed by a central authority, in the way the US Federal Reserve and other central banks mint and control their currencies.  The bitcoin system is maintained by an open network of computers spread around the world.[3]  Central banks can manipulate their currency’s value relative to others by controlling its supply.  Since Bitcoin isn’t controlled by a single entity, its value cannot be manipulated by fluctuations in supply.  The supply of bitcoin is tightly regulated by its underlying algorithm, only releasing a few bitcoin each hour.  People can “mine” bitcoin by using specialized computers to solve highly complex mathematical equations, which verify and authenticate each bitcoin transaction.  Bitcoin is the reward for performing this service, a self-sustaining incentive helping maintain the integrity of the bitcoin system.

The mechanism for recording each bitcoin transaction is also very unique.  A financial institution or bank maintains a ledger of all their client’s transaction records, likely stored on a centralized computer server.  However, every single bitcoin transaction is stored publicly on a massive, decentralized, and continuously updating digital ledger – collectively known as the “blockchain.”  After each encrypted transaction is authenticated (in the “mining” process), the record of that transaction is added to a “block” – which is comprised of other authenticated transactions bundled together.  That “block” is then added to the end of the existing “chain.”

As the “blockchain” continues building upon itself, you can’t go back and edit blocks in the chain to alter previous transactions.[4]  Tampering with the blockchain is nearly impossible.  To alter the target transaction, you’d have to change every single transaction that followed as well.  

There are certainly some problems bitcoin’s facing (discussed in The Downside of Bitcoin), but regardless of its success or failure, “blockchain” technology has immense potential (discussed in The Future of Blockchain).

 

 

[1] Bitcoin Whitepaper, https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

[2] https://qz.com/1159188/bitcoin-price-approaches-20000-making-satoshi-nakamoto-worth-19-4-billion/

[3] https://www.coindesk.com/information/what-is-bitcoin/

[4] https://www.cnet.com/news/blockchain-explained-builds-trust-when-you-need-it-most/


New Ruling: Government Needs Warrant to Access Cell Phone Records

Keeping pace with technological changes, the Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 2018 that the government is now required to issue a warrant to obtain cell phone records containing cell phone tower location data, including other types of digital data that provides a detailed look at a person’s private life. However, the Court carved out specific exceptions, including bomb threats, child abductions, and other incidences when inaction could result in irreparable harm.  

The Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to retrieve necessary records, including but not limited to, location data, cell phone records, bank records, etc. when probable cause is shown. The new ruling may slow down law enforcement’s capacity to turn over cases due to the new litigation required to access such records; however, the Court’s ruling is a significant victory for privacy rights advocates. Read more on the matter here.


How a Genealogy Company Helped Catch a Serial Killer

Police in California recently captured a serial killer that killed at least 12 people and raped dozens of women in the 1970s and 80s. Police were finally able to track him down using a genealogy website called GEDmatch. Users of GEDmatch can upload their results from companies like 23andme or Ancestry (which do the actual DNA sequencing) to locate distant relatives and create family trees. The police created a fake profile for the killer, uploaded his genetic profile and found a match with a female relative. After locating the man police believed was the killer, they waited outside his home to collect DNA from his trash. It is legal for police to surveil your house and take your garbage; you do not have Fourth Amendment protections from searches or seizures of trash that you leave on the curb. Once the DNA sample from the trash conclusively matched the DNA collected from a crime scene in the 1970s, police knew they had found the right person.

While it is undoubtedly a good thing this serial killer will be brought to justice, many have expressed concerns over the privacy and ethical issues these police tactics raise. In recent years DNA testing has become very popular for people to trace where their family originated. These services have also expanded to analyze DNA markers for particular diseases, or genetic traits showing susceptibility to certain types of cancer. However, it is unlikely that any of the consumers of these products envisioned that submitting their DNA would be used for their arrest or even a relative’s arrest. These companies and genealogists are worried that the police tactics and publicity from this case will scare people away from using these services in the future. 

However, the police acted within the law in this case. The website GEDmatch is a public, open-source site that anyone can use, so there is no reason law enforcement should be precluded from using it. Even though 23andme and Ancestry were not involved in this case, law enforcement could issue a subpoena or warrant to these companies to locate a suspect. Also, the FBI already has its nationwide DNA database that state and local law enforcement agencies use for investigations. After sequencing a DNA sample, police can upload it into this database for cross-referencing, to see if it matches someone already in the system.

It is foreseeable that law enforcement will continue to use methods like this to solve cold cases. Police are currently attempting to use the same method to identify the Zodiac Killer, another California serial killer case that has been cold for decades. There will always be privacy and ethical concerns when we willingly turn over our data to third parties. These companies may use data improperly, leave it insecure against hackers, or turn it over to law enforcement after receiving a subpoena or warrant. You may not be concerned about these companies or law enforcement having your DNA now, but it’s good to be mindful of how it may be used in the future.

  1. https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/health/dna-privacy-golden-state-killer-genealogy.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
  2. https://m.sfgate.com/business/technology/article/Use-of-DNA-in-serial-killer-probe-sparks-privacy-12868330.php
  3. https://www.fbi.gov/services/laboratory/biometric-analysis/codis/codis-and-ndis-fact-sheet
  4. https://apnews.com/ac6bb05bbe754dbfbaa57e0cfef5a878

What’s Driving Uber’s Pursuit of Driverless Cars?

On March 18th, a self-driving Uber car being tested in Arizona killed a pedestrian. The autonomous Volvo SUV struck a woman crossing the street outside of the crosswalk. There was a driver behind the wheel, but the car was in autonomous mode at the time of the accident. Uber began testing their Volvo SUVs in Arizona in February of last year. Uber is also testing its autonomous fleet in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and Phoenix. After this accident, Uber suspended the self-driving testing in all of these cities.

The economic potential that autonomous vehicles represent has triggered a high-stakes competition between Uber, Google, Apple, Tesla, and major car manufacturers. These massive companies are in a race to be the first to achieve true autonomy, and are throwing loads of money at solving the problem. The company that finds a solution first stands to gain a significant market advantage over everyone still catching up. Truly autonomous vehicles could wipe out the trucking industry, taxi industry, and delivery industry in one fell swoop. Full automation of the $719 billion trucking industry could result in labor cost savings of about $300 billion. Thus, there’s a huge economic incentive for eliminating human drivers.

This heated competition has triggered lawsuits. Google’s Waymo sued Uber, alleging theft of trade secrets. A week into trial, Waymo and Uber reached a settlement, but the lawsuit resulted in some dirty laundry being aired out. The discovery process revealed the internal communications of these companies, shedding light on the mindsets of top executives. A win-at-all-costs mentality and desperation about coming in second was evident between both companies. Emails between Uber executives revealed their desire to “take all the shortcuts we can” because they saw it as “a race we need to win, second place is the first loser.”

Between 2014-2016, about 37,000 people died in car crashes each year. Part of the push for driverless cars and trucks has been increased safety and fatality reduction. Proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that a computer will make far fewer errors than human drivers, considering computers will not get distracted by phones, get tired, get drunk, etc. However, the Waymo-Uber trial inadvertently revealed that Uber’s motivation lies in achieving market dominance.

Additional fatalities are likely to happen as this technology proliferates and becomes more common, but any PR spin from Uber about its commitment to safety may ring hollow due to the short-cut strategy endorsed by its executives. More importantly, Uber will face massive legal liability for wrongful deaths and injuries if plaintiffs show safety concerns were ignored in pursuit of winning the race.

Uber is fully aware of this potential liability. From a cynical perspective, it’s possible that Uber believes the profits they stand to gain from winning will dwarf wrongful death and personal injury losses by so much that shortcuts are worth it. Thus, paying for fatalities and injuries may just be a cost of doing business in Uber’s quest to dominate the autonomous car market.


LOUISIANA’S 2017 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PACKAGE

Louisiana holds the unfortunate title of having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.¹  Being the number one incarcerator takes a toll on the state’s resources; Louisiana spent $625 million on adult corrections in 2017.²  With the hope of shedding that ranking and its associated costs, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law.  The amended criminal laws aim to decrease our prison population and government spending, primarily by:

  • Reducing sentences and probationary periods for certain crimes
  • Easing eligibility requirements for drug court, reentry programs, probation, or suspension of sentence
  • Reducing sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
  • Changing the calculation of “good time” credit for prisoners

Sentencing Guidelines

The justice reform package changed the sentencing guidelines for many non-violent felonies.³  Several of the maximum sentences were reduced and some mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated.  A few examples:

  • The mandatory minimum sentence for “Felon in possession of a firearm” was reduced from 10 years to 5 years.
  • “Money laundering” more than $100,000 was reduced from a 5 – 99 year sentence to 2 – 50 years.
  • The maximum sentence for “Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” was reduced from 10 years to 2 years.
  • Simple arson no longer has a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, with a new sentencing range of 0 – 15 years.

Louisiana’s “Theft” statute bases the severity of punishment on the value of the property stolen. The new law adjusted the dollar value ranges, making some of the penalties more lenient.⁸  For example, a theft under $750 formerly resulted in a zero to six month sentence (misdemeanor) and anything more than that amount was a felony.  Now, the misdemeanor/theft threshold has been raised to $1,000.  Other similar statutes that use this dollar amount threshold followed the same pattern: issuing worthless checks, residential contractor fraud10, access device fraud11, and organized retail theft12, to name a few.

Probation, “Good Time,” and Parole

The changes to the criminal code expanded the ability of judges to suspend a sentence for certain crimes, placing the defendant on probation rather than in prison.13  Defendants charged with drug-related crimes are now eligible for substance abuse probation programs.  Also, entry into the drug division probation program was expanded to permit defendants charged with a crime of violence, as long as the crime was not against a family member or dating partner and does not carry a maximum sentence over 10 years.

Inmates will now earn “good time” more easily, which is a way for them to earn credit toward an earlier release from prison.  For non-violent and non-sex offenses, the new changes increase “good time” to a rate of 13 days for every 7 served, or an extra 130 days annually shaved off their sentence.  Certain inmates can reduce their prison time by participating in educational programs, drug programs, and work programs.

The new law changes the time the defendant must serve prior to becoming eligible for parole. Now, for non-violent crimes and non-sex offense crimes, defendants are parole eligible once 25 percent of their sentence has been served, including those sentenced as a non violent habitual offender.  Upon a first conviction for a crime of violence, a defendant with no prior sex crime convictions will be eligible for parole once 65 percent of the sentence is served.

Sentencing Enhancements for Habitual Offenders

Due to Louisiana’s habitual offender statute, a defendant convicted of a felony can receive a significantly enhanced sentence if they have a prior felony conviction.  Those enhancements are no longer quite as harsh.14  The mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced.  Also, for certain felonies, the “cleansing period” has been shortened from 10 years to 5 years.  The “cleansing period” means that after a certain amount of time has passed, prosecutors can no longer use a defendant’s previous convictions against him.

Conclusion

This article is merely a brief overview of what Louisiana’s criminal justice reform package entails.  The changes made to our criminal statutes were vast, but also highly specific depending on the crime. The date when certain aspects begin to take effect and to whom they apply will also vary person to person.  If you believe these changes may affect the charges you or a loved one face, or if they may affect your sentence or probation, do not hesitate to contact the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.  As former federal prosecutors, these experienced attorneys understand the nuances of the changes to our criminal law and will provide you with a tailored analysis of your situation.

 


[1] http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/louisiana_incarceration_rate.html

[2] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/16/louisiana-has-the-highest-incarceration-rate-in-th/

[3] Act 281/S.B. 220, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051860

[4] (La. R.S. 14:95.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78740

[5] (La. R.S. 14:230) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78382

[6] (La. R.S. 14:68.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78631

[7] (La. R.S. 14:52) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78556

[8] (La. R.S. 14:67) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78605

[9]  (La. R.S. 14:71) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78645

[10] (La. R.S. 14:202.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=508538

[11] (La. R.S. 14:70.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78642

[12] (La. R.S. 14:67.25) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=451833

[13] Act 280/S.B. 139, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051859

[14] Act 282/S.B. 221, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051861

 

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