Home  >  Posts tagged "Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm" (Page 2)

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

 


Alexa and Uber Take the Stand: Your Data as a Witness

Silicon Valley’s amazing technology has made our lives easier. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can tell us the weather, play our favorite music on command, and add grocery items to our shopping lists. With the tap of a button, we can catch a ride using the Uber app. Countless other products offer similar conveniences and provide greater simplicity to our lives. However, this added convenience comes with strings attached.

By using these products, we generate vast amounts of data. These giant tech companies store that information to improve their products (and their targeted advertising). This data is increasingly entering the crosshairs of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes. By putting enough pieces of your digital footprint together, law enforcement can generate a pretty complete picture of a person’s life.

Law enforcement is relying more and more on digital evidence because of how enlightening (or incriminating) this information can be. Warrants for a cell phone search are commonplace in today’s world, but as Silicon Valley develops newer products, law enforcement sees additional opportunities to gather evidence.

Recently, police in Arkansas turned their sights on an Amazon Echo smart speaker found in a murder suspect’s home. The Amazon Echo has a built-in microphone that is always listening, waiting for the user to issue a command. According to Amazon, the speaker only starts recording once it hears “Alexa.” Amazon stores the recorded commands or questions that follow in a database to improve its voice-recognition accuracy.

Police issued Amazon a search warrant for any data the speaker may have recorded on the night of the murder. Since a judge signed off on the warrant, Amazon became the last line of defense against turning over the data. Amazon refused to grant the request, citing the privacy concerns of its customers.

The murder suspect ultimately granted Amazon his consent to provide the data, moving the resolution of this legal showdown to another day. While Amazon was likely more concerned about future customer’s fear of losing their privacy, the takeaway is that this data may be easily obtainable if the company possessing it complies with the request.

The focus of this case was past data already recorded and stored, but something to consider is the possibility of tapping into the Amazon Echo’s microphone in real time. Law enforcement can obtain judicial authorization for a wiretap of a suspect’s electronic communications. Any internet-connected smart device with a microphone can theoretically be remotely activated without the user knowing, creating a bugging device. On a scarier note, hackers have demonstrated the ability to do this with ease. The average citizen probably has nothing to worry about, but public figures, politicians, journalists, etc. may want to weigh whether the convenience of these devices is worth the privacy risks they pose.

Another recent target of law enforcement has been data generated by Uber riders and drivers. Just as in the Amazon case, a judge approved the subpoena for these records. The likely trend will be that judges grant these requests with regularity. One can imagine these records being requested in a divorce or custody proceeding, revealing a spouse’s habitual Uber rides from the bar or to his or her paramour’s house.

Technology will continue to progress and tech companies will continue to vacuum up more and more data about our daily lives. It’s possible we may never be able to delete that data, or only with varying degrees of difficulty. When enjoying the conveniences of Silicon Valley technology, it must always be assumed a detailed trail will be left behind.


The Top 3 Questions We Heard at “Lawyers in Libraries”

Lane Ewing of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm recently volunteered at Louisiana State Bar Association’s “Lawyers in Libraries,” an event in which lawyers seek to help the public become aware of options available to them when they cannot afford an attorney. As a part of Louisiana’s “National Celebrate Pro Bono Week,” the program is designed to deliver information about pro bono attorneys through the city’s public libraries.

People are given the opportunity to ask a legal question and get a brief response and advice on where to seek more information to solve their problem.

Typical questions include:

  • How do I get the title for my deceased parents’ home transferred to their heirs?
  • How do I protect my elderly parent from identity theft or telephone scams?
  • Is it necessary for me to draft a will to ensure my children are cared for in case something happens to me?

While fifteen minutes is usually not enough time to solve a complex legal issue, most who participate in the program are surprised to hear that there are clinics that offer free or reduced rate services.  Volunteers and the Legal Education & Assistance Program work to provide online and print resources that are available to the public year-round. Click here to read more about this important event.


Fraud inevitably follows disasters, so authorities in Texas, Florida prepare for post-storm scams

Original Post: The Washington Post on September 8, 2017 by Tom Jackman

Amid each natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey, there are inspiring tales of rescues and generosity and hope. And invariably, those are followed by tales of scams and frauds and storm survivors revictimized by those looking to capitalize on the relief system. The problem has become so bad that, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Justice Department established the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which receives hundreds of calls every month even when a cataclysm such as Harvey or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill isn’t occurring.

And now the calls are starting to roll in from Houston. Unscrupulous repair and removal contractors. Robo-calls about phony insurance schemes. FEMA “inspectors” charging for their services. The Texas attorney general’s office said Thursday that it has received more than 3,200 complaints about scams, fraud and price gouging since Aug. 25, for things such as $99 for a case of water. In Baton Rouge, where the National Disaster Fraud Center is located, the number of fraud reports went from 79 the week before Hurricane Harvey to 425 in the week after the storm hit, center director and U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson said.

“It’s a cascade of crime,” said Walt Green, Amundson’s predecessor as U.S. attorney in central Louisiana and head of the fraud center for the last four years. “Houston, and now Florida, this is not over in weeks or months. We’re talking a decade-plus.” He said before he stepped down earlier this year that the center received a call from a woman who was being pursued by the IRS for not paying taxes on her Katrina relief benefits from 12 years ago — which she had never sought or received.

In Houston, Amundson and the Justice Department last week formed a working group of various federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to specifically target crime related to Hurricane Harvey, with support from the fraud center, which serves as a national clearinghouse for fraud reports. In addition, “we’ve talked with Florida” as Hurricane Irma approaches, Amundson said in an interview. “We’re coordinating already. But the first priority of the Justice Department right now is to keep folks safe.”

Green said there were some predictable phases to disaster-related crime, often launched by “disaster chasers” — people who target disaster relief money or donations intended for charity. The national fraud center can sometimes detect repeat violators with its 12-year-old database of shady activity. Green said charity fraud is often the first to occur, with false websites set up to collect donations. When the National Weather Service releases its list of storm names each year, he said, people buy up domain sites such as “Irma Relief” or “Help Harvey” in hopes of fooling well-intentioned donors.

Investigators found 5,000 questionable Katrina-related websites after that storm, Green said, and not just from the area of the disaster, but nationwide. While Katrina was still slamming into Louisiana, a man in Florida launched “AirKatrina.com” claiming he was a private pilot performing rescues and needed money for fuel. He wrote that he saw people huddled on roofs and that “I will hear these screams for the rest of my life.” He was nowhere near Louisiana, but he raised $40,000 in two days, authorities said.

“The charity fraud danger period is right now” for Houston, Amundson said. “That’s usually for a couple more weeks.”

FEMA reported last week that scammers were also using robo-calls to tell people their flood insurance premiums were past due and they had to send money immediately or see their policies canceled. “That is pure fraud,” said Roy E. Wright of the National Flood Insurance Program of FEMA. “You should only be taking information from trusted sources.”

As the storm passes, contractors swoop in to clean up debris, take down trees and perform other clean-up tasks. Some will take money and simply disappear. Some will have FEMA benefits signed over to them. Some will actually do the work. Experts said victims can only tread carefully, do their homework, and hope they don’t get fleeced.

The next phase of disaster relief brings the largest amount of fraud — requests for relief payments for damages. Individuals who weren’t affected file claims. Businesses that weren’t near the disaster file false claims. Some fraudsters work hard to get their money, said Don Cazayoux, also a former U.S. attorney and director of the fraud center. “They would create really good false invoices,” Cazayoux said, “with false employee manifests, W-9 [tax forms]. You’ve got to really dig sometimes to figure it out.”

He said scammers would also steal the identities of actual victims and file for their relief funds before the victims did. “Identity theft is one of the most common forms” of fraud, Cazayoux said. From Katrina, more than 1,400 federal fraud prosecutions were launched, as well as untold numbers of state prosecutions. State attorneys general, particularly in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy and in Texas now, have become more aggressive in fighting disaster fraud, Cazayoux said.

“Unfortunately,” Cazayoux said, “the best and worst comes out in national disasters.”

Because states have become aware of the lengths that scammers will go to for money, Green said, they have taken more time to investigate their legitimacy, and longer to pay benefits. He said relief recipients from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 sometimes had to wait 18 months or more, but that the investigations ensured that fewer phony claims were paid.

New Jersey authorities are still aggressively prosecuting fraud cases connected to Sandy relief. The state attorney general has filed 102 criminal cases and county prosecutors have filed another 95 cases, attorney general spokesman Peter Aseltine said. Among the more egregious examples were a man who posed as a Red Cross worker, collecting payments from storm victims on false promises of providing them with housing or automobiles, and a car dealer who sold Sandy-damaged vehicles to unsuspecting customers.

And then there’s the public corruption that accompanies the rebuilding phase of a disaster, as government officials steer contracts or equipment to friends, or themselves. In Louisiana, Amundson prosecuted a Shreveport area fire chief, Donovon R. McMullen Jr., who conspired to steal and sell more than $1 million worth of defibrillators shipped to the area for distribution in New Orleans after Katrina hit. When McMullen found out he was being investigated by the FBI, he tried to have one of his co-conspirators killed, court records show. McMullen was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison.

Gradually, the word spread that fraud enforcement was happening after Katrina. Around New Orleans, the Red Cross had distributed payments to supposed victims. But soon, money started coming back. “We got between $1 million and $1.5 million returned to the Red Cross by people who got money,” Amundson said. “They started seeing prosecutions, and they gave the money back.”

If you suspect fraud connected to a natural disaster, you can call the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721, or email the organization at disaster@leo.gov. The center serves as a national clearinghouse and refers cases to the proper law enforcement agency anywhere in the country.


Wrong-way crash on LA21 kills Florida driver

A Florida driver died in a wrong-way head-on collision in Louisiana on Sunday, September 11 at 3 A.M. The crash also injured the other driver and a passenger in her car.

According to Louisiana State Police, the crash occurred on LA 21, roughly three miles south of Bogalusa.  Daniel Elwood, 25, of Tallahassee, Florida, was killed at the scene while Jodi Vasbinder, 17, of Covington, and Nathan Nicolasi, 19, were injured in the crash.

Trooper Dustin Dwight with Louisiana State Police said a recent investigation showed Elwood was going southbound in the northbound lane of LA 21 in a 2005 Hyundai Elantra. The car collided with the 2005 Chrysler Sebring that Vasbinder drove. Elwood was not wearing a seat belt while Vasbinder and Nicolasi were properly buckled up.

Vasbinder was flown by helicopter to North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond with moderate injuries. Nicolasi was brought by ambulance to Our Lady of Angels Hospital in Bogalusa with minor injuries. Blood samples from all involved in the accident were sent to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab for analysis, and the investigation is still ongoing.


Scam Alert: FEMA issues warning to flood victims

As Louisiana recovers from devastating flooding, scammers are sure to be taking advantage of the situation. FEMA has issued some guidelines to remember in order to avoid such fraudulent schemes.

In dealing with housing inspectors:

  1. FEMA inspector will never ask for the applicant’s nine-digit registration number as they should already have that information.
  2. They will not ask for personal details like your bank information.
  3. Inspectors will not hire or endorse contractors for home repairs as their sole job is to appraise the situation.

When working with contractors:

  1. You can verify a contractor’s license number through the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors website.
  2. Get three written estimates before repair work begins and then check the contractor’s credentials by calling local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce.
  3. Before work starts, thoroughly inspect the contract and get a copy, making sure you understand all details of work, cost, completion, and the remedy for changes and disputes.
  4. Take photos of the contractor and their work-related resources like their vehicle, license plate, driver’s license, or business card, photograph or scan their contract license and insurance, scan any checks and money orders paid to keep for your records.

If you suspect anyone posing as a disaster relief supporter, call the FEMA toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline or your local law enforcement officials.

If you have been accused of FEMA Fraud during a recent natural disaster, contact an attorney with Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm. Our attorneys understand how damaging a fraud charge can be on your career and personal life and are standing by to assist you in the legal process. Call us at (225) 650-7400 to discuss your options.


Gretna ‘sovereign citizen’ convicted of mail fraud

A former maritime industry worker, Melvin Lewis II, was convicted Tuesday in federal court for 30 counts of mail fraud. Lewis considers himself a “sovereign citizen”,  and as such believes the government has no legal jurisdiction over individuals.

He sent several letters to co-workers, police officers, municipal employees and a state district judge, demanding millions of dollars for arbitrary reasons such as speaking his name without his permission. He also filed for liens on the property of some of his victims in order to receive payments. The 53-year-old man was convicted after a one-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Lewis could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of his offences. Lewis’ fraudulent behavior began in 2013 after he was supposedly promised a promotion at Dynamic Industries Inc. but didn’t receive one.

If you have been charged with fraud, you should contact one of the Baton Rouge mail fraud defense attorneys at Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm. Call us at (225) 650-7400 to begin preparing a comprehensive legal strategy for your defense.


Priest In Wreck After Being Ordained

Reverend John Pitzer was enjoying his Saturday after his ordination as a priest, only to wind up in a hospital just hours later.

Pitzer and a friend were riding in the back seat of a Mercedes when a Nissan ran a red light, rear-ending their vehicle. Pitzer suffered from bruises and broken ribs, while his fellow 54-year-old passenger George Mabon sadly succumbed to his injuries. The driver of the Mercedes, John Baur, was arrested for a first-offense DWI and reckless operation of a vehicle. Baur failed a field sobriety test and was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.13 percent, which in Louisiana can be used as presumptive evidence of drunken driving. The driver of the Nissan was also taken to the hospital for injuries he sustained in the incident.

Baur has been released on a $3,000 bond, but could face multiple charges. Many individuals are put in danger when reckless drivers are on the road, whether disregarding traffic signals or choosing to drink and drive. If you or a loved one has been killed or injured in a wreck caused by a negligent driver, please call personal injury attorneys at the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm at (225) 650-7400 today.


2 former attorney aids accused of funds appropriation

Attorney Michael S. Fawer of Covington recently filed suit against two of his former staffers due to suspected theft and fraud.

According to the May 3 lawsuit, defendants Hailey Lawton and Regina Lawton allegedly stole funds from their boss. The complaint revealed that Fawer became aware of Regina Lawton taking funds from his account without his permission. She was also suspected of padding her paychecks and issuing checks to Hailey Lawton for unearned hours of work. Regina Lawton was also suspected of transferring Fawer’s funds to her personal account, the suit alleged. Fawer is expecting to recover all of his losses, including legal costs, from the two defendants.

Facing fraud allegations can be a frustrating situation, especially if you are being threatened with prolonged imprisonment and hefty fines. However, working with a skilled attorney can ensure that your rights are protected through every step of litigation. Find out how an attorney at the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm may tirelessly work for you in Baton Rouge by calling (225) 650-7400.

Our Locations

Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm
257 Maximillian St
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Phone: (225) 650-7400
Fax: (225) 650-7401
Directions

Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm
143 East Main St
New Roads, LA 70760
Phone: (225) 638-3276
Fax: (225) 638-8319
Directions

You Talk, We Listen