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A Proposal of Punishments for GM

Despite “New” General Motor’s promises, the company looks exactly the same as “Old” General Motors. Federal safety regulators want to fine GM $7,000 a day for failure to respond to federal questions. GM CEO Mary Barra promised new standards and then answered every other question with “We’re still investigating.” Sen. Kelly Ayotte gave the response that most of the victim’s families had on their minds: “I don’t see this as anything but criminal.”

old GM

To be sure, GM is breaking more laws than I can count, if not in letter, than in spirit. For instance, GM’s bankruptcy actually gets around the rule that only individuals can discharge their debts in bankruptcy. All that talk about “new” GM and “old” GM is not metaphor. GM was literally divided into two companies, General Motors LLC and Motors Liquidation. The bankruptcy allowed GM to escape liability for its civil suits by dumping all the claims into Motors Liquidation, a “company” which holds all of GM’s debts, but none of GM’s assets.

Criminal prosecution of GM would be counterproductive at best. Even if the Justice Department could prove that GM officials and employees were guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the only remedy would be lengthy prison sentences. For the families of the victims, that might be sufficient vindication of their loss. In many cases, punishment of the wrongdoer has to be enough. I think we can do better in this case though.

GM hired Kenneth Feinberg before the Congressional hearings. Feinberg is the attorney who set up compensation funds for 9/11 victims, BP Oil Spill victims, and the Boston Marathon Bombing victims. Hiring Feinberg was probably the smartest thing GM, old or new, has ever done. During the Congressional hearing though, CEO Barra reframed from promising victims a compensation fund.

That was the wrong move. The victims deserve a compensation fund, but they deserve more than money. GM engineers should repair the victims’ cars, free of charge, if the victims need car repairs. GM executives should help the children who lost their parents by training the children in business, accounting, or law if the children want to go into those fields. GM insiders should personally make amends to the families they have wronged.

These proposals are radical. They replace lost family members with GM employees and wrongdoers would be active participants in the lives of their victims. There is no judge in the country who would order these types of relationships. However, creating a support network for the auto accident victims would be a more moral solution than simply throwing GM employees in jail. Prosecutors have the discretion and the ability to craft a deal where GM insiders could help heal the victims they injured.

“Contempt of Cop” – The Law of Standing up to Police Officers

“Contempt of cop” is a popular phrase floating around the Internet lately. A play on words created by police officers and civil libertarians, the phrase describes a situation where a citizen disrespects the authority of law enforcement–from the perspective of law enforcement. Despite the connotation, contempt of cop is not actually a crime. In fact, it should probably be encouraged.

contempt of copA good demonstration of this law concept comes in the form of a YouTube video posted in July of 2013. A young man rolls through a DUI checkpoint on the 4th of July, where he encounters several ornery sheriffs. One sheriff wants him to roll his window down further—which, judging by the video, is not necessary—and when the young man refuses, he is ordered over to what is presumably a section where officers order detainees for further screening (which the officer arguably did not have suspicion to do so).

As the video progresses, the officers’ frustration over the young man’s entirely lawful reactions and responses to aggressive police behavior and questionable investigatory techniques ultimately lead them to bringing in a K-9 Unit, which produces a “false trigger,” which gives them cause to search his car. With the camera still rolling, the original sheriff, while conducting what is very arguably an unlawful search (particularly in context of what he will say next), is recorded saying, “He is perfectly innocent. He knows his rights. He knows what the Constitution says.” Then continues to search anyway. Once the officers notice they are being filmed, they turn the camera over. The search expectedly does not turn up anything illegal, and the ordeal ends.

While many of these contempt of cop videos demonstrate that citizens have a slightly misinformed or inaccurate understanding of the particulars of the law, the same lack of knowledge of the law is demonstrated by the officers. Both parties in these videos occasionally just seem to rattle off buzzwords in an attempt to intimidate the other party. Ultimately, however, they inspire an important thought: the more citizens challenge officers, the more citizens and officers should be compelled to educate themselves.

But how far can contempt of cop go? While in law school, I remember hearing of a young San Francisco man who was arrested after a police officer didn’t believe the name he was giving him, so he asked the cop “What if I tell you [my name is] f*** you?” During closing arguments, his lawyer astutely pointed out that “It is not a crime to have a smart mouth.” The young man was ultimately acquitted. While being rude to a cop is never recommended, this case illustrates an important concept—your rights are your rights, and no one, especially not the government, can take them away from you simply because you have insulted them.

It goes without saying that the safety of police officers and their ability to conduct their job without opposition are incredibly important. However, that does not mean that police officers are bestowed an unlimited amount of power and authority. When they are abusing their position in order to cut corners—or violate constitutional rights—citizens absolutely should not be afraid to be in contempt of cop and speak up.

However, I’d like to see this phrase go away, because in essence, this whole concept of contempt of cop is simply citizens exercising their constitutional rights. And unfortunately, as demonstrated by the case of the young San Francisco man, occasionally exercising those rights come with a price. It is not uncommon for those questioning an officer’s authority to be tagged with a citation or perhaps an arrest. While there is some solace that calmer, more legal heads will prevail, and these charges will likely go away, it is a cold comfort.

The simple fact of the matter, however, is that the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment protect some very important rights, and an increased awareness of what those rights are is ultimately better for everyone—citizens and law enforcement alike.

Wearable Technologies Push Legal Frontiers

When I was a kid, I remember electric blankets were all the rage. However, after reports of these blankets causing fires, they quickly became a thing of the past. A few years ago, after Google Glass emerged, I couldn’t help but think of the electric blanket—an interesting, novel product, but with a slew of potential legal troubles that may ultimately leave owners getting burned. As it would turn out, Google Glass was merely the tip of the iceberg for the revolution of wearable technology. However, it seems as though concerns over the potential problems of these wearable technologies is entirely warranted. wearable technology

What Is Wearable Technology?

While it may seem like an obvious question, it deserves a bit of an explanation. “Wearable technology” describes clothing or accessories, such as a bracelet or glasses, which utilize computer technology that gives the wear some heightened sense of practicality. An early example of this is a calculator watch. In addition to giving the person the ability to tell time, they could calculate tips or other simple math equations on the fly.

The most talked-about wearable technology is Google Glass. You wear Google Glass just like any other set of glasses, except instead of polarization and UV protection, these glasses offer people the ability to surf the web, check the weather, read text messages, and even make photographs and record video in 720p.

“Smart watches” are also receiving an increasing amount of attention. These devices are similar to calculator watches, in the sense that they keep time in addition to other functions. Where they differ is that rather than just compute numbers (which they can still do), these watches also operate as .mp3 and FM radio players, cameras, GPS navigation systems, and even as a cell phones. Wristband devices can also monitor your heart rate, sleep quality, and how many calories you burned.

Clothing companies have even started entered the wearable technology field. What some of these “clothes”—if you can call them that—can do is astonishing. For instance, BB.Suit has designed a piece of clothing that makes the wearer a walking WiFi hotspot, Studio Roosegaarde has crafted a type of high-fashion dress that becomes ‘see-thru’ as the person’s heart rate increases, and there has even been talk of companies testing prototypes of clothes that can harness solar power.

Why Is Wearable Technology a Legal Concern?

Wearable technologies have the potential for causing serious privacy violations. For example, those equipped with an app called “Winky” could use Google Class trigger the camera mechanism with the blink of an eye. This not only raises concerns over privacy, but also sparks an interesting issue with various wiretapping laws.

Private establishments have every right to maintain some manner of control over the conduct of people entering their premises. Shortly after the first Google Glasses started popping in the San Francisco Bay Area, many establishments began posting signs that asked wearers to remove their glasses before entering due to privacy concerns of other customers. Casinos in Las Vegas have banned them outright.

Law enforcement has been having trouble regulating the use of Google Glass. In October of 2013, a San Diego woman was ticketed for wearing her glass while driving. Ultimately, the case was thrown due to a lack of evidence that the glasses were actually on and in use while the woman was behind the wheel. But the statement was already made: Don’t Google and drive. In other parts of the country, legislatures have made efforts to get the Google Glass put in the same category as a cellular phone.

Smart watches pose many of the same problems as Google Glass. If glasses are causing a ruckus by being able to send texts, access the Internet, and capture images in the wink of an eye, it is not unreasonable to see how the exact same privacy concerns arise over a watch that can do the exact same thing with the flick of a wrist. Similarly, using smart watches to text and talk while driving will force legislatures and law enforcement alike to figure out ways to control the use of these devices, many of which look like normal wrist watches.

Aside from criminal issues, there are also concerns over health and safety. “Fitbit,” who manufacture an athletic wristband, recalled one of its models after users began to complain of skin irritation. As the popularity of wearable technology grows, so will the lawsuits over design defects and harm caused by them.

The Legal Community Should Encourage Innovation

Regardless of the potential legal problems the legal community, it is exciting to see how much technology has grown in the last twenty years. If watches that double as phones and temperature regulated jackets are today’s hot item, it’s mind boggling to think of what type of gadgetry the next twenty years will bring us. When developing laws to regulate new technologies, the legal community should be careful to not impede future innovations.

Why the Gun Control Issue Is Absurd on Both Sides

On the topic of gun control, Americans completely lack common sense.

gun controlIn Washington, D.C., the nomination for Surgeon General is delayed because the candidate, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote on Twitter that guns are a healthcare issue. The nomination block is rather extreme given that most Surgeon Generals, including President Regan’s appointee, Everett Koop, believed guns were a healthcare issue. Actually, most medical associations, such as the American Medical Association, support gun regulation. Common sense dictates that guns are a healthcare risk. Shooting a bad guy will put the bad guy in poor health; that’s the very reason gun owners want guns for self-defense!

Of course, the 2nd Amendment is only a right if you’re an adult. Ten year old Nathan Entingh was suspended from school for three days for a “Level 2 Look Alike Firearm” – his fingers. Nathan had put his fingers up to another student’s head and said “Boom!” A teacher saw him and sent Nathan to the principal’s office. Ohio has a zero tolerance policy and students at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School had been repeatedly warned against gun related behavior.

What do these two stories have in common? In the former, Dr. Murthy is criticized for talking about guns. In the latter, Nathan and his fellow students are prohibited from engaging in gun related behavior, such as making paper guns. To overgeneralize for a moment, it seems as though nobody in the United States is allowed to talk about guns.

The context of each incident is completely different, of course. Dr. Murthy is in a job interview with the Senate while Nathan is playing around. The adult is being grilled because Senate Republicans, and some Democrats, believe they are protecting the 2nd Amendment. The NRA fears that an anti-gun right Surgeon General could do to guns what past Surgeon Generals have done to tobacco. Warning labels and public education campaigns about the health risks of tobacco have greatly restrained what the tobacco industry can do today.

Nathan was suspended because the school fears for student safety. I don’t have to mention the number of school massacres to show why Ohio has a zero tolerance policy on guns in schools. Many judges would probably defer to the school on matters of school safety, even if those same judges doubt that zero tolerance is the best approach.

In both cases, an institution seeks to protect something important. Gun rights advocates are trying to silence Dr. Murphy to protect gun rights. Gun restriction advocates want to silence students to protect student safety. It’s ironic that opposing sides of a debate have reached the same conclusion: they can win if everyone walks around on eggshells whenever the topic is brought up.

Still, it is extremely jarring to see a doctor attacked for a position most doctors hold and a ten year old boy punished for something most ten year old boys do.

Alien Enthusiasts Help Us Understand Legal Relations with E.T.

In today’s global village, everything is possible, especially if we are to believe longtime alien enthusiast Paul Hellyer. The former Canadian Defense Minister, Mr. Hellyer is confident that at least four species of aliens have visited our planet. Even more incredibly, he recently stated at the Citizen Hearing On Disclosure in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. government has at least two aliens on the payroll.

paul hellyer aliensPaul Hellyer is not the only respectable person who believes in aliens. Recently, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland seriously addressed possible issues related to alien interactions.

Taking the conclusions drawn by Mr. Hellyer and the World Economic Forum at face value, here is a brief overview of the law-related myths about extraterrestrials that must be dispelled:

  • Myth 1: If extraterrestrial contact ever occurs, it will be centered on issues related to high technology.
  • Response: While high-tech gadgets may play a role in understanding extraterrestrials, our communications with E.T. should center on understanding shared legal principles. This will ensure that interactions are regulated and peaceable.
  • Myth 2: “If the aliens are here, I’d absolutely expect them to call me to have their currency printed,” one Davos dinner member said.
  • Response: Our new legal framework should not fail to include a non-currency mediums of exchange. Besides, as society evolves, sophisticated forms of barter will dominate human commerce.
  • Myth 3: Lack of communication indicates that extraterrestrials either do not exist or are simply not interested in chatting. Another Davos member states, “I’d love to establish links with extraterrestrials. So far no messages on my cell phone.”
  • Response: The fact that one cannot or does not see a text message on one’s cellphone doesn’t mean that the message doesn’t exist. In fact, (according to Mr. Hellyer) English is the language of choice for our alien friends.