August 12

DUII Attorney Portland Lake Oswego

Police Motorcycle Cop Mirror

Coming down with a case of “affluenza”?

New words are invented every day as our society evolves.  Precocious minds construct new terms to more accurately describe the changing world around us.  In Texas, a criminal defense team created a new word that may very well have saved their client from serving prison time.  As a Portland criminal defense and DUII attorney, I know how important it is to use language carefully to portray a client in the best light when in front of juries and judges.  In my work as a Portland criminal defense and DUII lawyer, I always select words, in both oral and written formats, that will paint a particular picture in the mind of the listener or reader.

On June 15th 2013, in Dallas Fort Worth, Ethan Couch was driving drunk, and, through his own poor driving, caused a car crash which killed four people and seriously injured two.  During his trial, an expert hired by the defense testified that Ethan’s actions were a product of his “affluenza”.  The new word is a portmanteau (a term for when a new word is created from two preexisting words).  The term describes Ethan as having a disease (like influenza) and that disease is his wealth (like affluence).  I have been an attorney in Portland and Lake Oswego representing clients in DUII and other criminal cases for many years and I have never heard of a defense like this before.  Basically Mr. Couch’s defense argued that, because their client was raised in an environment where he was taught that money can buy anything, he was unable to judge the consequences of his actions.

After his trial, the judge sentenced Mr. Couch to serve time in a rehab facility and put him on probation but did not sentence him to any jail time.  As a Portland and Lake Oswego DUII and felony criminal defense lawyer, I have defended people charged with serious crimes like Ethan’s.  It can be important to hire experts, like the psychologist did in Ethan’s case, to testify to the mental state of the defendant at the time of the alleged crime.  Experts can identify social or biological factors that contributed to a person acting in a particular way.  Portland and Lake Oswego defense and DUII attorneys need to keep up their vocabulary in order to effectively represent their clients.  While affluenza is not a generally recognized disease in the psychological community or in the DSM-V (the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it has certainly entered into the popular lexicon with this strange case.

It seems odd to me as a Portland defense and DUII lawyer that affluenza can be a defense to extremely reckless, intoxicated driving.  Typically mental state defenses are very limited.  The insanity defense protects a person when, because of their mental illness, he or she does not know what they are doing or can not realize the basic differences between right and wrong.  So, if Bob shoots Nancy, Bob can only use the insanity defense, for example, if he can convince a jury that he thought he was holding a snake instead of a gun, or that he thought Nancy was a tree and killing a tree is far different than killing a person.  Most people, even those with serious mental illnesses, have difficulty mounting a successful insanity defense.  But, not being able to exercise self-control or understand the full consequences of your actions probably did not sound like a good defense for Ethan’s crimes to his criminal defense attorney.  The description of Ethan’s “affluenza” makes it sound like pure and simple immaturity.  And, if being immature was a legal defense then we would have a lot less people in prison.  While some people may have problems with the results in the this case, as a Portland and Lake Oswego DUII and criminal defense lawyer, I am impressed with the successful lawyering on the part of the Ethan’s defense attorney.

July 31

Accident Lawyer Lake Oswego

Hot-Coffee-Mcdonalds

Beware the Reformer in the Expensive Suit: How Big Business is Trying to Limit Your Rights

Tort Reform is a phrase that most Portland personal injury attorneys cringe at hearing. Wikipedia defines tort reform as: “proposed changes in common law civil justice systems that would reduce tort litigation or damages.” Proponents of tort reform argue that jury damage awards in personal injury suits are either too high or inconsistent, i.e., award amounts vary widely in cases where the plaintiffs suffer similar injuries. Opponents of tort reform point to conflicting statistics that show that jury awards are relatively consistent and provide appropriate compensation for the types of injuries suffered by plaintiffs.  Opponents of tort reform also criticize the fact that tort reform’s loudest supporters are corporations and professional organizations that have a vested interest in limiting their financial liability in potential lawsuits.

Portland personal injury lawyers are, for the most part, against laws which limit Oregonian’s access to the court room, to jury trials, and to fair damage awards.  Portland injury lawyers, including myself, like to see our clients receive damages based on the severity of their injuries, not based on a predetermined statutory formula.  This Portland injury attorney sees great constitutional due process problems when legislatures start to limit the range of damages a jury can award or when legislatures bar some plaintiffs from even getting into a courtroom at all.

For anyone interested in learning more about the debate over the civil legal system and ‘tort reform’, I would suggest and highly recommend that you check out the excellent 2011 documentary entitled Hot Coffee.  The title of the documentary refers to the now infamous case of Stella Liebeck, an elderly woman who was scalded by McDonald’s coffee.  After the incident, and the subsequent lawsuit, politicians, newspapers, and tort reform lobbyists pointed to the case as an example of a ridiculous lawsuit.  Because, of course, how could someone blame McDonald’s for hot coffee? It’s obviously the woman’s fault she burned herself right? Wrong!

Turns out Ms. Liebeck had a great case, and this was a far-cry from a frivolous lawsuit.  Per McDonald’s standards and operations guidelines, and in the face of several prior complaints about the temperature of the coffee, the coffee was heated to an insanely high temperature.  Additionally, it was in a particularly flimsy cup, and McDonald’s had knowledge of other previous accidents related to their coffee and did nothing to change the temperature or the cup design.  As a Portland accident attorney it is frustrating to see people jump to conclusions about accident victims like Ms. Liebeck, assuming that they are ‘fakers’ or just looking to get a quick buck from a small injury.  I have worked for over 5 years as a Portland injury attorney and most of my clients have been hard-working people who only want to be fairly compensated for their injuries – if I don’t believe in my client’s claim, I don’t take their case.

Unfortunately, those interested in limiting plaintiff’s access to justice, the civil justice system, or compensation for injuries caused by corporate negligence, have done an excellent job disseminating propaganda turning the Ms. Liebeck’s hot coffee case from the quintessential example of the need for plaintiffs to have access to the civil justice system as a check on corporate greed into just the opposite – what most people think of as the epitome of greedy plaintiffs, their greedy lawyers, and frivolous lawsuits.  As is often the case, the real truth lies beneath that urban myth exterior and it is nothing like what most people think.  This Lake Oswego and Portland car accident attorney can speak from experience in knowing the success the tort reformers have had with their campaign of misinformation because it is the #1 issue and example raised at the first stage of every trial when we are interviewing potential jurors.  ALL jurors, without fail, bring up the McDonald’s coffee case.

This accident lawyer who practices in Lake Oswego and Portland strongly recommends that you do the work to learn the real truth about the hot coffee case before you go spouting off about it at your next work meeting or cocktail party.  You could actually be the person in the room showing off your intelligence instead of continuing to feed false and misleading urban myths!  Just watch the movie and find out.

July 23

DUII Attorney Portland Lake Oswego

douglas-green-criminal-defenseDriving Under the Influence Laws are Changing in Some States to Accommodate a Shift in State Marijuana Laws

Marijuana laws in the United States are changing. With full-blown legalization in Colorado and Washington and medical systems in place in many other states, it is clear that the American people’s views on marijuana are changing. Many Portland criminal defense attorneys who have defended clients in marijuana possession and distribution cases are now shifting their focus to business licensing and regulatory compliance with an eye towards assisting individuals set up and run legal marijuana businesses (if and when the drug is legalized for recreational use in Oregon).

As a Portland and Lake Oswego drug attorney, I have defended many people accused of marijuana-related crimes. Currently, Oregon uses an ‘actual impairment’ standard for cases where people are accused of driving under the influence of marijuana or other narcotics. The driver can be found guilty of a DUII if he or she was driving in an impaired manner, i.e., not as well as they would have been driving if they were sober. Portland and Lake Oswego DUII lawyers are used to this standard, but if marijuana is legalized in Oregon then the state may adopt a different standard. Under Washington State’s new legalized marijuana law, a driver can be found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana if his or her blood tests positive for THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in an amount equal to or higher than 5 nanograms per milileter . The effectiveness of having such a legal limit has been hotly debated because a regular or heavy user of marijuana may test positive even when he or she is not under the influence at the time of driving, or a light user who is impaired significantly by a small amount of marijuana might be below this threshold.  A recent NPR story discussed the new marijuana DUII law in Washington.  NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) discusses marijuana laws on a state-by-state basis here.

Another issue with Washington’s new law is that it requires blood draws to prove that drivers have an illegal amount of THC in their system. There has yet to be an effective, mass produced breathalyzer for marijuana like there is for alcohol. Drawing a driver’s blood implicates more privacy issues than giving a breathalyzer test, and, after a recent Supreme Court case, State v. McNeely, it will usually require a police officer to apply for a warrant before drawing the blood. This in turn means more work for Portland police and more opportunities for Portland and Lake Oswego criminal defense attorneys to make procedural objections to DUII cases if the warrant has not been acquired or has been acquired improperly. It will be interesting to see how driving under the influence of marijuana cases are processed moving forward, and, very important for Portland and Lake Oswego DUII attorneys to keep up on new developments in this area of law.

June 12

Portland Personal Injury Attorney

Autonomous Vehicles Self Driving Cars GaugeSelf-Driving Cars may become a Viable Option for Improving Safety on America’s Roads

Traffic accidents are unfortunately an all too common occurrence on our roads and highways. As a Portland car crash attorney, I have seen firsthand the terrible economic and social harm caused by motor vehicle accidents. As a Portland personal injury lawyer, it is my job to hold negligent or reckless drivers financially accountable for their actions and get my clients the recoveries that they deserve as compensation for their injures. But, unfortunately, my job as a Portland accident attorney is focused on reactive responses to car accidents rather than proactive systemic change.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report recently that estimates the economic loss and social harm of car accidents can be valued at around $871 billion in the year 2010 alone. This figure accounts for roughly 1.9% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States! Any Portland car accident attorney, or, for that matter, any American, can see that the toll from car crashes is at a catastrophic level. Here’s an article discussing that report.

Technology may be one answer towards lowering the frequency of car accidents and thus reducing the cost in economic harm and loss of human enjoyment and life caused by automobile accidents. Most car crashes are caused by driver error, not environmental factors. Drunk driving, distracted driving, and speeding drivers account for the majority of car accidents in the U.S. Recently, Google and several other companies have been developing self-driving cars. These cars use mapping software combined with GPS to figure out where they are going and they have motion sensors and detection equipment that will stop them from running into obstacles. Although the technology is still in a developmental phase, the implications for traffic safety are huge. Computers do not get tired, they do not answer to impulsive urges such as the urge to speed, and they do not get drunk (at least not yet). Imagine a future where you get off work, get into the back of your car, tell the computer to drive you home, and crack a beer. Of course this would not be advisable now considering current open container laws, but as the technology improves and self-driving cars become a reality, the law will have to evolve as well. The future of self-driving cars is exciting because these cars have the potential to greatly reduce the frequency of car crashes. Hopefully, they won’t put this Portland car crash lawyer out of a job!