Archive for February, 2013

Evidence Shows Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws Save Lives

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Many motorcycle enthusiasts are staunchly opposed to mandatory helmets laws because they view them as an unwarranted infringement of a rider’s personal freedom of choice.  Although there are legitimate liberty issues surrounding mandatory helmet laws, there is a substantial body of evidence supporting the view that wearing a motorcycle helmet that meets minimum Department of Transportation standards substantially reduces traumatic brain injuries and fatalities.  Further, comparisons of fatality rates between states with universal helmet law and those that have repealed such laws indicate that more people suffer catastrophic injuries or wrongful death when there is no mandatory helmet use law in effect.

The effectiveness of motorcycle helmets at preventing head injuries and fatalities is well-established. Studies of fatal motorcycle accidents indicate that helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatalities involving motorcyclists and 41 percent effective at preventing deaths of passengers.  There is also an abundance of evidence that more riders wear helmets in states that have universal helmet laws.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that compliance is virtually 100 percent in states with mandatory universal helmet laws.  In state without universal helmet laws, the NHTSA indicates that only between 28 and 40 percent of riders wear helmets.

Because motorcycles do not provide riders with the safety features available to passenger car occupants, such as a steel protective enclosure, shoulder and lap belts and air bags, a helmet is virtually the only significant safety equipment available to motorcyclists.  Further, motorcycles greatly reduce the likelihood of head injuries, which are the leading cause of motorcycle fatalities.

When states have repealed motorcycle helmet laws, the percentage of riders that use helmets has dropped significantly.  A study of tens states that repealed such laws found that motorcycle helmet use declined from virtually full compliance to no more than fifty percent.  Motorcycle fatalities constitute just under 15 percent of traffic fatalities despite the fact that motorcycle account for less than one percent of all miles traveled by motor vehicles.

Our Kansas motorcycle accident attorneys at Cummings and Cummings know that many distracted, intoxicated and reckless drivers of passenger vehicles put motorcyclists in situations that make motorcycle accidents almost unavoidable.  We strongly support helmet use as a critical safety measure to protect riders from negligent and inattentive drivers.  If you are injured in a motorcycle accident, our dedicated team of Kansas motorcycle accident lawyers work diligently to obtain the compensation our clients need to rebuild their lives.  We have over 30 years of combined litigation experience so contact us today at 316-264-1548 to learn about your rights and options.


Supreme Court Case to Consider Warrantless DNA Testing of Arrestees

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Anyone who watches crime show dramas on televisions has some awareness of the fundamental role that DNA evidence plays in a wide range of criminal cases including rape, murder and other violent crimes.  Despite the widespread use of DNA evidence, many privacy advocates, criminal defense attorneys and Constitutional scholars have voiced concern about the lack of standardized procedures, court supervision and restraints on abuse regarding the collection and use of DNA evidence.  In many respects, the law has failed to keep up with science so that those arrested for criminal offenses face the Wild West when it comes to proper use of DNA evidence.  The Supreme Court this week will consider when a DNA sample may be taken from a suspect who is merely subject to arrest to broadly search for other unsolved criminal offenses.

In Maryland vs. King, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether police may forcibly take a DNA sample without a warrant from a suspect who has been arrested.  The defendant in this case Alonzo J. King, Jr. was arrested in Maryland for felony assault after threatening a group of people with a shotgun.  King agreed to plead to a misdemeanor that would have ended the matter except the police used a cotton swap to take a DNA sample from inside King’s cheek following his arrest.  King’s DNA was run through Maryland DNA database and FBI’s national database.  King’s DNA matched that from an unsolved sexual assault for which King was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Current law permits law enforcement to forcibly take a DNA sample once a person has been convicted of a felony but King’s was merely under arrest at the time his DNA was taken.  Courts have upheld taking samples from felons based on the rationale that felons surrender certain rights.  However, authorization of the actions taken by the police in the King case go much further because it involves permitting police to use probable cause for arrest on one crime to use DNA to search extensively for evidence of past and future crimes where there is no basis of individualized suspicion.

More than half of the states and the federal government have enacted laws that permit taking DNA from those arrested for a crime so the King decision will have a widespread impact.  All states have joined Maryland in requesting the Supreme Court approve the procedure.  The rationale offered by the states is that a bigger DNA database means more criminal arrests.  However, there are already ten million DNA offender profiles so the size of the DNA database from arrestees is not the growth that is needed.  While police routinely gather physical evidence at rape and homicide scenes, no physical evidence is collected in eighty percent of serious offenses including aggravated assault, burglary and robbery.  Although California allows DNA testing of arrestees, this has not resulted in more DNA matches than states that do not permit such a practice.

Critics of DNA testing of arrestees also argue that testing all arrestees slows down DNA testing in cases where DNA evidence is available.  Because there are twelve million people arrested annually, the practice of testing every arrestee means that rape kits may go untested for months or years because of DNA testing backlogs.  This also means that there may be additional victims during the interim period before the sample from the rape kit can be tested.

Our experienced Kansas criminal defense attorneys hope the Supreme Court uses this opportunity to put reasonable limits on DNA testing of those who are only suspected of a crime.  Authorization of warrantless DNA samples to implicate arrestees in other crimes for which there is no individualized suspicion would be another blow to our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

If you are arrested for a crime in Kansas, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.  Arrestees should also assert their right to counsel and to remain silent.  Our criminal defense attorneys at Cummings and Cummings have helped many people in Sedgwick County and south-central Kansas charged with serious criminal offenses.  We have over 30 years of combined litigation experience so contact us today at 316-264-1548 to learn about your rights and options.