Smithville Legal Blog

Misinterpreting speech could result in convictions

When audio recordings of black suspects are transcribed into text, mistakes are often made about the meaning of language. In cases in Texas and many other states, transcribers have written down statements that don't actually coincide with the language of the original recording. This is particularly common with white transcribers who are responsible for converting speech from black suspects to text. These mistakes can result in criminal convictions and extensive prison sentences for innocent people.

The language used by many black people in America, sometimes referred to as Black English, uses many idioms and codes that are not well understood by the rest of the population. When law enforcement officials bring this issue up in order to improve criminal justice equality, they are often met with confusion and derision. This is because some believe Black English is deficient when the reality is that it's alternative.

Making an estate plan after divorce

When Texas couples decide to end their marriage, it can have a significant effect on their estate planning decisions. Many people across the country hurried to finalize their divorces in 2018, due to new tax law changes going into effect in 2019. Now that the marriage is over, however, there are a number of other procedures for people to look into to ensure that loose ends have been tied. When people marry, they often include their spouses as the primary beneficiary of wills, trusts and other estate planning documents. Divorce can inspire thorough changes in these documents, and the divorce decree can be a good place to start.

An estate planning attorney can refer back to the divorce agreement in order to look for ongoing obligations as well as agreements to make changes in the plan. Some of the most obvious changes may involve revising bequests in a will or trust and removing a former spouse as an executor. However, other documents are just as critical to update. Most people will want to remove their former spouse as a power of attorney or health care proxy in case they are incapacitated and name another trusted person instead.

Infotainment systems found to distract drivers

Researchers at the University of Utah have analyzed 30 infotainment systems on new 2017 vehicles, finding that all of them were distracting to drivers at one level or another. This study was made for AAA and should be of interest to anyone in Texas who's interested in the new tech but worried about its implications.

The results were clearly seen when participants of the study, who were told to use the infotainment systems while driving, engaged in various unsafe behaviors. For example, they would ignore stop signs, swerve out of their lanes and drive at a speed considerably below what was posted. Of the 30 systems, none were found to demand only a low level of attention. Eleven demanded a high level and 12 a very high amount.

Possible defenses against a DWI in Texas

If you face charges of driving while intoxicated, you may feel your case is a lost cause. Perhaps you review your options to find the easiest way to get the proceedings over with.

However, a DWI conviction can have serious, lifelong consequences. Take confidence in knowing you have defense options available to help you.

How drivers in Texas can defuse road rage

Road rage can arise on the highway, in parking lots and any other place where one driver happens to offend another. The following are a few tips that drivers should consider the next time they become angry on the road. The first tip is, of course, to stay calm. If someone cuts them off, drivers should not honk the horn, flash the high beams or make inflammatory hand gestures.

There are various ways to stay calm. For example, playing music is known to relieve stress. Drivers should keep from tightly gripping the steering wheel because this will constrict blood flow and cause headaches. If a parking space is stolen, drivers should give that person the benefit of the doubt and assume that he or she did not see them.

Single people and estate-tax planning

Single residents in Texas may have to adjust how they handle their estate-tax planning due to the changes in the tax law brought on by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Under the TCJA, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption was raised to $11.18 million for the 2018 tax year and $11.4 million for the 2019 tax year. There will also be adjustments for annual inflation from 2020 to 2025.

These changes are very beneficial for people who have larger estates. However, the significantly increased exemption amounts mean that everyone, including unmarried individuals, with an estate plan or who plan to develop an estate plan should strongly consider taking advantage.

IIHS studies the safety benefits of automatic braking systems

Car buyers in Texas who are concerned about safety should consider getting a vehicle equipped with an automatic braking system, according to researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The nonprofit road safety advocacy group recently analyzed police accident reports to determine how effective this technology is in real-world situations, and they discovered that it reduces rear-end impacts by up to 68 percent.

General Motors began offering automatic braking systems on its sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs in 2013. As part of its study, the IIHS scrutinized police reports of rear-end crashes involving GM vehicles. Researchers then checked a list of serial numbers provided by GM to see how many of the accidents involved cars equipped with the automatic safety systems.

The facts about start-ups and trade secret protection

Companies in Texas often go to great lengths to protect their proprietary information. Many businesses, especially ones just getting started, often have important information they don't want to be made public. This knowledge can include everything from creative or manufacturing methodologies to unique in-house technology. While legal options are available to both start-ups and existing businesses looking to protect important trade secrets, there are some important facts about this type of intellectual property (IP) about which newly launched businesses should be aware.

Trade secret battles may result in ongoing business law issues sometimes because there is a debate over what is considered a "trade secret." According to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (USTA), the definition of this term extends to devices, formulas, techniques and methods, programs and compilations with independent economic value. In 2016, a federal law known as the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) became effective. It gives parties with trade secrets the option to pursue legal action in state or federal courts for misappropriation claims.

Publicity, laws and penalties address distracted driving dangers

Smartphones tempt drivers in Texas to take their attention away from the road all of the time. Known as distracted driving, the behavior has caused an increase in traffic accidents and prompted a growing number of states to pursue legislation to address the dangerous problem. Researchers who have studied the results of laws that ban holding phones while driving have concluded that a mix of public awareness campaigns and strong laws and penalties can reduce negative behaviors like texting or using social media behind the wheel.

The marketing director at TrueMotion, which informs insurance companies about mobile device usage, said that media exposure on the subject of distracted driving improves people's awareness of their dangerous habits. The company collected data in three states that passed laws meant to punish drivers distracted by devices. Researchers measured a 19 percent drop in distracting behaviors after the passage of tough laws in two states. In a third state, they recorded a 22 percent drop in texting or app usage while driving.

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