Good news for those seeking/claiming Social Security disability benefits, as the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced the 2015 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) yesterday. Keeping with the trend of the last few years, the 1.7% COLA will put roughly $22 extra dollars a month in beneficiaries’ pockets beginning in January. This is a slight increase to the 1.5% COLA announced last October for this current year. Beneficiaries of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will also see slight increases in their monthly benefits check.
If the headline seems too good to be true, it’s not. Indeed, the City Municipal Court announced yesterday that it will be recalling over 200,000 non-violent warrants. If you have one of these warrants, all you need to do is contact the court and schedule a new date before the end of the year. It really does appear to be that simple.
If you have a warrant, the Court plans on sending a postcard to the address that they have on file for you. It is then up to you to take this postcard and come to the Municipal Court to set up a new date. (Note: like all of the amnesty programs in the past, this does NOT apply to DUI warrants) Unlike amnesty programs in the past, there is no fee for this service.
This is without question the most forgiving warrant amnesty program I’ve ever seen. The Mayor’s office claims that this program is in response to the recent events in Ferguson, and one can only assume that similar programs will soon be implemented in St. Louis County municipal courts in the near future.
A proposed legal settlement between attorneys for aggrieved drivers and a prominent national red-light camera company could mean money in hundreds of thousands of Missourians’ pockets. The proposed settlement amount is for an estimated $16 million, and includes a 20% refund on 800,000 tickets issued from cameras operated by American Traffic Solutions in the St.Louis area since 2005.
The proposed settlement will be filed in St. Louis County this week for final approval. The purpose of the settlement is to put an end to several large class-action lawsuits naming American Traffic Solutions as defendants. Check back here for more information on how you or someone you know can get a refund.
There are so many things wrong with the municipal court system in St. Louis County. Some courts are efficient and fair and dispose of justice effectively. Some. But there are over 80 municipal courts in this County, and a majority of these courts and their practices are downright embarrassing. Those of us who represent clients in County municipal courts, and especially the dozens of courts in North County, have known about this sad state of affairs for years.
Today, the Washington Post released what I suppose could be termed an “exposé” revealing just how bad things have become in these courts.
The events that took place in Ferguson last month were no doubt more a response to the corrupt system of government in that neck of the woods than simple outrage over the death of one young man. I encourage you to read this (very long) article if you would like to know the types of stories we hear on an almost daily basis.
Our neighbors in Kirkwood this week passed an ordinance banning texting and driving for all drivers, regardless of age. State law makes it illegal for drivers under 21 to text or use their smartphones while driving, but in the past few months, several local towns have implemented a ban for all drivers. The question of whether municipalities can enforce harsher restrictions than state laws provide has and will continue to lead to controversy, but in an area with a lot of foot traffic like Kirkwood, this can only be seen as a positive development. Whether officers will actually enforce this law remains to be seen, but one can only wonder if this law will apply to unfortunate drivers who find themselves stuck for 15 minutes waiting for train to cross in downtown Kirkwood.
In a unanimous decision this morning, the United States Supreme Court held that police must obtain a search warrant before searching through a cell phone seized during an arrest. With all the many things that we store in our cell phones: pictures, messages, emails, bank information etc., it is surprising that before today law enforcement officers did not need a warrant to go through your phone. In fact it was widely assumed by many people that such a requirement was already in place. We’ve had more than a few consultations with clients where this strange and outdated policy had to be explained. But as of today, the law of the land has finally caught up with the 21st century.
The Court acknowledged in Davis v. California that cell phones in 2014 store troves of personal information, and that “the fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” Chief Justice John Roberts went on to say that cellphones “are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Cannot argue with that logic.
The 4th Amendment, as many people know, protects us from unreasonable searches (among other things). Soon after a person is arrested, however, the law regarding the 4th Amendment can get very murky. So it is nice to have another bright-line rule regarding a common search issue, and it is nice to celebrate another victory for our privacy.
There is a trend in this country for state motor vehicle departments to issue unique license plates for drivers convicted of DUI. A few states such as Georgia and Minnesota currently have special plates which simply have a unique set of letters and numbers that, in all likelihood, would only be recognizable to law enforcement. But we were just made aware of one state, Ohio, which takes this public shaming to a whole new level.
Check out this picture of the bright yellow license plate issued to certain classes of DUI offenders in Ohio. These have been in practice for nearly a decade, but this is the first we have heard of this. They are apparently affectionately known to Ohioans as “party plates”, and they are mandatory for high-BAC first-time convictions as well as subsequent convictions within a 6-year period.
While there have always been rumors of bill of this type coming up in Missouri, no such bill has even been introduced. Is this public shaming a deterrent to drunk driving? Or is it exactly that – public shaming, which may subject drivers to increased scrutiny for law enforcement? It’s an interesting question, and we thank Shawn for bringing this fun fact to our attention!
After more than 30 years, the Missouri Criminal Code is as close as ever to being revised. Yesterday Missouri lawmakers passed a revision to the Code and have sent it to Governor Nixon for his signature. There are many long-overdue revisions, the summary of which can be found here. It appears as though the sense of optimism that should be present after finally getting to this point has been negated by reports that Governor Nixon will likely oppose signing the bill in its current form. And, even if he does, the revised statutes are not slated to take hold until 2017.
There are many positives to the proposals, including tougher stances on sex offenders, child molesters, and habitual drunk drivers. But one item missing from the proposal that many attorneys were hoping to see was the ability to more easily expunge certain non-violent crimes, especially for young offenders. The failure to include this option led at least one legislator to vote “no”.
Unlike in many neighboring states, it is extremely difficult to expunge a prior conviction. A select few types of crimes are eligible (first-time alcohol-related misdemeanor, passing a bad check, trespassing), but many crimes that a younger offender may commit are ineligible for expungement and can have long-lasting effects on a person’s ability to obtain employment, apply for student loans or housing, etc. An offender must wait at least 20 years to even apply for a felony expungement (10 years for a misdemeanor), and even then, at the expungment hearing, the State will almost certainly ask the Judge to dismiss the expungement application.
This high hurdle has been an issue for ages and it has always been said that the only recourse is the state legislature. So while news of the revised criminal code is a welcome sound that will streamline the criminal justice process and relieve our overcrowded jails and prisons, it was very disappointing to see a revised expungement process excluded from the bill.
Tired of feeling obligated to check your work email while you’re eating dinner or watching the Cardinals game or laying in bed? Consider moving to France.
After ruling last week that the City of St. Louis’ red-light camera operation is illegal, Judge Steven Ohmer has put a temporary hold on his decision, effectively reinstating the red-light cameras in the City until further notice. The City can continue enforcing violations and collecting fines, but these fines must be placed in an escrow account. The fines will be returned to drivers in the event that Judge Ohmer’s decision is upheld on appeal. Our ability to not have to come to a complete stop for 5 seconds before taking a right on red was fun while it lasted…