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No Indictments in Sandra Bland Death, but Prosecutor Says It’s Not Over

A Texas grand jury this week issued no indictments associated with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead by an apparent hanging in her jail cell this past summer. Bland's death made national headlines because the African American woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, allegedly got into an altercation with the officer over a lit cigarette, and was found hanging by a trash bag in her jail cell after only three days in custody in Texas. Local officials vehemently denied that Bland was mistreated, and the grand jury's failure to indict in the criminal case seems to support those claims. But Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor, said that "the case is still open," and that grand jurors would reconvene next month to discuss other aspects of it, according to the New York Times. Bland Family Responds Bland's family suspect that Sandra was mistreated because she was black. Her parents filed a wrongful death suit in August against a Texas trooper, the Waller County Sherriff's office, and her jailers -- they blamed authorities for their daughter's death and do not believe she would commit suicide. Bland's family responded to the grand jury's decision through their lawyer, Cannon Lambert. "We are unfortunately disappointed by the fact that our suspicions regarding this sham of a process have come to fruition," said Mr. Lambert, who is based in Chicago. Mr. Lambert said he was unsure of what to make of Mr. Jordan's statement that the grand jury would return to work in January, saying, "We would like very much to know what in the heck they're doing, who they're targeting and if it has anything to do with Sandy and her circumstances." Background on Bland Sandra Bland, who was from the Chicago area, was in Waller County, Texas this past summer because she had accepted a job at her alma mater, the nearby Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution. Bland's family does not believe she would commit suicide because she was an activist, recording videos about racial issues, including policing. The last video Ms. Bland was known to appear in, unfortunately, is that of the trooper who used a dash cam to record her traffic stop for a failure to signal lane change. In it, the trooper physically struggles with Bland after she refuses to put out her cigarette and is reluctant to exit her car, slamming her head and expressing pleasure about it, among other abuses of power. For those disappointed that the trooper, the county, and Bland's jailers appear to have gotten away with something this week -- possibly even murder -- special prosecutor Jordan said, "The case is not over. That's what I'm stressing right now. The case is not over." Criminal Defense Counsel If you face charges as a result of a traffic stop or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your charges and get help getting them resolved. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Traffic Arrest FAQ (FindLaw) Can the Police Set Up roadblocks for any Reason? (FindLaw)
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Criminal Consequences for Christmas Vandals

A rash of Christmas vandals, determined to take the fun out of kitsch, are attacking inflatable Santa Clauses and other outdoor holiday displays around the country. But yes Virginia, it is a crime. Police do prosecute vandals of all kinds, and those who attack outdoor holiday displays are in no way exempt from being charged with a crime. In fact, some citizens are so offended by the abuses that they have set up their own surveillance to help cops catch these culprits. Let's look at two recent cases. Florida Nutcracker Woes Andrew Craven of Venice, Florida almost gave up his holiday displays, so frustrated was he with the vandalism, according to local NBC News. Craven's Christmas spirit was waning and he was at the point where he was not even turning on his holiday lights. Vandals were attacking his outdoor display every night! Craven could not take it anymore and set up his own surveillance system. He put a video camera in his yard to try to catch whoever was knocking down and damaging his decorations. And he was successful. Now Craven has video of a man running up to the inflatable nutcracker and kicking it. "It's just sad and it hurts me to know that people are doing this," Craven said. He turned over his evidence to police, who are investigating the incident and say they will prosecute if the suspect is found. New Jersey Santa Attack Police in Cedar Grove, New Jersey are also on the hunt for inflatable statue abusers. They are looking for two white men who attacked a blow-up Santa and left him wounded -- rather, punctured -- in several places, according to United Press International. On December 9, at around 8:30 p.m., two men driving a Jeep Cherokee pulled up to a home and punched the Santa decoration on the lawn, causing $100 in damage. Neighbors reported the crime and police tried to track down the suspects, but have not yet been successful. Christmas Crimes The holiday season is fun but sometimes fun leads to a spot of trouble. If you or someone you know finds yourself on the wrong side of the law because you caved into the irresistible impulse to punch an inflatable Santa, please speak to a criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw) Are Zombie Nativity Scenes Legal? (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Zombie Nativity Scene Cannot Stand (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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O’Hare Shuttle Bus Crash Injures 14; 1st Lawsuit Filed

One of the 14 people injured in a shuttle bus crash at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has filed a lawsuit against the bus driver and the company that owns the bus. Talipha Charles suffered broken bones, contusions, and other injuries in the crash, the Daily Herald reports. According to Charles' lawyer, the bus driver was speeding at the time of the collision and failed to stay in the proper lane, causing the bus to crash into a concrete median. How will these allegations affect both the driver's and the bus company's potential liability for the crash? Bus Accident Lawsuits Lawsuits arising from bus accidents may be somewhat different than lawsuits involving ordinary automobile accidents. That's because buses are typically considered common carriers under both federal and state law, meaning that they are held to a higher standard of safe operation than other vehicles on the road. Generally, common carriers must use the utmost care in transporting their passengers. In addition to proving that the carrier breached its duty to keep passengers safe, a plaintiff in a bus accident case must also generally prove that the carrier's breach was the cause of her injuries. Negligence Per Se If Charles can prove that the driver of the bus was violating traffic laws at the time of the accident, then she may be able to hold the driver and the bus company liable for her injuries under the legal theory of negligence per se. If a plaintiff alleging negligence can show that the defendant violated a statute that involves safety, and that statute was meant to protect those in the plaintiff's position against the type of harm suffered by the plaintiff in the accident, then the defendant can be found liable for the plaintiff's injuries by negligence per se. In this case, the traffic laws allegedly violated by the bus driver were meant to protect others on the road, such as passengers, from being injured in auto accidents, so negligence per se may apply. Whenever an employee of a business is found negligent while performing a job related duty, the employer may also be vicariously liable for their employee's negligence through the doctrine of respondeat superior. In addition, the bus company may be found liable through negligence of their own, such as negligent training or negligent supervision of the driver.As for the defendants, local news sources have been unable to reach them for comment. Related Resources: Passenger Files Lawsuit Following O'Hare Shuttle Bus Crash (Chicago's WBBM Newsradio) Greyhound Bus Crash in Ohio Injures 34 (FindLaw's Injured) FedEx, Bus Company Sued Over Crash That Killed 10 (FindLaw's Injured) Missouri School Bus Crash Kills 2, Injures More (FindLaw's Injured)
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Bus Accident at Burning Man Claims Woman’s Life

A woman attending this year's Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert has reportedly been killed in a bus accident. The woman, who has not been identified pending notification of her next of kin, fell under a bus carrying festival attendees, reports the Burning Man Blog. What are some of the legal options the woman's family may have following this tragic incident? Wrongful Death Lawsuit When a person's death may be caused by the intentional or negligent actions of another, the deceased person's family may decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Injured? Exercise your legal rights. Get in touch with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney in your area today. Wrongful death lawsuits generally require the survival of family members who are suffering financial harm as a result of their family member's death. The wrongful death lawsuit seeks to compensate surviving family members for this financial loss, by awarding them damages in the amount of lost support, services, and income the deceased may have provided as well as medical and funeral expenses. Liability of Festival Organizers One possible avenue of legal recourse would be to bring suit against the organizers of the festival for negligence. Negligence generally requires that a person or business have a duty to act reasonably, and that by failing to do so, they caused injury or death. In this case, the woman's family could claim that the festival organizers had a duty to make the festival grounds reasonably safe and that their failure to do so caused the woman's death. Liability of Bus Driver, Owner The woman's family could also allege negligence on the part of the bus driver, as well as the owner of the bus or bus company. Buses are generally considered to be common carriers, which makes them subject to a higher standard of safety. This may mean that even a minor breach of the bus driver's duty to act safely may be sufficient for liability for negligence. However, this typically only applies to injuries to passengers. If the bus was being driven by someone other than the owner who was being compensated for doing so, the owner of the bus or bus company may also be liable for any negligence on the part of the driver under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. The owner of a vehicle may also be held liable for the negligent acts of the driver if it was found they had a reason to know the person was a bad driver or was otherwise unfit to operate the vehicle. Related Resources: Woman Dies In Bus Accident At Burning Man (SFist) Play Legally on the Playa: 5 Legal Issues at Burning Man (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Burning Man Lawsuit Filed, Show May be in Jeopardy (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Injured on a Bus? 5 Legal Points to Consider (FindLaw's Injured)
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What Are ‘Ag Gag’ Laws?

So-called "ag gag" laws have allowed some states to muzzle animal rights activists, barring them from taking pictures or videos at livestock facilities. But many of these laws are being challenged in court. In the latest challenge, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting back against Idaho's "ag gag" law, citing illegal constraints on First Amendment rights, Reuters reports. So what are "ag gag" laws? Agriculture Anti-Whistleblower Laws The term "ag gag" is short for two things: agriculture and gag order. A gag order makes it illegal to speak or report about a certain topic. They're often issued by courts in order to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair and unbiased trial. In this case, the "gag" part of "ag gag" laws refers to a category of anti-whistleblower laws that relate to animal abuse in the agriculture industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, these laws have the effect of blocking advocates "from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, [and] poor working conditions" in factory farms. These "ag gag" laws can take many forms, but they tend to criminalize: Taking photos or video of agricultural facilities without permission, Applying for an agriculture job under false pretenses, and Failing to report animal abuses to law enforcement. It may seem perfectly reasonable for states to punish those who silently assent to animal abuse at factory farms. But opponents note that these laws have more often been used to target and prosecute undercover investigators -- those seeking to end animal abuse. Current 'Ag Gag' Suits Idaho passed an "ag gag" law last month, making it a misdemeanor to interfere with agricultural production. This includes recording or photographing factory farms without permission as well as obtaining a job for the purpose of doing economic damage to an agriculture business. A complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of various animal rights groups complains that the statute violates the First Amendment by unconstitutionally hampering free speech. A similar lawsuit was filed by law professors who believe Utah's "ag gag" law is unconstitutional, reports Food Safety News. There are currently seven states with "ag gag" laws, and all seem to be potentially vulnerable to free speech challenges that the laws are overbroad. Laws which effectively burden speech without a compelling government interest may be struck down as invalid under the First Amendment, which is what "ag gag" opponents are hoping for. Currently, however, there is no binding precedent for striking down an "ag gag" law. Related Resources: Idaho's ag-gag law challenged in federal court (The Idaho Statesman) Horn Honking Restrictions Violate Free Speech, Washington Court Rules (FindLaw's Decided) Begging Ban is Unconstitutional Restriction on Free Speech (FindLaw's U.S. Sixth Circuit Blog) Court Upholds Students' Free Speech Rights in Sleepover Pics Case (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
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School Bus Crashes: 3 Questions Before You Sue

After a school bus crash, when does it make sense to file a lawsuit? Some parents and at least one injured driver may be asking that question today, after a school bus crashed near Walt Disney World in Florida. The accident between a school bus and a PT Cruiser left 10 people hurt, including nine students on the bus and the driver of the PT Cruiser, the Orlando Sentinel reports. If you're involved in a school bus accident -- either as a passenger or a driver of another vehicle -- you may want to ask yourself these three questions before filing a lawsuit: Who was at fault? To file a successful lawsuit after a school bus crash, you'll likely have to prove the bus driver was driving negligently. Certain types of accidents are presumed to be one driver's fault, and insurance companies typically attempt to settle immediately. For example, the victims of the Florida bus crash will probably have a relatively easy time determining fault because the bus driver allegedly violated the right of way when making a left turn. Generally speaking, left-turn collisions are almost always the fault of the driver making the left turn because cars crossing straight through the intersection usually have the right of way. Was the bus driver an "agent" of the school? When filing a lawsuit, you'll also want to look into the employer's liability. If the bus driver was acting as an agent of the school -- for example, when students are being transported on the bus -- the school could be held vicariously liable for the accident. The question for vicarious liability is whether the driver was acting within the scope of his or her employment. The answer may not be so clear-cut in some cases -- for example, if the driver was on lunch break or was running a personal errand in the midst of her job-related duties. Are you following the proper procedures to sue? If the school bus accident involves a public school district, there may be some procedural hurdles to overcome (like filing a tort claim and waiting for a response) before you're allowed to file a lawsuit. Generally, suing a school district is an uphill, often losing battle for plaintiffs and involves a complex legal process, as Educational Managment Consulting explains. When you don't carefully follow the requirements, you may lose your right to remedies. Of course there are other factors to consider too, such as the statute of limitations and your state's cap on personal injury damages (if applicable). For additional assistance on filing a lawsuit after a school bus accident, you may want to consult with an experienced car accident lawyer in your area. Related Resources: $14M Award to Bus Crash Victim Capped at $500K? (FindLaw's Injured) Missouri School Bus Crash Kills 2, Injures More (FindLaw's Injured) School Bus Accident In Kings School District Raises Questions (FindLaw's Injured) Dad, Sons Rescued From Canal After Multi-Car Crash (FindLaw's Injured)
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