Category: Legislation

Okay Google … Should Drivers Be Wearing Google Glass While Driving?

POST WRITTEN BY: Marina Gubenko (’16), J.D. Pace Law School

The release of Google Glass to the general public comes with an issue attached – is it safe and legal to use while driving? Google Glass is a hands-free device that has the same capabilities as a smartphone and allows the user to surf the internet, send texts, and scroll through social media. Google Glass is like having a tiny computer in front of your face all the time.

New York State prohibits a person from using any portable electronic device while the car is in motion. N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1225-d (McKinney 2014). Google Glass would seemingly fall under the NY statutory definition of portable device, which defines it as “any telephone, PDA, device with mobile data access, laptop, pager, messaging device, game, portable computing device, ‘or any other electronic device when used to input, write, send, receive, or read text for present or future communication.’” In examining whether Google Glass is legal to use while driving in New York, it is important to point out that the New York law prohibits use of any portable device while the vehicle is in motion. Considering a cellphone, it would be relatively easy for a police officer to observe if a driver operating a vehicle is holding a cellphone and doing something on it. However, with Google Glass functioning as glasses, a police officer would have a harder time deciphering if in use while the driver operates a vehicle.

In California, use of a telephone or electronic device is prohibited while driving unless the device is equipped to be hands-free. Cal. Vehicle Code § 23123 and § 23123.5 (West 2014). Additionally, a person is prohibited from driving a car when their vision is obstructed by “a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen….” Cal. Vehicle Code § 27602 (West 2014). Google Glass fits that definition; it is a monitor that is constantly in front of the driver. To violate this provision, the police officer needs to proffer evidence that Google Glass was on and being used while the person was driving. In 2014, a woman was pulled over and cited in San Diego, CA for wearing Google Glass while driving. The officer cited her under § 27602. According to a CNN news article, the case was dismissed because the evidence was insufficient to show that Goggle Glass was turned on at the time the woman was driving.

It has been argued that Google Glass is safer than using your phone while driving because a driver does not need to take hands off the wheel. However, a study conducted by the University of Central Florida showed that the reaction time between a Google Glass user and cell phone user in avoiding accidents was about the same.

The bottom-line is that Google Glass is a distraction when operating a motor vehicle. States are seeing the necessity of enacting new legislation to ban Google Glass while driving, and making sure that the new laws specifically include a device such as Google Glass. As of 2014, at least 7 states had proposed legislation. For example, NY Assembly Bill 02729 “prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while using a wearable computer with a head-mounted display.” This bill is aimed to address ocular technology such as Goggle Glass. Moreover, another NY Assembly Bill 04879 seeks to expand the current definition of portable electronic device to include Google Glass.

Going back to the issue of enforcement; since it appears to be difficult for police officers to determine whether Google Glass was operational and in use while driving, it seems that to ensure safety, the easiest solution is to prohibit wearing it while driving all together. Have we become a society that is unable to tear ourselves away from the virtual world? Are we willing to forego public safety so we can have a piece of technology attached to our heads and stay ‘connected’?  We shouldn’t need laws to answer that.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Approves Amendment to Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The United States Sentencing Commission has recently approved an amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, “Drugs Minus Two,” which would reduce the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenses. Specifically, the amendment works to lower the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table prescribed under §2D1.1(c)(1) of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual, which may ultimately result in a lower guideline sentencing range for many defendants sentenced under federal trafficking penalties.

The Sentencing Commission has voted to apply the amendment retroactively after determining that “setting the base offense levels above mandatory minimum penalties is no longer necessary and that a reduction would be an appropriate step toward alleviating the overcapacity of the federal prisons.” The Commission’s proposal was consistent with its obligation to formulate guidelines to “minimize the likelihood that the Federal prison population will exceed the capacity of the Federal prisons. 28 U.S.C. § 994(g).

According to the Commission, there are an “estimated 46,000 offenders that may benefit from retroactive application of Amendment 782 subject to the limitation in §1B1.10 (e), and the average sentence reduction would be approximately 18 percent.”

The Chair of the Sentencing Commission, Judge Patti B. Saris, stated that “the amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach. It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.”

The amendment will likely go into retroactive effect beginning November 1, 2015, unless Congress disapproves of the amendment. Congress has until November 1, 2014 to make its decision. If upheld, federal prisoners may begin to petition the courts pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582 (C) (2) seeking a sentencing modification based upon the new guideline ranges.


Colorado Proposes Bill Limiting the Use of Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill

The State of Colorado is taking steps to restrict the use of solitary confinement for those with a serious mental illness. Colorado Senate Bill 14-064, A Bill for an Act Concerning Restricting the Use of Long-Term Isolated Confinement for Inmates with Serious Mental Illness, has passed through the second regular session reading and would require

the department of corrections to review the status of all offenders held in long-term isolated confinement within 90 days after the effective date of the bill.

According to the bill, if such review concludes that an inmate is suffering from a serious mental illness, the correction facility would be required to move the inmate to a mental health unit, prison hospital or other form of housing that would not include long-term solitary confinement. Further, this bill would require that any inmate would go through a mental evaluation prior to being placed in isolation.

Colorado isn’t the first state revising this long-established and controversial practice of placing inmates in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. In 2013, Massachusetts introduced a Bill S. 1133, An Act Relative to the Appropriate Use of Solitary Confinement, requiring that the decision to place an inmate in segregation be reviewed within 15 days of such placement and at 90 day intervals thereafter and that an inmate shall receive a written notice, a hearing at which inmate has the opportunity to dispute such placement, and a final written decision on the matter.

In California, Senator L. Lee introduced SB Bill 970 that would limit the use of solitary confinement on minors at state and county juvenile correctional facilities. This bill would

prohibit a minor or ward who is detained in, or sentenced to, any juvenile facility or other secure state or local facility from being subject to solitary confinement, unless the minor or ward poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or to the security of the facility, and all other less-restrictive options have been exhausted.

And more recently on May 8, 2014, Rep. Cedric Richmond from 2d District of Louisiana, introduced H.R. 4618, Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014, intended to develop and implement national standards for the use of solitary confinement in the Nation’s prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities. The recommendations include:

  • Limiting the use of segregation to only extreme and specifically defined situations;
  • Ensuring that prior to being placed in segregation, an inmate is entitled to a meaningful hearing on the reasons for and duration of the confinement;
  • Ensuring that indefinite sentencing of an adult inmate to long-term isolation will not be allowed;
  • Ensuring that inmates are afforded a meaningful review of the confinement at least once every 30 days;
  • Ensuring that prisoners and juvenile detainees diagnosed with a serious mental illness shall not be held in long-term solitary confinement;
  • Limiting the use of solitary for the purpose of protective custody only; and more.

This bill was co-sponsored by 22 other representatives from California, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, D.C, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Texas, and on May 8, 2014 it was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Related Readings:

New York Casinos May Have an Unexpected Impact on Illegal Gambling Involvement

By: Hanna Shoshany

This past election day, New Yorkers approved the Casino Ballot Referendum.  Being the first state to legalize commercial gambling since 1994, New York is the nineteenth state to say “yes” to full service commercial casinos.  With plans of opening up seven casinos in the course of seven years, four of which will begin bidding in the upstate areas as early as January 1st, the economic projections are promising.  The goal is to keep hundreds of millions of dollars currently spent in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut right here in our backyard. The generated revenues  will be allocated to public schools and to lower property taxes.  The government is also hopeful that this new law will minimize civilian involvement in illegal underground gambling rings. The government, however, ignores the fact that all of the eighteen states that host commercial casinos also have the highest rates of underground gambling rings.  As a society, we are more likely to get involved in illegal gambling when we live in an atmosphere that supports gambling as a whole.

Most of the underground gambling rings in New York are owned and operated by crime families. These gambling rings offer high stakes poker games and sports betting whose proceeds are wired to Costa Rica. Additionally, these gambling rings create an atmosphere of drugs and prostitution that is not present in Vegas-style casinos. The government’s crackdown  on these underground operations has led to high profile cases, usually involving over twenty defendants per “ring bust.” These cases  generate lucrative business for attorneys in the tri-state area who specialize in defeating RICO charges.  For instance, this past April, the FBI busted an illegal gambling ring that involved 33 co-conspirators and was orchestrated by Russian Underworld Bosses Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and Helly Nahmad, owner of the most lucrative art gallery in the city.  Prior to accepting a plea bargain, these defendants faced 92 years on racketeering, money laundering, gambling, and fraud charges.  These types of operations are miniscule in comparison to the Genovese Family’s involvement in New Jersey gambling rings, despite the accessibility of casinos in Atlantic City. The Russian gambling ring also feigns in comparison to the online betting schemes such as Pinnacle Sports, in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world.

Therefore, although the economic incentives of being the nineteenth state to legalize commercial gambling are highly attractive, the likelihood that it will minimize, as opposed to facilitate, the prevalence of underground illegal gambling rings, is farfetched.

Legislative Ethics and New York’s Moreland Commission

Last summer, Governor Cuomo created the Moreland Commission and gave it the job to investigate ethical violations by New York State legislators.  Pace Law School Professor Bennett L. Gershman analyzes the ambiguities in the Commission’s mandate and some of its recent problems.

Click here to read the full article.