Legal Ease-February 2022

Watch Out for Winter Weather

In the US, 70% of the population lives in an area that reports an average of 5 or more inches of snowfall every year.  If you live anywhere in Connecticut, you’re definitely part of that percentage – and you know pretty well how snowfall, icy conditions and other hazards of winter weather affect you.

Car accidents frequently happen during winter months.  Slippery pavement, roads that have buckled or degraded because of temperature changes, and reduced visibility can all be factors in weather-related accidents and the visits we see to walk-in centers and emergency rooms and police accident reports filed during the cold months. There’s not much you can do about the weather and the problems it can cause. But you can be prepared – and that could help you avoid being a statistic.

Car crashes because of winter weather and icy roads account for 17% of all accidents, which represents nearly 600,000 police-reported crashes nationwide.  If you’re in a situation where your vehicle slides off the road, is hit by another driver, or gets stuck on a roadway, there are some things you can do to minimize the impact an accident can have on your life.

1.  Stay off roadways during severe weather. This is especially important if there is a travel ban or if several inches of snow are expected. Dangerous driving conditions can impact anyone, no matter what kind of vehicle you're driving.  If you're not out in bad weather, you can be 100% certain that you won't be in a winter weather crash.

2.  If you’re in an accident, maintain your composure and breathe deeply. The most important thing you can do in the event of a car crash because of snow or ice is to stay calm. It will be much easier to assess the situation -- and your condition --if you can stay focused on the accident scene as it is. To stay calm, ask yourself:

  • Am I injured? Is anyone with me injured?

  • Is there anyone around me who can help me?

  • Is there anyone around me who may need help?

  • Am I visible to others in the area or on the road?

3.  Call 9-1-1. Slippery winter weather conditions should never be underestimated. Even if you are fine and you do not believe your car has been significantly damaged, it’s important to let authorities know about dangerous conditions to protect yourself and others.

4.  If it’s possible, remove your vehicle from the roadway. That greatly reduces your chances of further harm.  If travel lanes are covered with heavy snow, or if you've gone off the roadway, this could be very difficult unless you have tire chains or an exceptional level of driving skills. 

5.  If you cannot move your car to safety, stay inside with your hazard lights and headlights on, and buckle your seatbelt. Exiting the car in unsafe conditions can put you at greater risk for injury. If you can, wait for a tow plow to help you.

6.  Try to make mental notes about the scene of the accident. Once help has arrived, consider things like road conditions, downed branches or wires or the condition of other drivers involved. These mental notes can help you later if you are involved in a legal situation.

Any time the temperature is expected to be below the freezing point, you should take extra care to avoid a motor vehicle accident. But if you must go out and the worst happens, be prepared.  Keep extra warm clothing and blankets in your car, be sure your cell phone is fully charged, and have a full tank of gas, jumper cables, and a snow brush ready to go.

By practicing safe driving habits and being prepared, you can avoid a bad outcome from a winter car crash. Of course, avoidance is always better than dealing with the aftermath of an accident. But if you are ever in an accident in winter weather, or you sustain accident injuries as a result of someone else's dangerous winter driving, you'll want a personal injury lawyer with professional experience handling these kinds of cases – and we at Jainchill & Beckert are always here to listen and to help.

Next month, we’ll take a look at another hazard of winter weather – slip-and-falls – with advice on how you can avoid them, and what to do if you’re injured on someone else’s property because of ice or snow. 


Overcoming Unconscious Bias: How Connecticut’s Juror Selection Process Is Evolving

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” – From the US Bill of Rights, Sixth Amendment

If you’ve ever been called to jury duty and served as a juror, you have seen first-hand that the process of choosing a jury isn’t an easy task.  Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense are both responsible for finding a panel of US citizens who they believe will be able to render a fair decision based on the facts of a case.  “A jury of your peers” is promised to anyone who has been accused of a crime – it is a right that we, as Americans, hold very dear.

Complicating this right, however, is what’s known as “implicit bias.” In its simplest terms, Implicit bias is each individual’s overriding belief system about people or groups. It’s most often based on the stories and events that have unfolded during our lives. Implicit bias can be positive (e.g., “I respond favorably to women who look like my grandma,”) or negative (e.g., “People who frequently use foul language make me uncomfortable.”)

 We all have biases, and research finds that most of us don’t even know what those biases are or how they affect us.  These beliefs are called “unconscious biases.” For the good of their clients, attorneys have the spectacularly difficult job of figuring out what those biases might be for each potential juror, and how they could end up affecting judgment.

Recently, the State of Connecticut’s Judicial Branch assembled a Jury Selection Task Force to evaluate the process of selecting and training jurors. The committee was tasked with ensuring that a diverse juror panel can be found, and that those jurors will be thoroughly educated and trained prior to their service to set aside implicit bias. Changes adopted through the work of this group will help Connecticut’s court system to select a diverse panel of jurors who can proceed through a case and process evidence and witness testimony fairly and impartially. 

One subcommittee of the Task Force investigated the process of summoning jurors. They addressed factors like accounting for economic hardships, such as employment, child care, transportation, and other more personal factors such as physical or mental disabilities and Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

Another subcommittee took on the task of considering jury instructions to educate jurors about implicit bias and how to avoid it during deliberation. Included in their recommendations is new, contemplative language that does not assail potential jurors as “biased” but instead offers ways for jurors to comprehend their own leanings and filter their thoughts and beliefs to achieve a non-biased outcome. Per the report: “Techniques to identify and check one’s implicit biases include: slowing down and examining your thought processes thoroughly to identify where you may be relying on reflexive, gut reactions or making assumptions that have no basis in the evidence; asking yourself whether you would view the evidence differently if the players were reversed or other types of people were involved; and listening carefully to the opinions of your fellow jurors, each of whom brings a different, valid perspective to the table.”

If you are afforded the honor of being called for jury duty – and it is indeed an honor – you may notice new language in your jury summons that emphasizes the civic requirement of serving when called.  If you are put on a jury, you will find new language that clarifies the importance of being aware of your biases in order to serve. You will likely be shown a video that explains implicit bias and how it can be mitigated. These are just a few of the results of the Task Force’s recommendations, all implemented to assemble “a jury of peers” for every American.

If you are facing a trial by jury, it has never been more important to hire a lawyer who fully understands the concept of unconscious bias and is experienced in selecting “peers” who can manage their unconscious biases. Great criminal defense lawyers can determine in the early stages of “voir dire” whether a potential juror will be able to make rational decisions without allowing their so called “implicit biases” to impact their ability to be fair and impartial, and that will very likely be a deciding factor in the outcome of your case.


One Calling, Two Perspectives: How Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas Have Shaped Our Nation

America was 191 years old before a Black lawyer ascended to a seat on the US Supreme Court. While most of us know of these two legal scholars, it is worth looking at the contributions each has made to our country.

While each came from humble beginnings with ties to slavery, each was able to overcome racial discrimination and bring civil rights to the fore, contributing to the causes of freedom and justice that we all hold dear in America.

Thurgood Marshall, known for his liberal values and his passion for actively working against the injustices inherent in the mid-20th century, issued opinions during his legal career that promoted civil rights and “justice for all.”  As an NAACP lawyer, he struck down the “separate but equal” segregation laws of the mid 20th century, instead establishing in 1954 that schools should not be allowed to racially segregate. 

Marshall put the lives of those who had been wrongly oppressed at the forefront of all of his legal work. He encouraged Americans to look inward, examining the collective conscience of the nation.  As the first African-American on the Supreme Court, he set a new standard for all Americans determined to demand and achieve equality, and he is today remembered as the legend who championed the fight for civil rights in earnest.

 Clarence Thomas espoused conservative views that made him a very different voice for America when he replaced Marshall in 1989. He served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990 before becoming a federal appeals judge in 1990.

 After a contentious confirmation process, Thomas joined the Court as a strict Constitutional originalist, believing that federal courts should always adjudicate cases based on the original intent of the Constitution.  In many opinions, including cases upholding religious freedoms (e.g., Good News Club vs. Milford Central School (2001) and Second Amendment rights (e.g., McDonald v. Chicago, 2010), Thomas has often proven himself a defender of rights of individual Americans. He may be best known for opposing affirmative action the mandates that his predecessor on the court espoused, writing that, “government-sponsored racial discrimination based on benign prejudice is just as noxious as discrimination inspired by malicious prejudice.”

Justice Marshall and Justice Thomas have brought their upbringings and lived experiences to their perspectives on the Supreme Court. But each also brought their passion for law and their love for America to the job – and we are all better off because of the contributions of these two notable men.


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Legal Ease-January 2022