Year: 2015

Daniel Holtzclaw Violated the Victims’ Civil Rights

Former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was charged with 36 counts of sexually assaulting 13 African-American females between December 2013 and June 2014, while serving as an Oklahoma City Police Officer.  On December 10, 2015, Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 counts, including four counts of first-degree rape.  Of the 13 victims, Holtzclaw was convicted of sexual offenses involving 8 of the victims.  It is quite possible that Holtzclaw will spend the rest of his life in jail.  However, for these 13 victims, it is also clear that their Civil Rights have been violated by Holtzclaw and, possibly, by his supervising officers and/or the Oklahoma City Police Department.

These 13 victims, and any other victims of Holtzclaw, would have a Civil Rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.  §1983.  Section 1983 provides a private cause of action to anyone whose rights, secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, were violated by a person acting under color of state law.  These women’s’ rights were clearly violated.  One possible right that would have been violated would be their substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Due process protections have been provided “to matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity.”  Clearly, a police officer sexually assaulting someone would violate their right to bodily integrity.  Williams v. Berney, 519 F.3d 1216 (10th Cir. 2008).

Likewise, Holtzclaw would clearly have been acting under color of state law.  Based on the allegations that have been made public, Holtzclaw picked these women up, while on duty, and sexually assaulted them.  Because he exercised power “possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [he] is clothed with the authority of state law,” he would be said to have been acting under color of state law.  West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988).  While he was committing these crimes he was acting in his capacity as a police officer and with the authority provided to him by state law.  As a result, this is one of the clearest examples of someone acting under “color of state law.”

Further, there may even be a claim against his supervising officers or against the City of Oklahoma City.  However, these are much more difficult.  The victims would have to show that their rights were violated by virtue of the supervising officials “own conduct.”  Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1197 (10th Cir. 2010).  This is a difficult burden, but if the victims can show that the supervising officers set in motion a series of events that they knew or reasonably should have known would cause Holtzclaw (or other officers) to violate the rights of the victims, then they could also be held personally liable.

Similarly, if the victims can show that there was a policy or custom of the City of Oklahoma City that caused their rights to be violated, the City could be held responsible for Holtzclaw’s actions.  However, this is a very difficult burden, as the victims would be required to demonstrate and identify a specific deficiency in the policies and/or procedures that was obvious and closely related to their injuries.

Finally, even though Holtzclaw was only convicted of sexual offenses relating to 8 of the 13 victims, the other 5 victims would absolutely have a civil rights claim against him.  This is because the required standards of proof are different in a criminal case and a civil case.  In a criminal case, each allegation against Holtzclaw had to be proven beyond a preponderance of a doubt.  This is the highest burden of proof in our legal system.  However, in a civil case, which a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations against Holtzclaw would be, the burden of proof is only beyond a preponderance of the evidence-often referred to as more probable than not.  This burden is much lower.  Because this burden is lower, these women would still have a civil rights claim against Holtzclaw.  Ultimately, not only has Holtzclaw committed multiple crimes for which he will be punished, but he has also violated the Civil Rights of these women and they are entitled to bringing a claim against him, personally, for these violations.

Are My Medical Bills Covered?

If you have been injured in an automobile accident or a premises liability slip-and-fall case, one of the first things you have probably wondered about was how were your medical bills going to be paid.  This is a very important issue for you and there are several different factors and strategic decisions to be made.

  1. If the accident is your fault: If the accident is your fault, then the other driver’s insurance company will not be helping pay for your medical bills.  In a situation like this, you may still use your health insurance to help pay the cost of your medical bills.  You may also have medical payments (med pay) coverage on your automobile insurance policy.  Typically, med pay policy limits in Oklahoma are less than $10,000.00, but under Oklahoma law they are available to you regardless of who was at fault for the accident.  It is very important to contact your insurance company after an accident to determine if there is med pay coverage available to you.
  2. If the other driver is at fault: If the other driver is at fault for your accident and your injuries were caused by the accident, then the other driver or their insurance company will be responsible for reimbursing you for your damages.  Your damages include any medical bills you have incurred or any future medical bills you will incur.  But, and this is important, the other driver or insurance company is not required to pay your medical bills as you incur them.  In a normal case, they will only look at settling your case once you have completed all of your treatment.  Many hospitals and medical providers will agree to hold your bills and not turn them over to collections until your case has been settled.  However, some will require you to pay them immediately, to avoid having the bill turned over to collections.  It is important to communicate with the hospital or medical providers early on.  Keep in mind, even if the other driver is at fault, you can still receive your med pay benefits from your automobile insurance company.  In Oklahoma, you are allowed to “double dip” and receive a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company and receive your med pay benefits.
  3. If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident or other premises liability case: If you are not injured in a car accident, but are injured at a business or on someone else’s property, the business or property owner may be responsible for your medical bills.  Basically, if the business was negligent-legally responsible for your injuries- and failed to maintain their premises in a safe condition, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  If this is the case, typically, you will be able to get med pay benefits from the business and a settlement for your injuries.  However, even if the business was not negligent and, thus, not legally responsible for your injuries, you may still be able to recover med pay benefits to help pay your bills.

It is important to keep in mind that in none of these situations are your medical bills paid as you incur them.  An attorney can often help during this process by contacting the medical providers and letting them know that you are represented and that a claim is being made for your injuries.  An experienced personal injury attorney can also help ensure that you maximize your recovery through any and all available insurance.  Finally, an attorney can help to negotiate your medical bills with your medical providers, so that you end up with more money in your pocket.  If you have any questions or if you or a loved one has been injured and is trying to figure out how to pay medical bills that you have incurred, feel free to contact a personal injury attorney at The Cotton Law Firm for a free consultation.

Syrian Refugees: Are we a Christian nation or not?

After the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France more than half of the governors – 27 states in all — of the United States have said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their States.  They have made this decision under the guise of safety and protecting American citizens from ISIS terrorists.  Not surprisingly, 26 of these states have Republican governors, including Oklahoma.  What is most disheartening is that, for the most part, these are the same States and the same governors that have fought to have Ten Commandments monuments placed on the grounds of the State Capitol, fought same sex marriage because it is against their Christian beliefs (Alabama), and tried to pass restrictions on Sharia law.  We live in a country where Christian people are upset if a business’ employees says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” are offended because Starbucks only has a red cup for Christmas, and protest the participation of Muslim U.S. veterans’ in a Veterans’ Day parade, simply because they are Muslim.  We say that we are a Christian nation, yet our actions show something very different.  When faced with the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, we respond with fear, xenophobia, and isolationism.  We ignore these people in their time of greatest need.

There are approximately 12 million Syrian refugees.  Let that number sink in.  12 million people that have fled their homeland.  New York City has a population of only 8 million.  The population for the entire State of Oklahoma is 3.8 million.  There are more refugees from Syria than people that live in the entire State of Oklahoma and New York City combined.  Of those 12 million people, roughly half are children.  These children are especially at risk.  They are susceptible to malnutrition and disease.  Often, they have to work in dangerous and demeaning jobs to help provide for their family.  They are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.  And, between 2 and 3 million of these Syrian children are unable to even attend school. These are all things that we take for granted for our children here.  Of the more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees that have left Syria, more than 50% are women. It is obvious that the refugees are not predominately military age males.  This is a crisis that affects the young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian alike.  This is a crisis of biblical proportions.  These people have fled their homes and are running for their lives; running from ISIS and the civil war in their home country.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, we greet them with distrust and fear.  We are willing to accept the Christian refugees, but we are not willing to accept Muslim refugees.  We believe them to be untrustworthy, solely because of their religious beliefs.  We believe them to be terrorists or members of ISIS, even though, that is precisely what they are running from.  This fear, this distrust, is wholly irrational.  There is no evidence that any of these refugees are dangerous.  And, here in Oklahoma, it is especially irrational because, so far, there are only 3 Syrian refugees in the entire state.

In times of great crisis, Christians are given an opportunity to show what our beliefs truly mean, to show the world what it is to be a Christian.  As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned.  These Syrian refugees are hungry, thirsty, naked, and homeless.  They are in dire need of our help, as they leave their homeland just on the hope that they will survive.  Unfortunately, our irrational fear of people that are different drives us to ignore their pleas.  Here in Oklahoma, we are more concerned with putting up a Ten Commandments monument, sharia law, who gets to marry whom, protesting Muslim U.S. veterans’ participation in a Veteran’s Day parade, and what color Starbucks cups are for Christmas.  Maybe we shouldn’t #prayforparis or #prayforsyria, maybe, just maybe we should #prayforus, because our actions are not those of a Christian nation or a Christian people.

How Much is my Personal Injury Case Worth?

The one question that I get nearly every time a prospective client comes into the office to discuss their personal injury case is always “how much is my case worth?”  This seems like a simple enough question, but in reality it is a complex question and the answer is based on multiple factors.  Here are some of those factors:

  1. Your medical bills:

The first consideration in the value of your case is how much are your medical bills.  This is generally the starting point for a damages award in personal injury cases.  Of course, it is never that simple.  Oklahoma, recently, passed a law that only allows for the amount of your medical bills that was actually paid to be considered in calculating damages and not the amount charged by the medical provider.  So, for example, if you went to the emergency room right after the accident and the ER billed $5,000.00 for their services, but your health insurance only paid them $1,000.00 and the remainder was “contractually adjusted” or written off by the ER, you would only be able to claim the $1,000.00 that was paid for your personal injury claim.

  1. The extent of your injuries and the quality of your care:

As one would imagine, if you are more seriously injured, your case is likely to be worth more.  For example, if you have broken bones or torn ligaments, your case will be worth more than if you just have whiplash or “soft-tissue injuries.”  The reason for this is pretty simple, injuries that a jury can “see” are more powerful and, as a result, typically result in larger jury verdicts.  Likewise, if you receive treatment right after the accident from an emergency room or you go to an orthopedic surgeon for intensive care or surgery, your case will be worth more than if you just went to a chiropractor and received a few adjustments.

  1. You waited to get medical treatment:

Lots of times potential clients will come to my office and tell me that even though they were hurt immediately after the accident and have been hurting for weeks or even months, they have still not sought any medical treatment.  The reasons for doing this are rarely nefarious; typically, people just don’t have the time to go the ER or simply believe that their symptoms will go away on their own.  Unfortunately, waiting to receive medical treatment is one of the most common ways people cause the value of their case to decrease.  Insurance companies look at someone that waited to get treatment for several weeks or months as someone that must not be very hurt – in their eyes, if someone is hurt that badly, they would have immediately gotten medical treatment.  As a result, the insurance company is likely to discount any medical treatment they ultimately received or even to completely ignore it.

  1. Lost wages:

If you missed time from work, you are entitled to recover your lost wages under Oklahoma law.  As a result, the amount of time you missed from work because of the injuries you sustained in the car accident typically has a direct correlation to the value of your case.

  1. The damage to your vehicle:

It may seem like this would have no relation to the value of your personal injury claim, after all these are separate claims and issues, but they are not!  Insurance companies closely look at how much damage was sustained by your vehicle.  If the car has very minimal damage, or by extension if the impact was minor, they will argue you should not have been injured.  This is a very powerful argument – juries tend to look at pictures of vehicles with very minor damage and believe there is just no way someone could have been injured in such a minor accident.  As a result, if your vehicle does not have extensive damage, the value of your case is likely to be less, regardless of your injuries.

  1. Who’s fault was the accident:

Obviously, if you are at fault for the accident, your personal injury claim would have zero value.  This is because insurance companies are only required to pay in situations where their insured was negligent and at-fault for the accident and for your injuries.  This becomes a big issue when there are questions as to whose fault the accident was.  In some situations, both drivers are partly at fault for an accident.  When that happens, the value of the case goes down correspondingly.

  1. Miscellaneous:

Unfortunately, there are many other miscellaneous factors that can affect the value of your personal injury claim.  For example, under Oklahoma law, the insurance company is now allowed to factor in whether or not you were wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident.  As you can imagine, if you were not wearing your seat belt, your case will be worth less, because the insurance company can argue that you would not have been injured if you had been wearing it.  Other considerations that attorneys typically have to pay attention to are your personality and likeability to a jury; the personality and likeability of the other driver; who your doctors are and are they good at testifying, if necessary; and even something like the relationship between your attorney and the insurance company’s adjuster can affect the value of your personal injury case.

The bottom line is personal injury cases are complex and to maximize the value of your personal injury claim and to get everything that you are entitled to according to the law, it is in your best interest to get an experienced personal injury attorney working for you as soon as possible.  Here, at The Cotton Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations, so that we can discuss the details of your particular case and give you the best chance to maximize the value of your case.

Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

♫So I pull over to the side of the road and I heard

“Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”

Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low

Do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know

Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?

“Well you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four

License and registration and step out of the car

Are you carrying a weapon on you?  I know a lot of you are”

I ain’t stepping out of s***, all my papers legit

“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”

Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back

And I know my rights, so you gon’ need a warrant for that

“Aren’t you sharp as a tack

You some type of lawyer or something

Or somebody important or something?”

Nah, I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit

Enough that you won’t illegally search my s***.

“Well we’ll see how smart you are when the K-9s come.” ♫

 

Jay-Z released “99 Problems” in 2003 and it included this verse about criminal procedure and your rights during a traffic stop.  Unfortunately, not all of it is accurate.  So, with the increased national focus on traffic stops and citizens’ rights when dealing with the police after the incidents in Ferguson, New York, Texas, and even here in Moore, Oklahoma let’s take a closer look at “99 Problems” and citizens’ rights during a traffic stop.  The questions we will answer are: what are your rights during a traffic stop?  Can an officer search your vehicle during a traffic stop?  And, what about the use of K-9s?

1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

First, and foremost, if you have been stopped by the police you have the right to remain silent.  You do not have to answer a police officer’s questions and your silence cannot be used against you.  If you are going to invoke your right to remain silent, you must do so verbally and you must make it clear to the officer that you are doing so.  For example, say “I refuse to answer any questions” or “I want to speak to my attorney” or “I wish to remain silent.”   However, like all rights, the right to remain silent is not absolute.  If you have been pulled over and a police officer asks for your identification, you do have to provide it to him, along with your insurance verification.  Also, there is an exception to the right to silence in many states, if a police officer asks you for your name, address, and date of birth, you are required to provide that information.

2. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH OF YOUR VEHICLE

Second, you have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle.  “Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?  Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back and I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”  Do not be fooled by the casualness of the question “do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”.  This is a request to search the vehicle.  And, you are fully within your rights to refuse this request.  However, the police officer does not need a warrant to search the vehicle if you refuse to give consent.  There are several situations where police officers may conduct a search of your vehicle without a warrant, even if you do not give consent., including if the officer has probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime or your vehicle may be searched if you are arrested, and the officer may seize any illegal objects in your vehicle that are in “plain view.”  The most important of these exceptions is probable cause.  The United States Supreme Court has found that it is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for the police to search a vehicle (this includes the entire vehicle, locked glove boxes, locked trunks, and everything inside the car, including any containers) without a warrant whenever they have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime, because of the inherently mobile nature of vehicles.  So, even if your glove compartment and trunk are locked, they may be searched, if the police officer has probable cause to search the vehicle.

However, even if you exercise your right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle and if none of the exceptions discussed above exist, the police officer may have a drug dog sniff the vehicle, because this is not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.  The United States Supreme Court has held that dog sniffs do not reveal any information about the contents or the object sniffed except the presence of contraband, of which you do not have any right to privacy.  Thus, and this is the key, as long as the traffic stop is not prolonged to allow time for the K-9 unit to get there, the police may have a drug dog sniff your vehicle when they pull you over for a traffic violation and you have no right to object to the sniff.

3. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO LEAVE

Third, if you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave.  In a traffic stop, once the officer has processed the ticket or warning for the traffic violation that you were pulled over for, unless you have been arrested, you are free to leave in a calm and peaceful manner.  Just keep in mind, you may be arrested for a simple traffic violation.  Every crime (including a traffic offense) is an arrestable offense.

4. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

Fourth, if you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney.  If you are arrested, do not answer any further questions and immediately ask for an attorney.  You have the right to talk to an attorney and to have your attorney with you while you are being questioned by the police.  You may even exercise your right to an attorney after you have begun talking to the police and once you request an attorney all questions should immediately stop.  Even if you cannot afford an attorney, for most criminal charges, one will be appointed to you by the Court.

The bottom line during a traffic stop is:

  1. You have the right to remain silent;
  2. You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle;
  3. You have the right to leave, if you have not been arrested; and,
  4. If you have been arrested, you have the right to an attorney.

However, keep in mind, the best thing to do during a traffic stop is to be polite, respectful, and to cooperate with the police officer.  Do whatever you can to set their mind at ease by showing them some basic courtesies:

  1. Roll your window down all the way;
  2. Stay in your vehicle;
  3. Keep your hands on the steering wheel; and,
  4. If it is at night, turn on your interior light.

Police officers are killed every day during “ordinary” traffic-stops and doing these things will help to alleviate any fears and concerns they may have as they approach your vehicle.  If they request your driver’s license and insurance information, provide it to them.  Do not argue with the officer about the reason for your stop.  This is not the time or place to try and prove your innocence-that is in court, with your attorney.  You are not going to convince the officer that he should not have stopped you and, more likely than not, you will just talk yourself into a ticket.  And, most important, if you are arrested do not resist or fight.  Even if you believe the arrest is illegal, you do not have the right to resist, cooperate, request an attorney and allow your attorney to fight the arrest in court.  If you argue with the police, are disrespectful, or resist the arrest you will have “99 problems.”

Separation of Church & State – Kim Davis: Martyr?

On September 3, 2015, Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, was ordered to jail for contempt of court for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This has prompted many conservative Christians and Republican presidential candidates to call Ms. Davis a martyr and to compare her to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks.  Her supporters have argued that her First Amendment rights to freely exercise her religion have been violated and that she has been incarcerated for her religious beliefs.  The truth, though, is that she was not incarcerated for her religious beliefs.  The truth is she has blatantly violated the Constitutional rights of the same-sex couples whom she refuses to issue marriage licenses to.   And, the truth is she has violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an establishment of religion.

Ms. Davis, an Apostolic Christian with a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage, announced back on June 26, 2015, just hours after the United States Supreme Court held that states are constitutionally required to recognize same-sex marriage that the Rowan County Clerk’s office would no longer issue marriage licenses to any couple.  This was done to ensure that she would not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to be married, the Governor of Kentucky had explicitly instructed county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and it was her responsibility under Kentucky law as the Rowan County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to any couple that is legally qualified to be married in Kentucky.  Ms. Davis, in her official capacity as the Rowan County Clerk, was sued by two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.  On August 12, 2015, Judge David L. Bunning of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky issued a preliminary injunction preventing Ms. Davis from applying her “no marriage licenses” policy.  Ms. Davis refused to follow the judge’s order and appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and to the United States Supreme Court.  Her appeal was denied by both.  On September 3, 2015, Ms. Davis further refused a proposal to simply allow her deputies to process same-sex marriage licenses.  Ms. Davis was held in contempt of court and Judge Bunning ordered her to be incarcerated.  Judge Bunning has since ordered her to be released from jail and to not interfere with her deputies issuing marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.

Immediately, her attorneys, several Republican presidential candidates, and other supporters denounced the Federal Court’s decision.  Roger Ganman, an attorney for Ms. Davis said, “Today, for the first time in history, an American citizen has been incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and she’s been ordered to stay there until she’s willing to change her mind, until she’s willing to change her conscience about what belief is.”  Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said, “Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.”  Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has demanded that “we must end the criminalization of Christianity!”  And, Fox News reporter Todd Starnes compared Judge Bunning to Bull Connor saying, “I truly believe Judge Bunning wanted to intimidate Christians and send a very clear message – that resistance to same-sex marriage will not be tolerated – doing with the gavel what Bull Connor tried to do with dogs and fire hoses.”

But, this rhetoric misses the point.  Upon taking office, Ms. Davis took the following oath of office, “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of Rowan County Clerk according to law…”  Yet, Ms. Davis, since June 26, 2015, has not only failed to support the United States Constitution, but has openly refused to do so.  Ms. Davis was not “incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” she certainly was not incarcerated until she changed her mind regarding her beliefs on same-sex marriage, and there is no evidence that Christianity has been criminalized.  Ms. Davis was incarcerated solely because she disregarded a direct order from Judge Bunning.  She was not incarcerated because of her religious beliefs, but because of her actions, as an elected state official, that violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky.

Further, Ms. Davis’ First Amendment rights have not even been violated.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.  Ms. Davis remains free to believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.  Ms. Davis remains free to exercise her religion as she sees fit.  She is free to attend services at any church of her choosing and no one is asking her to renounce her beliefs.  Simply, she is free to believe that same-sex marriage is wrong and to live her life accordingly.

But, she is not free to impose her Apostolic Christian beliefs, as the elected County Clerk, on the people of Rowan County, Kentucky.  And, by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she is doing just that.  This is a very clear example of a First Amendment establishment of religion violation.  This prohibition against an establishment of religion is the fundamental principle that allows all Americans to practice their religious beliefs freely and openly without fear of the government.  It is precisely what ensures the separation of church and state.  As Christians, we should be celebrating this decision, not because we celebrate Ms. Davis’ incarceration, but because we celebrate the continued religious liberty of all.

The truth is Ms. Davis is not a martyr.  She is not the apostle Paul or John the Baptist or any number of other true martyrs who have been incarcerated and even put to death for their religious beliefs.  Ms. Davis is free to believe that same-sex marriage is morally wrong and is free to follow her religious beliefs.  She is free to resign her government position and exercise her religious beliefs anyway she sees fit, but she is not free to continue to take her state salary as the elected Rowan County Clerk and to violate the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and to even violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on an establishment of religion by forcing her personal beliefs on everyone else.  Again, she has never been asked or forced to renounce her beliefs.  She has merely been asked to do her job, in accordance with the United States Constitution, just as she swore an oath to do.

If at this point you still support Ms. Davis and believe that she has been incarcerated for her religious beliefs and that she should be free to instruct the Rowan County Clerk’s office to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in direct contradiction to the established law of the land as set forth by the Supreme Court and as instructed by the Governor of Kentucky, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. If Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to mixed race couples because it violated her religious beliefs, would you still support her?
  2. If Ms. Davis were a Muslim and she refused to issue driver’s licenses to women, because of her beliefs, would you still support her?

Much like with the 10 Commandments debate, we, as Christians, need to be careful what we do while we are the majority in the United States.  There may come a time when we truly need the protections of the First Amendment – to ensure the freedom to exercise our religious beliefs as we see fit and the guarantee of the separation of church and state, but this is not that time.  We live in an amazing country where we are free to exercise our religion as we see fit.  We do not fear reprisals from the government, because we are Christians, because we openly attend church, or openly proclaim our belief in Christ, as many of our Christian brothers and sisters have.  We must celebrate the religious protections found in our Constitution and work feverishly to protect them for people of all faiths, to ensure they are here if we need them.

9 Things to do After Being in an Auto Accident

Odds are, you will be involved in a car accident at some point during your life.  On average, there are more than 6 million car accidents each year in the United States and more than 3 million people are injured.  If you have been in a car accident, there are things that you should do immediately to protect yourself and your rights:

  1. STOP – Immediately stop your vehicle after an accident and never leave the scene of the accident, even if it is just a minor accident.
  2. CALL THE POLICE – It does not matter if you believe you are at fault for the accident, or if you believe the other driver is at fault for the accident; whether the other driver admits it was their fault; whether there are injuries, or if it is just a minor accident—it is very important to call the police and have them create an accident report. Accident reports provide excellent evidence in case there is a dispute as to who was responsible for causing the accident.
  3. NEVER ADMIT FAULT – Accidents can be complex and confusing situations. Even when you believe you are at fault, do not admit that to the other driver, to any witnesses, or to the police.  Leave this to your insurance company, or to your attorney to sort out.  If you do admit fault at the scene (even if you just apologize to the other driver), this can be used against you later.
  4. EXCHANGE INFORMATION – Typically, the responding police officer will obtain this information; however, while waiting for the police to arrive, it is worth the time to go ahead and exchange information with the other driver. Specifically, this should include the name, address, and phone number of everyone involved in the accident (including passengers) and the other driver’s insurance information.  If there are any witnesses, get their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  5. TAKE PICTURES – While waiting for the police, take pictures of all of the vehicles involved in the accident, of the scene of the accident, and of any visible injuries. If you cannot take pictures at the scene of the accident, take them as soon after as you can.
  6. GET MEDICAL TREATMENT – It is very common for injuries caused by minor accidents to not become apparent for several days. Many of our clients tell us that they felt fine immediately after the accident, because of the adrenaline of being involved in an accident, but that they were in pain a day or two later.  Because it is so common for these injuries to become apparent after the accident, it is very important to go to your family doctor or to your local emergency room and get checked out.  Always remember, serious injuries can result from minor accidents.
  7. REPORT THE CLAIM – Make sure you notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible. Even if the accident is not your fault, your insurance company may provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or medical payments coverage to you, if you have been injured.  As long as the accident was not your fault, your insurance premiums should not increase as a result of submitting a claim for med pay coverage.  Keep in mind, if you hire an attorney, your attorney will gladly do this for you.
  8. KEEP RECORDS – Keep track of everything related to the accident—this includes the accident report, any communications with the other insurance company or your insurance company, medical records, and medical bills. Also, keep track of any out of pocket expenses related to the accident, such as a rental car, prescriptions, or other expenses, and any time that you have had to miss from work or school.
  9. TALK TO AN ATTORNEY – The most important thing you can do after an accident is talk to an attorney. The other driver’s insurance company is not here to help you, no matter what they say.  They have one job, and only one job:  to settle your claim for as little money as possible.  Often times, they will offer a quick settlement for any personal injury claims—do not accept it.  The worst thing you can do is settle an injury claim before you know how injured you are, or before you have completed your treatment.  Your attorney can handle all aspects of your claim:  from making sure you are properly compensated for the damage to your vehicle and injuries, to making sure you are getting the best medical treatment available.  And, don’t worry, at The Cotton Law Firm, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay us anything up front, and won’t pay us anything at all, unless we recover money for you.

If you have been in an accident and are in need of an auto accident attorney, give us a call and we will do everything we can to help you through this process.

Oklahoma Bans Texting While Driving

Oklahoma Bans Texting While Driving

On May 5, 2015, Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill No. 1965, making Oklahoma the 46th State to prohibit texting while driving.  Specifically, Section 2(A) states, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any street or highway within this state while using a hand-held electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion.”  However, the law does quite a bit more than just prohibit texting while driving:

  • First, “electronic communication device” is not limited to just a cell phone.  It includes any electronic device that permits the user to manually transmit written text.
  • Second, and perhaps most important, “text message” is not limited to just a text message, but is defined to include text-based messages, instant messages, electronic messages, photo, video or electronic mail.

Exceptions To The Law

There are also several exceptions to the ban on texting while driving built into the law.  For example, a driver may use “a device that is physically or electronically integrated into a motor vehicle or a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to a motor vehicle.”  It also makes an exception for using a hands-free device that allows the user to write, send or read a text message without the use of either hand except to activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function.  And, there are specific exemptions allowing a driver to communicate with an emergency response operator; a hospital, physician’s office or health clinic; a provider of ambulance services; a provider of firefighting services; or a law enforcement agency regarding an imminent emergency situation.

Keep in mind, before this law was passed, a driver could not be pulled over solely for texting while driving under the distracted driving laws.  Now, however, texting while driving is a primary offense and a driver can be pulled over just for texting while driving.

The bottom line is that even though this is a law “relating to texting while driving,” it is much broader.  A driver in Oklahoma can now be pulled over and given a ticket of up to $100.00 for sending, receiving, or reading a text message, e-mail, picture, or even posting on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms.  Remember, this ban only applies while the motor vehicle is in motion.  So, if you just have to text someone or post what song is on the radio right now, do it quickly while you are sitting at a traffic light and you will not risk getting a $100.00 ticket to do so!

Devil Be Gone: Oklahoma and the Ten Commandments Monument

Ten Commandments Monument – Court Ruling

On June 30, 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on an Oklahoma citizen’s challenge to the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.  As most are aware, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument must be removed.  Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, this was the correct decision.

Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution states: “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  This section of the Oklahoma Constitution clearly bans the State Government from using any public money or property for the benefit or support of any religious group.  This ban remains, even if the use of public money or property only indirectly benefits any religious group.  Thus, the only question is whether the placement of the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol, in any way, benefits or supports religion.  Obviously, the Ten Commandments are a central part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  And, in this State, the reason so many people are upset with this decision is because of the importance of the Ten Commandments to Christianity.  That is precisely why, pursuant to the Oklahoma Constitution, the Ten Commandments monument had to be removed.  To have the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol, public property, clearly provided an indirect benefit to Christianity.  This is what is forbidden by the Oklahoma Constitution.

Since this decision, there have been calls by members of the Oklahoma legislature to repeal this section of the Oklahoma Constitution or to impeach the Supreme Court justices that voted for this ruling.  Both of those would be folly.

Removing the Ten Commandments Monument

First, repealing this section of the Oklahoma Constitution for the sole purpose of putting the Ten Commandments monument back at the State Capitol would be pointless.  More likely than not, this Ten Commandments monument also violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment, in relevant part, states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  The First Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.    In Van Orden v. Perry, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.  This Ten Commandments monument was nearly identical to the one that was on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Supreme Court found that it was permissible for Texas to have it.  Unfortunately, there are significant factual differences between the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument and the Texas Ten Commandments monument.  For example, the Texas Ten Commandments monument was a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961 and had been in place for 42 years before the lawsuit was filed challenging its placement.  Further, it was part of a display of seventeen monuments, all located on grounds registered as a historical landmark, and it was carefully located between the Supreme Court building and the Capitol building housing the legislative and executive branches of government.  The Supreme Court specifically mentioned the importance of these facts in determining that the Texas Ten Commandments monument was permissible.  By contrast, the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument has no history.  It was placed on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2012.  It was not donated to the State by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, or some other secular organization.  It was paid for by the family of State Rep. Mike Ritze, who also authored the bill to allow for the Ten Commandments monument to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol.  Further, this monument was not placed among many other historical monuments, but was placed in an isolated location far from the main entrance to the Capitol.  Because the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument is a new monument with no history, it is likely the Supreme Court would find it is in violation of the First Amendment.

Second, the United States Constitution was put in place not to protect the majority.  The Constitution is there to protect the rights of the minority.  We, as Christians, need to be careful what we do while we are the majority.  If recent studies are to be believed, there may come a day when we are no longer the majority.  Whether that new majority would be of a different religion or no religion at all, we would be the ones in need of the protections of the Constitution.  Protections to guarantee that a new majority religion cannot become state sponsored or supported by public funds or property and protections to guarantee that we may still freely practice our religion would become even more important.  Removing those protections now, because people are upset that a new monument to the Ten Commandments cannot be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol, would be an unwise and short sighted thing to do.

Finally, our country was founded on the separation of powers and the respect for the rule of law.  To threaten to impeach the Supreme Court justices because we disagree with them is absurd.  Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, these Supreme Court justices were simply doing their jobs.  If we disagree with their legal reasoning, it is our duty to engage them in honest debate, not to threaten them and shout them down so we no longer have to listen to their opinions.  The world, our country, and our state is filled with people who disagree with us.  We must be able to engage in civilized disagreement and be able to discuss different positions with people that do not believe as we do, for this is how we grow as an individual and as a society.