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Unconscious bias can impact judges' rulings

Studies show that judges in South Carolina and across the U.S. are not always unbiased in the court room. This can lead to unfair rulings against certain defendants.

For example, a Massachusetts judge recently had a defense attorney held in contempt of court and arrested after she argued that he was wrong not to honor the prosecution's request to dismiss charges against a group of first-time offenders who were arrested while protesting a "straight pride" parade in Boston. The judge's decision not to drop the charges against the pro-LGBTQ defendants was contrary to long-standing precedent. However, when a defense attorney for one of the individuals tried to read into the record established case law proving that point, the judge ordered her to stop. When she refused, she was taken into custody.

Some drivers are more likely to run red lights

City planners do not usually erect traffic signals simply for the sake of doing so. On the contrary, these lights control the flow of traffic and keep motorists safe. While a recent AAA survey found that 43% of responders admitted to running a red light in the 30 days before the survey, most motorists recognize the importance of stopping when a traffic light turns red. 

Alarmingly, the number of fatal collisions at red lights is on an upward swing. Not all drivers have the same likelihood of disregarding traffic signals, though. Instead, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that most red-light runners share some common features. 

Reasons community service may be unfair

While community service has been used as a humane alternative for jail time for individuals who cannot afford to pay court fees, it seems that there are times when it is not as fair as some would imagine. South Carolina residents and visitors may be interested in learning about some findings from a recent report that included 5,000 individuals who were ordered by the court to work off fines between the years 2013 and 2014.

The report showed how court-ordered community service is having a negative impact on low-income communities, particularly in the Los Angeles area where the report was carried out. For one thing, it seems that the hours of work that the court orders do not always match the dollar value of the fines that are imposed on the offenders. For example, a traffic ticket usually incurs a fine of about $520. If a person cannot pay the fine and is ordered to do community service, he or she is typically ordered to work 51 hours.

Troubling statistics illustrate rising arrest rate

In Florida and across the country, an increasing number of Americans, especially young people, have been arrested. In fact, young people are much more likely to be arrested than they were in generations past. This comes despite the fact that violent crime has been dropping for decades. However, researchers note that while arrests may seem less necessary than in the past, police may be more likely to turn to arrests and criminal charges for relatively petty matters. Criminal arrests, charges and convictions can interfere with a person's ability to gain employment, education and housing for many years to come, so the increasing arrest rate is of concern to many.

According to a RAND Corporation research paper, people are more likely to be arrested before the age of 26. While only 6.4% of people born before 1949 have been arrested, 23% of those born between 1979 and 1988 can say the same. The majority of these arrests apparently do not involve violent crime or even property damage. It is not always clear what the charges are, but it is clear that the issues do not rise to the level of felony charges in many cases. For example, 28% of arrested men and 31% of arrested women are accused of "other misdemeanors," a catch-all category.

Problems for felons in America

Felons in the United States lose many of their rights after a conviction. In addition to the more well-known losses of the rights to bear arms and vote, felons also cannot serve on a jury, live in certain places or adopt children. There are those who question whether America is too strict when it comes to felons, and South Carolina residents might wish to know more about this topic.

Judicial system errors could lead to felony convictions for people who have not committed a crime. More than 2.3 million people are incarcerated in American prisons. One estimate puts wrongful conviction rates at between 2-10% of all convictions. This could translate to more than 200,000 innocent people behind bars.

Red-light running deaths are up by 30% since 2012

The vast majority of the drivers recently polled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said that running through a red light is extremely dangerous. However, almost one in three of them admitted to doing just that in the previous 30 days. This kind of cognitive dissonance is not uncommon in traffic safety studies. In fact, analysts suspect that it's one of the reasons why the number of fatal accidents involving red-light runners has recently surged in South Carolina and across the U.S.

Accidents involving red-light running claimed 989 lives in 2017, according to government crash data. In 65% of these cases, the road user killed was struck by the offending driver. The annual red-light running death toll has risen by a worrying 30% since 2012, and many senior police officials believe that distraction and cellphone use are largely responsible. Cars going over 45 mph cover a distance of about 100 yards in just a few seconds, which is why looking at a cellphone screen instead of the road is so dangerous.

Insurify puts Subaru Crosstrek at top of most crash-prone cars

Using a database of more than 1.6 million insurance quotes, Insurify has been able to identify 10 newer vehicles that are involved in the most at-fault crashes in South Carolina and across the U.S. The auto insurance comparison site found that accidents affect 13.64% of these 10 models altogether. At number one, with a percentage of 25.81%, was the Subaru Crosstrek.

Interestingly enough, the 2019 Crosstrek was awarded the highest possible safety rating for crash avoidance and crashworthiness by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Though accidents are frequent, both drivers and passengers are able to walk away without major injuries in most cases. That the Crosstrek is affordable and fuel-efficient may offset some concerns that the readers of Insurify might feel.

Cognitive bias may play a role in wrongful convictions

In some cases, police or prosecutors in South Carolina and other states will engage in misconduct that wrongfully sends a defendant to prison. However, researchers from Texas State University say that defendants are wrongfully convicted based on a variety of other factors. For instance, police may develop tunnel vision after identifying the individual who they believe likely committed the crime. Instead of objectively viewing the evidence, authorities may try to make it fit their narrative.

If a case is featured prominently in the news, authorities may have a greater incentive to show that they have found whoever committed the crime in question. In one case, a teenager spent 16 years in prison after police got him to falsely confess to committing rape. In 2006, he was freed after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime. According to a member of the Innocence Project, this was an example of how the goal of a typical interrogation is to get someone to admit to a crime.

Boating and drinking laws in South Carolina

Enjoying some time out on the water in South Carolina is a favorite activity for residents and tourists alike. Milder temperatures and plenty of access to water make it a fun way to spend a day with friends and family.

However, amidst all the fun, tragedy can strike. Consuming drugs or alcohol and operating a boat is illegal and rightfully so – it is the leading cause of accidents. Become familiar with the laws and potential consequences of enjoying a few cold ones while out on the water.

IIHS study raises questions about rear-seat safety

South Carolina requires all passenger vehicle occupants to remain properly restrained at all times, but a recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that seat belts may not provide adequate protection for rear-seat passengers. The road safety advocacy group says that auto makers should install the same kind of safety features in the rear of their vehicles as they do in the front, and the organization also wants federal crash tests to be revised so that more attention is paid to the injuries suffered by rear-seat passengers.

According to the IIHS, injuries suffered by rear-seat passengers are often more severe than they could be because rear seat belts rarely feature force limiters and rear airbags are far less effective than driver and front-seat passenger airbags. Force limiters reduce the severity of whiplash injuries by relaxing slightly as they cinch up in a crash. However, young children are likely safer in the back because the force of a front airbag deployment could injure them.

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