A message from David Betras to anyone who is being questioned by the police: Shut Up!

Attorney David Betras
BKM Managing Partner David Betras

On a number of occasions, I’ve addressed what people should do if they are stopped and questioned by the police. Here’s an excerpt from an August 2021 blog post on the topic:

“First, if you are stopped by law enforcement and questioned you are under no obligation to do anything other than provide your name and ID.
Second, remember, the police will delay placing you in custody so they can use what you say to establish probable cause for arrest.
Third, your pre-arrest statements are admissible in court.
Fourth: Shut up. What you do not say cannot be used against you.”

That’s right I said just shut up.

I raise the topic today because as New York Times columnist Faraj Manjoo points out in his most recent piece, prosecutors in New Mexico plan to charge actor Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchinson. Hutchinson was working on the set of the movie rust when Baldwin pulled the trigger of a gun that was not supposed to be loaded with live ammunition. She was struck by a bullet and died shortly thereafter.

After the shooting Baldwin agreed to be interviewed by police without his attorney present, waived his Miranda rights, and did anything but shut up: “Still, for about an hour, Baldwin not only answered detectives’ many questions about the shooting but also offered his own theories about the incident and suggested the next steps the police might pursue in their investigation.”

As Manjoo notes, “The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows Americans to refuse to answer questions from law enforcement. Yet despite the ritualistic incantation of the Miranda warning on every TV police procedural, silence is a right that people can find hard to accept. If you’re convinced of your innocence, aren’t you obligated to help the police solve the matter under investigation? Refusing to talk to the police seems like something people do only when they’ve got something to hide.”

I’ve lost count of how many clients I’ve defended in court because they decided to abandon their Fifth Amendment rights and “help” the police who in turned helped themselves to an arrest.

In the column Manjoo praises the work of law professor and former defense attorney James Duane, one of the nation’s leading proponents of just shutting up when questioned by law enforcement. The video of his lecture “Don’t Talk to the Police,” has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, you should make it millions plus one by watching: https://youtu.be/d-7o9xYp7eE

In his lecture Duane offers this quote from former US Attorney General Robert Jackson: “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.” It’s good to know that AG Jackson, one of the most respected lawyers in the history of American jurisprudence would think I am worth my salt.

“The average American — even if they’re a highly sophisticated college graduate or a law school student — really doesn’t know an awful lot about the many different ways in which even innocent people can regret for the rest of their lives the biggest mistake of their lives, the decision to waive their Fifth Amendment right and agree to talk to the police,” Duane said.

Duane argues that a key danger is that in trying to defend yourself to the police, you may unwittingly admit some wrongdoing. Navigating around such dangers is made all the more difficult because courts have given the police wide leeway to lie to people being interrogated.

“They will lie to you about what crime they are actually investigating,” Duane writes in his book, “whether they regard you as a suspect, whether they plan to prosecute you, what evidence they have against you, whether your answers may help you, whether your statements are off the record, and whether the other witnesses have agreed to talk to them — even about what those witnesses have or have not said.”

Manjoo closes his column with this passage: “The Fifth Amendment is no mere formality. It is among the best defenses against government overreach that Americans enjoy. We should guard it vigorously. Anytime you’re asked to talk to the police about an incident you are involved in, there are just four words you need to say: “I want a lawyer.”

And then please for the love of God, shut up.

The weather outside is frightful so now is the time to check out BKM’s winter driving tips…

Just in case you haven’t looked outside yet, our “Three Ps” of safe winter driving tips will be extremely relevant and useful over the next couple of days.

Please be careful on the roads, and remember, if someone who isn’t driving safely runs into you or a member of your family, contact Betras, Kopp & Markota right away to arrange a free consultation to discuss your accident. Our experienced team of investigators and attorneys will evaluate your case, provide rock-solid advice, and fight to get the money your family needs and deserves.

So, call the LOCAL law firm big enough to win millions from the insurance giants: Betras, Kopp & Markota.

SAFETY ON WINTER ROADS

Bad roads can lead to bad wrecks. Driving on snow-covered, icy roads is tricky—even for those of us who have been doing it for decades. In order to help drivers avoid accidents, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and OSHA have developed the “Three Ps” of winter driving safety:

PREPARE for the trip; PROTECT yourself; and PREVENT crashes on the road.

Some of the advice is pretty obvious—like making sure all the ice and snow is scraped off all your windows before you head down the road. But even though common sense dictates that being able to see is critical to safe driving, we’ve all seen people weaving around as they peer out of the very small space they’ve cleared on their windshield that looks like a porthole on a tank’s gun turret. There’s only one difference: a car isn’t a tank rolling through woods, it’s a car lurching down a road crowded with other vehicles that can be hit because the driver can’t see them, lane lines, traffic signals or stop signs. So let’s start with the obvious, clear off all your windows, it’s great way to prevent collisions. We’re talking to guys in particular, because as the graphic shows, men are a lot more likely to drive in cars with ice-covered windows then women…

Here’s rest of NHTSA’s “Three Ps:

PREPARE

Maintain Your Car: Check battery, tire tread, and windshield wipers, keep your windows clear, put no-freeze fluid in the washer reservoir, and check your antifreeze.

Have On Hand: flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, kitty litter, even floor mats), shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, warning devices (like flares) and blankets. For long trips, add food and water, medication and cell phone.

Plan Your route: Allow plenty of time (check the weather and leave early if necessary), be familiar with the maps/ directions, and let others know your route and arrival time.

Practice cold weather driving when your area gets snow — but not on a main road. Until you’ve sharpened your winter weather driving skills and know how your vehicle handles in snowy conditions, it’s best to practice in an empty parking lot in full daylight. Note our emphasis on the word “empty.”

Know what your brakes will do: stomp on antilock brakes, pump on non-antilock brakes.

Stopping distances are longer on water-covered ice and ice.

Don’t idle for a long time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.

PROTECT YOURSELF

Buckle up and use child safety seats properly.

Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an air bag.

Children 12 and under are much safer in the back seat.

Stopped or Stalled? Stay in your car, don’t overexert, put bright markers on antenna or windows and shine dome light, and, if you run your car, clear exhaust pipe and run it just enough to stay warm.

Don’t idle for a long time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.

PREVENT CRASHES

Drive slowly. It’s harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. On the road, increase your following distance enough so that you’ll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you.

A word of caution about braking: Know what kind of brakes your vehicle has and how to use them properly. In general, if you have antilock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure. If you don’t have antilock brakes, pump the brakes gently.

Stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go if you find yourself in a skid. Stay off the pedals (gas and brake) until you are able to maintain control of your vehicle. This procedure, known as “steering into the skid,” will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.

Drugs and alcohol never mix with driving.

Texting while behind the wheel is especially dangerous in winter conditions. Put your phone down.

You can check out NHTSA’s interactive winter driving safety website by clicking here.

Here’s one more tip: even though you do everything right, someone who does just one thing wrong in icy conditions can cause an accident in the blink of an eye. If you’re involved in a wreck caused by a careless or distracted driver, contact Betras, Kopp & Markota BEFORE you talk to an insurance agent or adjuster. We’ll arrange a free consultation that will give us the opportunity to evaluate your case and provide you with sound advice that will protect your rights and your ability to secure justice and the financial settlement you and your family needs and deserves.

Now is the time to pass tougher distracted driving law, here’s how you can help

Now that our completely fraud free election is over, the members of the Ohio General Assembly have left the campaign trail and are now in Columbus conducting a “lame duck” session.  I do not want to be an alarmist, but if past performance is any indicator of future results, we should all be very, very afraid.

Why?

Because for the next two months Capital Square in Columbus will be a nesting ground for lame duck legislators who were defeated at the polls, are being forced out of office by term limits, have switched to the House from the Senate and vice versa, or have just been reelected and will not face the voters for two years. That means there are now 132 people running around the Statehouse who are totally unaccountable for whatever it is they decide to do.

Attorney David Betras
BKM Managing Partner
David Betras

As you might imagine, the opportunity to engage in mischief and mayhem is nearly unlimited. And, as history clearly demonstrates, it is an opportunity our representatives often seize by ramming unpopular or controversial laws through the legislative sausage making machine at a dizzying pace.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the GOP majority’s lame duck agenda which consists of bills that would never have seen the light of day before Ohioans went to the polls, is truly frightening and disturbing. Rest assured; I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. But today, I want to shine a spotlight on a positive development that occurred during the first week of lame duck: the overwhelming passage of HB 283 which prohibits, in most circumstances, a person from using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body any electronic wireless communications device (EWCD—what used to be commonly referred to as cell phones).

Along with stiffening penalties for distracted driving, HB 283 makes violating the law a primary offense, which means law enforcement may now stop and ticket distracted drivers before they cross over three lanes of traffic and hit a telephone pole, blow through a red light and cause a multi-car collision, or run down pedestrians or cyclists on the side of the road. That is why we and other warriors in the battle to end distracted driving enthusiastically supported the legislation when it was introduced in February of 2021.

Since then, Allstate, Nationwide, the American Property and Casualty Insurance Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Highway Patrol, General Motors, the National Transportation Safety Board, the AAA, the Ohio Trucking Association, and more than 20 other groups and individuals including Douglas and Cathy Richeson, Sharon Montgomery, and Dom Tiberi all of whom lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes, have testified in favor of the bill.

Yet, despite broad-based support from the business community and the compelling testimony of grieving families HB 283 languished in the House Criminal Justice Committee for more than a year because Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, was opposed to it. As a result, hundreds of Ohioans continued to be involved, hurt, and/or killed in accidents that never should have happened.

This week Seitz finally agreed to free the bill from committee after adding amendments proponents would only have accepted during lame duck. Seitz effectively blackmailed them into capitulating because he knew backers of the bill did not want to begin the fight anew when the next session of the General Assembly convenes in 2023.

Although Seitz succeeded in weaking the legislation, it will make Ohio the 31st state in the nation to ban the use of EWCDs while driving and make violations a primary offense. The law represents an important first step toward making Ohio a safer place to drive, walk, and bike.

But it is a step we will take only if HB 283 passes the Senate.

And that’s a bid if. Senate President Matt Huffman who is arguably the most powerful Republican in Ohio, opposes the legislation on “civil liberty” grounds. I guess he believes distracted drivers should continue to have the civil liberty to drive around killing and maiming their fellow Ohioans.

Huffman did say, however, that he will allow the legislation to come to a floor vote if there is a “groundswell of support for it” among the members of his caucus, two of whom Sandra O’Brien and Michael Rulli represent the Valley. So here is an assignment for all of you who would like to help the BKM legal team save some lives: Call or email them both and ask them to ask Sen. Huffman to bring HB 283 to the floor.

You may reach Sen. O’Brien by phone at (614) 466-7182 or by email at https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/obrien/contact. Call Sen. Rulli l at (614) 466-8285 or shoot him an email at  https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/rulli/contact

Thanks in advance for your help, getting this important bill passed will give us all something to be extremely grateful for this holiday season and for years to come.

Time for a Supreme Court retrospective; ‘goodbye and good riddance’

Three days after assuming the presidency in 2009, Barrack Obama looked House and Senate Republican leaders in the eye and uttered the phrase, “Elections have consequences.” The just-concluded term of the U.S. Supreme Court proves the former president was exactly right — most likely much to his chagrin. I know I have written about the court often over the past few months. Thankfully, this will be the last time I address the topic for a while because the justices are headed off to do whatever they do when they remove their robes and go on vacation. Here is a retrospective on the 2021-2022 term, which, by any measure, was one of the most consequential in history.

I will begin with the biggie: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the 6-3 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and tossed nearly a half-century of legal precedent on the trash heap of history. With hours of the decision, Ohio AG David Yost successfully petitioned a federal court to lift a stay on the state’s “heartbeat bill,” which bans abortions after six weeks and does not include an exception for rape or incest. A few days later a 10-year-old girl who was six weeks and three days pregnant as result of a sexual assault was forced to travel to Indiana to receive the medical care she needed.

The 6-3 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen eviscerated a New York state law that required residents to obtain a permit to carry a weapon and will make it extremely difficult for other states to strengthen their gun safety regulations. Keep in mind, this is the same year in which there were mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and the July 4th massacre in Highland Park, Ilinois, where seven people died including the parents of a 2-year-old toddler who was left to wander down the street as her mother and father laid dead.

A number of decisions eroded the constitutional wall the Founding Fathers erected between church and state. Most notable were Carson v. Makin, which will make it easier for state governments to divert tax dollars from public education to religious schools, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which cleared the way for prayer at public school football games and other events.

The conservative 6-3 majority struck a blow in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency by curtailing the EPA’s ability to order existing power plants to reduce their carbon emissions. Ironically, this means that if more kids are born as a result of Dobbs it will be more difficult for them to breathe. Just saying.

Because the federal government has not broken enough promises to or heaped enough indignity upon Native Americans, the Court ruled against the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. Conservative Neil Gorsuch joined the court’s three liberals in dissent arguing that the decision reneges on the federal government’s centuries-old promise that tribes would remain forever free from interference by state authorities.

Because even a stopped clock is right twice a day, I will acknowledge that the justices ruled correctly in a few cases, including Biden v. Texas, a 5-4 ruling that permitted the current administration to reverse a Trump-era policy that requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are reviewed in U.S. courts. And Biden v. Missouri approved a federal vaccine mandate for health care workers employed at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

So, with that, I will say goodbye and good riddance to SCOTUS’s 2021-2022 term and take a three-month break from writing about the Supreme Court.

Leak of Alito’s draft Roe v Wade opinion threatens American jurisprudence

By defending people charged with crimes I protect justice for all

During my career as a criminal defense attorney, I have represented hundreds of people who have been charged with serious offenses. From time to time either the nature of a particular case and/or its outcome will attract the attention of MahoningMatters and other media outlets. I know this will come as a shock, but I […]

Using the civil justice system to hold perpetrators accountable for criminal acts

Attorney David BetrasAs many of you know, I am representing Cameron Morgan, the 23-year-old woman who was punched in the face and then dragged into the street by Andrew Walls in Akron on Feb. 26. The incident garnered nationwide media attention hours after video of the racially motivated attack went viral.

Since then, Walls has admitted to being a member of the Proud Boys, an organization identified as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and as a terrorist entity by the Canadian government. In what I can only characterize as a sad commentary on the current state of our society, Cameron and her father David, who is a Youngstown native, have been attacked by the Proud Boys and their supporters.

Despite being the targets of threats, intimidation tactics and racial slurs, Cameron and David remain resolute: Walls, along with anyone and everyone who aided and abetted him, must be held accountable for their actions.  In addition to the criminal offenses, Walls already faces the possibility that he will be charged under state and/or federal hate crime statutes — as he should be. Part of that accountability will include me keeping my promise to sue everyone who is any way responsible for the assault “into oblivion.”

Fortunately, a little-known and seldom-used provision of Ohio law empowers me to do exactly that. Section 2307.60 of the Ohio Revised Code enables “Anyone injured in person or property by a criminal act… [to] recover full damages in a civil action … ” including punitive damages, exemplary damages and attorney’s fees. For those of you who did not go to law school and are wondering: Exemplary damages are awarded when a defendant’s conduct is found to be willfully malicious, violent, oppressive, wanton or grossly reckless. Anyone who has seen the disturbing video will agree that Walls’ actions certainly check all those boxes. Here is one of the best features of the law: According to the Ohio Supreme Court decision in Buddenberg v. Weisdack, a civil cause of action for injuries based on a “criminal act” may be brought under this provision, even if the offender has not been convicted criminally.

In other words, I do not have to wait for Walls’ case to move through the criminal courts. I may sue him now — and believe me, I will. The other important thing to know about the provision is that I can also use it to sue others who may have committed criminal acts and are in some way related to the incident, even if they are never charged with or convicted of a crime. All I need to do to prevail in a civil proceeding is prove that the defendant committed a criminal offense that harmed my client.

I have in the past written about the many ways trial lawyers have made our nation and world safer by filing lawsuits that forced corporations to remove dangerous cars, drugs, medical devices and other products from the marketplace. Now, thanks to a courageous young woman and her father, I will have the opportunity to use the civil justice system to punish racism, hate and violence. The prospect makes me proud to be an attorney and a citizen of the greatest country in the world.

The Cameron Morgan Attack: Hate and those who spread it, are tearing our nation apart.

During my 30-plus year career as a criminal defense and personal injury attorney I have viewed many disturbing images: autopsy photos, disfiguring injuries resulting from dog bites, surveillance cam footage of a murder, third degree burns suffered in an industrial accident. You name it, I have seen it. But few of those images have been […]

Judge dismisses felony charges against former Liberty Schools Superintendent Joe Nohra

In a ruling handed down on Wednesday, December 30, 2021, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Rice dismissed six felony counts that had been lodged against former Liberty Local Schools Superintendent Joe Nohra earlier this year. The ruling came in response to a motion filed by Atty. David Betras arguing that the statutes under which Mr. Nohra had been indicted were unconstitutionally vague. In a well reasoned six-page decision Judge Rice agreed:

“Therefore, upon reconsideration of Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Counts 1-6 of the Indictment for Vagueness, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence the Defendant has presented a presently existing set of facts that make the statutes unconstitutional and void when applied to those facts. The Defendant’s Motion is well taken and the same is hereby granted.” The decision may be viewed and downloaded here: Rice dismissal of Nohra felony charges

Atty. Betras hailed the decision as a victory for Mr. Nohra and the justice system. “As we have said previously, Mr. Nohra, at the discrection of the school board, and with approval of legal counsel, took appropriate action to protect the district and the taxpayers. He should have been commended instead of prosecuted,” Betras said.

Media coverage of the dismissal may be accessed by following these links: Vindicator       WKBN     WFMJ

Atty. Betras said BKM is prepared to mount a vigorous defense against the remaining misdemeanor charges that were included in the indictment.

When Mr. Nohra was indicted Atty. Betras pledges that the BKM legal team would aggressively defend Mr. Nohra in court and in the court of public opinion. “We simply won’t allow the people we represent to be smeared or damaged by rumors and innuendo,” he said. The firm also released the following statement on Mr. Nohra’s behalf:

“Mr. Nohra emphatically and categorically denies the baseless allegations contained in the indictment handed down yesterday by the Trumbull County Grand Jury.

After being presented with credible evidence that an employee of the Liberty Local Schools was engaged in activities that constituted theft in office, Mr. Nohra, with the knowledge and approval of the members of the Liberty Local Schools Board of Education and the Board’s legal counsel, initiated an investigation that resulted in the suspect employee’s resignation from the school system.

The actions described in the indictment were conducted in conjunction with and for the sole purpose of facilitating the above-referenced investigation. The members of the Board of Education and the Board’s legal counsel approved the use of surveillance equipment before it was installed. In addition, written Board policy authorizes the superintendent to utilize surveillance equipment when necessary and with approval of the Board which Mr. Nohra sought and received.

Mr. Nohra ensured that the Board members and their legal counsel were kept fully informed during each step of the investigation, were apprised of the evidence of wrongdoing that was gathered and were aware of its outcome. 

My client is both bewildered and astounded that he now faces criminal charges for taking decisive steps to protect the taxpayers and looks forward to defending himself against these ludicrous accusations.”

PREP Act Liability Protections worked, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and life-saving

Attorney David BetrasAs Brad Pitt and J-Lo know only too well, being a celebrity, a status I achieved thanks in no small part to this column and the quite fetching full-color headshot that runs with it, can sometimes be a pain in the gluteus maximus. That pain has become excruciating in recent weeks as a growing number of incredibly intense people have accosted me in public because I believe everyone should receive the COVID-19 vaccine and I support vaccination mandates.

Look, I am more than willing to engage in a fact-based debate about the pandemic and the measures being taken to end it. But I run out of patience when someone shoves their smartphone in my face while I am sitting in a restaurant eating and screams DAVID, DAVID, look at this Facebook post—thanks for that Mark Zuckerberg—and then proceeds to tell me at the top of their lungs that the vaccines contain computer chips, are made from dead babies, will alter my DNA, and render me infertile.

Well, okay, none of those things are true, a detail that has exactly zero impact on the wild-eyed disbelievers who hover around me like buzzards circling roadkill until I give up and run for the door.

A couple of days ago, however, one of the vaccine resisters who has dedicated his life to disrupting my dinner made a relatively cogent point, albeit in a belligerent manner. “Hey, Mr. Big Shot Trial Lawyer, if the vaccines are so safe, how come the government passed a law that says vaccine makers and those who dispense it can’t be sued when their poison kills and maims people? Why did they leave victims out in the cold? They did it because they know the death toll is going to be in the millions, that’s why.”

COVID Vaccination Rates, U.S. and OhioSo, my tormenter is right about one thing: the federal government has extended nearly total liability immunity to manufacturers, distributors, prescribers, and dispensers of products developed to treat, diagnose, or prevent the onset of COVID-19.

But it is important to remember that the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP) which provides the immunity was not enacted specifically to protect the makers of COVID-19 vaccines. It was enacted by Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2005 in the wake of a serious bird flu outbreak. The rationale for the law was simple: the liability shield would give drug makers the protection they needed to respond quickly and effectively to a public health crisis.

When Coronavirus hit, the law worked exactly as planned. On February 4, 2020, the Trump Administration declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency and invoked PREP. Within months the first vaccines were ready for use. Today, 191 million Americans have been vaccinated, and due in large part to vaccine mandates imposed by employers, the spread of the Delta variant is easing rapidly.

While my anti-vax buddy was right about the existence of the liability shield, he was wrong when he said those hurt or killed by the vaccine would be left out in the cold. Anyone who believes they have suffered serious side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine is eligible to file for benefits from the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CIPC), a special fund established to provide payments to anyone who was injured by any drug or treatment related to a PREP emergency declaration. To date, while 416 million doses of the vaccine have been administered only 296 COVID-19 related claims have been filed.

Now that is a statistic that should be all over Facebook.