Tag Archives: Civil

Barefoot Drivers in Massachusetts

Barefoot drivers in Massachusetts

By Ginger B. Kelly, August 1, 2018

As most of you know already, I am a Facebook user. Click Here to see my Facebook page.  I also post on Twitter, Instagram and other things like, Linkedin and AVVO.com.  Because of my strong Social Media presence, it’s not unusual for people ask me interesting legal questions.

One of my dearest friends posed a very general question on Facebook regarding driving barefooted in Massachusetts.  He wanted to know whether or not it was legal to drive with no shoes or footwear, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although I am primarily a bankruptcy and consumer defense attorney, I sometimes handle a few criminal and civil cases, including traffic citations.  I told my friend that I would do a little quick research on this interesting general topic.

This is what I found…

I started with the Massachusetts laws, or statutes, regarding driving while impaired.  As most of you already know, driving while impaired means a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean driving without shoes.  Impaired driving has to do with defendants who ingest, smoke or take substances that “impair” their ability to drive.  In other words, don’t drink and drive or don’t drive while intoxicated or when taking drugs or substances, whether or not those substances are legally permissible.  If they cause you to drive unsafely, it’s illegal.  Although driving barefooted may be fun, it’s probably not exactly intoxicating.  Thereby, barefooted driving would not qualify as an offense or apply to the law, under the impaired driving statutes in Massachusetts.  Arguably, if driving without shoes induces an impaired driving intoxication, then for the sake of argument, there may be some remote chance there is a legal situation or offense.  I said remote.  If this happened, such a strange situation would be handled by a judge on a case by case basis.

Moving right along…

There are a similar set of statues in Massachusetts called the distracted driving statutes.  Distracting driving is similar to driving while impaired in that a driver can not allow certain things to interfere with safe driving, but these are different because they don’t involve substances that impair driving.  Under the distracted driving statutes, all drivers who drive in Massachusetts are prohibited from doing things that prevent them from keeping their “eyes on the road,” such as text messaging and cell phone use, using technology and other devices. One part of this law, for example, is that all drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from all cell phone use.  These kinds of things are considered “distracted” driving but there is no mention of barefoot driving or driving without footwear.

For the sake of argument, if driving with no shoes is distracting to you and you can’t keep your eyes on the road, or perhaps the shoes or flip flops you just kicked off your feet are getting under your foot pedals, causing you to drive in an unsafe manner, this would be a matter that could be considered distracted driving.  However, this sort of barefoot driving case would be a matter that should be settled by a judge or jury at court.  I don’t suggest doing this.  But for sake of this research, there is nothing per se, in Massachusetts, that would prohibit one from driving without shoes, according to the impaired or distracted driving statutory laws. But there are other laws pertaining to driving.  Let’s take a look.

Taking a look at the new Safe Driving laws of Massachusetts, one can see that there are a lot of restrictions regarding mobile phones, devices and driving over the age of 75 and older.  However, I found nothing in the safe driving laws of Massachusetts regarding barefoot driving.  So there you have it!  Let’s move on to regulatory law.

I began my quick regulatory law research by taking a look at the Massachusetts Driver’s manual.  The Massachusetts Driver’s Manuel states, “In your vehicle, nothing should get in the way of your ability to see, react, or drive.”  In other words, you can not have distracting objects in your vehicle, like wearing both head phones, a television visible to the driver or anything that could get in the way of your feet, and use of the vehicle pedals, while driving.  Again, this sort of thing implies that it’s not permissible to simply kick off your shoes and let the shoes interfere with safe driving.  However, the RMV manual mentions nothing about driving without shoes.  So, RMV regulatory law isn’t a big help here, other than giving us a better idea of what it means to drive safely, not distracted and not intoxicated or under the influence of substances. Never the less, we still don’t really know whether or not there is anything in Massachusetts law that says it is not permissible to drive without shoes.

I ran a search on Mass.gov to see if I could find anything further in the regulations regarding driving barefoot.  I found something interesting regarding footwear guidelines in the UK, but I found nothing for  driving while barefoot in Massachusetts.

I also ran a case law search on my legal search engine.  I found nothing regarding case law in Massachusetts.  Since I could not find any recent case law regarding barefoot drivers in Massachusetts, it is safe to assume there is no law or precedent regarding barefoot driving in Massachusetts.  Therefore, it is highly probable that it is legal to drive without shoes, with only socks or barefoot in Massachusetts, provided that driving without shoes is safe and does not distract one’s driving ability to drive safely.

Drive safely with naked tootsies or just socks in Massachusetts. Just be careful and be sure that your naked foot driving is free from intoxication, distraction and that kicking off your shoes never gets in the way of driving safe.  Good luck!

If you have any comments or questions on this topic, or law in general, I invite you to post your comments, below.  It’s interesting to see what others have to say.

If you have other legal questions, especially if you are contemplating bankruptcy or dealing with collections or debt collection law suits, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, North Oxford, Charlton, Charlton Depot, Auburn, Leicester, Rochdale, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, North Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out for you.  Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk, and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit our website, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved

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Master Medical Debt Lawsuits in 10 Easy Steps

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Master Medical Debt Lawsuits in 10 Easy Steps

By Attorney Ginger Kelly, July 19, 2018

Being sued by a debt collector or service provider over medical debt is no picnic. If you can’t afford to pay the initial debt, it is likely that you still can’t pay it. Going to court is also very stressful, time consuming and costs you time off from work and other more important things. These are things we all worry about.

Although you may be tempted to ignore a medical debt law suit you know you can’t pay, it is always best to show up. If you ignore the law suit, the other side wins, automatically by default.  A default Judgment will haunt you and your credit report for twenty years in Massachusetts.

What happens when you show up for court?  Below are 10 steps that you can take if you are facing a medical debt lawsuit.

  1. Find out where the debt comes from

You cannot properly talk about your lawsuit until you fully understand why you are being sued. Past bills should tell you something about the debt.  Find a date of service and, perhaps, an itemized list of what services were given to you that you are being charged for.

  1. Answer the lawsuit

In most medical debt and other consumer debt cases, people don’t have an attorney. Hiring an attorney is a wise move, so seek a free first consultation with a lawyer before you hire them. Sometimes, a lawyer can help you to represent yourself.

Many times, when people meet certain income guidelines, they can apply for free legal aid. Worcester Community Legal Aid services is an example of one of many nonprofit public service centers, helping clients with free and reduced fee legal services for debt collection law suits. Many times, a limited service lawyer will be at the courthouse to help clients. Call and find out when this free service is available.

  1. Prepare for court

The next step to take is to prepare to answer your lawsuit. In Massachusetts a defendant has twenty days from the date of notice to answer a small claims or civil suit. Answering a law suit involves filling out paperwork at the court, which will involve answering every paragraph and including all your legal defenses along with a certificate of service saying that you mailed a copy to the other side. Then, you have to mail the paperwork to the other side who is suing you.  Next, show up at the initial court date. After you answer the suit, the court will set a date for the discovery part of the trial. It is very helpful to find a lawyer who can advise you regarding this process.

It’s important to make this initial court date.  Traditionally, in Massachusetts, this is called a discovery or pre-trial conference where you have time to talk to the other side and see if you can make a deal.  It’s helpful to ask for a payment plan and a reduction of the debt.  At this stage of the game, it is unlikely that the judge will grant you a continuance that would move the court date further out. It’s probably best not to ask unless you live out of the jurisdiction and you would like to get counsel to move the suit to a better place where you can defend.

At the discovery part of your lawsuit, you will have to file more paperwork about your finances and will need to sit and wait to talk to someone. This is not the time to present evidence that you are not liable for the debt. If you are not liable, you can present this evidence at hearing. This means, you will need to show up another time for hearing.

  1. Know about wage garnishment

If at hearing, you are found liable for the debt, or if you failed to answer the lawsuit and the judge rules against you, the court may issue a judgment order and an execution, giving the lender or collection agency the ability to garnish your wages. Social security benefits, disability insurance payments, unemployment, VA benefits and other things, like public assistance and child support are excluded from garnishment.  If you have any of these forms of income, it’s wise to set up a different bank account where those funds are deposited and keep all garnishable wages in another separate account. Do not mix these funds with other things like regular wages.

By federal law, the lender or collection agency can’t take more than 75% of your income. Based on Massachusetts law, which is more protective, creditors can take only 15% before taxes or other deductions, or they can take your disposable income less 50 times the greater of the federal or Massachusetts minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2017, the Massachusetts minimum wage is $11 per hour.  This means that any amount exceeding $550 per week can be garnished from your wages, in Massachusetts.

Also, under Massachusetts law, some medical institutions can take your tax return refund to pay past due bills.  It’s better to take care of them before your tax refund is levied.

  1. Were you served properly?

Sometimes wages are garnished before the plaintiff is even aware that there’s a lawsuit against them. This happens most commonly when you’re improperly served. Examples of using “improperly served” as a legal defense include papers being only mailed to you and not delivered in person, papers being left at an incorrect residence, or papers being mailed to an old address. Being “improperly served” does not mean that the papers were left with a family member or friend at your residence and they forgot to tell you about it. If that happened, you’re still on the hook.

If you have been improperly served, or if you find out that the court mistakenly started garnishing wages because you have the same name as an actual plaintiff, you should contact a lawyer immediately.  Find out what possible resources there may be for you in your situation.

  1. Get low-cost or free help from financial assistance programs

Under the Affordable Care Act, these hospitals must provide some type of financial assistance program to low-income patients. Even if you aren’t from a low-income household, you should apply, as some hospitals extend their programs far beyond the poverty line. Many hospitals also extend this program to insured patients.

  1. Discriminatory pricing

If you are being sued in court and are uninsured, discriminatory pricing can serve as a defense. If you qualify for the hospital’s financial assistance program, the hospital must legally reduce your bill to the amount generally billed to insured patients.

  1. Look out for balance billing

Balance billing happens when your hospital or medical provider bills you instead of or in addition to Medicaid or Medicare. It’s a forbidden practice, and you are not responsible for any amounts due when this happens.

You may be able to identity balance billing if you receive an “Explanation of Benefits” from your insurer that states the amount they covered and the amount you still owe. If this does not match the bill your medical provider sent you, there is a cause for concern. Additionally, if the bill you receive does not show any payment from your insurance when you are, in fact, on Medicaid or Medicare, it may be a sign that you are a victim of balance billing.

  1. Stop lawsuits before they start

If something about your bill doesn’t look quite right, there are ways to reduce it to its fair amount. Debt collectors, hospitals, and other medical providers don’t want to take you to court. It costs them money, and the odds of them actually getting a full payment at that point are very low. They are almost always willing to work with you before issuing a lawsuit. Negotiate. Apply for financial assistance. Set up a no interest payment plan directly with your health care provider.  Keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to avoid costly litigation and compounded interest and fees.

If you didn’t have insurance at the time of service, a good idea is to contact the doctor or debt collection agency and try to negotiate the bill down to Medicaid/Medicare prices.  This should save you at least one to two thirds the initial cost.  If a provider doesn’t want to negotiated, your attorney can use, “discriminatory pricing: as a legal defense in court.

  1. Weigh bankruptcy

There may come a point in the process to consider bankruptcy as an option.  Filing for bankruptcy may alleviate the medical debt and all your other bills. However, as a cautionary measure, bankruptcy is not a decision to take lightly.  A chapter 7 will remain on your credit reports for up to 8 years and make it difficult to qualify for new credit with a low interest rate.

There are two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.  Chapter 7 is a form of liquidation.  If you qualify, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires you to sell off all of your non-exempt assets to settle what you can of your debt obligations. If you don’t have any non-exempt assets, this part probably doesn’t matter much. What does matter is that most of your debt, if not all, will disappear after you receive your discharge.

A chapter 13 Bankruptcy is a type of reorganization of your debts.  In a Chapter 13, you do not have to sell off any assets, but the debt won’t disappear either.  Instead, you will pay your debt from your disposable income via a 3-5 year payment plan. After the 3 or 5 year plan is over, the rest of any qualifying debt you could not pay out of your payment plan is discharged.

Filing for bankruptcy makes sense if the court has already issued an order to garnish your wages.  However, at any other point in your situation, it makes good sense to try to negotiate and set up a payment plan with the medical service provider or debt collection agency directly.

A debt collection agencies last resort is wage garnishment, but it doesn’t have to come down to this. By knowing your rights and negotiating, effectively, rather than damaging your credit scores, you may have a good chance to work through a win-win situation.

If you are contemplating bankruptcy, and have some questions about wage garnishment or medical debt, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, Charlton, Auburn, Leicester, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out or not.  Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit, http://www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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Filed under Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Choosing a lawyer, Civil, civil law, Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency, Deficiency Debt, Empowerment, Filing, Financial, Hiring Counsel, Judgements, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Medical Debt, payment, practical stuff, Rhode Island, Uncategorized, Wage Garnishment

Defending Debt Collections in Court: 6 Amazing Ways to Score Big Time

Boxing gloves business woman angry
Defending Debt Collections in Court: 6 Amazing Ways to Score Big Time

By Attorney Ginger Kelly
October 5, 2017

The New York Times ran a story in 2012 about the outpouring of credit card debt lawsuits being filed. They compared this widespread outbreak to the “robo-signing” fiasco which plagued the mortgage industry in years past. Now it seems the debt collection industry has taken up “robo-lawsuits” and are filing thousands of lawsuits a day all across America, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Lawsuits are being filed with the expectation that 99% of all defendants will not answer. In 2017, this is still a big problem.

Lots of people people being taken to court by debt collectors and lenders, many of them don’t owe a dime.  This is the new trend, plaguing thousands upon thousands of consumers in America today.

The biggest problem with these debt collection lawsuits is that about 90% of them are flawed. Debt collectors cannot prove that they are the ones owed the money.  They cannot prove how much money is owed, if any.  This is where consumers must take charge. Knowledge is power. Knowing things the debt collectors wish you didn’t know will often place you in the driver’s seat when it comes to Debt Collection law suits.

1. Start at the Beginning, Answer the Lawsuit.

If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, you will receive a summons (typically in the mail). Many people ignore these types of summons, because they look like ordinary mail. Within the summons is a complaint. The complaint has a date to respond and instructions on how to file an answer.  Take note of the instructions and, if you like, look for a form to respond to the complaint.  In Massachusetts, Mass.gov has forms that can help you in small claims or in district court.  These forms can be easily filled out. You must remember to respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers. This will preserve your rights in court. It’s simple and doing maintains your right to challenge the debt in court.

Even if you owe this debt, a two-sentence response denying liability to the lawsuit filed in court will suffice. When you do this, chances are your law suit will likely lead to a negotiated settlement. This will save you money in the long run, because most of the time the debt amount is inaccurate. The number one mistake people make when they are sued is failing to respond to the notice in the complaint.

In your answer, you can simply Admit, Deny or express Lack of Knowledge to each statement made by the plaintiff debt collector. Of course you don’t admit to any statement unless you know it’s 100% true, so be honest. Don’t guess. If you don’t know whether or not, for example, the account number listed is your credit card number, or the debt amount is actually the amount of money owed, deny the claim. The same is true for all the allegations. If you do not understand what the plaintiff is saying, you should say, Lack of Knowledge. Lack of Knowledge simply means you don’t know whether that statement is true or not. Then, take your answer to the clerk of court and file it. Mail a copy to the other side. Ask the clerk the proper procedure for making copies and mailing.  Better yet, don’t bother taking chances or taking the day off from work to file papers with the clerk, talk to your lawyer and bring in the big guns to fight this for you. Pay your attorney to hassle with the paperwork.

Even if you don’t have an attorney, don’t be shy or embarrassed. Filing an answer doesn’t mean you want to avoid paying your debts. It only means you are a smart consumer. It means that you want the debt collector to do his job and prove their allegations against you. In any business transaction, it is always best to be sure that you actually owe the correct amount before paying it. The same applies to debt collection law suits. This is why you file a simple answer.

2. Find Out Who, Exactly, Owns the Right to Take You to Court

The collection agency must prove they have the right to collect this debt, if you ask them. This is their job. Make them work. All collection agencies have a duty to provide good evidence of a transfer of the signed credit card agreement, but only if you ask. If you don’t ask, they have no duty. So, if you ask and the other side does not produce paperwork, you you don’t understand it, ask the magistrate or the judge to dismiss the case.  When the plaintiff does not have the “chain of custody” paperwork giving them the right to collect this debt from you, they lose.

It’s rather enjoyable when a judge or magistrate takes a good look at the chain of custody paperwork many debt collectors provide. Some of them shake their head. Then, they dismiss the case. It’s that simple.

Mass Legal Help is a great website that gives examples of how to answer and challenge a debt collections law suit in a simple and complete manner.

3. Make the Debt Collector Prove the Amount Owed, Why Not?

This is a good one. In most debt collection law suits, there are so many charges upon charges, and fees no one understands, it’s not funny. Make the debt collection agency prove the amount owed by simply asking them to provide the original signed agreement and a balance on the account from zero to the present. If they can’t prove what you owe, the judge will not be able to make a ruling and will dismiss the case.  If they hand you a huge stack of paper, don’t feel threatened.  Either ask for them to show you what the papers mean, or ask for a continuance so you can examine the documents.

I talk a little bit more about this in my article, Debt Collection and 7 Deadly Sins. Take a quick look at point 3. Greed. This may help you.

4. Use the Statute of Limitations, Like a Boss

State law provides that debt collectors have a maximum amount of years they can legally sue you for debt they think you owe. This is different than collections.

A debt collector can bill you forever, but a debt collector cannot sue you in court to collect beyond the statute of limitations period. But again, a person needs to use this as a defense in court for it to be effective. When that statute of limitations period expires, the debt collector will lose if you defend using the statute of limitations. Use this as a defense and get your lawsuit dismissed. If it applies, it works!

Currently, the statute of limitations for almost any type of consumer debt in Massachusetts is six (6) years (MGL Chapter 260 Sec. 2)  In Rhode Island, it’s different.  Under Title 9, in Rhode Island, the statute of limitations for contracts and open accounts (credit cards), is ten (10) Years.  (RIGL 9-1-13(a))

In legal terms, a debt that has exceeded the statute of limitations is also called a “time barred” debt. When, exactly, the statute begins (or begins to toll), is different for different debt and for different state laws.  For credit card debt, typically the statute begins to toll from the date you made your last payment. You can find more info on Time barred debt defenses in Massachusetts in the online Mass law library.

There may be other legal arguments about the statute of limitations, like the conflict of laws and the significant relationships test. But essentially, the statute of limitations for most debt in Massachusetts is six years from the date of the debtor’s last transaction, or payment, on the account. Ask your attorney, if you have any questions and want to know if this statute applies in your case.

5. Sue the Debt Collector, Big Time

If a debt collector has violated any part of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you may be able to sue them and could get a money damage award.  Consumers can successfully sue for violations of the debt collections practices act and are entitled to statutory damages of $1,000, plus punitive and economic damages.

This is where debt collection law suits can be actually quite enjoyable, for me anyway.  For you, maybe not so much.  As a lawyer, this is what I’ve been trained to do.

There’s nothing wrong with finding violations. Holding debt collectors to the higher standard they are called to perform is the right thing to do. Holding their feet to the fire, so to speak, is what’s best for consumers. This is why it’s not a bad idea to hire a lawyer to file a well-drafted answer to the complaint and attend court with you.

6. Explore Bankruptcy, the Fresh Start Option

If the debt you have is more than you can manage or the debt you are being sued for is large, it may make good sense to talk to an attorney. A good bankruptcy attorney will help you discover whether or not filing for bankruptcy is an option for you.

Filing for bankruptcy will keep you protected by the automatic stay, which will halt any and all debt collection efforts being made against you. If you are thinking about filing bankruptcy, talk to an attorney quickly. Don’t wait until the day before you are supposed to be in court. Lawyers can’t typically file bankruptcy paperwork the next day. That’s not how bankruptcies work. Bankruptcies are very paper-work intensive and tedious. To find out more read Bankruptcy, the Easy Way Out, Really? 

While it is possible to successfully defend a debt collection lawsuit, it’s often very difficult and emotionally charged. If the debt collection agency is successful in court, they can get a judgment entered against you. This, in turn, would allow the collection agency to garnish your wages or even go after your bank accounts or place liens on your home, vehicles or other property.

I tell all my clients that debt collection law suits are like traffic tickets. It never pays to ignore them. Reply to the summons. Go to court. What do you have to lose? But better than just “winging-it,” speak to a good bankruptcy and debtor defense lawyer first. Some law offices like ours, offer a free first consultation. When you hire a good debtor defense lawyer to help, there are virtually a hundred or more different defenses that can be used to protect you against garnishments and attachments.

Currently, we are taking defendant clients for debt collection law suits. Our first consultation is free. I’m always happy to meet new clients and am willing to work around your schedule. Exploring your best options with an experienced attorney can’t get much easier. This is only one way we are transforming the way people do business with lawyers.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2017 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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Facebook Posts can Land You in Jail

One does not simply post on Facebook

Posting whatever you want on Facebook might not be a good idea, as in the case of Ebony Dickens of East Point Georgia.

Based on an April 30, 2015 report on CNN, Ebony Dickens, of East Point, Georgia, posted threats to the police under the name, Tiffany Milan, on social media.  According to CNN, she posted this on Facebook, “I thought about shooting every white cop I see in the head until I’m either caught by the police or killed by them. Ha!!!! I think I can pull it off. Might kill at least 15 tomorrow, I’m plotting now.”

Soon after Ms. Dickens posted the threats, she deleted her Tiffany Milan Facebook account.  She erased all her threatening posts.  But that didn’t matter.  Erasing the threats didn’t help.  She already published them to others.  By virtue of her Facebook posts, Ms. Dickens got arrested.  She was arrested not only by the local authorities, but by homeland security.  Apparently, Ms. Dickens “allegedly” violated local law, but State and Federal law.  I say, “allegedly” because Ms. Dickens case is still pending.  Even so, it’s important to look at US free speech law and why, oftentimes, comments made on Facebook aren’t protected speech.

Based on this story, making Facebook posts about shooting the cops using a fake name may not be a good idea. Protected and lawful speech, of any kind, does not involve making true threats, using fighting words to incite violence and cyber-bullying.  Ranting on Facebook, or anywhere, may not always be a good idea, no matter appealing it may seem to be for some.  First Amendment Freedom of Speech law is a not a get-out-of-jail free card for offenses like these.  Freedom of Speech rights do not make one immune from arrest and jail. People can also file civil suits against others for making certain kinds of speech.

Under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, people can get arrested for speech involving obscenity, child pornography, misleading commercial speech, fighting words, cyber bullying and true threats. For example, free speech does not include (for no good reason) yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  This is a classic example.  People get arrested and end up in jail for telling others, “I’m going to kill you.” Also, making up stories about others is not always harmless. For example, telling someone your friend has “Ebola,” or somethings similar, when in fact they do not, can get a person in a lot of legal trouble.

In the business world, free speech does not include making unsupported claims.  When a commercial producer claims their product “builds strong bodies 12 ways,” or wants to show that their product is healthy, the producer and all the stakeholders better support this sort of claim with strong evidence.  Commercial claims may be unprotected speech, provided there is no proof behind such claims.

Cartoons and political satire, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed, is an example of a form of US free speech. Under US law, cartoonists and artists may publish political cartoons and politically charged satire.  This is considered protected free speech. Under the laws of other countries, such cartoonist speech is not always protected. Whether or not political cartoons are always wise or prudent to publish remains controversial. Even so, there is no complete list of US constitutional freedom of speech examples that explain what does or does not constitute freedom of speech.

Concerning freedom of speech and the laws of free speech, each situation and every fact pattern is not the same.  Each person and each legal case is different.  This is why a professional legal analysis of every situation is important. This type of case-by-case basis legal examination is what legal professionals call, “fact-intensive” legal analysis.  Fact intensive legal analysis is what lawyers and judges are trained to do.  This is why it’s always important to consult your lawyer and be sure to ask them any legal questions regarding freedom of speech guarantees, the US Constitution or any law, before you act or draw conclusions about legal matters.

Under First Amendment free speech, free speech does not include true threats.  However, treats made in humor or funny stories, like exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, tends to be protected speech in certain circumstances.  For example, Saturday Night Live, (“SNL”), a comedy show shown on TV on Saturday night, has made sketches mocking the blind and making racist jokes about people who go to Starbucks, (things like this).  SNL made a fake video defaming Thailand. These were shocking and offensive to a lot of folks. SNL poked fun at real people. Comedians verbalized threats and violence.

Humor performed by professional comedians or published by professional cartoonists is considered protected speech. Jokes, cartoons, sketches and speech, shared by professional comedians and artists is part of what they do for good reasons. Professional comedians, cartoonists, artists and the like, create artistic and scientific works that benefit the public.  Often, artistic work involves sarcastic comedy, political satire, parody and shocking artistic work that may involve certain forms of pornography. Legality of the free speech and the intent of that speech (which is one of many legal elements that must be shown) is quite often determined by the virtue of one’s profession.

The intent of an artist, by virtue of the artistic profession, is to add artistic value to most people and the general public, whether or not this is shocking to a few individuals.  The intent of a comedian, by virtue of the comedic profession, is to entertain and invoke thought, discussion and to inject humor or satire into a skit or cartoon, not to cause specific harm to others.  Many times, these forms of free speech are political in nature.  Political figures and political issues are permissible targets of free speech.  Not everyone or everything fits into this category. Every case is different.

Even on occasion, even comedians and artists get into legal trouble.  For example, if an artist took an artistic work too far and people filed legal cases against them, this is perfectly legal if the claim is not frivolous.  The Court will determine a frivolous case and have it dismissed, when necessary.  Every case must be examined by the facts and the nature of the speech published, be it in writing, on any form of medium or orally (by word of mouth).  Every case must look at the platform of delivery, the person publishing the speech and, in some cases, who the speech was intended for or the intended message and audience.

As you may have guessed, there is a lot look at when it comes to Free Speech rights and Constitutional laws regarding freedom of speech.  Examples are only a snapshot.  I can only give you a general snapshot of this topic.  But remember, US First Amendment free speech is never a get-out-of-jail-free ticket that gives a person unconditional immunity from arrest, jail or a civil lawsuit.  The story of Ebony Dickens is a perfect example.  Posting threats to the cops on Facebook or anywhere, is one reason why quite often posting things on Facebook can land a person in court or worse, jail.

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., May 19, 2015

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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