Archive for July, 2010

The Court Reporter: The Unsung Hero

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.

You see them in the courtroom; they quietly tap away at their keys.  They do not say much, if anything at all. Who are these people and what are they doing there?  These ladies and gentlemen are court reporters. If you have been accused of a crime, they are your heroes and you did not even realize it.

In many cases, court reporters are fundamental to protecting a defendant’s rights.  At first you may wonder why court reporters are so important.  You, the attorneys, and the judge are all present.  Everyone hears the same thing.   After all, there can only be one truth.  Sadly though, that is not so.  While it is true that all lawyers and judges are charged with abiding by the rules of ethics and the law, we are only human.  More ears present do not always lead to a more accurate story; it may lead to a contentious argument.  That is where the court reporter comes in.  They are in the thick of the proceedings and are stationed as close to the testifying witness and the judge as possible.  This prime position allows court reporters to hear each word and record the proceedings fairly and accurately.  This is part of your record.  This is where you look to appeal a decision or place the case in the right perspective for the judge.  This is a life raft without which many a defendant would be sunk.

Contrary to popular opinion, a court reporter will not always be present.  Depending on the case, your attorney may advise you to hire your own court reporter. Court reporters are generally not present to record the proceedings in misdemeanor criminal cases (crimes with a maximum punishment of less than one year), or in civil cases.  In felony cases where the minimum punishment is one year or more, the State provides a court reporter at no cost to the defendant.

At times, attorneys develop a working relationship with particular court reporters.  They trust each other and work well as a team.

So, what does a court reporter do and how do they do it?  The New York Times attempted to demystify the court reporter with a question and answer session from June 16, 2010 – June 18, 2010.  One of the most obvious questions that one may have is how do they keep up with everyone when they speak so fast?  According to a seasoned federal court reporter, the machine they use is called a stenotype.  Unlike a traditional key board, a stenotype has a limited number of keys; only main consonants and vowels.  In order to type entire words, court reporters must press multiple keys to form certain letters and spell out a word.  Furthermore, they must create their own form of shorthand for long phrases, often used during trial proceedings.  For instance, ladies and gentlemen of the jury is “LAIJS.”

Essentially, court reporters must go to school to learn an entirely different language.  They also have to learn how to operate and care for their machines on top of becoming lightning-fast typers.  All of the costs for the training and the machines come out of their own pocket. So the next time your attorney advises you that you should retain a court reporter, consider the training and hard work of these men and women. They deserve everyone’s respect and appreciation.

For more information on court reporters in Tennessee, click here.  To speak to an attorney regarding any criminal matter, feel free to contact Steven Oberman or Sara Compher-Rice.

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Vanilla Extract: Not Just For Baking Anymore?

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.

The sweet smell of vanilla can send many of us back to our mother’s kitchen.  Whether she was baking cookies or cake, maybe even pancakes, she probably used vanilla extract.  For many cooks, vanilla extract is a pantry constant and they would not be caught dead without a bottle.  Believe it or not, though, some people abuse vanilla extract.  In fact, cooking extracts along with other common household items may be abused by alcoholics.

WATE TV News reported on July 2, 2010 that Germantown’s Ms. Kelly Moss was arrested on charges of DUI and refusing a blood alcohol test.  The police reportedly found Ms. Moss slumped over her steering wheel. You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with vanilla extract?”  Everything.  Ms. Moss had no alcoholic beverages in her possession.  Indeed, the police did not accuse her of consuming any; she was found with diet cola cans and partially empty bottles of vanilla extract.

It could have been a perfect recipe for a vanilla cola, but Ms. Moss’s history makes it more likely than not that she was attempting to become intoxicated from the high alcohol content in vanilla extract.  On July 7, 2010, CBS reported that this was Ms. Moss’s third DUI arrest.  Vanilla extract is 35% alcohol per volume. Ms. Moss apparently mixed the extract into diet cola.  Witnesses stated that they became concerned when her vehicle jumped a curb.  That incident, along with her inability to walk, slurred speech, and partially empty extract bottles, gave the police probable cause to arrest her.  We cannot know all of the particulars in this case.  Yet one thing seems clear, anyone who resorts to abusing common household items such as extracts, cleaners, cough medicine, or mouthwash to become intoxicated needs help.

No one should abuse substances.  Even vanilla extract, in large amounts, can 1) make you sick and 2) intoxicate you.  The mere fact that a substance is not an alcoholic beverage does not make it safe to consume in large amounts.  Abusing extract and the like do not make one less of an alcoholic.  Also, those who believe that drinking extract until impaired and then driving precludes a DUI charge are misguided and misinformed.  If you, or anyone you know abuses these substances, encourage them to seek the help immediately.

For more information on substance abuse treatment programs in Tennessee, click here.  For assistance with a DUI related legal matter, please contact the Oberman and Rice Law Firm. Steven Oberman and Sara Compher-Rice are available 24 hours a day to assist you with your legal matter.

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Flashing Ads: Proposed Digital License Plates

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.


Imagine, you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. It’s hot. It’s been a long day. I bet you are thinking, “Man, I sure wish I could watch commercials right now.”

No? Well, if you live in California, soon you may not have a choice. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 28, 2010, that the California legislature had proposed a fix for an ever increasing budget deficit: digital license plates.  These license plates would look like a traditional plate but have the ability to flash ads across the face of the plate.

The potential problems with this technology abound. In fact, the California legislature has commissioned a study to determine the efficacy of widespread use of digital license plates. Smart Plate Corp., a manufacturer, claims that the plates could be customized to not only flash ads, but also personalized messages for your favorite sports teams, or flash emergency messages.  However, where the line would be drawn on personalized messages seems a difficult question. Also, such a program would require a statewide wireless connection. Nothing approaching a statewide system is currently in place.

When dealing with technology one must also consider hackers. How will California protect millions of drivers from the ever present and persistent efforts of our nation’s hackers? What kind of messages and images will likely pop up in place of a Bounty ad? Instead of an innocent quicker, picker-upper, will we see pornography? Perhaps hate speech?  Who knows what a trip to the grocer will entail.

Most importantly, won’t digital ads merely create one more distraction for drivers? According to the manufacturers, the answer is no. They believe that they could program the software so that the ads only play when a vehicle is stopped for at least 4 seconds. Some software will keep track of every vehicle and whether it is stopped for at least 4 seconds.  Oh, the kinks that they will have to work out. What happens if the software malfunctions and drivers become distracted? All it takes is one officer to stop you for a traffic violation. Maybe you were on your way home from dinner. You had a couple glasses of wine. You are certainly not impaired but that ad so enticed you that you ran a red light and now you are pulled over. The police officer believes that he smells the odor of alcohol on you and suspects you of DUI.  The next thing that you know, you are hand cuffed and inside a police cruiser, all because of a malfunctioning license plate.

That said, if California is able to work out the problems with these digital ads, they could be a tremendously successful source of revenue for all states, including Tennessee, which we know has its own budget deficit.  Even if this technology does not gain widespread acceptance, you may still be affected. Californians travel, just like everyone else. In fact, without widespread use, such occurrences will likely be even more novel and distracting than they are in California. Southerners, prepare yourself. We are entering a new world and it is looking more and more like the passengers on the space shuttle portrayed in the movie Wall-E every day.

If you find yourself charged with a DUI in these or other circumstances, please contact the attorneys at The Oberman and Rice Law Firm. As always, Steven Oberman and Sara Compher-Rice are available 24 hours a day to assist you with your legal matter.


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