Prison Time for Not Wearing a Seat Belt?


Could you imagine going to prison for not wearing your seat belt? That might be the case in New Jersey after a recent ruling from the state’s supreme court. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that failure to wear a seat belt or to require minor passengers to wear them could result in criminal charges and prison term, according to USA Today.

This ruling comes after a car accident in which the driver and the passenger were not wearing seat belts, leading to the death of the 16 year old passenger. The court said that the seatbelt law is, “clearly intended to protect public health and safety,” and if it is broken, it can be used to support criminal convictions under the law.


This ruling is not without controversy as it raises some serious questions about responsibility under the law. From a criminal law perspective, Attorney Benjamin Van Severen explains:

“Obviously the intent of the law is to promote public safety.  A $20 fine for not wearing a seatbelt (or $10 fine in Wisconsin) does not have enough teeth to scare individuals into wearing seat belts.  However, the larger issue is do we really want to make the driver responsible for ensuring that each passenger is wearing their seatbelt?  At some point, the passenger should be deemed old enough to make a conscious decision whether or not to wear their seatbelt.  If they decide to take the risk and not wear a seatbelt and then the vehicle is in an accident, I’m not sure we should be faulting the driver for their death solely on the fact that the passenger chose not to strap in.”


Adrian Peterson: Intention and Negligence

Unfortunately, NFL players have been making more news for their actions off the field than on the field. Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, has been in the spotlight after he was charged with reckless and negligent injury of a child. These charges come after his child sustained injuries after being disciplined.

According to USA Today Sports, Peterson believes he is innocent and is expected to enter a not guilty plea at his arraignment on October 8, in Texas. While Peterson has expressed his regret and that he did not intent to inflect injuries, the law does not consider intent when being charged with reckless and negligent injury to a child. Attorney Benjamin Van Severen, of Birdsall Law Offices, S.C., elaborates from a criminal defense perspective:

“The most concerning fact beyond the accusation itself is the fact that his attorney released a statement saying he didn’t “intend” to cause harm to the child. From looking at the charges, intent seems to be irrelevant in this case. Peterson was charged with “reckless or negligent” injury to a child. By definition, there can be no intent with reckless or negligent conduct.  Peterson has maintained that he feels bad for the unintentional harm he caused. What he is essentially doing is admitting that he caused the conduct through reckless or negligent behavior – that it was an accident. Unfortunately for his defense, accidents are often caused by reckless or negligent conduct.”

Man Seeking $3.5 Million in Damages from the City of Milwaukee

After his case was dismissed, Eddie G. Gill wants the city of Milwaukee to pay $3.5 million in damages as a result of improper police interrogation. After three days of questioning while in police custody, Gill was charged of the shooting death of Jordin Crawley on Feb. 16, 2013. The case was dismissed on March 13, 2014, after Circuit Judge Stephanie Rothstein ruled his confession inadmissible. Gill was then able to go free after 13 months in jail.

Bruce Vielmetti of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:

The sum is sought to compensate Gill for “the deprivation of his liberty, physical pain and suffering, emotional trauma, interference with familial relationships, violation of his right to privacy, seizure of his personal property, and deprivation of his civil and constitutional rights,” a notice of claim filed Wednesday says.

More information to come as the story develops. Click here for more information on Gill’s attorney, John A. Birdsall.





Thoughts and Questions on Ferguson, MO

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO has grabbed and the attention of the entire nation. Everywhere you look people are sharing conflicting facts and polarizing opinions. While factors such as race relations, poverty, and discrimination are at play the fact remains that Michael Brown was shot and killed. The most alarming part of the shooting death is the discrepancies between the witness accounts and the autopsy results.

From the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer, Attorney Matthew Meyer brings to light some questions the initial autopsy has raised:

“I’m more concerned about this incident now that the preliminary autopsy was conducted.  Specifically, it’s concerning that a 6-foot-4 individual was shot through the top of his skull. Dr. Michael Baden, the former New York City chief medical examiner, indicated that Brown’s head would have been facing downward in order to suffer an injury such as that. That’s a concerning injury for an individual to suffer at the hands of police. It’s very difficult for me to understand how an individual, while facing downwards, is able to resist officers as is claimed by the police. It’s even more difficult for me to understand how officers believed deadly force was appropriate while Mr. Brown was facing downwards.

The Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government outside the sanction of law.  Our constitution does not allow officers to take justice into their own hands and kill an individual.  We’re all provided certain protections as citizens, and justice must be administered in courts, not the streets.”

The Third Annual Fundraiser for the Milwaukee Rescue Mission


A message from Attorney John A. Birdsall:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As a volunteer to the Mission for the past 6 years, I have personally witnessed many success stories of people whose lives have been turned around by the dedicated Mission staff. I hope you can join me on July 31, 2014 at 5:30 PM at The Wisconsin Club in support of one of the most important charitable organizations in our city.

– John A. Birdsall

 All the donations go directly to the Rescue Mission and support various programs such as:

·       250 guest beds available for nightly use by homeless men in Milwaukee.

·       The 12 Month Life Skills program that takes at-risk men off the street and gives them shelter, helping them to overcome chemical dependency, coordinating appropriate education, and help in securing gainful employment.

·       The 6 Month FOCUS program to take graduates from the Life Skills program into a transitional phase that involves actual employment and debt repayment of more than $324,000 since 1997.  An increase of almost 10% in the last 12 months.

·       100 mothers and children living at the Joy House that provides safe housing and a positive environment as they rebuild their lives from often difficult domestic situations.

·       The Cross Trainers choice school that provides high-quality education from kindergarten through 7th graders.

Wisconsin State Bar Elects Attorney John A. Birdsall to the Board of Governors


John A. Birdsall, president of Birdsall Law Offices, S.C., was elected to the Milwaukee district of the Wisconsin State Bar Board of Governors and will begin his service in July. The Board of Governors manages and directs the affairs and activities of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Birdsall will be one of the twelve governors part of the Milwaukee District. Birdsall is also the only attorney on the board to exclusively practice criminal defense law.

Birdsall brings a history of leadership along with this unique perspective as he is currently on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Criminal Law Section of the State bar of Wisconsin. Birdsall also serves on the board of directors at the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

Continued Success for the Milwaukee YMCA’s Driver License Restoration Project

For 5 years, the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee has been conducting the Driver’s License Restoration Project, with the latest edition held on June 21. This event is spearheaded by Attorney John A. Birdsall who volunteers on the YMCA Urban Campus Board. Three times a year, attorney Birdsall and other volunteer lawyers from the Milwaukee area (most recently with attorneys from Michael Best & Friedrich LLP) take the time to meet with individuals with suspended licenses in an effort to restore their driving record. These sessions are designed to help people understand their driving record and arm them with the information to restore their driver’s license. In most cases these situations are successful and these individuals are able to restore their suspended licenses. In more complex cases, individuals are referred to Hon. James Gramling at the Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability. For more information about the Driver’s License Restoration Project, check out the links in the text above.