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January 16, 2015

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What is Uber?


As of today, Uber, the ridesharing app popular in many large cities, has been told by the Public Service Commission that they are to cease and desist any business activity in South Carolina.

Uber is an app for IOS and Android that allows people in need of a ride to summon a registered driver for Uber, who will then take them to their destination. No cash is exchanged, as they pay through the app (the app is linked to a credit or debit card.) All Uber drivers must be registered, and the registration process includes a criminal background check, certification that the car they are using is in safe operating condition, and a check on the driver’s driving record. Users of Uber enjoy convenience of using an app to both pay for and summon their ride.

Taxi lobbies are putting enormous pressure on local and state governments to ban Uber. They face a serious threat from Uber, as Uber’s business model seeks to do what Napster and later iTunes did to your local record store. Much like Napster, Uber does have some legal flaws that can be used as ammunition for those who seek to fight against it. For example, most state and local governments require taxi’s and taxi driver’s to be licensed, including having a business license, having a special taxi license known as a “medallion.” Additionally, there are questions of insurance coverage for both the Uber driver and any passenger he picks up that have yet to be answered.

However, my guess is that all of these things will sort themselves out in the next several years, and Uber will be on side of innovation and progress. I believe that Unless taxi cabs can adapt, they may find themselves in the same category as the record store and Blockbuster video- a fond memory.




January 9, 2015

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What is a Preliminary Hearing?



In South Carolina, Rule 2 of the South Carolina Rules of Criminal Procedure guarantee the right of anyone accused of a crime beyond the scope of Magistrate and Municipal Court the right to a preliminary hearing. You must request the preliminary hearing within 10 days of your arrest, and your request must be in writing. You will be notified of your right to the hearing at your arraignment/bond hearing and will most likely be given a copy of the paperwork to request the hearing.

At a preliminary hearing, the State must prove that probable cause existed to issue the arrest warrant. The defense does not typically put up evidence or witnesses. The defense can, and hopefully will, cross examine the State’s witnesses.

Essentially, the preliminary hearing is an avenue to attack the state’s case and try to show that no probable cause existed to issue the warrant that was issued. In my experience, the odds of a case being dismissed at a preliminary hearing varies widely from judge to judge. I have had some judges easily toss out a case (even an attempted murder case), and I have had judges literally say “I do not see any probable cause in this case, but I will bind it over to General Sessions anyway and let them figure it out.”

A major advantage of a preliminary hearing in South Carolina is to see the State’s case. It’s a lot like looking at the other player’s cards while playing a game of poker. It gives an experienced defense lawyer the ability to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s case before trial time. I believe that although optional, a preliminary hearing is a great way to evaluate the state’s case and put yourself in a better position when it comes time to prepare for trial.