How Does Working Affect Social Security Benefits?

As I discussed in a prior post, the Social Security Disability (SSD) system has its fair share of issues. One of those issues is how confusing the laws are as they relate to a person being able to work while at the same time receive disability payments.

People who receive disability payments often realize fairly quickly that the benefits they receive are significantly less than their salary when they worked. In fact, the amount is so low that many recipients are unable to support their family on the amount they receive. Because of this, I’ve gotten the same question fairly regularly – can I work at all if I’m receiving disability benefits?

The answer to that isn’t a straight yes or no. It’s important to first point out the standard for granting of disability benefits. The standard is this – if you are determined to have a severe disability that prevents you from doing your current job for at least one year, and you’re given reasonable accommodations by the employer, are there any jobs that exist in sufficient numbers that you’d be able to perform on a 40-hour-a-week basis?

Notice that the standard is for full-time work. This means that you can work part-time and still get benefits, right? Yes, but with certain caveats.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to work while receiving benefits, but puts a cap on the amount of work you can do. They call the threshold for allowed work Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA. If you’re receiving SSDI, the SSA has defined “substantial” as earning over $1,070/month for 2014 (this amount changes every year). So, if you work and earn less than that, you are not at SGA levels and can still receive benefits.

There’s also something called a Trial Work Period (TWP). At any point during your disability, you can attempt to return to work without immediately giving up your benefits. This attempt can last up to 9 months. In 2014, a trial-work month means any month where your earnings are above $770. The 9 months worked do not need to be consecutive; it is considered a TWP if you work 9 months within a 60 month period. You can still receive benefits for a certain period after the TWP ends.

Keep in mind, though, that if you are working you must report it to the SSA. Yes, they allow you to work. However, they can then use the fact that you work, even part-time, as evidence that you are no longer disabled and in need of benefits.

The Social Security Disability system is extremely complicated. Rather than try to navigate it alone, speak to a lawyer. If you are in need of disability benefits, or you already receive benefits and need guidance on where to go from here, contact The Fliszar Firm in Bethlehem, PA today.

When Should I Hire An Attorney?

I get this question a lot – do I really need an attorney? And if I do, how quickly do I need to hire one? The answer is fairly simple. If you’re involved in the legal system, or there’s even a possibility you may be, you should have an attorney. If you need one, you should hire one immediately.

I practice in a few different areas of law, but it’s same across the board – most, if not all, legal situations require an attorney. Why? Take Criminal Defense, for example. From the moment you come in contact with the police, they are looking for ways to convict you. You have certain rights available to you, and those rights need to be protected.

I wouldn’t even go in front of a judge for a traffic ticket without an attorney. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as whether you did it or not. With all crimes, there are certain things that must be proven, and an attorney will know how to adequately fight the case. Also, there are certain defenses that may be available for any number of charges, and the attorney is in the best position to understand when these defenses apply and how to successfully present them. Even the most clear-cut case may be winnable with the help of a good attorney.

In Personal Injury cases, you need to start preserving evidence immediately after the incident. You also want to have somebody for any insurance adjusters, witnesses, and possible plaintiffs to communicate with so you don’t say or do anything that could harm your case. Again, an attorney should be hired immediately.

I have a family member who was in a car accident a few years ago. She sustained injuries, and at the time didn’t know how lingering the effects may be or how they would affect her life. Back then, I was working at another firm that didn’t handle Personal Injury cases and I had signed a no moonlighting agreement, so I couldn’t help her. I suggested to her that she hire a Personal Injury attorney right away, which she did, and I’m glad she followed that advice. There were a lot of unexpected issues that came up, both with the other driver’s insurance carrier and her medical treatment, and she would have been lost if she didn’t have that attorney to guide her through the process and advocate on her behalf.

The same is true for the other areas of law that I practice – Workers Compensation, Social Security Disability, and Animal Law. Even if you don’t know that you’ll get criminal charges, or that you’ll be out of work for an extended period of time, or that your injuries will linger, you should have someone on your side, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you’re giving yourself the best chance at a positive outcome in your case.

If you’ve found yourself involved in the legal system in any way, you need a qualified attorney. Contact The Fliszar Firm today to schedule a free consultation and make sure your rights are protected.

How to Get a DUI at Home

I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently about the DUI law in Pennsylvania, and there’s one thing I’ve learned: it’s highly misunderstood. But what could someone possibly misunderstand? It’s pretty cut and dry, right?

Well, the most misunderstood part of DUI that I’ve seen is that DUI in PA is a time-of-driving offense. What do I mean by this? Most people have told me they think DUI means your Blood Alcohol Content is above a .08 while you’re driving. This is only partially true.

Yes, the state has to prove that you had alcohol in your system at a certain level, depending on what subsection you’re charged under. Obviously, the blood is drawn after you drive. Therefore, we only know what your BAC is at the time the blood is drawn. It used to be that to prove DUI, the state would need to bring in an expert to testify about retrograde extrapolation, or in other words, give scientific evidence as to what your BAC would have been had the blood been drawn at the time of driving. As you can imagine, that can get pricey and somewhat difficult to coordinate for every DUI in the state.

To solve this problem, the legislature rewrote the law to say that your BAC had to be above the legal limit within two hours of driving. This now means that unless your own actions take you outside that two hour window, as long as the blood was drawn within 2 hours of you driving, the prosecution doesn’t have to bring in any witnesses to testify as to what your BAC was when you were actually behind the wheel.

Consider this case: you’re out with your wife. You each have a few glasses of wine, then drive home and get there without a problem. Unfortunately, you get into an argument and for whatever reason, the cops are called to your home about an hour after you arrive. Your wife tells the police you drove, and you admit to driving home. After all, you’re already there, so it’s not like they can arrest you for DUI at this point, right?

Wrong. Even though you made it home, it’s still within 2 hours of driving. The police arrest you, take you in for a blood draw, and it comes back that your BAC is a .11. You can now be charged with DUI.

It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what your BAC was when you were driving. It doesn’t matter that you got home without a problem. It doesn’t matter that your BAC may have even still been rising and could very well have been below the legal limit while you were driving (heads up – you’ll probably need to pay for an expert to try to argue this defense). These are just arguments you can make to create reasonable doubt.

But what about the person who goes home and has a drink or two before the officer arrives? The one thing that person has going for them is that the prosecution has to prove that you didn’t drink between the time of driving and the time you arrived home. However, this is merely a defense. In my experience, the prosecution will still charge you and it’ll be up to you to argue that you were drinking after you drove. This is often an uphill battle.

It’s important to have an experienced attorney who understands your case and can present these defenses. Remember: you aren’t necessarily safe from a DUI just because you get home safely. If you’re in this kind of situation, let The Fliszar Firm tell you how it can help.

Personal Injury Do’s and Don’ts

jfliszar:

When talking about auto accidents in terms of a potential Personal Injury case, it’s important to do everything you can to help your case, and as little as possible to hurt it. This article provides great tips. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Originally posted on Chapman Law, PLLC:

Image

What would you put in the above caption?  “I’m soooo sorry!  It was all my fault!”  Or perhaps, “What were you thinking!  This is all your fault!”  The steps taken immediately following an accident can have far reaching consequences for an injured party.  The following article is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for anyone involved in an accident.

Please visit our website at http://www.chapmanlawpllc.com.

(The following information is courtesy of the Illinois Bar Association)

If you are injured because of someone else’s negligence or a product malfunction, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do at the time of the injury and beyond. The following Do’s and Don’ts will guide you as you build your case for full financial recovery.

DO:

  • Exchange insurance information with others involved. Also, try to gather names, phone numbers and addresses for all potential witnesses. Give this information to the…

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You Want to Search My Cell Phone? Get a Warrant!

Big news on the search and seizure front – the United States Supreme Court ruled today that cell phones may not be searched without a warrant.

The Supreme Court held that police generally may not search digital information on a cell phone of a person being arrested, unless they first obtain a search warrant. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from the opinion:

“These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

“The United States asserts that a search of all data stored on a cell phone is ‘materially indistinguishable’ from searches of these sorts of physical items…That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.”

In response to the Government’s suggestion that police departments can institute protocols to guard against reading protected information stored on the Cloud but visible on the phone: “Probably a good idea, but the Founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols.”

“We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime…Privacy comes at a cost.”

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life.’”

The case stems from two trial level cases. In the first, the defendant was pulled over for traffic violations which led to the impounding of his car. An officer looked through a smart phone found during an inventory search of the car and noticed gang lingo. Once at the police station, a forensic expert looked more closely at the phone and found photographs and other damning evidence linking him to a shooting a few weeks earlier. He was charged based on that evidence, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison – an enhanced sentence because of his gang relations that were also discovered on the phone.

In the second case, the defendant was arrested after police observed him participating in a suspected drug sale. The police searched his flip phone, traced a number that was repeatedly calling the phone, and got a search warrant to search the house the call was coming from.  There, they found drugs, guns, and cash, and the defendant was charged with drugs and firearms offenses.

Head on over to SCOTUS Blog for a full analysis of the decision and its implications. It’s clear that this decision could create suppression issues for many cases, allowing for dismissal of charges. Officers no longer have free reign to use the “search incident to arrest exception.” With all the private and protected information we keep on our phones, I’m just glad to see the Supreme Court is finally catching up to technology.

Announcing the Opening of The Fliszar Firm

As you may have noticed, I’ve been somewhat MIA lately. That’s because I’ve been working hard on a new project – opening my own law office. And it’s finally happening!

I’m proud to announce the opening of The Fliszar Firm. The website is still under construction, but feel free to check it out. The work my office will do is much like the topics I discuss on this blog, focusing on litigation. The firm is located in Bethlehem, PA and primarily handles cases in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

The Fliszar Firm offers representation in the areas of Criminal Defense, including traffic violations, DUIs, drug offenses, assault, sexual assault, and homicide; Personal Injury, including child abuse/sexual assault/other victims of crime, slip and falls, nursing home neglect, car and motorcycle accidents, construction accidents, and head, neck, and back injuries; Workers Compensation; Social Security Disability; and Animal Law, such as pet trusts, pet custody, eviction, feral cat colony care, cost of care, dog lemon law, and animal welfare.

Head on over to Facebook and like us, and check us out on Google Plus while you’re at it. Be sure to stay tuned here at Common Law, because I’ll be posting a great story about how I recently got a DUI case dismissed based on a rarely used legal argument.

More Domestic Violence Shelters Allowing Pets

For years, I’ve been trying to educate people on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Not only are animal abusers much more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence, but more and more women are reporting that their abuser has targeted their pets as a way to control and terrorize them. I personally have witnessed this, both in my own personal life and while working in the Domestic Violence Clinic during law school.

Society’s attitude towards pets is changing, and animals are often considered members of the family. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options for women who want to leave an abusive relationship but won’t leave their pets behind. Many domestic violence shelters do not allow animals. Because of the strong bond with their pets and the lack of available housing for the animals at the DV shelter, women tend to stay in abusive relationships rather than make the devastating choice of leaving their pets behind to face an unknown and sometimes deadly fate.

Thankfully, the link between domestic violence and animal abuse is beginning to gain national recognition. Domestic violence shelters are slowly starting to allow pets, giving women the opportunity to leave abusive relationships when they may not have had one before. The AP just published an article on this topic. Click here to check it out. It has some great information on just a few of the much needed shelter programs popping up around the nation.

The Sad Truth About Feral Kittens

I’m an animal lover and am extremely active in animal rescue efforts. My biggest passion is spreading the word about Trap-Neuter-Return programs (TNR). TNR is a program where feral cats are trapped, spayed/neutered, and returned to their home outside to live out their lives without reproducing. It’s the most humane way to control the feral cat population. This is the time of year known to those in animal rescue as “kitten season,” a time when huge numbers of kittens are being born to stray and feral cats. Somebody recently sent me an interesting article on what will happen to many of these kittens, and now I’m passing it onto you. Many municipalities are starting to pass ordinances that could protect ferals from the fate described in the article, but there is still much work that needs to be done to protect feral cats and kittens.

Click here to read the article.

JUSTICE

This is the final post in a series examining DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part Two, I told you about a woman who came into my office, frustrated because her attorney wanted her to enter into ARD for DUI charges despite the fact that it would ruin her career and she maintained she was innocent. Her driving was perfect, she had no alcohol in her system, and the only drugs found were lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Part Two ended with a denied continuance, a rejected plea deal and a new DA.

Immediately upon taking the case, the new DA began demanding that we provide her with my client’s medical records. We had already provided a note from her treating physician stating that all the meds were prescribed and he never saw any indication of side effects or abuse, so I refused to ask for the medical records. They weren’t necessary in light of this letter and the fact that everything was within therapeutic range, a clear sign that they weren’t being abused. Also, my client didn’t want a DA going through all her personal psychiatric and PCP treatment. When I refused to obtain the records, the DA started issuing subpoenas to the pharmacy. What blew my mind was that the pharmacies turned over the records without any consent from my client. How they thought this didn’t violate HIPAA privacy rights, I’ll never know.

At the time of the trial, the DA asked for a continuance so she could obtain an expert opinion on my client’s impairment. Despite previously denying my request for the same thing, the judge granted the DA’s continuance request. After that, the DA continued to issue subpoenas, and when the doctors wouldn’t turn over the records she wanted because they didn’t have consent from the client, she went over everybody’s head and got a search warrant under the guise that she wanted to see if the client was abusing her meds.

In the meantime, the DA tried to get me to provide her the name of my client’s doctors and pharmacy and also obtain all of her medical records and supply them to her expert. To me, this was a huge invasion of my client’s privacy and there was no way I was handing that information over. Plus, the DA had no right to force my client to go out and get evidence that could be used against her; it’s unconstitutional. When I again refused to request the information she wanted, she filed a Motion to Compel with the court and asked the judge to force me to get her the information. Thankfully, the judge saw how unconstitutional this was and denied the motion. However, he did grant yet another continuance for the DA so she could continue her crusade against my client and obtain more medical records and an expert report.

Because of the time all this took, we were able to secure an expert who wrote an opinion for us. When I had a conversation with him, he told me he thought it was absolutely criminal that they were coming after my client and that he just didn’t see any evidence of impairment. He couldn’t understand how the case even got this far. We submitted his report and supporting documents to the DA and she passed that on to her expert.

About a week later, the DA called me and said that her expert would not be able to opine that my client was impaired by her medications. Therefore, they were withdrawing the DUI charge. Instead of just letting the entire case go, though, she told me they’d be amending the charges to careless driving and a headlight infraction. I told her there was no way my client was pleading to careless driving, as the dash cam clearly showed her driving was perfect. The DA said she would have to review the tape again; she did, and agreed with me they couldn’t prove careless driving, but she was going to keep the headlight infraction. My client agreed to plead guilty to that charge.

A couple weeks ago, she entered her plea. After all that, she received a $25 fine. But the damage has already been done. My client no longer has any faith in our justice system. She had to spend thousands of dollars on attorney and expert fees. This has been on her record all this time while she’s been applying for jobs. She lost out on at least one because they saw the charge when they ran a criminal background check. Her medical privacy rights have been violated. And none of this even begins to account for the emotional toll this has taken on her and her family. And for what? All because she took legal medication as prescribed to her by her doctor. She eventually received justice, but how many out there don’t?

The Innocent Defendant

This is Part Two of a three-part series examining the rise in prosecutions for DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part One, I explained the law and how it is that someone can take medication as prescribed and still face a possible DUI charge. Now, it’s time to look at a specific case I recently handled where I firmly believed my client was innocent.

Last year, a very scared and frustrated young woman came into my office, charged with a first offense DUI of a controlled substance after being pulled over for a faulty front headlight. She’d never been in trouble before and her attorney was pushing her to enter into ARD rather than fight the case. She maintained that she had done nothing wrong, as the only thing found in her system after a blood test was lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Plus, even ARD would cost my client her job and ruin her career. She wanted to fight and prove her innocence rather than admit she drove impaired and enter into ARD, as her attorney kept recommending. Because I’d recently taken on these types of cases as my pet project at my firm, I immediately told her I could help and became her attorney.

I looked at her blood results and saw that all the medications she was on were well within therapeutic range, meaning she was taking them as prescribed and obviously not abusing them. Then I looked at the synopsis from the officer and there was a clear disconnect between what he said he observed and what was in her system. I watched the dash cam video, and it showed my client driving perfectly. It also showed that she didn’t do great on the SFSTs, but it looked more like she just wasn’t taking them seriously and wasn’t really trying. She did tell me that she thought the whole thing was a joke, so the video jived with what she had said. However, according to the officer, she was swerving and weaving and performed extremely poorly on the SFSTs, showing numerous signs of impairment. I told my client she should hire an expert witness who specializes in pharmacology so that we could have testimony explaining that the meds she was on wouldn’t produce anything the officer observed. She agreed.

At her first hearing, I asked the judge for a continuance to give us time to hire an expert and provide an expert report. The judge shockingly denied my request, informing me that he didn’t care that this was a first listing and that time to obtain an expert report is not a valid reason to grant a continuance. He then forced us to trial a few weeks later.

When we showed up for trial, we had worked out a plea deal with the DA. We didn’t have time to get the expert and my client was afraid of what would happen if we went to trial. However, when she tried to enter her plea, the same judge that had denied the continuance rejected the plea deal, again forcing us to trial. After this, the trial was rescheduled and a new DA took on the case. That’s when things became disturbing.
The behavior of the DA defied all standards of logic and professionalism. It very quickly turned from a case of seeking justice to a crusade against an innocent young woman. In Part Three, I’ll tell you about the months of maltreatment my client was forced to endure at the hands of an over-zealous prosecutor. Stay tuned!