Category: Criminal Procedure


Autonomous Vehicles: Unintended Upsides and Changes

Some day we might do away with pretext traffic stops, because some day autonomous vehicles will be common. At ReInventlaw Silicon Valley, David Estrada from GoogleX, made the pitch for laws to allow autonomous vehicles a bright future. He went to the core reasons such fuel sustainability and faster commutes. He also used the tear jerking commercial that showed the true benefits of enabling those who cannot drive to drive. I have heard that before. But I think David also said that the cars are required to obey all traffic laws.
If so, that has some interesting implications.

I think that once autonomous vehicles are on the road in large numbers, the police will not be able to claim that some minor traffic violation required pulling someone over and then searching the car. If a stop is made, like the Tesla testing arguments, the car will have rich data to verify that the car was obeying laws.

These vehicles should also alter current government income streams. These shifts are not often obvious to start but hit home quickly. For example, when cell phones appeared, colleges lost their income from high rates for a phone in a dorm room. That turned out out to be a decent revenue stream. If autonomous vehicles obey traffic laws, income from traffic violations should go down. Cities, counties, and states will have to find new ways to make up that revenue stream. Insurance companies should have much lower income as well.

I love to drive. I will probably not like giving up that experience. Nonetheless, reduced traffic accidents, fewer drunk drivers, more mobility for the elderly and the young (imagine a car that handled shuttling kids from soccer, ballet, music, etc., picking you up, dropping you home, and then gathering the kids while you cooked a meal (yes, should I have kids, I hope to cook for them). The time efficiency is great. Plus one might subscribe to a car service so that the $10,000-$40,000 car is not spending its time in disuse most of the day. Add to all that a world where law enforcement is better used and insurance is less needed, and I may have to give in to a world where driving myself is a luxury.

Coates on Racism

I found this a particularly powerful column by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the frisking of Forest Whitaker at a New York City deli:

Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was stopped in a Manhattan delicatessen by an employee. Whitaker is one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation. . . Since the Whitaker affair, I’ve read and listened to interviews with the owner of the establishment. He is apologetic to a fault and is sincerely mortified. He says that it was a “sincere mistake” made by a “decent man” who was “just doing his job.” I believe him.

We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years. But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner.

The “invisible violence” extends to the newsmagazine of NYC’s billionaire mayor, to his law enforcement policies. Implicit bias is pervasive. We need not accuse any particular person of evil intent to observe the corrosive structures that reinforce it.


In Honor of Alan Westin: Privacy Trailblazer, Seer, and Changemaker

Privacy leading light Alan Westin passed away this week.  Almost fifty years ago, Westin started his trailblazing work helping us understand the dangers of surveillance technologies.  Building on the work that Warren and Brandeis started in “The Right to Privacy” in 1898, Westin published Privacy and Freedom in 1967.  A year later, he took his normative case for privacy to the trenches.  As Director of the National Academy of Science’s Computer Science and Engineering Board, he and a team of researchers studied governmental, commercial, and private organizations using databases to amass, use, and share personal information.  Westin’s team interviewed 55 organizations, from local law enforcement, federal agencies like the Social Security Administration, and direct-mail companies like R.L. Polk (a predecessor to our behavioral advertising industry).

The 1972 report, Databanks in a Free Society: Computers, Record-Keeping, and Privacy, is a masterpiece.  With 14 case studies, the report made clear the extent to which public and private entities had been building substantial computerized dossiers of people’s activities and the risks to economic livelihood, reputation, and self-determination.  It demonstrated the unrestrained nature of data collection and sharing, with driver’s license bureaus selling personal information to direct-mail companies and law enforcement sharing arrest records with local and state agencies for employment and licensing matters.  Surely influenced by Westin’s earlier work, some data collectors, like the Kansas City Police Department, talked to the team about privacy protections, suggesting the need for verification of source documents, audit logs, passwords, and discipline for improper use of data. Westin’s report called for data collectors to adopt ethical procedures for data collection and sharing, including procedural protections such as notice and chance to correct inaccurate or incomplete information, data minimization requirements, and sharing limits.

Westin’s work shaped the debate about the right to privacy at the dawn of our surveillance era. His changing making agenda was front and center of  the Privacy Act of 1974.  In the early 1970s, nearly fifty congressional hearings and reports investigated a range of data privacy issues, including the use of census records, access to criminal history records, employers’ use of lie detector tests, and the military and law enforcement’s monitoring of political dissidents. State and federal executives spearheaded investigations of surveillance technologies including a proposed National Databank Center.

Just as public discourse was consumed with the “data-bank problem,” the courts began to pay attention. In Whalen v. Roe, a 1977 case involving New York’s mandatory collection of prescription drug records, the Supreme Court strongly suggested that the Constitution contains a right to information privacy based on substantive due process. Although it held that the state prescription drug database did not violate the constitutional right to information privacy because it was adequately secured, the Court recognized an individual’s interest in avoiding disclosure of certain kinds of personal information. Writing for the Court, Justice Stevens noted the “threat to privacy implicit in the accumulation of vast amounts of personal information in computerized data banks or other massive government files.”  In a concurring opinion, Justice Brennan warned that the “central storage and easy accessibility of computerized data vastly increase the potential for abuse of that information, and I am not prepared to say that future developments will not demonstrate the necessity of some curb on such technology.”

What Westin underscored so long ago, and what Whalen v. Roe signaled, technologies used for broad, indiscriminate, and intrusive public surveillance threaten liberty interests.  Last term, in United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court signaled that these concerns have Fourth Amendment salience. Concurring opinions indicate that at least five justices have serious Fourth Amendment concerns about law enforcement’s growing surveillance capabilities. Those justices insisted that citizens have reasonable expectations of privacy in substantial quantities of personal information.  In our article “The Right to Quantitative Privacy,” David Gray and I are seeking to carry forward Westin’s insights (and those of Brandeis and Warren before him) into the Fourth Amendment arena as the five concurring justices in Jones suggested.  More on that to come, but for now, let’s thank Alan Westin for his extraordinary work on the “computerized databanks” problem.



DPAs and Corporate Governance

In this season’s law review submission process, I am circulating an article about deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and corporate governance.    DPAs are controversial tools increasingly-used to settle corporate criminal cases, usually without indictment. Targets admit facts, pay fines and promise governance reforms—such as replacing officers, adding directors and prescribing reporting lines.

Some view DPAs as coerced extractions of overzealous prosecutors, while others say they are mere whitewash that let corporate crooks off the hook. The weight of commentary urges prosecutors to get out of this business, to avoid corporate governance entirely, while some wonder why the intrusions are not deeper and more frequent.

I explain why prosecutors should invest in corporate governance and take a measured approach to reforming it. Ignoring governance can be perilous and embracing it can produce more effective reforms.

My diagnosis indicates a lack of both investment and transparency so I make two prescriptions: prosecutors should profile the corporate governance of businesses they target at the outset and publicly articulate rationales for reforms when settling.

The paper first surveys the landscape of contemporary corporate governance, stressing two normative points. First: one-size-does-not fit all. Corporate governance varies enormously from company to company, depending on such factors as ownership structures, management characteristics and employment policies. Second: failure to appreciate that poses serious risks, always to given companies, and sometimes to the economy at large.

That is the proper lesson to draw from the 2002 case of Arthur Andersen, where an indictment destroyed the auditing firm because it was a partnership owned and managed by its members in the veracity business.

Instead, prosecutors took a broader and cruder lesson: that they should always be averse to indicting any large business. The result of that aversion has been the proliferation of DPAs—which, despite controversy and criticism, is not necessarily a bad effect, so long as these lessons are incorporated into their production.

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Note to Senate: Ask Mary Jo White About DPAs

To show he is getting tougher on Wall Street, President Obama has nominated Mary Jo White, the former head of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, as chair of the SEC. White oversaw the prosecutions of John Gotti and the terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and is a veteran of white collar criminal prosecutions and defense.

Many Americans applaud such displays of toughness, worried that “too big to fail” means “too big to jail.” That is, criminal indictment of a large financial institution threatens its existence and, along with it, economic recovery.

But prosecutors are getting tough on big banks, evident in the recent LIBOR interest rate rigging cases, such as that against Royal Bank of Scotland announced this week, and the money laundering case at HSBC made at year-end. Prosecutors resolved these cases by obtaining admissions of guilt and large fines in exchange for deferring prosecution under agreements that require good corporate behavior for several years.

Under such deferred prosecution agreements, or DPAs, prosecutors flex their muscles by imposing extensive internal reforms at the company. Their goal is to change corporate culture to promote greater accountability and likelihood of compliance with law. Some terms, however, may go overboard, and there is reason to worry about unintended consequences.

Such deals typically require the company to hire an army of compliance officers to roam the company in search of rogues and to train employees in the best practices of compliance programming. In many cases, DPAs require hiring an outside consultant to direct additional steps to be taken and an independent monitor to watch over all the changes during the probation period.

But installing such personnel and programs is no guarantee of succeeding in promoting any particular culture or result. Corporations differ in their histories, philosophies, and business models, negating the possibility of a one-size-fits-all approach to altering culture in desired ways.   (For a dramatic example of the danger, consider the experience at AIG from 2005 to 2008, which I document in the new book The AIG Story, and which is summarized in this week’s review of the book in the Wall Street Journal.)  Prosecutors often do not understand corporate governance well enough to direct reforms and they rarely explain their reasons when they impose such changes. 

Prosecutors should enforce the law and hold people and institutions accountable for violations. When prudent they should settle a matter on terms that may include internal corporate reforms. But they also must make an effort to assure that the reforms they propose will work with the valid parts of the corporate cultures where they are implanted. Failure to do so can be disastrous. When the Senate evaluates Ms. White’s nomination for SEC chair, Senators would do well to ask what she thinks about using DPAs to reform corporate culture.


The Good Life and Gun Control

Like many of you, I’ve been horrified by the events in Newtown, and dismayed by the debate that has followed.  Josh Marshall (at TPM) thinks that “this is quickly veering from the merely stupid to a pretty ugly kind of victim-blaming.”  Naive realism, meet thy kettle!  Contrary to what you’ll see on various liberal outlets, the NRA didn’t cause Adam Lanza to kill innocent children and adults, nor did Alan Gura or the army of academics who helped to build the case for an individual right to gun ownership.  Reading discussions on the web, you might come to believe that we don’t all share the goal of a society where the moral order is preserved, and where our children can be put on the bus to school without a qualm.

But we do.

We just disagree about how to make it happen.

Dan Kahan’s post on the relationship between “the gun debate”, “gun deaths”, and Newtown is thus very timely.  Dan argues that if we really wanted to decrease gun deaths, we should try legalizing drugs.  (I’d argue, following Bill Stuntz, that we also/either would hire many more police while returning much more power to local control).  But decreasing gun deaths overall won’t (probably) change the likelihood of events like these:

“But here’s another thing to note: these very sad incidents “represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence.” Those who are appropriately interested in reducing gun homicides generally and who are (also appropriately) making this tragedy the occasion to discuss how we as a society can and must do more to make our citizens safe, and who are, in the course of making their arguments invoking(appropraitely!) the overall gun homicide rate should be focusing on what we can be done most directly and feasibly to save the most lives.

Repealing drug laws would do more —  much, much, much more — than banning assault rifles (a measure I would agree is quite appropriate); barring carrying of concealed handguns in public  (I’d vote for that in my state, if after hearing from people who felt differently from me, I could give an account of my position that fairly meets their points and doesn’t trade on tacit hostility toward or mere incomprehension of  whatever contribution owning a gun makes to their experience of a meaningful free life); closing the “gun show” loophole; extending waiting periods etc.  Or at least there is evidence for believing that, and we are entitled to make policy on the best understanding we can form of how the world works so long as we are open to new evidence and aren’t otherwise interfering with liberties that we ought, in a liberal society, to respect.”

Dan’s post is trying to productively redirect our public debate, and I wanted to use this platform to bring more attention to his point.  But, I think he’s missing something, and if you follow me after the jump, I’ll tell you what.

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Convicting the Innocent: A powerful force for change

I also thank Danielle and Brandon for including me in this symposium, and am very happy to join the discussion of four very important works on the state of the criminal justice system in America today.

The reference to the Central Park Five in Danielle’s original post highlights one of the most important qualities of Convicting the Innocent: it uses the powerfully told stories of the exonerated to bring to life the new and important detail about the causes of wrongful convictions that Garrett’s research has uncovered. The result is the fullest picture to date of the scope of the “nightmarish reality” that has led to 301 DNA-based exonerations in this country.  Convicting the Innocent is not only a great read for lawyers and lay people alike, it is also a powerful tool for bringing about much-needed systemic change. Dan Medwed’s post appropriately asks whether the works being discussed here urge change that is gradual and specific or change that is revolutionary, going to the heart of the adversary system. In the context of eyewitness misidentification – the leading contributing cause of wrongful convictions, occurring in (as Garrett found) 75 percent of the first 250 exonerations – we see great success in effecting change in both courts and police precincts alike. Brandon Garrett’s research has been critical to these successful reform efforts.

As the attorney responsible for the Innocence Project‘s work in the area of eyewitness identification, I have relied on Convicting the Innocent in my efforts to educate attorneys, judges and policy makers about the perils of misidentification and the flaws in the current legal framework for evaluating identification evidence at trial that is applied in nearly all jurisdictions in the United States. That legal framework, set forth by the Supreme Court in Manson v. Brathwaite, directs courts to balance the effects of improper police suggestion in identification procedures with certain “reliability factors” – the witness’s opportunity to view the perpetrator, the attention paid by the witness, the witness’s certainty in the identification, the time between the crime and confrontation and the accuracy of the witness’s description. (These factors are not exclusive, but most courts treat them as if they are.)

Psychological research in the area of perception and memory has offered conclusive evidence that the identified reliability factors are not well-correlated with accuracy; do not objectively reflect reality to the extent that they are self-reported; and – most critically – are inflated by suggestion, leading to the perverse result that the more suggestive the identification procedure, the higher the measures of reliability under the Manson test.

Garrett’s work in Convicting the Innocent adds an important dimension to the psychological research – and makes even more urgent the call to reform the Manson test – by demonstrating that the Manson test failed in the cases of the 190 exonerees who were convicted based, at least in part, on identification evidence that was either not challenged or admitted as reliable under Manson. Garrett’s work shows just how the Manson reliability factors fail to ensure reliability: in most cases reviewed by Garrett, the witnesses had poor viewing opportunities; had only a few seconds to see the perpetrator’s face, which was often disguised or otherwise obscured; made identifications weeks or months after the crime; and provided descriptions that were substantially different from the wrongly accused’s appearance. In addition, almost all of the witnesses in the cases reviewed by Garrett expressed complete confidence at trial – stating for example that “there is absolutely no question in my mind” (Steven Avery’s case); that “[t]his is the man or it is his twin brother” (Thomas Doswell’s case) – although DNA later proved that these witnesses were entirely wrong. Perhaps most striking of all of Garrett’s research findings in the area of eyewitness misidentification is that in 57 percent of the trials with certain eyewitnesses, the witnesses had expressed earlier uncertainty (strongly suggesting that the identification was unreliable), but only 21 percent of these witnesses admitted their earlier uncertainty.

The Innocence Project has relied on Garrett’s research in advocating for the reform of the legal framework for evaluating identification evidence in courts around the country, from the U.S. Supreme Court (Perry v. New Hampshire) to state supreme courts from Oregon (State v. Lawson) and Washington (State v. Allen) to New Jersey (State v. Henderson) and Pennsylvania (State v. Walker). In two of these cases – Henderson and Lawson – high courts found that Manson fails to ensure reliability and implemented new legal tests that better reflect the scientific research and, we hope, will better prevent wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentification. Both the Henderson and Lawson courts cited Convicting the Innocent in rendering their decisions, demonstrating just how powerful a force for change Garrett’s work is.