28 September 2012

CrimLaw Around the World

1) Don't blog in Vietnam unless you want to go to prison for 10 or 12 years.

2) Egypt sentences 14 terrorists to death after the top religious official in the country approves it.

3) A rising police star in the Chinese political system gets 14 years in prison because his corruption extended to covering the murder of a British businessman by a political superior.

4) A Brazilian court orders a Google official jailed because someone else posted a political attack on YouTube.

21 September 2012

Predictive Policing

Okay, these two may be the most annoying people I've seen on YouTube, but they do raise an interesting topic:

Computerized predictive policing. It's a wonderfully cool thing if you are a police force trying to justify your budget. However, does it really do any good in the real world?

That's an interesting question. It probably doesn't accomplish much for static crime areas. If there are big shopping outlets in an area near transient traffic or economically less well endowed areas there will always be more shoplifting there. The Last Chance trailer park down at the end of the county or the slums over on 5th street, where people who can't get anyone else to rent to them are eking out an existence will always be a place where there will be problems on Friday and Saturday nights. The one chain of convenient stores which still takes checks will be the one where people go to write bad checks. I can point to patterns of behavior in my jurisdiction consistent with all of these. I don't need a computer to do it. I guarantee that the deputies and police officers who work the streets could predict these things even better than I can, without using computers.

Where predictive policing might be more useful is in marginal areas or when crime will transfer location for some reason. A marginal area is a place where the crime rate could be significantly curtailed by a police presence. It's not Snobby Mount Gated Community or Last Chance trailer park. It's the shopping center outside a lower middle class suburb which has a mid-level crime rate that could drop quite a bit if two officers were constantly walking a beat back and forth through from store to store. A predictive model might be helpful in determining which ares could benefit most from this.

Predicting crime transfer could also be extremely useful. If the feds sweep in and clean up 5th Street so that there are no dealers left there, where will new dealers pop up? More importantly, how could police act so that fewer new dealers pop up? After all, if the predictive model says that shutting down 5th Street means that dealing will shift to 7th does it do much good to station three police cars constantly on 7th? Probably not. That will just cause it to shift to 9th instead. However, if the perdictive model states that shutting down the dealers on 5th and keeping a one car patrol on 7th, 8th, and 9th will lead to a 70% reduction in drug dealing, that would be extremely useful information.

Of course, the problem with a predictive model is that it does not prove that any individual has or will commit a crime. It can only show trends and therefore, for the predictive model to be useful officers must be tasked so that an area is constantly covered by a law enforcement presence. A city police force with 25 people on shift, or a sheriff's department with a 6 deputy shift covering an entire county, probably won't have the ability to do this. As much as we would like our law enforcement to be proactive, reactive policing will always take priority. After all, there's no police chief in the country who wants to stand in front of his city coucil and say "Well, yes, Officer Smith could have intercepted the guy who robbed the pharmacy. That would have taken him three blocks outside of his mandated area." Consequently, even if the model is correct there will be few local law enforcement agencies that will be able to use it effectively.

14 September 2012

Perfecting Opening Statements

In TV shows and movies we are always shown attorneys working late into the night preparing their closing arguments so that the next day they can go into court and win the trial for the good guys. This bit of fiction never seems to play out that way in reality where I feel pretty darn lucky if I get 10 minutes to gather my thoughts and start my closing. However, there is one place where the attorney has plenty of time to craft his message: the opening statement.1

So, how does one go about crafting an opening statement?

Well, let's first address the major error that I see from lawyers old and new. There are so many lawyers who write the whole thing out and either memorize and recite it verbatim or, worse, read it to the jury from their notepad. We've all seen it. The guy who is so obssessed with saying it exactly right that he is staring over the jurors' heads as he reels off his opening just like he did that Shakespearean passage he was required to memorize in high school.2 This is only topped by the guy who never even looks at the jury as he reads his perfectly crafted opening in a flat, monotonous drone. Don't be one of these people. Please, don't be one of these people.

In fact, don't ever write your entire opening down. Outline the argument with bullet points. The shorter these are, the better they are. Some people will write entire sentences as their bullet points, but this is a failure. Basically, that's just writing out the argument in bullet form rather than paragraph form. A person who does this will most likey fall into attempting to say the sentences exactly as written in the bullet points and end up exactly as the people mentioned in the paragraph above. An example of good bullet points might be:
~ Steve Austin
~ Astronaut
~ Accident
~ Rebuilt
~ Stronger
~ Faster
~ 6 million
The bullet points are memory tags, meant to jog your memory if you pull a blank during your opening. They don't have to make sense to anyone else but you.

After you have done a bullet point outline of your opening, read it over two or three times. Then turn it over, stand up like you are in front of a jury, and deliver the opening from start to finish. Yes, I know it's goofy and you'll probably want to do it when nobody is watching (at least the first time), but how you deliver an opening is as important as what you say during it. Practice things as you intend to do them and it's easier to do them correctly when the time comes.

After you've given it a run through turn the paper back over and look to see if you forgot anything. If you got over 80% of what you put on the sheet out and you did your opening in a coherent fashion, without looking at the paper, you have delivered a solid B+ performance. Practice the opening a few more times and when you get to the point that you are doing the opening with 95% accuracy, without reading from the paper, you are in the A performance range.

Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. It is more important to present well than to tell the jury every last fact which you are going to show them. After all, you are going to show them the facts when you present your case - whether you told them about every last fact in your opening or not. By the time you actually do your opening you shouldn't even need that sheet of paper with the bullet points. Remember, every time you look away from the jury to that sheet of paper you are losing repoire points with the jury.

As to the content of your opening statement, that will vary from case to case and situation to situation. A basic rule is to follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. If a group of 8th graders sitting in the jury box wouldn't understand it you have to worry that one or two of the adult jurors might not. In other words if your opening statement includes the phrase "The evidence will establish that the affectation of orthodox antidisestablishmentarianism was a charade belying perfidy of the highest order" you had best be pulling a jury from Yale's faculty or the Curia in Rome. As we all know, you are much more likely to get a jury with homemakers and guys who have retired after 50 years of fixing truck engines. These people aren't necessarily dumb, but their life experience is different than yours. Imagine a physicst explaining loop quantum gravity to you. He'd have to use small words common to both your experiences, because if he used the technical words he used with with other phycists he might as well be reciting the Jabberwocky. The jury's in the same position in relation to you. Use common words and phrases so that everyone understands each other.

Another vital part of the opening statement is deciding format of your opening. Often this is seen as a choice between telling a story or being analytical. However, usually you have to include at least a little of both. A good way for a prosecutor to proceed is to tell the story first - "May 3rd, 2010 was a nice, pleasant, sunny day until Mr. Smith decided he couldn't stand the fact that his neighbor was playing Sweet Home Alabama for the 311th time that morning. Deciding to take action, he grabbed his rapid-firing shotgun and went next door to ask Billy Maloy to turn the music down . . ." - and then follow up with what each witness is going to state - "Officer Greene will tell you that when he arrived on the scene there were bits and pieces of stereo all over the apartment and at least 12 holes in the wall behind the stereo."

If you are a defense attorney sometimes you may want leave the story alone and just focus on the one thing that is the absolute flaw in the prosecutor's case. "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my client did put 17 solid shot slugs into Mr. Maloy's stereo when Mr. Maloy started to play Sweet Home Alabama for the 327th time that morning. The important difference here is that under the law, if anyone plays Sweet Home Alabama more then 325 times there is an absolute right to destroy all stereo equipment used in the playing to stop the cruel and unusual punishment of innocents - it's called the Sigma Alpha Epsilon exception to the vandalism law. 327, not 311, ladies and gentlemen . . ." However, most of the time you will also want to tell your client's story and follow with some explanation as to how you will prove it.

The reason the story is told first is that this is how the jury will remember your case. The reason you go through how evidence will be presented is that it gives the jurors a sense of order and repetion leads to rememberance back in the jury room. It's the old idiom: Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them what you're telling them. Tell them what you told them.

And with these pearls of wisdom, I send you all out into the world to follow the Lammers' method© of creating an opening statement.

1 I think that TV and movies ignore this because the closing is the dramatic culmination of the trial while the opening is just a step in the drama.

2 I still remember parts of the one I memorized: "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more . . ."

04 September 2012

Line of Duty: A Review

5 Second Review: Very, Very Good. 4.5 out of 5.

30 Second Review: In a police department rife with corruption, can its most celebrated officer be above suspicion? The leader of the anti-corruption unit doesn't think so.

Full Review: Lately Hulu has become the place I go to to find interesting shows which I would never see otherwise - usually shows from outside the United States or channels I'd never go to. Among the shows it has gotten me to watch are Little Mosque on the Prairie (Canadian: comedy about a mosque in a rural Canadian town : first three seasons are much fun), Rev (British: semi-comedy about a Church of England Priest "promoted" to become vicar of a failing church in the slums), and Teen Wolf (MTV: a serious and interesting take on the premise which is good enough that after I watched its first season on Hulu I unblocked MTV and watched a show on it for the first time in 20 years). Last week, I was flipping through Hulu and ran across Line of Duty.

Line of Duty has three main characters, but it centers around the story of Detective Chief Inspector Anthony Gates. Gates has been officer of the year for the last three years running, has the highest rate of cleared cases in the city, and is the head of TO-20 - also known as "The Big Sexy Crime Unit." Naturally, that much success cannot go unchallenged, so the head of AC-12 (the anti-corruption unit) makes it his unit's mission to take down DCI Gates.

The police force portrayed here is not pollyanaish in any way, shape, or form. In the first episode we see all sorts of institutionalized corruption. We see a botched terrorist raid being covered up, hear about the purposeful endangerment of two Catholic officers and subsequent coverup after they drive over a pipe bomb, and see a superior lean on one of his investigators to allege fewer crimes ad ignore others altogether. In response to a directive to reduce knife related crime: "Two offenders but only one knife . . . There was an opportunity with one of the offenders to miss out the knife altogether." In response to an old man whose burglary she promised to investigate: "We pursue two out of three reported crimes. We down process anything that won't quickly lead to an offender."

In this world, DCI Gates' sin is that he plays the system too well. Given first right of refusal on all investigations he takes the easy cases and dumps the hard ones on other departments. On top of this he engages in "laddering", which is the attachment of all sorts of alleged crimes to an event so that he can clear them by arrest - all the while knowing that most of the alleged crimes will never be prosecuted. Thus, he makes himself and his unit look amazing. It's more playing the game than corruption. Nevertheless, he has become a primary focus for the anti-corruption unit.

And then we see someone start to purposefully attempt to corrupt DCI Gates . . .

I won't say much more, because to do so would spoil the series. Go watch it; it's the best thing I've seen in a long while.