Category: Criminal Justice System

Common police interrogation method deemed ineffective

From Vice.com:

Claustrophobic rooms and the presumption of guilt have been accepted practice for decades—and a staple of shows like ‘Law and Order.’ But actual cops are changing their ways.

This article was published in partnership with the Marshall Project

You may have never heard of the Reid technique, but chances are you know how it works. For more than half a century, it has been the go-to police interrogation method for squeezing confessions out of suspects. Its tropes are familiar from any cop show: the claustrophobic room, the repeated accusations of guilt, the presentation of evidence—real or invented—and the slow build-up of pressure that makes admitting a crime seem like the easiest way out.

That’s why it jolted the investigative world this week when one of the nation’s largest police consulting firms—one that has trained hundreds of thousands of cops from Chicago to New York and federal agents at almost every major agency—said it is tossing out the Reid technique because of the risk of false confessions.

Read more here.



What your first day in prison is like

From Nick Chester of Vice.com:

British prisons are pretty unpleasant places, as myriad reports and the recent spate of riots in prisons across the country will attest to. One report, released at the end of 2016, found that a “toxic mix of violence, death, and human misery” has led to record numbers of suicides, with one in every 840 inmates killing themselves. Ten percent of suicides take place within the first three days of imprisonment, with the HM Inspectorate of Prisons acknowledging that the first day inside can have a major influence on the likelihood of suicide or self-harm.

I wanted to find out precisely what makes that initial 24 hours so daunting, so I asked four ex-cons to describe the day they entered the prison system in their own words. I spoke to former London gangsters Jason Cook and Paul Murdoch; Rob Butler, who was jailed for tax evasion; and Terry Daniels, who was remanded after being falsely accused of terrorist offenses. Here’s what they had to say.



Amazon objects to police request for echo device data in murder case

A murder investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas, has raised questions about privacy and smart devices inside one’s home that are always on. Amazon has objected to a subpoena from police seeking evidence from one of its Amazon Echo devices inside the home where the murder was believed to have been committed.

An Amazon Echo “smart” device

From the Washington Post:

While police have long seized computers, cellphones and other electronics to investigate crimes, this case has raised fresh questions about privacy issues regarding devices like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, voice-activated personal command centers that are constantly “listening.” Namely, is there a difference in the reasonable expectation of privacy one should have when dealing with a device that is “always on” in one’s own home?

 

The Echo is equipped with seven microphones and responds to a “wake word,” most commonly “Alexa.” When it detects the wake word, it begins streaming audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word, according to the Amazon website.

 

A recording and transcription of the audio is logged and stored in the Amazon Alexa app and must be manually deleted later. For instance, if you asked your Echo, “Alexa, what is the weather right now?” you could later go back to the app to find out exactly what time that question was asked.

 

Police did not specify what data they expected to find on Bates’s Echo — nor is it clear what the device could have captured that would have been relevant to the case. Only if someone happened to have triggered his device with its wake word would it have begun recording any audio. Even then, it seems unlikely that audio would be conclusive evidence of an alleged murder.

 



Record number of 2015 exonerations in US

via The Atlantic

 

Last year a record 149 people were exonerated, continuing a trend that has risen for several years, the National Registry of Exonerations says in a report released Wednesday.

Those 149 people, counted in 29 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Guam, had, on average, spent 14½ years in prison, the report said. Fifty-eight of those exonerated in 2015 were defendants in homicide cases, more than two-thirds were minorities, and about half were African American. Of 47 drug-related exonerations, another record, 42 pleaded guilty in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston.

Additionally, the report said, 27 exonerations were for convictions based on false confessions—22 of them in homicide cases. And, of 58 homicide exonerations, 44 involved official misconduct by authorities. Record exonerations in 2015



The Problem with Hiring Liars to Catch Crooks

via vice.com

Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper in Portland, Oregon, recently published an astounding profile of George Taylor, a man who grew up smoking angel dust; who “has been a criminal since age 13,” according to a parole officer; who has “psychopathic traits,” according to a state psychiatrist; who has a “Heil Hitler” tattoo encoded in numbers and “White Pride” inked across his shoulders; who, starting at age 18, spent 23 of his next 26 years in prison; who once helped set a man on fire; and who, perhaps not surprisingly, given his history, was hired to help boost cell phones by a Detroit syndicate.



Attempting to define a gang member

A New York Times article explores how law enforcement tries to define gang members, and the use of “gang enhancements” in the legal system:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

Click to read more.



Aspen man says stuffed owl is his lawyer

via Aspen Times

An Aspen man has said a stuffed owl named “Solomon” will represent him in court until he gets a public defender. From the Aspen Times:

Charles Abbott came to court Tuesday with a stuffed animal and placed it on the defense table in front of him.

“He’s a very sensitive guy who has law degrees from Yale, Harvard and Stanford,” Abbott told Pitkin County Court Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely. “I think he’ll be able to represent me before a public defender comes online.”

But the prop, a horned owl that Abbott called “Solomon,” had no influence on the hearing’s outcome. Fernandez-Ely casually ignored its presence when Abbott introduced it, and she moved along with the court’s business.



The Snitch Who Stole Christmas

via westword.com

Trinidad’s war on drugs and over-reliance on a confidential informant without adequate safeguards in place ended up hurting the innocent.

Starting on December 19 of last year, the Trinidad police began rounding up suspects in a drug-sting operation, eventually arresting forty people. The four-month investigation — which had involved the use of two female informants to make modest buys of heroin, cocaine, meth, prescription narcotics and even marijuana — was presented as a joint effort by the Trinidad and Raton police departments, the latest innovation in southern Colorado’s war on drugs. Local newspapers and television stations dutifully featured the names and mug shots of the accused and referred vaguely to the smashing of a drug “ring” — as if the suspects were all part of one vast conspiracy, the purchases more significant than the sort of random, garden-variety street buys they appeared to be. …

 

As it turned out, two of the accused had the perfect alibi: They were in jail at the time they were supposedly selling drugs on the streets of Trinidad to the police’s informant. In both cases, the informant was Crystal Bachicha, a 34-year-old woman with a lengthy criminal record. Bachicha also claimed to have bought drugs from Gonzales, her former probation officer; from Valdez, who says she and Bachicha have a history of “bad blood” between them; from Vargas, who insists she’s never met the woman; and from Ridolfi and twelve others, including a woman that Bachicha was once accused of trying to murder.

Defense attorneys probing the case soon discovered numerous misleading or false statements in the sworn affidavits submitted to obtain the arrest warrants. The affidavits routinely stated that the dope purchased by the informants had field-tested positive for heroin, meth or some other controlled substance; in several instances, though, subsequent testing by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation indicated that the substance in question had no narcotic qualities at all.



via newyork.cbslocal.com

 

A private investigator and a former NYPD officer were charged Wednesday in connection with an alleged bribery deal for confidential information from a law enforcement database. Private investigator Joseph Dwyer was arrested on Wednesday. Former NYPD officer Ronald Buell also was charged.



Aspen news outlets report on Pete Fowler’s private investigation in Krabloonik dog case

The Aspen Daily News and Aspen Times ran stories about private investigator Pete Fowler’s work on the animal cruelty allegations against Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen. From the Aspen Times article:

Pete Fowler, a private investigator hired by MacEachen, said in an affidavit included in Greer’s filings that Courtney and Hungate had “a personal bias as well as personal motivations in making these allegations.”

Hungate was involved in a child-custody dispute with MacEachen’s daughter, Bryna, and was “using threats of reporting as leverage,” Fowler said.

The motion includes a copy of a text message sent by Hungate to Bryna MacEachen saying former mushers would testify against the kennel owner during a hearing last September. Hungate was trying to prevent Bryna MacEachen from bringing the child they have together to Krabloonik because he did not consider it a good environment for the boy.

Courtney was involved in the purchase negotiations, as was Dr. Alan Hallman, the vet interviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, Fowler noted.

And, Fowler brought to light a New Mexico case in which Courtney was found to have committed fraud. A six-figure judgment was awarded in the case. Greer also filed a motion to strike the counts against his client.