Category: Law/Policy

Common police interrogation method deemed ineffective


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.

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.


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.

Colorado private investigator licensing goes into effect

Today marks the first day the current private investigator licensing program goes into effect. Read about the license law and rules or verify a license at the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Office of Private Investigator Licensure website. 2015-06-01 09.00.50 am

Pete Fowler is licensed in Colorado and has been issued license #PI2.0000052.

Colorado Private Investigator license program to begin

This month, the state Department of Regulatory Agencies began accepting applications for a new private investigator licensing program in Colorado. The program begins June 1.

It replaces a voluntary licensing program that had become an unsustainable failure in recent years due to less participation than anticipated and skyrocketing fees. The new program is “mandatory,” although there are exemptions from being required to have a license for:

Collection agencies, employers or their employees conducting internal investigations, attorneys and their employees to include contract paralegals, accountants and their employees and any “affiliate of an accounting firm,” people conducting forensic accounting and fraud investigations based on certain types of information, public record aggregators, insurance companies and their employees, investigators employed or contracted by a public or government agency, journalists and genealogists, process servers, bail bondspeople, arson investigators, and engineers who investigate cause and failure analysis.

Licensees must fill out an application, be 21 or older, be lawfully present in the U.S., pass a “jurisprudence examination,” undergo a fingerprint based national background check, and post, maintain, or be covered by a $10,000 surety bond. In addition, to receive a level 2 license designation, a licensee must have 4,000 hours of applicable experience.

The cost to start is $330, not counting other fees for testing and a background check. Colorado’s PI license does not have reciprocity with other states.

For more information, visit the DORA website.



DEA agent warns of dangers of stoned bunnies if medical pot comes to Utah


On Thursday, DEA Special Agent Matt Fairbanks warned a state senate panel that stoned rabbits might be part of the Utah’s future. The legislature is currently consideringSenate Bill 259, which would allow really sick people to consume medical marijuana edibles. According to Fairbanks, it would also allow bunnies to get really, really high.

what do federal agents have left to scare people with when they don’t have social stigma, reefer madness or fear of prison time on their side? Apparently, little besides the terrifying prospect of bunnies getting high.

Stoned drivers little or no risk compared to drunk drivers, federal data show


new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that drivers who use marijuana are at a significantly lower risk for a crash than drivers who use alcohol. And after adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana  were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving.

The Snitch Who Stole Christmas


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.

Colorado private investigator licensing to be mandatory in 2015

– You don’t want private investigator licensing in Colorado? How about I write an anonymous blog comment insulting the big veins in your neck!?!?! image

This exchange is a zany aside that actually happened in the digital world, due to the controversial issue of PI licensing in Colorado. With around 4 different PI trade groups in Colorado – some very small – industry politics and petty bickering seems commonplace. One anonymous commenter on a small blog went so far as to insult the “big veins” bulging in a prominent Denver private investigator’s neck at a hearing on the bill, and the president of a Colorado PI trade group insulted the entire group’s membership via email by calling them “hobbyists” in response to anyone questioning the sustainability of a previous, failed, voluntary licensing program.

Despite the lack of industry consensus, PI licensing will become mandatory in Colorado starting in June 2015.

The voluntary licensing program in recent years became an unsustainable failure due to flawed enrollment estimates, with renewal fees in the $700+ range. The new mandatory licensing program must pay for an estimated debt of several tens of thousands of dollars incurred by the previous program, and it’s expected to cost around $300 for the first year, not counting additional background check costs, and the cost will potentially adjust after that depending on the number of participants.

Other than the fact that there will be a fingerprint-based criminal history check for applicants, a number of details have not been finalized in the bill itself, such as what levels of experience will be required for “level I” and “level II” licenses, whether continuing education will be required, and the content of a jurisprudence exam. DORA says the new law does not allow reciprocity of PI licensing with other states.

Aside from the personal insults, some argue for licensing to protect consumers and increase legitimacy of the profession, while others argue against it, saying it’s an unnecessary and costly venture that would do little or nothing to protect consumers.

A link to download the bill is available from the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which says this about the bill on its website:

On June 6, 2014, Colorado Senate Bill 14-133 was signed into law, repealing the Private Investigators Voluntary Licensure Act (HB 11-1195). As such, the Private Investigators Voluntary Licensing Program is discontinued effective June 6, 2014.

All voluntary Private Investigator licenses are now expired. Licensees expired under this issue will receive a pro-rated refund based on the unused portion of their licensure period. If you are due a refund, you need not do anything; your refund will be automatically sent to you.

SB 14-133 replaces the voluntary program with the Private Investigators Licensure Act, which establishes a new mandatory licensure program, requiring all Colorado private investigators to obtain a license from the division by June 1, 2015.   Additional information, applications and forms for Private Investigator licensure will be available in the spring of 2015.

Justices restrict cell phone searches after arrests

Via Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a strong defense of digital age privacy, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.

Cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest, Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court. Because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them, Roberts said.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Roberts said.