New technology has had an impact on the criminal justice system as much as every other walk of life. However, the impact of automation has not always been positive for the defendant.
In a recent article, the New York Times reported on how computer programs are keeping some defendants in jail.
The private ownership of many of the systems used in the criminal justice system is the root of the problem.
The article said many of these automated criminal justice technologies are largely privately owned and are sold for profit.
Because of the commercial nature of the system, the developers view the products as trade secrets. They routinely refuse to disclose details about how their systems work, even to criminal defendants and their attorneys in the legal process - under a protective order or during criminal proceedings or parole hearings.
It can be a massive uphill battle for the defendants and their attorneys to find out how these systems work in order to prove innocence.
The Times cited the case of Glen Rodriguez, an inmate in New York State. Rodriguez was denied parole despite having an almost flawless record of rehabilitation. The decision was based on a reading on a computer system called Compass.
Rodriguez carried out his own research and proved the Compass system returned an erroneous result.
Very few defendants have the expertise to carry out this kind of research.
Another alarming case is that of Billy Ray Johnson from California. He was sentenced to life without parole for sexual assaults and burglaries he did not commit.
In the case, the prosecution relied on the results of a software program called TrueAllele that analyzed traces of DNA from the crime scenes.
When a defense team expert attempted to examine the source code in court he was told it was a trade secret. The court would not allow the code to be disclosed to Johnson’s attorney.
The case was heard before the California Court of Appeals. It upheld the trade secret privilege ruling by the lower court. The decision is being used across the country to prevent defendants discovering details about automated systems that could prove their innocence.
The Supreme Court is currently considering hearing a case, Wisconsin v. Loomis, that raises similar issues about new technology. If the justices decide to hear the case, they will get the opportunity to rule on whether sentencing a defendant based on a risk-assessment system that has been ruled a secret, violates a defendant’s rights.
Automation may make the administration of justice easier but it is also penalizing defendants in some cases.
If you believe your prosecution was based on flawed automation you should contact our Illinois criminal defense lawyers at (312) 229-0008 or see our case results.