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‘Some People Are Just Diabolical’: Florida Judges Get Candid About Being ‘Goaded’

When Brevard Circuit Judge Robin Lemonidis was publicly reprimanded for losing her temper in trial, and using a sentencing colloquy to tell a defendant she hoped he’d have to fight for his life in prison, former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick felt a pang of sympathy.

“I felt pretty sorry for the judge involved, because I’ve been there and I know how easy it is to say something which would be viewed as inappropriate, just because your emotions are boiling,” Dresnick said.

Dresnick—now a partner at Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine in Miami—said he tried not to use gavels after once banging his down so hard in a murder case that it broke.

“There are so many times you say something, and as you’re saying it, you wish you could grab those words and bring them back,” Dresnick said. “But you can’t.”

‘Mentally exhausted’

Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM.
Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM.

Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey can relate.

He was reprimanded in 2019 for losing his temper in a felony criminal trial—something he feels happened because he underestimated the personal toll it would take to handle four death penalty cases in two years—two of which came back-to-back.

Midway through one murder case, Bailey said he’d promised the husband of a murdered woman, frustrated by years of delay, that he’d get to that trial immediately after it.

But in hindsight, that was a mistake.

“I was mentally exhausted at the conclusion of those cases and did not handle situations as well as I should have,” Bailey said. “I learned from that lesson and would never do that again.”

Bailey said he’s found that taking time to decompress after difficult and emotional cases is crucial.

“When you’re having a case that you know every word is going to be analyzed and every ruling is going to be taken up on appeal, such as a death penalty case, you’re on the edge of your seat all day, every day. And if the trial goes on for two, three weeks, that’s where the stress builds up,” Bailey said. “Don’t let yourself linger in the hot seat, so to speak. Take a break, go back and do the research, and make sure you’re comfortable with your decision, instead of just shooting from the hip.”

A recent study by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs revealed that Dresnick and Bailey are far from alone, as many jurists reported experiencing high blood pressure, insomnia, stress and other health issues. The National Center for State Courts’ judicial stress resource guide has also pinpointed connections between budget cuts and low morale, obesity and judicial stress.

And it’s no surprise, given the high stakes. Presiding over a criminal case, for instance, could mean taking away someone’s life and liberty, while civil litigation could ruin a business, and a family case might separate parents from their children.

Related story: Burnout on the Bench: Judges Grapple With Stress, Fatigue

Trying to get judges recused

Wearing a black robe means being tested all the time—and rightly so, since judges sit on the bench to deliver justice.

Ronald Dresnick of Kluger Kaplan Silverman Katzen & Levine. Courtesy photo.Ronald Dresnick of Kluger Kaplan Silverman Katzen & Levine. Courtesy photo.

But sometimes, in Dresnick’s experience, wearing the robe also means being “goaded” by lawyers.

“It took me four, five years just to learn how to cope with attorneys. I’ve seen attorneys try to just take a judge off just by doing some really outrageous things, and trying to get the judge to lose their temper so they can get that judge recused,” Dresnick said. ”It happens all the time, and some people are just diabolical in the way they act, just to get the judge to make a mistake like that.”

Where sentencing’s concerned, the best practice is not to comment on the crime at all.

“If you sentence somebody to life, what else do you have to say?” Dresnick said. “You don’t need to show how much power you have. In fact, by not saying anything, you’re probably demonstrating more what your power is, than when you do say something.”

‘I’ve just signed your death warrant’

That issue arose from comments Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina made during the Michigan sentencing hearing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, convicted of sexually abusing dozens of girls.

The judge’s words provoked uproar from Nassar’s attorneys.

Before handing down the prison sentence, Aquilina told Nassar, “I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir,” calling him evil and remarking, “I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

Nassar’s attorneys claimed the judge’s comments were biased and led to a prison attack on Nassar.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie, who also serves on the Florida Bar’s mental health and wellness committee, says case law shows judges tend to get in trouble when they inject their opinions into sentencing.

Miami- Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin G. Sayfie. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin G. Sayfie. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM.

“The best practices are really just to state the sentence and move on,” Sayfie said.

The most isolating aspect of judicial life, in Sayfie’s view, comes when rulings are misunderstood or taken out of context, either because it wasn’t appropriate for the judge to elaborate, or because the media didn’t properly explain in its reporting.

This could lead judges to agonize over how best to present a decision.

“Unfortunately, the hard part is the next day, getting ripped apart in the newspaper, in the media, by comments in the Miami Herald,” Sayfie said. “The best way that I get through moments like that is by sharing with my colleagues. I think here in Miami, because we’re such a big circuit, the good news is we have a lot of support among our colleagues who understand.”

Mental health support

The Florida Bar is working on providing free and confidential online therapy sessions for all bar members, Sayfie said.

“It’s important for judges and lawyers to feel that if they’re having a mental health issue, or if they’re facing a time in their lives where there’s more stress than others, [that] it’s OK. It’s normal, and it’s acceptable to ask for help,” Sayfie said. ”It’s acceptable to get support, and they shouldn’t fear repercussions from the court and their colleagues.”

Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter. Photo: J. Albert Diaz

Chief Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter noted that judges not only have to make important and impartial decisions but also deal with daily emergencies that crop up in already-heavy dockets. He urged judges to seek relief through the Florida Judicial Wellness Program.

“Judges are taught to leave the bench, or take a break if faced with a particularly difficult situation. This will help the judge regain his/her thoughts, and hopefully prevent saying something in haste,” Tuter said. “Because it is such an isolated occupation, judges frequently call on each other to discuss and deal with stressful situations and cases.”

For Bailey, DUI manslaughter cases are heart wrenching, particularly when a child has been killed, as the defendant is frequently not “a bad person.”

“It’s hard sometimes for a judge to keep a dry eye, when you hear the victim’s pain and anguish when they address the person who killed their child, [describe] how much they’ve destroyed their lives, and you hear the family of the person who’s being sentenced,” Bailey said. “Their loved one is now going off to prison for however many years, and they’ve done anything wrong in their life.”

In addition to judicial conferences and training sessions, which teach judges to recognize what triggers them and to take a recess when it happens, Dresnick says visiting other judge’s courtrooms is invaluable.

“You see somebody who’s a good judge, and you watch the way they handle a situation you were in. And you might hear them and say, ‘That’s really interesting, I’m going to try that,’ but nobody seems to have enough time,” Dresnick said.

Though the judicial canons say judges must avoid even the appearance of impropriety, not showing enough humanity can be harmful too, according to Dresnick. He said Judge Lance Ito’s handling of O.J. Simpson’s infamous murder trial is a good example.

“He just went out of his way not to say anything at all. He was trying so hard to maintain a certain stoicism that I thought was not helpful. Judges aren’t computers, and they really shouldn’t be,” Dresnick said. “I don’t like to just see this robotic reaction to things. I like the human factor, but I think the judges that are expressing the human factor need to be cognizant of the way it’s going to read in tomorrow’s DBR.”

Raychel Lean

Raychel Lean reports on South Florida litigation for the Daily Business Review. Send an email to, or follow her on Twitter via @raychellean.

via – Newswire

February 28, 2020 at 11:02AM

Florida Man Arrested For Cow Manure Battery

A Florida Man was arrested yesterday on a felony battery charge after allegedly dumping a bucket of cow manure over the head of a victim, police report.

According to a complaint affidavit, Jose Ramirez-Callejas, 47, attacked the victim at a dairy farm in Crystal Springs, a community about 30 miles north of Tampa. The complaint does not indicate whether Ramirez-Callejas or the victim work at Spoto’s Palm River Dairy.

Investigators allege that Ramirez-Callejas “scooped the cow manure into the bucket and dumped it over the victim’s head” early Wednesday afternoon.

Seen above, Ramirez-Callejas reportedly admitted to police that he doused the victim with cow manure. A cop reported observing “cow manure on the victim’s forehead and leg.”

Ramirez-Callejas, who is listed as a transient in the complaint, was booked into the Pasco County jail.

Ramirez-Callejas’s rap sheet includes convictions for battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and probation violation. He was arrested in mid-November for allegedly threatening a man with a rifle, but prosecutors declined to pursue the case. (1 page)

via The Smoking Gun RSS

February 27, 2020 at 10:42AM

Secretive face-matching startup has customer list stolen

Clearview, a secretive facial-recognition startup that claims to scrape the Internet for images to use, has itself now had data unexpectedly scraped, in a manner of speaking. Someone apparently popped into the company’s system and stole its entire client list, which Clearview to date has refused to share.

Clearview notified its customers about the leak today, according to The Daily Beast, which obtained a copy of the notification. The memo says an intruder accessed the list of customers, as well as the number of user accounts those customers set up and the number of searches those accounts have conducted.

“Unfortunately, data breaches are part of life in the 21st century,” Tor Ekeland, an attorney for Clearview, told The Daily Beast. “Our servers were never accessed. We patched the flaw and continue to work to strengthen our security.”

Clearview vaulted from obscurity to the front page following a report by The New York Times in January. The paper described Clearview as a “groundbreaking” service that could completely erode privacy in any meaningful way.

The company at the time claimed to have in place 600 agreements with law enforcement agencies to use its software, which allegedly aggregated more than 3 billion facial images from other apps, platforms, and services. Those other platforms and their parent companies—including Twitter, Google (YouTube), Facebook (and Instagram), Microsoft (LinkedIn), and Venmo—all sent Clearview cease and desist letters, claiming its aggregation of images from their services violates their policies.

Clearview, which stresses its service is “available only to law enforcement agencies and select security professionals,” refused repeatedly to share client lists with reporters from several outlets. Reporters from The New York Times and BuzzFeed both dove into several of the company’s marketing claims and found some strong exaggerations. Clearview boasts that its technology helped lead to the arrest of a would-be terrorist in New York City, for example, but the NYPD told BuzzFeed Clearview had nothing to do with the case.

In the face of public criticism, the company made exactly two blog posts, each precisely two paragraphs long. The first, under the subject line “Clearview is not a consumer application,” insists, “Clearview is NOT available to the public,” emphasis theirs. It adds, “While many people have advised us that a public version would be more profitable, we have rejected the idea.”

Four days later, the company added another post, stressing that its code of conduct “mandates that investigators use our technology in a safe and ethical manner.” While “powerful tools always have the potential to be abused,” the company wrote, its app “has built-in safeguards to ensure these trained professionals only use it for its intended purpose.”

Clearview did not at any point say what these safeguards might be, however, nor has it explained who qualifies as “select security professionals.”

Other companies that partner with law enforcement for surveillance technologies have also not always been successful in attempts to keep their client lists on the down-low. Amazon, for example, attempted just that with its Ring line of products. After repeated media reports tried to draw out the details, however, Ring finally went public with a list of 405 agencies last August and through February 13 at least has kept updating the list of those (now 967) deals.

via Ars Technica

February 26, 2020 at 12:01PM

In A Florida Courtroom, People Charged With Probation Violations Face Humiliation From Judge

Probation officers in the state’s 13th Judicial Circuit file thousands of violations, and they’re heard by a judge known for his harsh, punitive style.

On Jan. 9, Mia Davis, a 36-year-old Black woman from Tampa, stood in the courtroom of Nick Nazaretian, a judge in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit. Her husband Ray sat in the gallery of the Division K courtroom, ready to testify on her behalf. Mia (pronounced Maya) violated the terms of her probation stemming from a February 2019 arrest for battery domestic violence against Ray. Her public defender explained that Mia missed an Oct. 27 appointment with her probation officers because she had been hospitalized during a mental health crisis. “I can only remember that I woke up at the psych ward at Northside [Hospital],” Mia told Nazaretian. “I don’t know how I got there. I believe my husband is the one who placed me there.”

It was Mia’s first probation violation, but a warrant was issued for her arrest. On Nov. 1, police showed up at her home and took her to the Hillsborough County jail, where she was held for two months. Mia, wearing the jail’s orange jumpsuit and with handcuffs chained to her wrists, ticked off a list of her medications from memory: Risperdal, Benadryl, Depakote, BuSpar, Celexa. Ray acknowledged to Nazaretian that Mia had a criminal record that included aggravated assault, resisting police, possessing a weapon, and “throwing a deadly missile”—which Ray later explained was a brick. In Florida, “throwing a deadly missile” is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but what constitutes a “deadly missile” has no precise definition in state law. In 1984, an appellate judge in Florida’s Second District ruled that a grapefruit was a missile in the case of a man who threw the fruit at a tanker truck.

Ray told Nazaretian that Mia’s violent incidents occurred when she could not afford her medication. A retired military veteran, Ray told The Appeal that he does not qualify for Veterans Affairs’ Permanent and Total disability benefits, so he and Mia do not have health insurance. Without insurance, Mia’s antipsychotics cost $395 per refill. Ray also explained to the judge that the February 2019 battery domestic assault that initially put her on probation stemmed from a mental health crisis. “When she don’t get on her medication, she hallucinates—starts hearing stuff. Seeing stuff,” Ray told The Appeal. He said Mia wrapped her legs around his torso and beat him over the head. “It sent me to the hospital,” Ray said. “I don’t have the right to lay a hand on a woman, but I do have the right to defend myself, so instead of me doing something, I called the police.”

Mia was arrested that day. In July, Mia pleaded guilty to charges of battery and domestic violence stemming from the February incident and placed on three years of probation. This meant reporting monthly to a probation officer, performing community service, and completing anger management training.

At the hearing, Ray, who stands at over six feet tall, bent over the microphone to tell the judge that even though he called the police on Mia, he wanted her probation reinstated—not jail. “She’s a different person without her medication,” he said.

“So you’re basing her criminal history, not only in this aspect, but on previous aspects, on lack of medication?” Nazaretian asked Ray.

“I really do believe—” Ray began, before the judge cut him off.

“All right, just wanting to make sure what your viewpoint is. What’s next? What else do you want to tell me?”

Mia’s probation officer spoke up. “I just have one comment,” she said, leaning into the microphone. “I’m not a medical licensed provider or anything like that, but if Ms. Davis is having the problems that she is having, then maybe she needs to seek some kind of inpatient long-term mental health care, as opposed to probation.”

Moments later, prosecutors from the state attorney’s office for the 13th Judicial Circuit declined to recommend a sentence for Mia, instead deferring the decision to Nazaretian. Mia’s public defender cut in quickly before the judge could make a determination: “Again, I’ll request the same thing I requested yesterday, that the jail anger-management program is a solution, without a prison sentence.”

“I appreciate that, but I have to consider the whole ball of wax here,” Nazaretian said. He turned and addressed Mia. He told her that she was clearly a different person than what her criminal record suggested. He acknowledged that “sometimes in the street you become a different person, probably because of mental health issues.” But he said he also had to consider the safety of the residents of Hillsborough County and the state of Florida.

“And considering that, you’ll be sentenced according to the guidelines, which is 24.9 months in Florida state prison,” Nazaretian said. “Once that is over, hopefully you can live your life and be crime free. Have a good day.” The judge banged his gavel.

To Ray, the outcome was devastating. “[Nazaretian] said, ‘Well, I got to lock her up to keep society safe.’ Those were his words. I don’t think it’s safer. I think they didn’t address the problem—because now [she’s] sent to prison. She still has the same problem she has. Now she’s punished for it, but it’s not being addressed. … I just wanted to see her get some help.”

The judge “considered that to be a trial,” Ray said. “But I consider that to be a butchering.”

Mia’s probation hearing in Judge Nazaretian’s courtroom lasted 40 minutes, an eternity compared to other hearings where a determination is made in a matter of minutes. Like many probation courts nationwide, probation court in Hillsborough County—which has nearly 1.5 million residents with Tampa as its largest city—moves so quickly because people are encouraged by their attorneys to waive their right to a hearing. Here, the standard is not a presumption of innocence but the much lower threshold of “preponderance of evidence.” “What this means is, if the judge thinks you did it, you’re done,” Dirk Weed, a defense attorney in Tampa who takes probation violation cases almost daily, told The Appeal. “That’s it. He doesn’t have to justify why he did, as long as there is a possibility that there’s a reason that you violated.”

According to Cecelia Klingele, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School who focuses on probation revocation, the lower standard comes from the idea that probation is a privilege because it is an alternative to custody. Indeed, Nazaretian has described his decisions as “gifts.” “That was a gift from me to you,” he told one person. “It may not seem like that, but how I operate, it was a gift.”

“Often we talk about probation as an alternative to a sanction,” Klingele told The Appeal. “But it is a sanction. And so it becomes the default noncustodial option—if you don’t go to jail, you’re always going to get probation. And we send people into probation who do not need to be on probation at all.” Because probation is viewed as a lesser punishment, she said, it’s easy to underestimate just how punitive it actually is. “You have this contingent liability hanging over [you]. All minor infractions, including noncriminal, can snowball into revocation.”

In other circuits in Florida, any new probation violation, whether technical or from a new felony, puts people back in front of the judge who initially tried them. But in the 13th Judicial Circuit, technical—generally noncriminal—violation cases are heard only by one judge: Nazaretian, who takes cases Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m. “He’s a character to a certain extent,” Weed said.

The Appeal watched Nazaretian hear cases from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9. In that time, the judge asked a defendant if “they had a brain” and if he “had any common sense at all in any way, shape, or form.” He brought a woman to tears by musing that she seemed “loaded,” and then threatened to drug test her on the spot, despite her having tested clean during her probationary period. He accused another person of dishonoring his dead mother. He warned someone else who said he had a job in North Tampa, an area with high levels of poverty, to watch out because “you never know who’s around that area.” He told several men that they wouldn’t do well in prison because of their small size. After he asked one man about his weight—“What are you, a buck-fifty?”—and laughed at his response. “He’s done up there,” he told another.

Nazaretian interrupts people appearing before him and says that their stories of life struggles “aren’t going to fly” in his court. He calls them “sneaky sneaks”; incarcerated people who don’t participate in classes are dubbed “TV-watchers.” He corrects grammar and tells people that if he sees them again, they’ll have to “pack their bags” for prison. In an aside directed to the gallery, he said that a man may have broken curfew because he was “trying to get laid.” Nazaretian sometimes demands that defendants write a three-page report on Lake Butler, a small town two and a half hours north of Tampa that is home to a state prison known for its deadly violence. “Beautiful Lake Butler,” he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “Know what that is?” When the defendant shakes his head, he chuckles. “Well, you’ll learn all about it.”

Weed said that although “it’s good to have a judge that scares the life out of you,” it’s not always the most effective way to prevent someone from staying out of the criminal legal system. He says some of his clients are so terrified of Nazaretian that they avoid going to court, even when issued a summons. “And then what happens? He’s very difficult on absconders,” Weed said. “So it almost becomes a circle to a certain extent.”

“Based on judicial ethics rules, judges are severely restricted from commenting on matters that are pending with the court,” Mike Moore, the circuit’s public information officer wrote when asked for comment. “However, he [Nazaretian] strongly believes that the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Violation of Probation (VOP) Division provides a meaningful, sometimes therapeutic, resolution to many probation violations.”

In Florida, judges have the discretion to deny issuing a warrant even when alerted to a probation violation. They are also empowered by state law to depart from even the lowest possible sentence if circumstances permit. Still, the state has a long history of punitive probation policy. In 2003, the state Department of Corrections imposed a “zero tolerance” policy, in which every violation, no matter how small, had to be reported to a judge along with a warrant issued for the violator’s arrest. Though the policy was found to overburden courts and was rescinded in 2008, vestiges of it remain. During the proceedings observed in Nazaretian’s court in early January, many people were there simply because they had missed an appointment for a work conflict, one of the minor violations that the rescindment was meant to eliminate. Weed said probation officers in the 13th Circuit still hew to the zero-tolerance policy in spite of its retraction.

Indeed, according to Florida Department of Corrections data, in the last fiscal year alone, probation officers in the 13th Circuit filed 7,969 violations. Although there are four judicial circuits in Florida with higher populations than the 13th, including the 11th (Miami-Dade County), 17th (Broward County), Ninth (Orange and Osceola counties), and Sixth (Pinellas and Pasco counties), the 13th led them all in the number of probation violations, often by substantial margins. Although the 13th presides over 1.3 million fewer people than the 11th, it puts five times as many people into prison for technical violations. With Florida having the 14th-highest incarceration rate and the third-largest prison population in the country, the 13th Circuit disproportionately feeds one of the most incarcerated states in the U.S.

Of Hillsborough’s 7,969 violations, 69 percent did not allege the commission of any new criminal offense. Despite the lack of a new offense, 40 percent of these technical violations resulted in jail or prison time. In addition, according to Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, imprisonment rates for technical violations statewide fell from 33.7 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 31.9 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The 13th Circuit’s imprisonment rate for such violations remains well above the state average.

According to Kelly Mitchell, executive director of the the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, this probation to prison pipeline is partly due to the myriad conditions imposed on people, often with no relation to the reason the person is under supervision. “When conditions are imposed en masse and without being individualized to the needs of the person, they serve as trip wires, and can easily result in probation revocations,” she said. “This is a hidden population. You can’t tell by looking at someone that they are serving time on a probation sentence. But the collateral consequences that these individuals face—difficulty in obtaining employment, housing, access to education—are staggering. People entangled in the criminal justice system are facing other issues—all sorts of other untreated health needs that make it really hard to abide by even a few of the things we’re asking. Too often we think more is better and longer is better when it comes to length instead of stepping back and thinking: what is the big-picture goal?”

On Jan. 31, Mia was sent to the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, a prison about two hours north of Tampa that has a significant population of women entering the state Department of Corrections. She will most likely be transferred elsewhere to serve the remainder of her sentence. Because of the transient nature of its population, healthcare at the Florida Women’s Reception Center is notoriously poor. In 2015, the state’s Correctional Medical Authority audited the facility and found life-threatening conditions. In a Sept. 22, 2015, email, the Correctional Medical Authority’s executive director wrote that conditions there “require emergency notification” and “immediate attention” from the Department of Corrections.

Because Ray is still in the process of obtaining approval to receive telephone calls from Mia, he communicates with her through letters. He received her first letter recently. “She said she missed me,” he told The Appeal. “She drew a big old heart in the middle of it.” Ray doesn’t know if Mia is getting her medication, only that he was promised that her medical files would be sent with her. “She’s depressed.”

Ray still thinks about Nazaretian’s treatment of Mia in court. He had been waiting for her hearing in the gallery all morning, and he’d noticed the way the judge treated defendants. It made him suspect that Mia wouldn’t be treated any better. “Just because you’re educated … not everybody’s on the same level,” he said. “I can understand what he’s saying, sometimes, but maybe if he was in another setting—but the belittling part. You don’t have to do that.”

via The Appeal

February 26, 2020 at 09:04AM

The wear patterns of your jeans aren’t good forensic evidence

Is every pair of jeans like no other? According to the testimony of FBI forensic analysts, the patterns seen on denim are reliably unique and can be used to identify a suspect in surveillance footage.

The problem is, this technique has never been subjected to thorough scrutiny, and evidence acquired through it may not be as strong as it has been claimed to be. A paper published in PNAS this week puts denim-pattern analysis through its paces, finding that it isn’t particularly good at matching up identical pairs of jeans—and may create a number of “false alarm” errors to boot.

Shoddy evidence

For some time, there have been rumblings about the reliability and quality of commonly used forensic techniques. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published a weighty report observing that, apart from nuclear DNA analysis, “no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”

The problems with forensic evidence—including fingerprint, bloodstain, and ballistics analysis—have terrible real-world consequences. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, nearly a quarter of wrongful convictions in the United States for the last 30 years can be attributed to flawed or misleading forensic evidence.

Computer scientists Sophie Nightingale and Hany Farid wanted to look at one technique in particular: photographic pattern analysis, which matches up the patterns of details on faces, hands, or clothing between suspects and crime-scene photographs. Jeans, for example, have a “barcode” pattern of dark and light splotches along their seams.

Denim barcodes

These patterns have been used as central evidence to convict people, but is this kind of analysis reliable? That hasn’t been established. To test it out, Nightingale and Farid went out to buy 100 pairs of jeans from second-hand stores. They laid the jeans out flat on a hard surface, photographed the seams along the legs, and digitally traced the pattern of light and dark points along the seams. To bump up their sample, they had Amazon Turk workers supply images from another 111 pairs, photographed using careful instructions.

Then, the researchers set about quantifying how different the patterns were across different pairs of jeans. Obviously, there’s a lot of randomness at play here—two pairs could be quite similar, just by chance, while another two pairs could be entirely different, also by chance. And most pairs would fall somewhere in the middle, with some degree of similarity. Based on these measurements, Nightingale and Farid worked out the range of similarity between the “barcode” patterns on different pairs of jeans.

The important question, of course, is whether these patterns can be used to determine whether two images show the same pair of jeans. So the researchers selected 10 pairs of jeans and took 10 photos of each using different cameras, in different lighting, and with different draping. What they found was that any given pair of photos could come back with a lot of similarities but could also come back with very different readings on the pattern. The range was broad—as Nightingale and Farid point out, soft fabric photographed in a bunch of different ways is going to have distortions that vary from one image to the next.

False alarms

So if one pair of jeans can look noticeably different in different photos, is denim-pattern analysis actually a useful forensic technique? The researchers used their measurements to estimate how often a true match would come up and how often their jeans would throw up a “false alarm“—a score that looked like a match even though the images actually came from two different pairs.

They found that the false alarm rate could be as high as one in a thousand. Given that the FBI has reported using photographic pattern analysis in hundreds of cases each year, that’s a meaningful possibility. The true match rate was also not great, at around 40 to 50 percent, depending on factors like the length of the seam being analyzed.

This means the technique of matching up jeans is likely to be pretty hit and miss—not catching actual similarities a lot of the time and possibly throwing up a high rate of false alarms. And that’s under controlled experimental conditions using high-quality images and jeans laid out nice and flat, not grainy security footage showing jeans being worn. On the other hand, different features like damage, branding, and size could corroborate an analysis to improve the evidence one way or another.

There’s more work needed on whether jeans could be analyzed in a more reliable way using additional features—and also whether other pattern analysis—like freckles on a face or patterns on other types of clothing—are similarly unreliable. But for now, write Nightingale and Farid, “identification based on denim jeans should be used with extreme caution, if at all.”

PNAS, 2020. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1917222117  (About DOIs).

via Ars Technica

February 25, 2020 at 03:30PM

Complaints Mount at Florida Domestic Violence Centers

After eight years in an abusive marriage, Lisa LeBel got a job at the Ocala, Fl., Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Center. After two years, she saw the side of domestic violence centers in Florida that was “so shady and disgusting that I had to leave,” reports the Miami Herald. Her position was funded by the federal Victims of Crime Act. LeBel had many grievances about the center, like women donating designer handbags for victims on Mother’s Day while her bosses kept the “nice ones” for themselves. An organization offering to donate turkeys for Thanksgiving was asked for cash instead. She complained to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has come under fire because its chief executive officer, Tiffany Carr, was paid $7.5 million over three years.

Complaints from dozens of former domestic violence staffers show a pattern of missing oversight and a lack of funding for employees and programs meant to serve survivors and their children statewide. The coalition manages $52 million in state and federal funds for 42 centers that serve as emergency shelters for victims of domestic abuse. While Carr and her friends who served the coalition enjoyed massive compensation packages and trips to her home in North Carolina, the centers suffered from little oversight. Not only did some lack the funding and resources to keep women and children safe, they also faced mismanagement. Complaints showed unsafe conditions, dirty facilities, and a culture that encouraged staff to fib on time cards and pilfer donations meant for domestic violence survivors. At one center, monitors found open packages of raw meat, rotting produce, dirty and sticky floors, large patches of black dirt on furniture and broken doors and gates.

via The Crime Report

February 25, 2020 at 09:07AM

Removing a GPS tracking device from your car isn’t theft, court rules

An Indiana man may beat a drug prosecution after the state’s highest court threw out a search warrant against him late last week. The search warrant was based on the idea that the man had “stolen” a GPS tracking device belonging to the government. But Indiana’s Supreme Court concluded that he’d done no such thing—and the cops should have known it.

Last November, we wrote about the case of Derek Heuring, an Indiana man the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office suspected of selling meth. Authorities got a warrant to put a GPS tracker on Heuring’s car, getting a stream of data on his location for six days. But then the data stopped.

Officers suspected Heuring had discovered and removed the tracking device. After waiting for a few more days, they got a warrant to search his home and a barn belonging to his father. They argued the disappearance of the tracking device was evidence that Heuring had stolen it.

During their search, police found the tracking device and some methamphetamine. They charged Heuring with drug-related crimes as well as theft of the GPS device.

But at trial, Heuring’s lawyers argued that the warrant to search the home and barn had been illegal. An application for a search warrant must provide probable cause to believe a crime was committed. But removing a small, unmarked object from your personal vehicle is no crime at all, Heuring’s lawyers argued. Heuring had no way of knowing what the device was or who it belonged to—and certainly no obligation to leave the device on his vehicle.

An Indiana appeals court ruled against Heuring last year. But Indiana’s Supreme Court seemed more sympathetic to Heuring’s case during oral arguments last November.

“I’m really struggling with how is that theft,” said Justice Steven David during November’s oral arguments.

“We find it reckless”

Last Thursday, Indiana’s highest court made it official, ruling that the search warrant that allowed police to recover Heuring’s meth was illegal. The police had no more than a hunch that Heuring had removed the device, the court said, and that wasn’t enough to get a search warrant.

Even if the police could have proved that Heuring had removed the device, that wouldn’t prove he stole it, the high court said. It’s hard to “steal” something if you have no idea to whom it belongs. Classifying his action as theft would lead to absurd results, the court noted.

“To find a fair probability of unauthorized control here, we would need to conclude the Hoosiers don’t have the authority to remove unknown, unmarked objects from their personal vehicles,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for a unanimous court.

The high court’s ruling has big implications for Heuring’s case. Under a principle known as the exclusionary rule, evidence uncovered using an invalid search warrant is excluded from trial. Without the meth recovered in this search, prosecutors might not have enough evidence to mount a case against him.

The law allows a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule in some cases where police rely on a warrant that later proves defective. But Justice Rush concluded that exception doesn’t apply here.

“We find it reckless for an officer-affiant to search a suspect’s home and his father’s barn based on nothing more than a hunch that a crime has been committed,” the court wrote. “We are confident that applying the exclusionary rule here will deter similar reckless conduct in the future.”

via Policy – Ars Technica

February 24, 2020 at 08:05PM

Pro Se Filing Of The Day: ‘Motion To Put My Foot In Your Ass’

This entire situation is a load of BUNK, starting with this court’s order … and a waste of tax payer monies!

— Matthew Thompson, a prisoner in Florida, in his “Motion to Put My Foot In Your Ass,” pursuant to Florida’s Rule 12.150a(a) (governing motions to strike), which he seems to have taken quite literally.

(Behold, a legal masterpiece, below.)

Staci Zaretsky

Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

via Above the Law

February 24, 2020 at 02:45PM

Former ‘Model’ DEA Agent Indicted in Conspiracy

Jose Irizarry, a once-standout federal narcotics agent known for spending lavishly on luxury cars and Tiffany jewelry, has been charged with conspiring to launder money with the same Colombian drug cartel he was supposed to be fighting, the Associated Press reports. Irizarry, 46, and his wife were arrested Friday at their home in Puerto Rico. A 19-count federal indictment accused of “secretly using his position and his special access to information” to divert millions in drug proceeds from control of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s a black eye for the DEA to have one of its own engaged in such a high level of corruption,” said Mike Vigil, former DEA Chief of International Operations. “He jeopardized investigations. He jeopardized other agents and … informants.”

Federal prosecutors in Tampa allege the conspiracy also benefited two unindicted co-conspirators, a Colombian public official and the head of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization who became the godfather to the Irizarry couple’s children in 2015, when the DEA agent was posted to the Colombian city of Cartagena. AP reported last year on Irizarry’s alleged wrongdoing. Before being exposed, Irizarry had been a model agent, winning awards and praise from his supervisors. After joining DEA in 2009, he was entrusted with an undercover money laundering operation using front companies, shell bank accounts and couriers. The case has raised concerns that the conspiracy may have compromised undercover operations. “His fingerprints are all over dozens of arrests and indictments,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami. “It could have a ripple effect and cause courts to re-examine any case he was involved in.”

via The Crime Report

February 22, 2020 at 08:18PM

This Week’s Corrupt Cops Stories

A former DEA agent gets popped for helping a Colombian drug trafficker, a former Atlanta-area drug task force member goes to federal prison for stealing and reselling drugs from drug busts, and more. Let’s get to it:

[image:1 align:left caption:true]In San Juan, Puerto Rico, a former DEA special agent was arrested last Friday on charges he used cash seized during undercover drug operations to buy luxury goods, including jewelry, cars, and a house in Cartagena, Colombia, and engaged in money laundering with a Colombian drug trafficker. He is charged with conspiracy to launder money, honest services wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft and aggravated identity theft. His wife, who was also arrested, is charged with conspiracy to launder money. His charging indictment accuses him of “engaging in a corrupt scheme” and “enriching himself by secretly using his position and his special access to information to divert drug proceeds from DEA control to the control of himself and his co-conspirators.”

In Cincinnati, a Cincinnati police officer was arrested last Friday on charges she outed an undercover officer to a nightclub owner targeted in a money laundering and drug trafficking investigation, as well as concealing $81,000 in off-duty income. Officer Quianna Campbell, 39, is charged with lying to federal agents and filing false income tax returns.

In North Charleston, South Carolina, a former North Charleston narcotics detective was arrested Tuesday officials said they found he provided information about another agency’s investigations to a person involved in drug activity. Brett Bull, 33, allegedly sent text messages to that person, alerting him to drug operations being planned by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and warning him to “stay away.” He is charged withmisconduct in office and obstruction in connection to the incident.

In Atlanta, a former Gwinnet County drug task force member was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for stealing drugs off the street and then selling them. Antione Riggins, 41, pleaded guilty late last year to drug trafficking He admitted seizing narcotics, including methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and oxycodone, while creating documents to try to cover up his tracks. In one case, he seized three pounds of cocaine from a high-speed crash, but only logged one into the evidence room. In another incident, Riggins was tasked with transporting 13 pounds of meth from an Atlanta hotel to the evidence room. None of the meth made it there. Three days after that 2017 incident, Riggins made off with more than eight pounds of heroin that were supposed to go to the evidence room.

via Criminal Justice

February 27, 2020 at 01:59AM

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