Law enforcement is increasing its use of reverse-location warrants with companies like Google, known as “geofence” warrants. Instead of asking Google, or Verizon, or AT&T for the specific history of a person, these warrants ask for the identifying information of all the people in a certain area. For instance, a bank is robbed, and the authorities file a warrant on Google demanding that all of the Google Maps users with a certain radius of that bank be turned over to authorities. While the perpetrator may be included in that group, it could also potentially include the private data of dozens or even hundreds of innocent people. That’s where the biggest privacy concern arises.
The use of geofence warrants is growing, Google indicated that they were receiving 180 requests per week at the end of last year, and the numbers have been steadily increasing. The cases challenging these searches, generally most will target the lack of specificity and the invasion of privacy, have not yet resulted in many appellate decisions detailing when such warrants may be appropriate. One judge wrote in denying a warrant application, “The potential to use Google’s capabilities to identify a wrongdoer by identifying everyone (or nearly everyone) at the time and place of a crime may be tempting, but if the government can identify that wrongdoer only by sifting through the identities of unknown innocent persons … a federal court in the United States of America should not permit the intrusion.”
There is likely a path to make such reverse-location warrants valid, but it will likely encounter strict scrutiny to ensure limiting the request as narrowly as possible by size, time, and other factors to target the likely offenders, and not invade the privacy of law-abiding citizens. The concerns about unconstitutional intrusions were brought to light when NYC sought geofence data for people protesting and counter-protesting last year in the hunt for data about criminal rioters. The concern here is not only the invasion of privacy, but also the chilling effect on the 1st Amendment rights of lawful protestors. There are a lot of complex issues here, and it will likely be some time for the courts to develop guidance as to when geofence warrants are permissible, and when they are not.
Michael Cohen has been returned to prison today. According to reports, he went to sign paperwork converting his furlough to home confinement. According to statements attributed to his lawyer, the paperwork included a prohibition on several first amendment protected activities, such as speaking to media, engagement on social media, and publishing things like books. Cohen had been working on a book about his history with Donald Trump, which dates back years before Trump ran for president.
This is troubling for a couple reasons. First, it appears the prison is arbitrarily adding conditions to his sentence that were not ordered by the court. Second, those conditions seem pointedly targeted to silence him from speaking out, which is normally protected by the first amendment. While he gives up some freedom when convicted and confined or supervised, his first amendment rights do not generally go away. There may be exceptions, such as when his crime directly relates to his speech (such as if someone who had sent a threat might be restrained while on supervision,) but such conditions would not be expected in this case. The unique conditions, sprung on him without notice, suggest ulterior motives.
Harvey Weinstein was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, after a jury found him guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree. He faces up to 29 years in prison on both charges. The criminal sexual act carries a minimum sentence of five years. Weinstein avoided conviction on more serious charges for predatory sexual assault, which could have carried a sentence of 10 to life, as well as an additional rape charge. Due to Weinstein’s age, as well as health issues, he could be facing the rest of his life in prison.
Today, the court remanded him to custody pending sentencing. His attorneys objected, due especially to his health concerns, but the judge decided he would be held pending sentencing (which is not unusual when a sentence of several years is expected.) Sentencing is set for March 11, when Weinstein will learn his fate. His attorneys indicate the appellate process is already underway, and they may move for an appellate bond, which may be difficult to get on a sex offense with many years in prison. He also faces additional charges in California.
I suppose it is inevitable with the expansion of social media and connectivity nowadays: every juror comes into the courtroom with a habit of using their phones, and that can be hard to break. In every trial, the court tells the jurors not to discuss the case with themselves, or others. In a long trial, the court remind the jurors every time they take a break, which can add up to dozens of reminders over the course of a trial. Sometimes, the message still doesn’t sink in.
Just a few weeks ago, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest appellate court in New York, upheld the overturning of a verdict in a high profile murder case against Dr. Robert Neulander, a prominent doctor in central New York that had been convicted of killing his wife. It wasn’t due to the facts of the case, rather it came out near the end of the trial that one of the jurors had been texting throughout the trial with family and friends, to the tune of some 7000 text messages. The only surprising thing was the the trial court had allowed the verdict to stand. “The extensiveness and egregiousness of the disregard, deception and dissembling occurring here leave no alternative but to reverse,” said the court in a unanimous ruling. The juror had even deleted some texts and browser history when her conduct was disclosed.
The court has no choice but to overturn a verdict in such a case, as the confidence would be eroded in the system if the court allowed jurors to so directly (and flagrantly) violate its instructions. A lawful verdict requires the court to hold jurors to their oaths.
Another case of wild juror misconduct was reported today, also in New York, and again the trial court allowed the initial verdict to stand. One of the jurors started having romantic feelings for one of the State’s witnesses, a gang member who had agreed to testify against the defendant to consideration in his own case. The juror wrote a letter to the witness, and a romance blossomed, in spite of the court’s instruction for the jury to avoid contact with anyone involved in the case. She also wrote the prosecutor to ask the State to take it easy on her beau, and to its credit, the DA’s office notified the Defense. Still, the trial court didn’t see a problem with the juror falling for the State’s witness, and let the verdict stand. The appellate court cited the Neulander case, saying “as the Court of Appeals recently reminded us in People v. Neulander, ‘nothing is more basic to the criminal process than the right of an accused to a trial by an impartial jury.'” Sometimes the opinions write themselves. Apparently the juror and the witness made plans to marry… so, silver lining, I guess?
We’ve talked about the secretive Stingray devices several times on crimcourts, and I’ve even talked about them on local TV. Stingrays are devices that mimic cell phone towers and can allow law enforcement to secretly collect cell phone data. The problem is, without a warrant, they can be used to unconstitutionally invade people’s privacy and to collect overbroad types of data from innocent citizens. It’s a clear violation of the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches.
On the pair of shows of the fictional New York police precinct “Brooklyn 99” which aired last night, the officers of the 99th precinct discover the new NYPD police commissioner has started using a Stingray to illegally collect data. The good guys set up a sting operation to bust the commissioner and end the illegal data collection program- a Stingray-sting! Hijinks ensue, but I won’t spoil the outcome for those who haven’t seen it. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that a comedy show used a hot button topic as the basis for an episode.
A New York teenager, Ousmane Bah, was arrested at his home in November and charged with stealing from an Apple store. He didn’t do it, and a photo of the the culprit on the warrant did not look like Bah. He was accused of several thefts from Apple stores, including one from Boston on the same day he was attending his senior prom in New York City. He’s now suing Apple, and his suit alleges that Apple’s facial recognition software mistakenly connected the thief’s face with his, possibly from the thief using his stolen identification.
Bah is suing Apple for a billion dollars, which seems kind of high.
Valentino Dixon was serving a 39-years-to-life sentence for a 1991 murder he did not commit, in Buffalo, N.Y. It wasn’t until Golf Digest did a profile of him, that his case caught the interest of some people to address the mistakes that led to him being convicted of a crime he did not commit… including an admission from the man who actually shot the victim. The prosecutor even charged two men who corroborated the accusation of the actual story with perjury. The perjury charges prevented those men from testify to the truth in Dixon’s trial. The actual shooter says he was pressured to change his story. While Dixon was facing charges, the other man was out of custody, and has since been incarcerated in the same prison for shooting a different person in the face.
The case came to light when Dixon was profiled in Golf Digest about the golf course drawings he did in prison, as part of a regular column they did called “Golf Saved My Life.” Max Adler, the columnist, was so interested in Dixon’s story, he initiated the investigation that eventually led to Dixon’s acquittal, which still took another six years. Dixon walked out of prison this week a free man. I’d like to take him out for a golf lesson.
It’s a really cool story, and a stark reminder of the importance of journalism in our country. It’s sad it took 27 years, in spite of the witnesses for Dixon. Golf Channel and NBC also picked up the story and provided important momentum to right this wrong:
Ever see the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day? There’s a scene where Murray’s character, Phil, times the behavior of armored guards to walk up and steal a bag of money when they aren’t looking. Some guy in New York actually pulled that off!
Here’s the scene from Goundhog Day, if you haven’t seen it before. It makes more sense to know that Bill Murray is reliving the same day over and over again, so he knows what’s going to happen…
So, a guy in New York just pulled off that move. He walked up to an unguarded armored truck, snatched a bucket of money, and walked off. The whole thing was caught on camera, and NYPD Crimestoppers are looking for tips if anyone recognized the guy. Here’s the footage of the sneaky thief:
Here’s the amazing thing… this guy didn’t just get a bucket of change. The bucket he swiped was full of gold! The five-gallon pail had 82 pounds of flaked gold, worth $1.6 million dollars. It was so heavy, it took him an hour to walk a few blocks where he got in a van to make his escape. Police pieced all this together by reviewing the surveillance footage in the video, above. They still have not identified him, and are looking for tips.
Screen Capture of the Groundhog-style Thief
I called this a robbery in the title, but it’s really more of a simple grand theft. Robbery typically indicates taking property from a person, but there’s nobody here. It’s like shoplifting, except from an armored car. It’s exactly like the Groundhog Day, theft, so I’m beside myself because it’s one of my favorite movies. But this guy didn’t plan it out… he probably just saw an opportunity, and got really lucky. Winner, winner, chicken dinner and bucket of gold. I think they have an idea who it is, because investigators think the suspect is laying low in Florida. Because of course he is. Just so EPIC.
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida, New York, Uncategorized
Tagged bill murray, crimestoppers, florida, groundhog day, new york, nypd, phil, robbery, theft
Joyce Mitchell, the prison employee who gave assistance New York prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat- who were both serving prison sentences for murder was sentenced yesterday for her involvement in their escape. In July, she pled to promoting prison contraband, and criminal facilitation. Today, declaring that she had done very bad things, the court sentenced her to up to 7 years on the most serious offense.
She could have been facing more time if the prosecutors had charged her with conspiracy to murder her husband, which had apparently been discussed. She accepted a plea agreement that helped avoid additional charges. Now, she will be a client of the same prison system that she let down, and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in cost for the ensuing manhunt for the weeks while Matt and Sweat were on the run.
I enjoy hockey, thouigh I am certainly not the most ardent fan. It’s offseason, but there have been major accusations around Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, namely that the sexually assaulted a woman at his Buffalo, NY home. He has not been arrested, and the case has been under review by law enforcement authorities. Apparently there was positive DNA on the victim’s shoulder area, but not in her genital area, which is not strong evidence of sexual assault. As no decision had been made, and facts are still spotty, I had only been tangentially following the case. Until this week when things took a turn for the weird.
Thomas Eoannou, the attorney who was representing the family of the accuser, called a press conference the other day, and presented what credibly appeared to be an evidence bag that had contained the rape kit collected at the hospital from the alleged victim. Prosecutors announced today that it was not the actual evidence bag from the kit. But the Eoannou was apparently misled, apparently by the mother of the accuser, into believing that the mother found the bag after an unknown person placed it on her doorway, suggesting that the negative DNA evidence was the result of tampering. Now, her attorney has quit, saying he can no longer handle the case because of misrepresentations that had been made to him. He made a point to state that it was not the young woman, and intimated that the mother had lied about the propriety of the evidence bag. It was embarrassing for the attorney, who was apparently sincere, and further reduces the likelihood that the State will purse charges.
Which brings us back to our subject: never lie to your lawyer. Your lawyer literally works for you: you have hired him/her to give you advice, but if you aren’t honest with your lawyer, the advice will be bad. I have seen other situations like this, where people misrepresent things to an attorney, and when it comes out in the wash, it ends up hurting the cause. This ridiculous situation certainly makes it much less likely that charges will be filed. I don’t know what happened, but I do know the prosecutor will not want to go forward on a case where the accuser’s family fabricated evidence. Unlike lying in court… or to a Federal Agent, or something… it is not a crime to lie to your lawyers, as prosecutor Frank Sedita dramatically pointed out. But when you give bad information to the person you are paying to represent your interests, bed things are likely to happen.